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Dutchmen fly by Gophers: Union beats Minnesota for 1st NCAA men’s hockey championship

Photo by Eric Hartline / USA TODAY Members of the Union men’s hockey team celebrate after defeating Minnesota in the championship game of the Frozen Four on Saturday at Wells Fargo Center. Union defeated Minnesota, 7-4 to win the NCAA Championship.

PHILADELPHIA — A visit to the City of Brotherly Love was supposed to end with a golden moment.

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.

Union College, a school in Schenectady, N.Y., with an enrollment of 2,241, delivered the dagger that pierced the Gophers’ championship hopes with a 7-4 victory in the national title game Saturday night in front of 18,742 at the Wells Fargo Center.

A journey that held the possibility of Minnesota’s sixth national championship hit a roadblock in the form of a sieve-like defense. Union fired shots at will en route to winning its first national sports championship since a lacrosse title in 1929.

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, lost to Clarkson.

The Gophers men (28-7-6) picked the worst possible game for their defense to abandon them. Union (32-6-4), a physical and gritty team, fired 47 shots and wasn’t intimidated by Minnesota’s shell-like defense around goalie Adam Wilcox that had given up fewer than two goals per game, second-best in the country.

The Dutchmen had much of the crowd on its feet for most of the game and did so again when Kevin Sullivan scored to restore Union’s two-goal advantage with 1:22 left in regulation. That went to 7-4 when Mat Bodie scored into an open net with 44 seconds left.

With less than three minutes left, Hudson Fasching gave the Gophers a glimmer of hope when he scored on a power-play to make it 5-4. That one-goal margin was short-lived.

After giving up four first-period goals, the Gophers must have gotten a talking to between the first and second periods. They looked like a different team, especially on defense.

They started looking sharp on offense, too, in trimming Union’s lead to 4-3 just 1:13 into the period when Tyler Cammarata gathered in his own rebound and fired it past Colin Stevens. The pep in the Gophers’ step was evident and chased away, albeit temporarily.

Although no more scoring took place in the second period, it wasn’t because of lack of effort.

Both teams generated offensive chances and shots — Union held a 34-33 edge after two periods — it was the close-in defense that cleaned up its act and wasn’t allowing rebound chances.

Union’s Colin Stevens made the save of the game when he stopped Minnesota’s Mike Reilly on an uncontested shot right at the crease. Had Reilly given a little loft to his shot, the score would have been tied.

The Dutchmen scored three goals in dizzying two-minute span of the first period to build a two-goal advantage. Union stormed the Gophers goal and Wilcox.

Wilcox, the most valuable player in the inaugural season of the Big Ten Conference, made numerous athletic saves to keep the deficit from being worse. His help on defense, however, was virtually nonexistent.

Union, which generated 19 shots in the first period, scored mostly on short-range shots off rebounds that the Gophers couldn’t clear. Daniel Ciampini, who had hat trick in the semifinals against Boston College, gave Union a 4-2 lead on a rebound shot with Wilcox sprawled on the ice.

Union tied the score 2-2 when Mike Vecchione took the final shot of what seemed like umpteen in a massive scramble around the Gophers goal. Minnesota forward Kyle Rau made two saves during the scramble, but his teammates did too much standing around and the Gophers weren’t able to clear.

Minnesota took a short-lived 2-1 lead midway through the first period when Sam Warning scored on a long-range, difficult-angle shot while almost on the endline. It came 37 seconds after Union’s Shayne Gostisbehere scored the prettiest goal of the period.

Gostisbehere, a Philadelphia Flyers draft pick, cruised into the Gophers’ zone, stick-handled through defenders and rifled a shot past Wilcox’s glove.

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