Boston College has the NCAA hockey pedigree. It has won five NCAA titles, including three in the last five seasons.
While Union College is impressed with the Eagles’ resume, it isn’t intimidated by it.
The Dutchmen will try to dethrone the defending national champion Eagles tonight at 9 when the teams meet in the NCAA hockey tournament East Regional semifinals at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
The winner advances to Sunday’s championship game at 6:30 p.m. and will face the winner of the first semifinal today between Canisius and Quinnipiac.
The third-seeded Dutchmen (21-12-5) enter the tournament on a six-game winning streak.
“Experience is a great teacher,” Union coach Rick Bennett said. “I know these guys are ready to go. We’re not really worried about Boston College and being psyched out or any of that. We’re worried about our game.”
The Dutchmen could have faced the second-seeded Eagles (22-11-4) in last year’s Frozen Four in Tampa, Fla., but Union dropped a 3-1 decision to Ferris State in the semifinals.
Now, if the Dutchmen want to make a return trip to the Frozen Four, they must begin the journey by knocking off the Eagles.
“We have confidence right now, so we have to build off of that,” said Union senior right winger Wayne Simpson, who is tied with senior center Kyle Bodie for the team lead in scoring with 16 goals and 17 assists. “It’s just another game. We’ve played against good teams in big situations like this before, and we’ve had pretty much good success in the past. We just have to take it one step at a time. This will be a good challenge for us.”
Over the past couple of seasons, Union has won at national-powerhouses Minnesota and Michigan, and this is the Dutchmen’s third straight year in the NCAAs.
“Our whole thing is sticking with the process, no matter who we’re playing,” said junior goalie Troy Grosenick, who helped the Dutchmen win their second straight ECAC Hockey tournament title last weekend and was named the Most Outstanding Player. “We’ll play anybody, and we treat it the same way. We always want to come out with the ‘W.’ We know we’re going to face a little adversity, and that’s where our experience the past few seasons and making it to the NCAA tournament helps out. We’re able to keep it simple, whether it’s killing a penalty or if they get a bounce and the puck goes in the net.
“Our team is really mature and knows how to handle it.”
And that is why Dutchmen junior defenseman and team captain Mat Bodie is confident that his team won’t be intimidated by the Eagles.
“We’re excited to play,” Bodie said. “What better way to start off than by playing the defending champs. It’s an exciting test for us, and we can’t wait for [tonight].”
The biggest test the Dutchmen may face is stopping BC sophomore forward Johnny Gaudreau.
Gaudreau, the Hockey East Player of the Year and Hobey Baker Award top-10 finalist, leads the Eagles in scoring with 20 goals and 30 assists in 34 games. He also helped Team USA win the gold medal at the World Junior Championships in January, collecting seven goals and two assists in seven games.
“I heard he’s pretty good,” Bennett said. “We’ve watched him enough on tape to last a lifetime. These guys know him. We just want to keep him on the outside as much as possible and with a chance to use our shoulder pads. We’re going to use our shoulder pads on him, just like any other guy in that lineup. It’s just more of a contain.
“They’re excellent hockey players. I’m not sure if you stop them, [but] you have to contain them.”
There are other players for Union to worry about besides Gaudreau. Senior forward Steven Whitney leads BC with 26 goals and is second on the team with 45 points. Another senior forward, Pat Mullane, has 16 goals and 27 assists. Junior forward Bill Arnold has 17 goals and 18 assists.
“We definitely have to take care of the puck,” Mat Bodie said. “They’re a real fast team in transition, probably the best we’ve faced all year. If we can shoot pucks away from them and not turn the puck over in our own zone, we should be fine. Other than that, it’s about playing smart in all three zones. That’s been a staple of our team.”
BC has its own worries with Union. The Eagles will have to contend with the Dutchmen’s trio of offensive defensemen — Bodie (6-18-24), sophomore Shayne Gostisbehere (7-18-25) and senior Greg Coburn (8-18-26).
“From the tape we’ve seen, they have very dangerous offensive threats, especially from the back end,” said BC senior goalie Parker Milner, who was the Most Outstanding Player of last year’s Frozen Four and is 22-10-4 this season with a 2.59 goals-against average. “Those guys can really make plays. I definitely need to be aware of a different layer of offense coming in on rushes. You know how powerful those guys can be from the back on the power play.”
This is the first time Union and BC have met. That means a lot more preparation.
“Generally, when you get here, you’re playing teams you have a lot of history and tradition with, but Boston College has never played the other teams comprising this field,” BC coach Jerry York said. “It’s a completely different field for us. Like Parker said, we’ve done some prep work on Union and watched them on film, but we have no history with any of the teams in the field, which is a first in my career.”