On Dec. 31, 2010, the Union Dutchmen stunned the Minnesota Gophers, beating them in the semifinals of the Mariucci Classic. It was a big victory for an up-and-coming program against one of the country’s most historic college teams.
Tonight at 7:36, the Dutchmen have another chance to knock off the Gophers. This time, the stakes are much higher than a holiday tournament.
The top-ranked Dutchmen (31-6-4) will face the second-ranked Gophers (28-6-6) in the NCAA Division I hockey championship game at the Wells Fargo Center,
Josh Jooris scored 42 seconds into overtime to give the Dutchmen their first win over the Gophers in three tries. Although the Dutchmen lost the tournament title to Bemidji State the next night, the win gave Union the confidence that it could play with the major college hockey schools. It also gave the Dutchmen the spark to give them their first ECAC Hockey regular-season title and help them reach the NCAAs for the first time at the Division I level.
“At the time, going in there, an historic building, an historic program, it was huge,” said senior defenseman and team captain Mat Bodie, who is one of five seniors who played in that game as freshmen. “It was an overtime win. Jooris got the goal. We can remember it pretty clearly. It really fired up the team. I think that helped propel us into the second half.”
Union coach Rick Bennett was in his first year as a Dutchmen assistant coach when the team was routed by the Gophers, 8-0, in the 2005 Mariucci Classic semifinals. It wasn’t a pretty game.
Getting the win five years later was important in helping the team gain confidence in itself.
“It was a monumental win for us because we went out there a few years previous. . . . It wasn’t pretty,” Bennett said. “I know one of our defensemen at the time, one of our better defensemen, Lane Caffaro, found his way through the crease and ran their goalie over. I think we had to put him in a stick bag to get him out of there because it was pretty hostile. It was one of those things.
“To come back and have that win in overtime was really special. Who knows, maybe it sets the tone at that time for where they are today.”
Minnesota coach Don Lucia, whose team is coming off Thursday’s dramatic 2-1 semifinal win over North Dakota on Justin Holt’s short-handed goal with 0.6 seconds left in regulation, vividly remembered that 2010 game. He saw a Union program that was starting its ascent toward national prominence because it had talent.
“They were on the cusp at that point in time,” Lucia said. “Obviously, with the coaches that have been through there, and coach Bennett’s taken it to a whole new level. But they had some very good players on that team. I think there were some guys that turned pro. I think there was another Bodie [forward Kyle] on the team. But I was impressed by their talent level. They skated well. They were an older team back then, but that’s their way of doing things.
Two of the players Lucia is concerned about are Bodie and fellow defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. Bodie had a goal and two assists in the 5-4 semifinal win over Boston College. Gostisbehere, the Philadelphia Flyers’ prospect and Hobey Baker Award top-10 finalist, had two assists.
“When you have two elite defensemen that can control their back end, one of them, for the most part, can be on the ice all game long,” Lucia said. “North Dakota’s defensemen were very offensive and very active in the play last night, so that’s going to help us, I think, with the mentality we’re going to have to have in the game tomorrow.”
The Gophers, the Big Ten regular-season champions, have a balanced offensive attack with five players having at least 30 points. They are led by junior forward Kyle Rau, who has 14 goals and 25 assists.
Minnesota’s other 30-point scorers are junior forward Sam Warning (33 points), sophomore defenseman Mike Reilly (32), junior forward Travis Boyd (31) and freshman forward Justin Kloos (30). Kloos is the Gopher’s top goal scorer with 15.
Union senior Daniel Carr believes attention to detail will be the key in limiting Minnesota’s offensive opportunities.
“We’re pretty similar teams in the way we play,” said Carr, Union’s leading scorer with 22 goals and 27 assists. “It’s going to come down to who’s willing to block [shots] and who’s willing to play their game the best and execute their systems the best.”
Bennett wasn’t happy with some of the things he saw on the video of the Dutchmen’s game against BC. He thought they got away from playing their game and got into a skating duel with the Eagles.
He doesn’t want that to happen against the Gophers.
“We just can’t get caught up in a track-meet type of hockey game,” Bennett said. “We have to stick to our structure and see how it goes [tonight], because it’s so easy to say it to the guys before we go out on to the ice, but they just have to buy into it.”
If the Dutchmen do that, then they could be bringing a national championship to Schenectady.
“It’s great for the school, it’s great for the program,” Bodie said. “It’s great for players and everyone involved to get to this point. As far as winning it, it would be huge. I don’t really know if you can put it into words, but it would just be huge for everyone involved.”