BRIDGEPORT, Conn. - Union’s upcoming journey to Tampa wasn’t by happenstance. The Dutchmen, ranked third in the nation, weren’t an overnight sensation.
“It’s been a progression,’’ said Jeremy Welsh after he led the top-seeded Dutchmen to their first Frozen Four appearance with a 4-2 victory over UMass-Lowell in the East Regional final Saturday night before a Webster Bank Arena crowd of 5,328.
“You know, I’ve been here three years and each year we’ve taken a step
in the ECAC,’’ said Welsh, who was named the region’s outstanding player. “Maybe my freshman year, this would’ve been a big ‘wow’ moment, but right now we’re just taking it in stride.
“The program has come so far and we expected to be here and we expected to win.’’
A year ago, the Dutchmen made their first NCAA Tournament as a Division 1 team and were dispatched in the semifinals by eventual national champion Minnesota-Duluth. Emboldened by the memory of that season-ending loss, Union expunged it by defeating the River Hawks to propel the ECAC school from Schenectady, N.Y., to Florida.
“We’re real excited to get to Tampa,’’ Welsh said. “We’re just really happy we could do this for the program and it’s going to be exciting to put our school on a national stage - a small liberal arts college - it’s exciting to see it get some national attention.’’
The Dutchmen, which defeated Harvard in the ECAC tournament final, rode the strong goaltending of sophomore Troy Grosenick, a Hobey Baker finalist who made 19 saves and was protected by a stout defense.
“Well, first, obviously we would still like to be playing, but our season is now over,’’ said UMass-Lowell coach Norm Bazin, the Hockey East Coach of the Year, who orchestrated the biggest turnaround by a first-year coach in NCAA history after taking a five-win program and eventually turning it into a 20-game winner. “I would like to congratulate Union College for moving forward and I wish them luck. I’m very proud of our guys. I thought our effort was strong, but, obviously, not good enough.’’
The River Hawks (24-13-1) appeared to draw first blood at 2:32 of the first period when Joseph Pendenza’s point-blank shot seemed to trickle behind Grosenick. However, the Union goaltender, with help from defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, prevented the puck from crossing the goal line. A video review confirmed the call.
That tough break was followed by another when Daniel Ciampini put the Dutchmen on the board at 3:03 with a one-timer of a feed from Kyle Bodie that beat UMass-Lowell sophomore goalie Doug Carr (35 saves) .
Union (26-7-7) stepped up its pressure in the second period, getting a pair of goals by Welsh at 7:12 and Josh Jooris on the power play at 17:23 to offset UMass-Lowell’s first goal, by Terrence Wallin at 14:06.
“They definitely had some good jump in their step and were getting a lot of pucks to the net,’’ Carr said. “They’re a good team, but so are we. I think it came in waves and we brought it back to them especially at the end of the game when we started to play our game.
“But, obviously, tonight it wasn’t enough.’’
The River Hawks pulled within 3-2 at 5:40 of the third period when senior Matt Ferreira poached Welsh’s clearing pass from behind the Union net and capitalized with an unassisted goal from the left side. It proved too late after Bodie tallied an empty-netter at 19:19 to seal the verdict. It ended an amazing run by the River Hawks, who reached the regional final after a stirring 4-3 overtime victory against Miami Friday night.
“It was a great experience, I won’t deny that,’’ Bazin said. “Just to get an experience like this and to win your first game, hopefully we can build upon this and look for two [NCAA] wins in the future - the near future. That’s the idea.
“It had been way too long, I think it was 16 years since we were here last and that’s way too long,’’ Bazin said. “Hopefully we can come back here in the near future and build on this one win and move forward.’’