Twenty-three years ago, when Union College elevated its program from NCAA Division III to Division I, it seemed like a pipe dream that it would win a national championship. The school wasn’t going to offer athletic scholarships.
On Saturday night, a program that doesn’t give athletic scholarships achieved the ultimate goal — winning a national title. And they did it against one of NCAA hockey’s top teams.
Led by tournament most outstanding player Shayne Gostisbehere, the Dutchmen reached the mountaintop by knocking off the Minnesota Golden Gophers, 7-4, in the NCAA title game at the Wells Fargo Center.
Gostisbehere had a goal and two assists.
“I don’t think anyone’s going to be calling us a Cinderella anymore,” said Gostisbehere, the Philadelphia Flyers prospect who could be wearing the orange and black jersey. “That’s all I’ve got to say.”
It’s the first championship for the top-ranked Dutchmen (32-6-4), who end the season on a 16-0-1 streak.
“It’s unbelievable,” Dutchmen senior defenseman Mat Bodie said. “The growth this program has taken over the past eight years, and I’ve only been here for four of them, but this championship is for anyone who’s had a hand in Union hockey because we wouldn’t be here without all of those players before us. We learned a lot from them. They broke us into college hockey. We’re forever grateful for that.”
Union coach Rick Bennett seconded Bodie.
“I’m extremely excited for our program, our school and for our community,” Bennett said. “For every player who has worn that jersey, for every coach who has coached here before us, I think it’s a tremendous accomplishment. I want to thank them.
“It’s just a surreal moment right now.”
It was a wild first period that saw the teams combine for 35 shots and six goals.
The Gophers (28-7-6), who have won five national titles and boast 14 NHL draft picks on their current roster, took a 1-0 lead 2:37 into the period when Justin Kloos scored. Gostisbehere tied it when he rocketed a shot from the slot over goalie Adam Wilcox’s glove at 9:26. But 27 seconds later, Sam Warning beat goalie Colin Stevens from the bottom of the left circle.
Then the Dutchmen scored three goals in a 1:54 span to take a 4-2 lead.
Mike Vecchione started the onslaught with 4:51 left. After Wilcox stopped about four shots, Vecchione put home a rebound to tie the score, 2-2.
“We talk about pack-of-wolves goals, just being around the net,” Union senior left winger Daniel Carr said. “Guys buy into that. Guys go to the hard areas. Daniel Ciampini did a great job with the puck there. All three of us went to the net, and Mike Vecchione put it upstairs there.”
Less than a minute later, Gostisbehere made a move around a Minnesota defender along the left-wing boards. He skated behind the net and put the puck in front to Eli Lichtenwald. His first shot was blocked, but Lichtenwald knocked home the rebound.
Daniel Ciampini, who had a hat trick in Thursday’s 5-4 semifinal win, scored on a rebound of a Max Novak shot with 2:57 left to give Union the momentum.
Taylor Cammarta made it 4-3 1:13 into the third. Novak gave the Dutchmen a two-goal lead when he redirected a Kevin Sullivan shot past Wilcox 5:31 into the third. Hudson Fasching scored a power-play goal with just over three minutes left.
But Gostisbehere helped clinch the win when he blocked the puck away from the Gophers. It led to a Sullivan goal with 1:23 left. Bodie sealed it on an empty-net goal with 45 seconds left.
Union 4 0 3 — 7
Minnesota 2 1 1 — 4
First Period — 1, Minnesota, Kloos 16 (Condon), 2:37. 2, Union, Gostisbehere 9 (Taylor, Lichtenwald), 9:26. 3, Minnesota, Warning 14 (Rau, Parenteau), 10:03. 4, Union, Vecchione 14 (Carr, Ciampini), 15:09. 5, Union, Lichtenwald 9 (Gostisbehere), 16:06. 6, Union, Ciampini 23 (Novak, Hatch), 17:03. Penalties — Skjei, Minn (roughing), :19; Warning, Minn. (hooking), 3:11; Gostisbehere, Uni (holding), 6:42; Sullivan, Uni (hitting after whistle), 18:44; Serratore, Minn (hitting after whistle), 18:44.
Second Period — 7, Minnesota, Cammarta 10 (Kloos, Parenteau), 1:13. Penalties — Ciampini, Uni (tripping), 2:25; Skjei, Minn (roughing), 9:33; Parenteau, Minn (slashing), 15:39; Coatta, Uni (holding stick), 18:06.
Third Period — 8, Union, Novak 15 (Sullivan, Gingras), 5:31. 9, Minnesota, Fasching 14 (Boyd, Reilly), 16:20 (pp). 10, Union, Sullivan 9 (Bodie, Gostisbehere), 18:38. 11, Union, Bodie 8, 19:15 (en). Penalties — Condon, Minn (tripping), 1:36; Serratore, Minn (holding), 9:00; Minnesota bench (too many men), 11:57; Vasaturo, Uni (roughing), 15:25.
Shots on Goal — Union 20-14-15 — 49. Minnesota 15-18-7 — 40.
Power-play opportunities — Union 0 of 7; Minnesota 1 of 4.
Goalies — Union, Stevens 28-4-2 (33 shots-30 saves). Minnesota, Wilcox 26-6-6 (48-42).
A — 18,742. T — 2:44.
Referees — Geoff Miller, Ryan Hersey. Linesmen — Bob Bernard, Tommy George.