BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – In the amateur world of college hockey, Union coach Rick Bennett believes he is blessed to be working with a group of professional players.
The Dutchmen captured the NCAA East Regional with a 3-2 win over Massachusetts-Lowell on Saturday at the Arena at Harbor Yard. Sure, there was celebrating on the ice afterward but then the Union players immediately snapped back into the next shift, next game, next task mode that has served them well this season.
“I guess you have to be in the locker room to see it,” Bennett said. “They are pretty calm but in the same token they have a lot to celebrate about. It’s almost like they are professionals. It’s not scripted, it’s not something we go over. It’s just their demeanor. That’s the stuff when they were recruited that we really liked about them.”
Over the course of his three seasons, regional MVP Jeremy Welsh has seen the Union program rise steadily, from 15 wins the year before he showed up to 19 his freshman year, 21 last season and now a record 28 in a season that has at least one more date. The Dutchmen, making their first Frozen Four appearance, will take on Ferris State in one of the two semifinal matchups in Tampa on April 5.
Union made its first NCAA tourney appearance in 2011 when the Dutchmen lost to eventual national champ Minnesota-Duluth in the opening round, and the experience proved vital.
“I guess we can say it now … it was huge,” Welsh said. “Last year when we came here we had a big selection show and everyone on campus was patting our backs. The morale of the team was we felt we had already accomplished something, being the first Union team to be in the NCAA Tournament.
“This year was a completely different mindset. It is just kind of an organic growth you have. … It’s a natural thing, an identity and personality that the team has. The guys are still calm, cool and collected. Going forward, we are looking forward to winning some games. We’re not too high on ourselves right now. We’re just on the cusp of something even more special.”
Union carried the play to Lowell for much of the first 30 minutes, beating the River Hawks to pucks, issuing most of the hits and moving out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Daniel Ciampini and Welsh.
The River Hawks pulled within a goal on two occasions only to have the Dutchmen answer back.
“They’ve definitely got some good jump to their step,” said UML goalie Doug Carr, who made 35 saves. “They were getting a lot of pucks to the net. We knew that was going to come. They’re a good team, but so are we. We brought it back to them, especially later in the game. We played better and better but tonight just wasn’t good enough.”
The River Hawks committed a costly turnover barely three minutes into the game. A defenseman threw the puck away behind the net right to Kyle Bodie. He threw a quick pass out front to the freshman Ciampini, who scored his third goal of the season at the 3:03 mark.
Union moved out to a 2-0 lead at 7:12 of the second period. Daniel Carr fired a slap shot from the left point and Carr gave up a rebound out front. Union’s Daniel Carr followed up his shot and slid a short pass to Welsh, who beat Doug Carr from the slot.
Freshman Terrence Wallin gave the River Hawks a much-needed boost with a strong solo effort. Wallin broke down the left side, going wide to beat defenseman Shawn Stuart and put a backhand shot on net. The puck hit the dragging foot of Union defenseman Mat Bodie and went between Troy Grosenick’s legs at the 14:06 mark.
Josh Jooris staked the Dutchmen to a 3-1 lead with a power-play goal at 17:23 of the second. Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere skated in from the blue line and got a shot off from close-in. Carr gave up another rebound and Jooris pounced on it with a backhand shot from the slot for his eighth goal of the season.
The River Hawks benefited from a bizarre turnover to pull within 3-2. Welsh gained the puck in the defensive zone and started to head behind the Union net. Before he reached the right post, Welsh attempted a questionable pass across the crease, which was picked off by Matt Ferreira right in front of the net and he beat Grosenick at the 5:43 mark.
Union’s Kyle Bodie scored into an empty net with 40.6 seconds left, although replays showed the play should have been called offside by 10 feet.
GROSENICK WOULD RATHER FOCUS ON WINS RATHER THAN HOBEY TALK
Union netminder Troy Grosenick doesn’t want to talk about the Hobey Baker Award, even if his weekend performance could make him one of the three finalists.
Grosenick made 20 saves in Friday’s 3-1 semifinal win over Michigan State. On Saturday, the sophomore was sharp from start to finish, making critical saves early in the first period and late in the third to support a 4-2 victory over UMass Lowell in the regional final.
Grosenick improved to 22-5-3, winning his seventh game in a row. He opened play Saturday as the No. 2 ranked goalie in the nation in goals against (1.63) and save percentage (.937).
“I am not worried about it whatsoever,” Grosenick said of the Hobey possibility. “If it happens, it happens. We’re focused on our team goals. It’s really all I have to say about that.”
Grosenick said he’s just doing his job and shifts the credit to his teammates, who made his life easier.
“(The defense is) a huge part of our success,” Grosenick said. “Guys in front of me have been awesome this year. The defense clears rebounds. I have a tendency to leave a few out there once in a while. They do a great job of letting me see the puck, and our forwards to a great job on the backcheck and blocking shots.”
Grosenick may have won the game for the Dutchmen in the third minute of action. A turnover led to a quick point-blank shot by UML’s Joseph Pendenza. Grosenick got a piece of the puck with his glove but it still got behind him. In an instant, Grosenick made a sweeping motion with his goal stick and knocked the tumbling puck off the goal line, a play confirmed by video review.
“I just kind of lunged back and Ghost (defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere) and I got a stick on it,” Grosenick said. “Luckily it didn’t go in. Ghost did a great job getting back and supporting me. That’s what it takes to win, strong defensive plays like that.”
Thirty seconds later, Union broke the scoreless draw and never trailed.
With under four minutes to play and the River Hawks pressing for the tying goal, a blast from the point forced Grosenick to sprawl on the ice and he used his blocker pad to make a critical stop.
“I can’t even remember to say other than I tossed my blocker up there and thankfully got a piece of it,” Grosenick described. “All it comes down to is battling to keep the puck out of the net. That’s really what the last 10 minutes of the game was for me. Everything kind of went out the window except focusing on keeping the puck out of the net.”
SEEN AND HEARD AT ARENA AT HARBOR YARD
Extra effort: Union received solid play from its third and fourth lines this weekend. Freshman Max Novak scored the opening goal against Michigan State on Friday, and classmate Daniel Ciampini broke the ice on Saturday.
“That’s what it takes to win,” Welsh said. “Any team that goes far at any level of hockey, you need everyone. Playoffs is about different guys stepping up at different times. Our third and fourth lines were some of the best lines on the forecheck, creating energy. That’s what it takes to win against good teams.”
Coming up short on goals: UML coach Norm Bazin was honest in his appraisal of his team following the loss.
“Tonight, I don’t think we were sharp,” he said. “We didn’t hit any of our objectives. Special teams were not there and possession time was not there. When you don’t hit your objectives, you don’t win.”
Still, Bazin said there was no quit in his team.
“We felt we were never going to stop playing,” he said. “All year long we’ve been in those situations and have been able to overcome them but it wasn’t meant to be.”
Bazin certainly wasn’t going to use Friday’s overtime game with Miami University in the second game of the day – as a factor for why his team got off to a slow start.
“We won’t make excuses for our team and we don’t want anyone making them for us,” he said. “The games were only three hours apart.”
Hope to be back soon: UML last played in the NCAA tournament in 1996 when most of the current River Hawks were in elementary school.
“It’s been way too long,” Bazin said. “Hopefully we can come back here in the near future, build on this one and move forward. These are valuable experiences.”
The River Hawks had just three seniors – wingers David Vallorani and Tim Corcoran and center Matt Ferreira – in the lineup on Saturday.
“I think we took great strides this year,” Ferreira said, “coming from five wins last year to making it to this game today. I think we’re in great hands with coach Bazin and Riley (Wetmore) leading us next year. I’m just proud of all the guys right now, and I think we’ve got a bright future.”
More video review: Four plays during Friday’s semifinal round drew video review by the on-ice officials. On Saturday, the first review came just 2:32 into the contest and it showed Union goalie Troy Grosenick made the best save of the tournament when he got a piece of Joseph Pedenza’s point-blank blast with his glove and had the wherewithal to sweep the loose puck off the goal line.
Repeat showing: Referees Derek Shepard and Marco Hunt and linesmen Anthony Czech and Jeff Schultz worked the regional championship contest. The same four officials worked Friday’s first semifinal between Union and Michigan State.
INCH’s THREE STARS OF THE NIGHT
3. Union special teams: The Dutchmen kept a potent UML power play scoreless on four attempts, including a crucial 4-on-3 for 69 seconds midway through the second period. Plus, Union notched a critical power play goal just three minutes after the River Hawks drew within 2-1.
2. Troy Grosenick, Union: The sophomore made big stops in the early minutes and in the late minutes.
1. Jeremy Welsh, Union: The NHL free agent put on a great show for the multitude of pro scouts on hand, scoring his second goal of the weekend, producing numerous hits and sacrificing his body with blocked shots. With the win, he can forget about his costly turnover in the third period.
NCAA EAST REGIONAL ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM
F – Riley Wetmore, UMass-Lowell
F – Jeremy Welsh, Union (Most Outstanding Player)
F – Josh Jooris, Union
D – Mat Bodie, Union
D – Nolan Julseth-White, Union
G – Troy Grosenick, Union
The Union-UML regional final was a dream matchup for Bridgeport organizers. Not only were they the two closest schools but they also brought the largest fan bases. The NCAA hates to see empty seats on television.
It was nice to see some live entertainment outside of the arena for the visiting fans. It adds to the festive atmosphere.
One of the scoreboard animations features three figures – named State, Tech and College – racing around a track, and the fans are supposed to root for a winner. The animators have obviously never attended a track meet because you don’t start a 200-meter race with a flat start and finish on a curve. By the way, College won on Friday and Tech won on Saturday.
BY THE NUMBERS
7 – A Hockey East team has ended Miami University’s season every season since 2006. The Red Hawks lost to UMass Lowell (2012), New Hampshire (2011), Boston College (2010), Boston University (2009) and Boston College (2008, 2007, 2006).
34— The number of schools that have reached the national semifinals, with Union the latest entry. The Dutchmen join Bemidji State, Yale, Rochester Institute of Technology, Ohio State and Colgate as one-time visitors to the Frozen Four.
52 – The number of schools who have played in the NCAA tournament since it made its debut in 1948.
2003 – The last time an ECAC Hockey League school reached the Frozen Four (Cornell).
Union becomes the 34th school to reach the national semifinals since the first tournament in 1948. The Dutchmen own the nation’s third-longest win streak at seven games, trailing only Boston College (16) and North Dakota (8).
“It’s been a progression,” Welsh said. “I’ve been here for three years and each year we have taken a step in the ECAC, against top teams and winning back-to-back Cleary Cups . Maybe my freshman year this would have been a big ‘wow’ moment. Right now, we’re taking it in stride. This program has come so far. We expected to be here and we expected to win. We are just taking it in stride and looking forward.”