Union’s special teams not only shut down Vermont’s power play on Friday, but they produced three goals.
Special, indeed. And that is why the top-ranked Dutchmen are in the NCAA hockey tournament East Regional championship game for the third straight year.
Max Novak scored two power-play goals, and Matt Hatch scored one of his two goals short-handed, powering the Dutchmen to a 5-2 victory over the Catamounts in their semifinal game at Webster Bank Arena.
In extending their unbeaten streak to 14 games (13-0-1), the Dutchmen (29-6-4) will face Providence and former Union head coach Nate Leaman in today’s final at 3 p.m. The Friars beat Quinnipiac, 4-0, in the other semifinal.
This will be the first meeting between the two teams since Leaman left Union to take over Providence in April 2011. Associate head coach Rick Bennett was promoted to head coach, and has led the Dutchmen to those three East Regional finals.
The Dutchmen were 2-for-7 on the power play, killed off all four of Vermont’s power plays and got the bonus with Hatch’s short-handed goal.
“I thought it was pretty crucial,” Bennett said. “The short-handed [goal] kind of got us going because I thought we were just a bit flat a little bit coming out.”
The coaching staff has always told Hatch, a senior left winger, to use his speed. He did that just 4:15 into the game.
With Novak in the box for slashing, Hatch skated down the right wing. When he got to the Vermont right circle, Hatch cut to his left and blew by Catamounts defenseman Rob Hamilton and went to the net, where he deposited the puck past goalie Brody Freeman’s right arm.
“Our coaches did a phenomenal job with the scouting,” Hatch said. “They said to take the puck wide. I took it wide, and I think Sammy Coatta was taking up that other ‘D,’ so I took it to the net and took it wide.”
The Catamounts (20-15-3) tied on a Chris McCarthy goal with 6:42 left in the first. But a Nick Luukko tripping penalty 21 seconds later put Union on the power play.
“I didn’t like the fact that we took so many penalties,” Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon said. “That was a thing we talked about all week in preparation, in that we can’t give their power play a lot of looks at our kill. They’re going to find ways to produce.”
Novak broke the tie when, as he was going to the net from the left side, he put a pass from Kevin Sullivan into the net at 14:27.
“I was yelling for Kevin to throw that puck into that open space because I had some room over there,” Novak said. “He put it in a spot where I could pick it up. I used my foot [to corral it]. I just tried to flick it into the net with my backhand.”
Novak caught a break on his second power-play goal late in the second period.
He was coming down the right wing when Daniel Carr, who was leading a three-on-two rush down the middle, passed the puck to him. As Carr broke for the net, Novak sent the puck back to him. But before Carr could get his stick on it, the puck glanced off Vermont defenseman Yvan Pattyn and over Hoffman’s left shoulder.
“I tried to get it around that one defender that was on me there,” Novak said. “Whether it was [Matt] Wilkins driving back post or ‘Carrsie’ going near post, I was just throwing it out there for one of them.”
Mat Bodie scored on a four-on-one rush with 8:35 left in the game to make it 4-1. McCarthy cut Union’s lead to two 1:54 later. But Hatch sealed the deal with 2:43 remaining, scoring an empty-net goal.
“Everything we saw on film is what they gave us,” Bennett said of Vermont. “It was quite a battle. Obviously, we got a couple of fortunate bounces. That was one tough game by them. My hats off to them.”
Vermont 1 0 1 — 2
Union 2 1 2 — 5
First Period — 1, Union, Hatch 11, 4:15 (sh). 2, Vermont, McCarthy 17 (Puskarich), 13:18. 3, Union, Novak 12 (Sullivan, Carr), 14:27 (pp). Penalties — Novak, Uni (slashing), 3:27; Bradley, Ver (interference), 5:15; Luukko, Ver (tripping), 13:39; Ciampini, Uni (interference) 15:23; Turk, Ver (charging), 18:07; Massar, Ver (hooking), Cruice, Uni (cross-checking), 18:07.
Second Period — 4, Union, Novak 13 (Carr, Bodie), 14:22 (pp). Penalties — Fallon, Ver (slashing), 5:02; Brickley, Ver (boarding), 10:38; Paliotta, Ver (tripping), 13:46; Brickley, Ver (tripping), 18:42; Carr, Uni (slashing), 19:35.
Third Period — 5, Union, Bodie 5 (Sullivan), 11:25. 6, Vermont, McCarthy 18 (Bradley), 13:19. 7, Union, Hatch 12 (Sullivan), 17:17 (en). Penalty — Coatta, Uni (hooking), 4:24.
Shots on Goal — Vermont 8-5-12 — 25. Union 19-12-8 — 39.
Power-play opportunities — Vermont 0 of 4; Union 2 of 7.
Goalies — Vermont, Hoffman 11-7-1 (38 shots-34 saves). Union, Stevens 25-4-2 (25-23).
T — 2;43.
Referees — Todd Anderson, Joe Sullivan. Linesmen — Andy Dokken, Justin Hills.