Tim Leighton / St. Paul Pioneer Press, Published April 12 2014
Gophers stumble against Union in national title game
At least that’s the way the University of Minnesota men’s hockey team, a self-proclaimed 20-member band of brothers, had it planned.
But tiny Union College delivered a dagger that pierced the Gophers’ championship hopes, posting a resounding 7-4 victory in the national title game Saturday night in front of 18,742 at the Wells Fargo Center.
Minnesota’s quest for its sixth national championship ground to a halt in the wake of a Dutchmen offensive attack that fired shots at will.
Union, a Schenectady, N.Y., school with an enrollment of 2,241, won its first national sports crown since a lacrosse title 1929.
“I don’t think anyone’s going to be calling us a Cinderella anymore,” Union junior defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said.
The Gophers’ defense abandoned them at the season’s pivotal moment, and tears flowed afterward. The frustration left many players speechless and unwilling to be interviewed.
“There is not much to say about it,” said sophomore goalie Adam Wilcox, who faced a barrage of 49 shots.
“The season is over,” senior captain Nate Condon said. “It is very tough to swallow. This is not something I want to revisit. It will be one of those things I remember for the rest of my life, but not in a good way.”
It was the second loss this season for a University of Minnesota hockey team with a national crown at stake. Three weeks ago, the Gophers women’s hockey team, the two-time defending national champion, fell to Clarkson.
The Gophers men (28-7-6) played perhaps their worst defensive period of the season in the opening 20 minutes. They were porous, out of sync and severely outplayed in surrendering four goals. Minnesota couldn’t recover.
The Dutchmen (32-6-4) took advantage of Minnesota’s penchant for giving up the puck to score three goals in a dizzying two-minute span to build a two-goal advantage.
Wilcox, the most valuable player in the inaugural season of the Big Ten Conference, made numerous athletic saves to keep a deficit from growing. His help on defense, however, was virtually nonexistent.
Union generated 20 shots in the first period and scored mostly on short-range shots off rebounds that the Gophers couldn’t clear. Daniel Ciampini, who had a hat trick in the semifinals against Boston College, gave Union a 4-2 lead on a rebound shot with Wilcox sprawled on the ice, a position he was all too familiar with in the first period.
“I thought we came out and had a real good jump,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “I thought we had great energy. I’m not sure the mental part of our game matched the physical part. We made a few mistakes that we don’t normally make.
“The game probably got away from us in that (stretch) in the end of the first period when they scored the three goals. Again, I think some of that was just trying too hard, trying to do somebody else’s job.”
Said Wilcox: “It came down to grit in front of the net. That was it. We had to weather the storm. From there, they didn’t look back.”
Minnesota trimmed the deficit to 4-3 and then 5-4, but Union, which played with grit and physicality as a complement to its deep talent, kept firing away and wasn’t intimidated by a shell-like Minnesota defense that had allowed an average of fewer than two goals per game, second-best in the country.
The Dutchmen capped their victory, which had much of the Eastern Shore crowd howling with delight, with two goals in the final minute.
“The last three years, they have three league titles and they have been to the Frozen Four twice,” Minnesota’s Sam Warning said of Union. “You know the rest.”
It took many moments for Condon, the team’s top spokesman all season, to compose himself enough to chat briefly.
“There were a lot of positives for a lot of the guys and for the team, but right now, this really (stinks),” he said. “This isn’t what we were after.”
FIRST PERIOD: 1, M, Kloos (Condon, Cammarata), 2:37. 2, UN, Gostisbehere (Taylor, Lichtenwald), 9:26. 3, M, Warning (Rau, Parenteau), 10:03. 4, UN, Vecchione (Carr, Ciampini), 15:09. 5, UN, Lichtenwald (Gostisbehere), 16:06. 6, UN, Ciampini (Novak, Hatch), 17:03.
SECOND PERIOD: 7, M, Cammarata (Kloos, Parenteau), 1:13.
THIRD PERIOD: 8, UN, Novak (Sullivan, Gingras), 5:31. 9, M, Fasching (Boyd, Reilly), 16:20, (pp). 10, UN, Sullivan (Bodie, Gostisbehere), 18:38. 11, UN, Bodie, (en).
SAVES: UN, Stevens 13-17-6–36. Wilcox 16-14-12–42.