This was the moment that would define Union’s season.
The Dutchmen had to kill Matt Hatch’s five-minute major for hitting from behind against Boston College, the nation’s No. 1-ranked offense with an average of over four goals per game and the nation’s top scorer in Johnny Gaudreau.
Not only did the Dutchmen kill it off, they got a goal shortly after that. And now, they are going to play for the NCAA hockey title for the first time at the Division I level.
The top-ranked Dutchmen held off the third-ranked Eagles, 5-4, in the Frozen Four semifinal Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center. They will take on Minnesota, a 2-1 winner over North Dakota, in the title game at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s going to be fun,” Dutchmen senior defenseman and team captain Mat Bodie said. “I’ve played for one in midgets, and it’s just a fun experience. I’m happy and proud for the team, and we’ll be ready to go.”
The Dutchmen (31-6-4), who are 15-0-1 in their last 16 games, took a 3-2 lead when Daniel Ciampini, who had three goals, scored on a power play at 6:31 of the third period. Eighteen seconds later, Hatch got tossed for his hit from behind. With BC’s top line of Gaudreau, Bill Arnold and Kevin Hayes, there was a good chance the Eagles (28-8-4) would score.
But it didn’t happen. The Eagles attempted eight shots, but only three reached goalie Colin Stevens.
“The guys who were killing it up front were phenomenal,” Union coach Rick Bennett said. “It was five guys. It was four guys out there killing, plus your goaltender. All five really came up big for us.”
Arnold was doing his best to screen Stevens.
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“They’re a great shot-blocking team,” Arnold said. “I was at the net front, and I couldn’t even see the puck because they had two or three guys in the lane every time. But we didn’t create enough movement.”
As Nick Cruice, who was serving Hatch’s penalty, came out of the box, Kevin Sullivan stripped BC defenseman Steve Santini of the puck in the slot in the Eagles’ zone. Sullivan got a breakaway, but his shot was stopped by goalie Thatcher Demko.
“Their defenseman kind of got [the puck] lost in the skates,” Sullivan said. “I kind of poked it out. I was fortunate there. Their goalie made a good save on the breakaway. I don’t get a lot of breakaways in real games. I was a little rusty, needless to say.”
Sullivan got the rebound and passed it back to Mike Vecchione, who was trailing the play, and Vecchione fired it home to make it 4-2 with 8:07 left.
“There was 16 seconds left on the PK, and me and Sully went out there,” Vecchione said. “We were just kind of wondering what we’re doing out there because we didn’t kill. We just did our best to try and defend. Sully made a great pick right there and went in on a breakaway. I just went up to follow it. Both of their ‘D’ went after him and left me all alone in the slot. Sully made a great play to get it back out front, and I had a wide-open net.”
It gave the Dutchmen plenty of momentum. It left the Eagles pondering what went wrong.
“We were just kind of out of sync there, and not everyone’s on the same page,” Arnold said, “maybe trying to force stuff too much, and you can’t do that against a good penalty kill.”
Vecchione’s goal proved to be huge because Ryan Fitzgerald scored with 1:45 to go and Demko out for an extra attacker.
But 36 seconds later, Ciampini completed his hat trick by scoring an empty-net goal. That proved to be the game-winner when Patrick Brown scored with five seconds left. A desperation shot by Gaudreau just as time expired was stopped by Stevens.
“Instead of going home, we’re going to be playing,” Bennett said. “You want to make a step, and we took that tonight, but we want to make another step. We didn’t just come for one game. We want to come for two.”
Union 0 2 3 — 5
Boston College 1 1 2 — 4
First Period — 1, Boston College, J. Gaudreau 36 (Hayes, Arnold), 2:08. Penalties — Santini, BC (cross-checking), 3:25; Pontarelli, Uni (cross-checking), 8:45; McCoshen, BC (interference), 9:55.
Second Period — 2, Union, Bodie 7 (Gingras), 2:39. 3, Union, Ciampini 20 (Gostisbehere, Carr), 10:45. 4, Boston College, Santini 3 (Calnan, Gilmour), 15:53. Penalties — None.
Third Period — 5, Union, Ciampini 21 (Gostisbehere, Vecchione), 6:31 (pp). 6, Union, Vecchione 13 (Sullivan), 11:53. 7, Boston College, Fitzgerald 13 (Matheson, Gaudreau), 18:15. 8, Union, Ciampini 22 (Bodie), 18:51 (en). 9, Boston College, Brown 15 (Gaudreau, Hayes), 19:55. Penalties — Fitzgerald, BC (interference), 4:56; Hatch, Uni, major-game misconduct (checking from behind), 6:49; Ciampini, Uni (slashing), 19:26.
Shots on Goal — Union 11-17-13 — 41. Boston College 9-15-14 — 38.
Power-play opportunities — Union 1 of 3; Boston College 1 of 3.
Goalies — Union, Stevens 27-4-2 (38 shots-34 saves). Boston College, Demko 16-5-3 (40-36).
T — 2:30.
Referees — Marco Hunt, Steve McInchak. Linesmen — Nick Bradshaw, Sam Shikowsky.