PROVIDENCE — When Union stepped onto the ice Saturday night against defending NCAA champion Boston College, the Dutchmen looked unbeatable.
Their defensemen’s mobility was very much on display, their special teams were unstoppable, and goaltender Troy Grosenick put an end to all but one offensive chance the Eagles were able to generate as Union advanced to the NCAA East Regional final against No. 1 overall seed Quinnipiac at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
What a difference a day makes. Quinnipiac started out with a patient game plan in the first period Sunday and then poured on the offense on the way to a dominating 5-1 victory. It was exactly what the Dutchmen did to BC the night before.
The Bobcats (29-7-5) advance to the NCAA Frozen Four for the first time. They join first-timers Saint Cloud State, their next opponent, and UMass-Lowell in the semifinals in Pittsburgh on April 11. The fourth team — Yale — is going to the Frozen Four for the second time in school history and the first time in 62 years.
The senior-laden Bobcats prevented ECAC league rival Union from reaching the Frozen Four for the second straight season.
One of the big moments came at 1:55 of the first when sophomore center Max Novak broke in all alone on Quinnipiac senior goalie Eric Hartzell.
Hartzell made a terrific glove save to deny the chance and the momentum swung his team’s way.
“It’s always nice to make a big save early in the game,’’ said Hartzell. “The team bounces back and responds to it. It just happened so quickly. I tried to stay patient and fortunately he put it in my glove.’’
The star of the game was the Bobcats’ sophomore left wing Matthew Peca, who set an NCAA Tournament record with a natural hat trick in a span of 3 minutes, 12 seconds in the opening period that put the Dutchman in a deep hole. He had three shots in the game, all goals. The previous record was set by Warren Miller of Minnesota, who scored three goals in 4:20 in a game against Harvard on March 13, 1975. It was the first postseason hat trick for the Bobcats since Chris White on March 9, 2002, against Iona.
His outburst was another turning point in the contest. The killer was a poor decision by Union’s Matt Wilkins at 6:27 of the second period, which sucked the air out of the Dutchmen cheering section.
Wilkins, a freshman right wing, lined up Bobcats senior defenseman Zack Currie and hit him from behind right in the numbers.
He was assessed a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct, which put Quinnipiac on an extended power play. The fourth goal came during that man advantage with freshman right wing Travis St. Denis feeding junior right wing Jordan Samuels-Thomas from the left circle.
Samuels-Thomas backhanded in a shot from the doorstep that Grosenick (21 saves) couldn’t stop and it was 4-0 at 7:22.
Union’s defense, which looked so invincible on Saturday, was picked apart by junior right wing Kellen Jones and it led to the Bobcats’ fifth tally.
Jones barreled through a pair of the Dutchmen’s blueliners and beat Grosenick on a backhander at 11:42.
Union scored its only goal of the contest during a power play at 3:15 of the third when senior defenseman Greg Coburn dished a pass from the left circle to sophomore left wing Daniel Ciampini in the slot. Ciampini beat Hartzell (18 saves), ending the shutout.
At 11:21, the Dutchmen lost their second player for the game when sophomore defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere was called for a five-minute major and a game misconduct for contact to the head of junior center Connor Jones. Jones was being called for tripping before the hit so the teams skated four a side before the three-minute power play kicked in.
“It’s amazing in sports,’’ said Union coach Rick Bennett. “One time you have one of the biggest wins in your program history, the next night you’re . . . it’s a tough locker room to be around right now.’’
For Quinnipiac, it’s the continuation of a journey that no one on the team wants to see end until they are holding the championship trophy.
“We’re definitely close but we’re still not where we want to be,’’ said Hartzell. “The Frozen Four is obviously a big accomplishment, it’s the first time in program history but our goal is not just to be here and at the Frozen Four, it’s to win.’’