No letdown for Union this time

Posted: April 11, 2014

THEY HAD conceded it.

To a man, the players speaking for Union College at Wednesday's media session said that in the program's first-ever appearance in a Frozen Four 2 years ago in Tampa, Fla., they were a little overwhelmed by the moment.

How much that contributed to their loss in those national semifinals doesn't matter now, but the Dutchmen swore it would not happen again in Philadelphia.

Still, a little more than 2 minutes into yesterday's semifinal against Boston College, Union looked as if it was again showing some big-game jitters On the Eagles' first shot of the game, Johnny Gaudreau scored to give his team an early lead.

But this isn't 2012, and some early adversity was not going to be kryptonite for the Dutchmen. In fact, it proved to be just the opposite.

Holding a one-goal lead in the third period, Union committed what could have been a momentum-swinging penalty when senior forward Matt Hatch got a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for checking from behind.

Not only did the Dutchmen kill off the penalty, but, just after it ended, Kevin Sullivan stripped the puck from BC freshman defender Steve Santini.

Sullivan skated in one-on-one at Eagles goalie Thatcher Demko, who blocked the attempt. But Daniel Ciampini was trailing the play and banged the rebound into the back of the net.

Despite Boston College's scoring twice in the final 2 minutes, the Dutchmen held on for a 5-4 victory that vaulted them into their first national championship game.

"I think the biggest thing is the mindset," said Union senior captain Mat Bodie, whose goal early in the second period tied the score at 1-1. "When I came in here as a freshman, there was a goal set, but it was not to win the national championship that year. That bothered some guys."

So the expectations rose and so did confidence.

The Dutchmen (31-6-4) brought the No. 1 ranking and a 15-game unbeaten streak into this Frozen Four.

A one-goal deficit wasn't going to rattle them into doubting that they belonged with the nation's elite.

"What was said in the locker room [between periods] was we're OK," said Ciampini, who added an empty-netter at 18:51 to record the first Frozen Four hat trick since 2008. "I don't think there was ever any doubt in our mind that we were not OK.

"We usually score right after a team scores, but it took a little longer this time. We stayed with it. We kept working hard and doing what we do best."

Talk is good, but action is better, and when a big moment comes from your senior captain, it sets the tone for what follows.

Early in the second period, Bodie put things right by first faking a shot that sent a BC player sliding for a block. Bodie then slid to the right faceoff circle and blasted a shot into the BC net.

"Just like that, we're back in the game," junior defender and Flyers prospect Shayne Gostisbehere said of Bodie's goal. "Leadership is a big part of why our team is where we are - because of [Bodie]."

A dynamite second period that saw Boston College (28-8-4) fall behind and then make it 2-2 set up a 20-minute shootout for a spot in the title game.

The teams did not disappoint.

Ciampini put Union up, 3-2, at 6:31 of the third, but just 18 seconds later, Hatch got the game misconduct for checking from behind.

"When that happened, the team talked on the bench and said it is time to bear down," Bodie said. "It was an unfortunate play for Matt Hatch. We're family here. He's our brother, and we didn't want him to go out that way.

"Everyone stepped up and we didn't give them much. Then we scored that goal, and that was huge for us."

The missed opportunity on that 5-minute power play will likely haunt the Boston College players.

"We were just kind of out of sync there and not everyone was on the same page, maybe trying to force stuff too much," BC senior forward Bill Arnold said. "You can't do that against a good penalty kill."

Still Eagles coach Jerry York didn't become the winningest coach in NCAA hockey history and win five national titles, including four at BC, by having players who give up.

BC cut the lead to 4-3 and, after giving up Ciampini's empty-net goal, got back to within a goal with 5 seconds left. The Eagles got a great last-second shot that Union goalie Colin Stevens swallowed up just before the horn sounded.

"I love how we competed, how we battled right down to the last second of the hockey game," York said. "There was never any give-up.

"We've been on the other side of an awful lot of trophies.

"But my hat's off to Union. They made some plays tonight that resulted in a win."

And now Union, the smallest school in the Frozen Four, with an enrollment of 2,200, the only one that does not give athletic scholarships, will play for college hockey's biggest prize.

"Our coaches kept preaching get better every day and that's what we've been doing for the last 4 years," Bodie said. "That's our mindset. It's one shift at a time."


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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