Five years ago, the Union College men’s hockey program did something few ever thought it could do.
On this date in 2014 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, the Dutchmen — in their 23rd year as an NCAA Division I program — defeated Minnesota 7-4 to capture their first-ever NCAA hockey title. They did it against a Gophers program that had won five NCAA titles and sent numerous players to the NHL.
For Dutchmen defenseman Mat Bodie, who was the captain of the team, it seems like it was only yesterday when the Dutchmen were mobbing one another as confetti rained down from the rafters once the final buzzer sounded at 10:20 p.m. on a warm April evening in the City of Brotherly Love.
“It’s crazy looking back that it’s already been five years,” said Bodie, who spent four years in the AHL playing for Hartford and Syracuse and spent this season in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod. “It certainly seems like it was last season for most of us. Time really flies.”
Union coach Rick Bennett, then in his third year as the team’s head coach, has that same feeling.
“I guess I’m fortunate enough [that], every year, brings just a different year,” said Bennett, who completed his eighth season as head coach. “You’re just so wrapped up in that year, and that’s why the time flies in coaching. The time has certainly flown by for me.”
Bodie recalled the team being calm the day of title game. In fact, Bodie appeared live on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” that morning.
“We were very well-prepared for every game that year,” Bodie said. “We treated it as just another game. Obviously, it wasn’t. We were relaxed going in. I remember them scoring pretty early. It was like, ‘Ok, that’s a tough break, but let’s keep at it.'”
The Dutchmen were down 2-1 when they went off late in the first period. Three goals in a 1:54 span gave them a 4-2 lead. Mike Vecchione got things going at 15:09 to make it 2-2, Eli Lichtenwald made it 3-2 at 16:06 and Daniel Ciampini followed at 17:03.
“Late in the first period there, when we scored those three quick goals to go up at the break 4-2, that was the first time where guys were sitting in the dressing room thinking, ‘You know what, I don’t think we’ve blown a two-goal lead all year — this could be ours in 40 minutes,'" Bodie said.
The Gophers got one early in the second period to pull within one. Max Novak regained the two-goal cushion less than six minutes into the third period, but Minnesota made it 5-4 on a Hunter Fasching power-play goal with 3:40 remaining.
The Dutchmen were hanging on when defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere made the defining play of the game with 1:30 left. Taylor Cammarata got past Bodie at the Union blueline and had a potential 2-on-1 down the left wing. But Gostisbehere dove and got his stick on the puck to knock it away. Bodie corralled the puck and sent a pass to Kevin Sullivan at center ice. Sullivan skated into the Minnesota zone and fired a shot between goalie Adam Wilcox’s pads with 1:22 remaining to give the Dutchmen a 6-4 lead.
Bodie’s empty-net goal sealed the deal, and Union became national champions as it extended its unbeaten streak to 17 games (16-0-1).
“It was a wild game, for sure,” Bodie said. “We prided ourselves on being pretty strong defensively. If you would have told me that we would have given up eight goals [Union beat Boston College 5-4 in the semifinals] on the Frozen Four weekend, I would have said that’s not a good recipe for success.”
Gostisbehere had a game for the ages. He had a goal and two assists, a +7 defensive rating and was named the Frozen Four’s Most Outstanding Player.
“If you can tell me who’s done that since or before that, I would like to know. . . . The fact that, +7, and to do what he did — he was all over the place," Bennett said. "There wasn’t one shift when you did not know he was on the ice. I’ve since spoken to groups about being a lead singer. Every band has a lead singer, and everybody knows the name of that lead singer. For that game, everybody knew who Shayne Gostisbehere was. Even if you didn’t know his name, you knew it after that.”
Five years later, Bennett appreciates what the 2013-14 Dutchmen did. It’s something that will never be forgotten.
“I just can’t thank them enough,” Bennett said. “It was such a special group. It was a really fun bunch of guys to work with. And I was just lucky to be the head coach of them.”