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ECAC’s Yale, Quinnipiac go for NCAA hockey crown

UMass-Lowell’s Chad Ruhwedel skates away dejectedly as Yale players celebrate Thursday night’s semifinal win in OT.

JUSTIN K. ALLER/GETTY IMAGES

UMass-Lowell’s Chad Ruhwedel skates away dejectedly as Yale players celebrate Thursday night’s semifinal win in OT.

PITTSBURGH — It has been a long time since an ECAC team has appeared in the NCAA Frozen Four championship game.

There will be two of them on Saturday night at the Consol Energy Center, where Quinnipiac will square off against Yale, guaranteeing the league a national title.

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Colgate made it to the final game in 1990, but fell to Wisconsin, 7-3. The last time an ECAC team raised the championship banner was Harvard in 1989, when the Crimson beat Minnesota in overtime, 4-3.

Ironically, the ECAC tournament consolation game in Atlantic City March 23 turned out to be a foreshadowing of Saturday’s matchup. The day before in the league semifinals, Yale had lost to Union, 5-0, and Quinnipiac was upset by Brown, 4-0. Quinnipiac prevailed in the consolation game, 3-0, beating Yale for the third time this season.

Both have been unstoppable since.

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No one on Quinnipiac is taking anything for granted.

“They’re playing on a different level of hockey right now,’’ said Quinnipiac senior defenseman Zack Currie.

“Obviously, they’ve won some impressive games including [Thursday’s 3-2 OT win over UMass-Lowell]. Our approach doesn’t change. We’ve played the same way all year. We play the way we want to play and that’s how we’re going to take care of that.’’

The Bobcats believe they have something to prove to the people who thought that they weren’t a favorite to make it to the Frozen Four, despite being the No. 1 overall seed.

“I think we did kind of receive that from some of the other leagues,’’ said senior forward Jeremy Langlois. “Having two ECAC teams in [the title game] kind of shows you what kind of league it is. I think when it comes down to a game like this, when you get down to two teams, that kind of goes out the window and you’re focused on the game at hand.’’

Senior forward Jordan Samuels-Thomas said they have shut out all distractions.

“All that matters is that the 28 guys in the locker [room] believe that you can do it,’’ said Samuels-Thomas. “Any disrespect we get from any leagues or teams, it doesn’t really matter as long as we believe we can do it and reach our goals.’’

Despite beating Yale three times, the Bobcats have plenty of respect for their final — and most important — foe of the year.

“I think each team is going to be very motivated, but I think our record so far against them kind of goes out the window,’’ said Langlois. “We know what we have to do to be successful and we look forward to doing it.’’

“The Yale team that we’re going to face [Saturday] is completely different than the team we played earlier in the year,‘’ added Samuels-Thomas. “They’re clicking on all cylinders at the right time. Our record against them doesn’t matter.’’

a Hockey East team has brought home the top prize in four of the last five years. The other year belonged to first-timer Minnesota Duluth, representing the WCHA. Now, it’s the ECAC’s turn.

“I think it’s great respect for our league,’’ said Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold. “We take hits every now and again, that’s what people want to do. It’s tough to put us down this year, we’ve got two teams in the national championship game. Our league has been great all year long. We have great players, great student-athletes, and we play hard, [and] compete hard. We do, all the teams in our league do. It’s a great league, top to bottom.’’

In addition to being an ECAC team, Yale is also an Ivy League school with elevated academic standards and no athletic scholarships, although the purse strings have been loosened recently to allow enhanced financial aid for all students.

“I’ve always believed you could combine excellence in athletics with excellence in academics,’’ said Yale coach Keith Allain. “When I came back to Yale, one of the things I wanted to try to prove is that you could go to the best university in the world and compete in college hockey at the very highest level.’’

That doesn’t mean it is easy balancing the student aspect of the student-athlete.

“I am sure in all the Ivy League schools it’s tough to balance the hockey life and education,’’ said Yale senior right wing Antoine Laganiere. “I don’t know what other schools are like. I just know that it’s pretty hard for us and we’ve proven we can do both.’’

For ECAC commissioner Steve Hagwell, it’s a proud weekend and proves an important point.

“People are always going to have their opinions on various leagues and that’s fair,’’ said Hagwell. “I’m not out to change it from a league standpoint. But within the league, we know and the coaches know and everybody associated with the programs know how tough a league it is from top to bottom.

“The wow factor for me was this was our third-place game in Atlantic City and it’s the national title game. I don’t know what that says. It wasn’t a good moment for Yale or Quinnipiac to not be in our championship, but I think that speaks volumes to where our programs are currently.

“For me, it isn’t validation or anything, it’s a testament to what people in this league know — these programs are capable of getting to this level, competing at this level. For them to be playing for the national title, it’s a little surreal.’’

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at marrapese@globe.com.
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