PHILADELPHIA — Since 2008, even years had translated into NCAA championships for the Boston College men’s hockey team, the Eagles winning the Northeast Regional final in Worcester each time.
The table was set to happen again, with BC beating Denver and UMass-Lowell at the DCU Center two weeks ago to advance to the Frozen Four at the Wells Fargo Center.
On Thursday, though, that streak came to an end. Union scored three times in the third period, including Daniel Ciampini’s tiebreaking power-play goal at 6:31, and the Dutchmen (31-6-4) sent the Eagles home for the summer with a 5-4 victory.
Union will play Minnesota for the NCAA championship Saturday. The Golden Gophers defeated North Dakota, 2-1, on a shorthanded goal as time was expiring.
Despite a furious finish in the final two minutes, the Eagles (28-8-4) came up short.
“Union played very well,’’ said BC coach Jerry York. “They certainly have an excellent hockey team, as do all the participants here in the tournament. I love how we competed, how we battled right down to the last second. There was never any give-up in us. We’ve been on the other side an awful lot with the trophies and this particular senior class has done an incredible job for us. I’m very, very proud of them.’’
It wasn’t as if BC was forced to play catch-up all night. The Eagles got off to a strong start with junior left wing Johnny Gaudreau’s goal at 2:08 of the first period.
Senior defenseman Mat Bodie answered for Union at 2:39 of the second. The Dutchmen took their first lead at 10:45 on the first of three tallies by Ciampini.
BC pulled even at 15:53 when freshman defenseman Steve Santini beat junior Colin Stevens (34 saves) from high in the right circle.
Ciampini’s redirect of a point shot by junior defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere on the man advantage at 6:31 of the third put Union on top to stay at 3-2.
BC had a great chance to pull even but couldn’t convert on a five-minute power play after senior left wing Matt Hatch received a game misconduct for checking Michael Sit from behind at 6:49.
Instead, freshman Mike Vecchione, a native of Saugus, Mass., gave Union a 4-2 advantage at 11:53 — just four seconds after BC’s power play expired — when he rapped in a rebound past freshman goalie Thatcher Demko (36 saves).
York said the Eagles were out of synch during the extended man advantage.
“They have a good [penalty kill] and they’re a good defensive team,’’ said Gaudreau. “We didn’t get enough shots through to the net and we didn’t do what we were told to do on the power play, so we needed to get more shots through.’’
Senior center Bill Arnold said BC was perhaps trying to force the play too much.
“You can’t do that against a good penalty kill,’’ said Arnold. “They’ll stop you.’’
BC clawed back to 4-3 at 18:15 on Ryan Fitzgerald’s score from outside the right post with the Eagles playing with an extra attacker.
But the Dutchmen restored the two-goal lead with an empty-net goal by Ciampini, who completed his hat trick with 1:09 remaining.
“I got very, very lucky tonight,’’ said Ciampini, a junior forward. “It’s good that I can produce.’’
The last hat trick in the Frozen Four was by BC’s Nathan Gerbe in the semifinals against North Dakota in 2008.
BC captain Patrick Brown closed the gap to 5-4 with five seconds left with the Eagles skating with an extra attacker, but it was too little, too late.
Union, 15-0-1 in its last 16 games, will play for its first national title on Saturday night.
The Dutchmen, champions of the ECAC, no longer think of themselves as a Cinderella team despite the fact the school — similar to Ivy League institutions — offers no athletic scholarships. Their expectations have elevated exponentially since going to the Frozen Four for the first time two seasons ago.
“When I came in here as a freshmen, there were goals set,’’ said Bodie. “But our ultimate goal was not to win a national championship that year and that bothered some guys. The next year, [the goal] was to win a national championship and we took a step toward that goal. We won [the ECAC] for the first time and it’s just been growing each year.’’Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Elle1027.