By Roman J. Uschak
It was the former apprentice facing his former mentor when top-seeded Union met third-seeded Providence in the NCAA East Regional Final at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. The apprentice came out ahead this time.
No. 1-ranked Union advanced to the NCAA Frozen Four in Philadelphia next month with a 3-1 win in Saturday’s regional final that stretched its winning streak to 10 contests. The Dutchmen are also unbeaten in their last 15 outings since Jan. 31, while the Friars had been seeking their first Frozen Four since 1985.
Union coach Rick Bennett, a former Providence forward and Union assistant who took over the Dutchmen bench when Nate Leaman left to guide the Friars in 2011, called it “bittersweet “ to best his old colleague.
“He helped recruit a lot of these guys,” said Bennett. “A part of him is a part of this team, too.”
Leaman gave credit to his protege in turn.
“They have tremendous team speed,” he said of Union. “This is a team that could win the national championship.”
Just as No. 10 Providence (22-11-6) jumped on Quinnipiac early Friday, Union (30-6-4) got going offensively before the game was three minutes old.
After a Union dump-in along the boards, Daniel Carr slid the puck across to Mat Bodie on the left side. Bodie skated into the circle and drilled a shot past Jon Gillies (South Portland, Maine) on the glove side at 2:42 for his second goal of the regional.
Colin Stevens (25 saves) kept the game scoreless when he stopped a wraparound attempt by Nick Saracino with just over six minutes left, and then gloved the rebound try by Derek Army (North Kingstown, R.I). Union defenseman Shayne Gotisbehere matched his goaltender shortly afterward, making several saves on on a loose puck at the right post.
“It was a massive play,” said Bodie. “You need those breaks sometimes in this tournament.”
Bodie clanked the crossbar on a power-play shot from the left point later in the period, but the Dutchmen would make it a 2-0 contest just 58 seconds into the second frame. Kevin Sullivan (Darien, Conn.) kept the puck in at the right point and fed Max Novak, who skated up the wall and cut in close for a backhander. Gillies (28 saves) appeared to make the save, but the puck squirted loose and slid over the goal line.
“I guess it just trickled through,” said Novak, who scored three goals on the weekend and was named Most Outstanding Player. “It took forever to go in.”
Providence couldn’t convert on an early third-period power play, and the clock was ticking down on the Friars’ season when Saracino whipped a loose puck home from outside the crease with 5:05 remaining in regulation.
“Our season was on the line, and we had to push the pace in the third,” said Saracino.
The Dutchmen put to rest any hopes of a comeback when Sullivan and Novak set up Matt Hatch for a one-timer from the low left circle between Gillies’ pads at 16:13.
“We kind of got off our game in the third," said Hatch. “I knew we wanted to find a soft spot, and Max made a great pass.”
Union, which will wait to see who its opponent will be in two weeks, is the last ECAC team standing for the second time in three years.
“We’re honored and humbled,” said Bennett. “Hopefully we can continue this ride.”