In final, Minnesota's offense vs. Union's defense

Minnesota's Justin Holl (right) and Seth Ambroz celebrate Holl's game-winner against North Dakota in the semifinals.
Minnesota's Justin Holl (right) and Seth Ambroz celebrate Holl's game-winner against North Dakota in the semifinals. (YONG KIM / Staff)
Posted: April 13, 2014

So what can they possibly do for an encore?

Thursday's 2014 Frozen Four semifinals, which produced Saturday night's championship matchup of Minnesota and Union, were as entertaining and dramatic as anything March Madness can produce.

Union held on for a 5-4 win over Boston College when a last-second Eagles shot bounded off its goalie's chest. And Minnesota topped that, scoring the winning shorthanded goal in their 2-1 triumph over North Dakota just before the final horn sounded.

How do two teams come down to earth and recharge after victories that would have tested even Andy Reid's flat-line demeanor? Is it possible for a national championship game to be anticlimactic for both teams?

"At this level I think our team and their team can deal with those emotional games," Union's Cole Ikkala said Friday. "I'm sure they're handling it the same way we are. They're probably going to put it behind them and start focusing on the next game. I don't think it will have any effect."

If Frozen Four resum├ęs mean anything, Minnesota would have to be the favorite. The Gophers have won five national titles, their most recent in 2003. For Union, meanwhile, this is its first appearance in college hockey's ultimate game.

The two programs have met only three times. Minnesota won the first two. But in December 2010, when some of these Dutchmen players were freshmen, Union beat the Gophers in overtime, 3-2.

"That was a massive win for us," said defenseman Mat Bodie. "It was overtime. It was at their place. It was one of the bigger programs we'd beaten. It's all about taking baby steps, but I think that was a huge step in the growth of Union College."

The game presents an intriguing match in several ways. Minnesota is a massive state school, Union a tiny private institution. And while Union was the top scoring team in Division I this season, Minnesota, with goalie Adam Wilcox, had the best defense.

"Their goaltender is phenomenal," said Union coach Rick Bennett. "We have to make sure that we get some traffic in front of him. That is standard coach speak. In general, we have to be sharp. It's more about us. I feel the same as against Boston College. We don't want to help them out."

Minnesota coach Don Lucia said it was Union's defensemen, more than its high-scoring forwards, that concerned him.

"They have two elite defensemen [Bodie and Flyers draftee Shayne Gotsisbehere] that can control their back end and, for the most part, can be on the ice all game long."

Richter award

The first Mike Richter Award was something of a surprise. While Minnesota's Adam Wilcox had been the favorite, it went instead to Connor Hellebucyk of UMass-Lowell.

Richter, the Flourtown native who starred in the NHL for the Rangers, was there to present the award, as was his boyhood idol, Flyers Hall of Famer Bernie Parent.

Hellebucyk, a 20-year-old sophomore, has already said he's leaving college to play for the NHL's Winnipeg Jets.

In 2013, he led UMass-Lowell to its first Frozen Four appearance. This season he went 18-9-1 with a 1.79 goals-against average.

"This is a huge milestone in my life," Hellebucyk said Friday. "With Mike Richter as the namesake, I met him earlier today and talking to him for just a few minutes is something I'll never forget in my life. He really inspired me growing up."

Hobey to Gaudreau

As expected, South Jersey native Johnny Gaudreau, the Boston College dervish who was the highest scorer in college hockey this season, won the Hobey Baker Award as the college game's top player in 2013-14.

Gaudreau, whose B.C. team fell to Union in the semifinal, finished the season with 80 points (36 goals and 44 assists). He tied Paul Kariya's Hockey East record by scoring in 31 consecutive games and was the league's player of the year for a second straight season.

A draft choice of the Calgary Flames, it's been widely speculated that Gaudreau will depart for the NHL now that his junior season is complete.

Holy Cross senior Jeffrey Reppucci won the BNY Mellon Wealth Management Hockey Humanitarian Award.

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