April 10, 2014

Frozen Four: Union holds off BC for first title shot

By Andrew Merritt


Union's Mike Vecchione (Saugus, Mass.) celebrates his third-period goal against Boston College in Thursday night's NCAA semifinal at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. (Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)
 

PHILADELPHIA – Three hundred and seventy-six days later, Union took Boston College's sticks again.

Union, which beat the Eagles in the 2013 NCAA regional in Providence just over a year ago, and whose hockey team is the only Division 1 squad in its athletic program, will play in its first Division 1 national title game after beating BC, 5-4, in an entertaining semifinal at the 2014 Frozen Four Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Thanks to some late flair from the Eagles, it ended up being Daniel Ciampini's empty-netter – his third goal of the game – that won it for the Dutchmen (31-6-4), who advance to play Minnesota, which beat North Dakota on a dramatic last-second goal in the late semifinal.

But it was the fourth Union goal, authored by a pair of New England natives, that really put the Dutchmen in the driver's seat. Freshman Mike Vecchione, a native of Saugus, Mass., who came to Union only after UNH wanted him to play another year of junior, grabbed a rebound off of a great net drive by Darien, Conn., native Kevin Sullivan, and scored with 9:07 to go, giving Union a 4-2 lead.

"Mike Vecchione's been a special player, as well as Kevin Sullivan, he's really stepped it up for us this season," said Union coach Rick Bennett, who took over three years ago after the departure of current Providence coach Nate Leaman.

Union gave up the first goal of the game, but largely controlled it through the first 40 minutes, and withstood a furious comeback effort by the Eagles (28-8-4), who fell short in their bid to win their fourth national title in six years.

Johnny Gaudreau had a goal and two assists for BC, giving him an even 80 points this season – the most by a college player in more than a decade – and linemate Kevin Hayes (Dorchester, Mass.) had a pair of assists to end his BC career with 132 points.

Gaudreau didn't need much time to make his first mark on the game. With just 2:08 gone in the first, Kevin Hayes drove to the net and had his shot blocked, only for Gaudreau to quickly backhand the rebound past Union goaltender Colin Stevens (34 saves) and make it 1-0 BC. Until that point, Union had hemmed the Eagles into their own zone quite well, and in fact through the first 20 minutes held a shot and possession advantage.

BC also had some penalty problems, taking two in the period including an interference call on Ian McCoshen that negated a power play. Neither team capitalized on their power play chances, though the Eagles did get some good shorthanded looks during both of their kills.

Shayne Gostisbehere had a good look to tie it late in the first, but his hard wrister was gloved by freshman Thatcher Demko (36 saves) to keep the Eagles ahead.

The Gaudreau goal largely came against the run of play, and Union finally capitalized on its possession dominance in the second. Two minutes and 39 seconds in, Mat Bodie took a pass from partner Sebastien Gingras, held for an open shooting lane, and rifled a shot through traffic to beat Demko for an equalizer.

It stayed 1-1 for another eight minutes, until Shayne Gostisbehere took the puck off a clean faceoff win and fired it at Demko. The freshman goaltender got his glove on the high shot, but couldn't hold it, and Daniel Ciampini knocked home the rebound for a 2-1 Union lead.

Union continued to keep BC off balance until late in the second, when the Eagles finally started to find a rhythm. With 4:07 to go, Chris Calnan found freshman Steve Santini at the right point, and Union was slow to get to him. Santini had time and space to glide into the right wing faceoff circle, where he unleashed a shot that beat Stevens to tie the game back up at 2.

The Eagles' surge late in the second made things a little more even, but the shots were still 28-24 in favor of the Dutchmen, who largely took away BC's possession game. And for the five goals scored, it was a five-minute period in which the Dutchmen held the Eagles scoreless that may have had the biggest effect on the game.

Shortly after Ciampini scored his seccond of the game, deflecting a Gostisbehere shot past Demko for a 3-2 Union lead, winger Matt Hatch was called for checking BC's Michael Sit from behind in the corner. That earned the senior a five-minute major penalty and ejection, and it seemed the BC power play might have a chance to turn the tide for the Eagles.

Instead, Union stifled BC at every turn, and save for a late flurry the Eagles never got their power play going. Even when it did, Stevens was there with one of his 34 saves.

We were just kind of out of sync there and not everyone's on the same page," said BC senior Bill Arnold (Needham, Mass.), who had an assist to finish with 53 points on the year and 144 for his career. "Maybe trying to force stuff too much, and you can't do that against a good penalty kill."

The Union major penalty ended with 8:11 to go. Four seconds later, Sullivan picked the puck off of Santini's stick and raced in, Vecchione scooped up the rebound, and Union had its 4-2 lead.

"I don't get a lot of breakaways, to be honest," Sullivan said. "I'm not the fastest guy in the world. When I got it, I was gonna shoot, but I tried to deke, and I guess the deke worked out because I ended up being able to get it to my friend Mike, who had a great goal."

"If I missed that one, I would've been in trouble," Vecchione said with a laugh. "To get that one and go up by two was just an incredible feeling. It gave us a lot of momentum, but BC's a great team, and they came back fighting. They made it interesting in the end. "

There was still a chance for the Eagles even after Vecchione's goal, and Ryan Fitzgerald (North Reading, Mass.) cut the lead to 4-3 with 1:45 to go.

"We knew it wasn't going to be easy, but they made it a lot more difficult than we thought," Vecchione said.

Ciampini had his hat-trick goal with 1:09 to go, but it still wasn't over. Patrick Brown scored with 4.2 seconds left, and Arnold won the ensuing faceoff, putting the puck on the stick of Gaudreau, who had one last chance to create some magic for BC.

Gaudreau's long drive hit Stevens in the chest, however, and time expired on BC's season.

For Union, Saturday night is a chance to make history. The program played for a Division III national title in 1984, but has never gotten this far before. That alone is an achievement not lost on the Dutchmen.

"It's a pretty awesome feeling, obviously," Sullivan said. "It's a great accomplishment. But we're not done yet. We're just getting started."

MINNESOTA 2, NORTH DAKOTA 1

Justin Holl scored one of the most improbable and incredible goals in the history of the tournament, beating the horn with 0.6 seconds left in the third period to break a 1-1 tie and give the Gophers the victory.

After the Gophers (28-6-6) took a late penalty Holl picked up a deflected shot by Kyle Rau and fired to beat UND goaltender Zane Gothberg for his first goal of the season. North Dakota ended its season at 25-14-3.

Gothberg – a Bruins prospect – and Minnesota's Adam Wilcox put on a goaltending clinic for much of the game, and it wasn't until Minnesota's Sam Warning scored on a rebound off Kyle Rau's net drive with 9:09 to go in the third that either team could find the net.

Just 32 seconds after Warning's goal, North Dakota answered when Connor Gardner batted in a rebound short-side to even the game at 1-1. That set up Holl's game-winner, which will go down as one of the great moments in Frozen Four history.

Twitter: @A_Merritt
Email: amerritt@hockeyjournal.com