PHILADELPHIA (AP) — It was just three seasons ago when Union beat Minnesota — in overtime, in Minneapolis — for a win that pretty much put its program on the map.
Back then, Union had yet to even appear in an NCAA tournament. Now, it’s one victory away from the national championship.
“That was a massive win for us,” senior Mat Bodie said. “It was an overtime game. It was at their place. It was one of the bigger programs we’d ever beaten. It’s all about taking baby steps, and I think that was a huge step in the growth of Union College.”
The Dutchmen, flying under the radar no more, will step onto the ice to face Minnesota once again Saturday night. Union earned its way into the final by knocking off Boston College 5-4 on Thursday night. The Gophers advanced after a last-second goal in the third period gave them a 2-1 win over North Dakota.
The title game is a classic little guy vs. powerhouse.
Union (31-6-4), a small, liberal arts college of 2,220 students, offers no athletic scholarships. Minnesota (28-6-6), one of the country’s largest universities with more than 50,000 undergrads, hands out the maximum for hockey of 18.
The Dutchmen have never made a final. The Gophers have played in 11 and won five, most recently in 2003.
It’s been quite a while since Union as a college played for a national title in any sport: 1929 in men’s lacrosse.
“It’s great for the school. It’s great for the program,” said Bodie, who has a goal in each of his team’s three tournament wins. “As far as winning it, it would be huge. I don’t really know if you can put it into words.”
Union enters with a 16-game unbeaten streak, including 11 straight wins, and the country’s No. 1 ranking.
“We need to play better tomorrow to beat Union than we played last night,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said Friday. “Some of our young guys played tentative. … I thought we were fortunate in some regards to be moving on, but sometimes you have to find a way to win.”
The Gophers found that way when Justin Holl netted the short-handed winner with 0.6 seconds on the clock to put them.
“We’re coming down a little bit now,” Minnesota captain Nate Condon said. “It was great how it happened last night. … Hopefully the next game we have doesn’t go down to the last 0.6 seconds like that.”
It wouldn’t even have come down to Holl’s goal without the stellar play of netminder Adam Wilcox, who turned away four shots in the final two minutes of the third period on a North Dakota power play.
With 9 seconds to go, Kyle Rau won a faceoff in his zone and Minnesota moved the puck up the ice. Rau ended up with the puck with just about 3 seconds to go.
“Justin came up on the break out and gave it to me. I tried to get a shot on net and see what happened,” Rau said. “Got my shot blocked and it ended up on Justin’s skate. He made a good play and just shot it on net.”
The shot was just inside the right post for Holl’s first goal of the season.
Before the game, Condon called out Holl and fellow senior defenseman Jake Parenteau for being the only guys left on the team who hadn’t scored.
“I’m more than happy that Justin took the cake on that one,” Parenteau said. “That was a big goal and I’m glad he got it.
“But I’ve still got one more game, so we’ll see what happens.”
NOTES: Minnesota holds a 2-1 lead in the all-time series. … Friday afternoon, Connor Hellebuyck of Massachusetts-Lowell won the inaugural Mike Richter Award as college hockey’s top goaltender. Hellebuyck, who will not return to college next year, had as many career shutouts as he had losses (12). Richter himself presented the award. … The Hobey Baker Award will be announced Friday night. Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau, St. Cloud State’s Nic Dowd and St. Lawrence’s Greg Carey are the three finalists for college hockey’s MVP.
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