PHILADELPHIA — Some people looked at Union as the Cinderella team of 2013-14. Others believed it was a team of destiny.
Whatever your opinion of the tiny school, which doesn’t give out athletic scholarships, the one word that undeniably defines it now is champion.
The Dutchmen won the ECAC regular-season title. They won the ECAC tournament. They captured the NCAA East Regional, which propelled them to the Frozen Four, and after beating perennial contender Boston College on Thursday in the semifinals, they beat Minnesota on Saturday night, 7-4, at the Wells Fargo Center to win the first NCAA Division 1 crown in program history.
Union (32-6-4) scored four goals in the first period and racked up three more in the third, getting tallies from seven skaters on the way to the final win of the year.
“It’s an honor,’’ said senior left wing Daniel Carr. “Hat’s off to Minnesota, they played so hard tonight. It’s indescribable right now. It’s something that is going to stick with us for the rest of our lives.’’
Minnesota struck first at 2:37 of the opening period. The initial shot was taken by senior Nate Condon from the right circle. Junior goaltender Colin Stevens (36 saves) made the initial stop but couldn’t hang onto the puck. It dropped out of his glove and freshman center Justin Kloos pounced on the rebound and rapped it in to make it 1-0.
The Dutchmen pulled even at 9:26 when junior defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, the best player on the ice and voted the most outstanding player of the tournament, skated the puck into the left circle, fired it between the legs of Minnesota blue liner Justin Holl, and beat sophomore goalie Adam Wilcox (41 saves) to the glove side.
The Golden Gophers regained the lead just 37 seconds later when junior left wing Sam Warning found daylight on the short side at 10:03.
Freshman Mike Vecchione, a native of Saugus, Mass., generated the equalizer at 15:09 when he scored on his third try.
Minnesota’s defense was caught napping and Wilcox was under siege. Union had several opportunities but Wilcox held the Dutchmen off as long as he could until Vecchione potted his own rebound to make it 2-2.
At 16:06, Union took the lead for the first time and never relinquished it.
Freshman center Eli Lichtenwald beat Wilcox with his own rebound from just outside the right post.
Union made it a two-goal lead at 17:03 when junior right wing Daniel Ciampini beat Wilcox on a rebound from the slot and it was 4-2 heading into the first intermission after the Dutchmen had taken control with three goals in a span of 1 minute 54 seconds.
It was a tough period for Wilcox, who gave up four goals against on 20 shots. Wilcox had given up only four goals in the previous three NCAA Tournament games.
Minnesota (28-7-6) closed to 4-3 at 1:13 of the second on freshman right wing Taylor Cammarata’s 10th strike.
Despite the energy the Golden Gophers started the period with, they couldn’t translate it into more goals.
One of the best scoring chances of the night came at 15:25 when freshman left wing Connor Reilly had a backhander right in front of Stevens. But the goalie flashed his left pad as far as it would go and the threat was thwarted.
Union restored its two-goal advantage at 5:31 of the third when senior Kevin Sullivan threaded the puck into the slot for junior center Max Novak, who redirected it past Wilcox.
But the Golden Gophers clawed back with 3:40 to go, scoring the only power-play goal of the night when Hudson Fasching outdueled freshman blue liner Noah Henry for the puck on the doorstep and fired it past Stevens, closing to 5-4.
Sullivan closed the door when he scored from the high slot with 1:22 remaining and defenseman Mat Bodie put the icing on the title with an empty-netter with 44.2 seconds left.
Despite what outsiders may think, none of the players believe there was any Cinderella aspect to their season. Perhaps it was two years ago, when Union made it to the Frozen Four for the first time in program history, but now the expectations are different. The Dutchmen were, after all, ranked No. 1 in the final poll.
“The only way we’re a Cinderella team is just name recognition,’’ said Bodie. “No one in our room ever believed we were a Cinderella story this year. We knew we belonged with the big boys and hopefully some people will start to realize that Union hockey is here for good now.’’
Gostisbehere said he looks at the team as Union hockey and no other moniker need apply.
“We’re just a team trying to win a national title,’’ he said.