PHILADELPHIA — Union College overcame another early deficit and claimed their first ever NCAA national championship Saturday night, defeating the Minnesota Golden Gophers 7-4 in front of 18,742 fans at Wells Fargo Center.
For the second straight game, Union allowed the opening goal, something that didn’t happen too often during the regular season.
The magnitude of a national championship game will rattle the nerves, but that opening goal was a blessing in a disguise, according to head coach Rick Bennett.
“It actually settled us down because I thought we were kind of gripping that stick a little bit,” he said. “Guys were huffing and puffing on the bench. Guys were standing up, which is not our style. So we just needed to take a deep breath, and that was a theme on the bench throughout the whole game is deep breaths, take it easy, sit down, relax. This is just another game. We're back at Messa Rink. That's how we approached it between periods, and guys bought in.”
During Thursday’s semifinal versus Boston College, Union responded 31 seconds after allowing the opening goal. On Saturday, they needed a little more time, but that opened the door for a three-goal flurry in a 1:56 span late in the first period to build a 4-2 lead.
“I'm not sure the mental part of our game matched the physical part,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “We made a few mistakes tonight that we don't normally make.”
Minnesota cut the lead to a single goal by the end of the second period, but the Dutchmen came out strong in the final frame, scoring three times to put the game out of hand.
The Golden Gophers went 1-for-4 on the power play and could have caught Union on the scoresheet via the man advantage had it not been for the Dutchmen’s 10 blocked shots down a man.
Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, a Philadelphia Flyers draft pick who was named the 2014 Frozen Four’s Most Outstanding Player, finished with a three-point night. His biggest contribution came late in the third period.
With Minnesota charging into the Union zone on a rush, Gostisbehere broke it up from his stomach and helped send Kevin Sullivan up ice to give Union their sixth goal with 1:22 remaining. That was the cue for Schenectady, N.Y. to start celebrating.
Union had never been to an NCAA tournament until four years ago, and in capturing their first ever national championship, they defeated traditional powers Boston College and Minnesota. The accomplishment will go along way to further growing the program; one that’s come a long way in a short time.
“It's unbelievable the growth this program has taken over the past probably eight years,” said senior defenseman Mat Bodie. “I've only been here for four of them, but this championship’s for anyone that's ever had a hand in Union hockey because we wouldn't be here without all those players before us. We learned a lot from them, and they broke us into college hockey, and we're forever grateful for that.”
Union had talked all week about how they took their trip to the 2012 Frozen Four for granted. They were caught up in the experience and it showed when they were sent home by Ferris State in the semifinal. They learned from that mistake and now they’re national champions.
Said Gostisbehere: “It feels like we're dreaming right now, but sometimes dreams come true.”
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