ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Like most college kids, the Union Dutchmen decided that after waiting 21 years, it was due for one heck of a party.
The Schenectady icers outlasted Harvard and its red-hot goalie Raphael Girard 3-1, to win their first ever ECAC tournament title in their 21st year as a Division I program.
“It means that we get to walk around like champions,” said an emotional Rick Bennett, Union’s first-year head coach and long-time assistant. “It’s something we’ll always remember.”
Linemates Daniel Carr, Josh Jooris and Jeremy Welsh each scored for the Dutchmen (24-7-7), and league goaltender of the year Troy Grosenick turned away 16 shots to earn the landmark victory. Welsh earned the tournament’s most outstanding player award with two goals and two assists this weekend.
“It was surreal,” Grosenick said of his teammates rushing his crease at the final horn. “That’s really the only way to describe it.”
Leading scorer Alex Killorn buried the only goal of the game for Harvard (13-10-11), which couldn’t find its rhythm against high-intensity Union. Girard stopped each of the first 28 shots he faced Saturday night, but ultimately allowed two goals on 33 shots in the tough-luck loss.
“I think they’ll be a great representative of our league,” said disappointed Harvard coach Ted Donato. “I don’t know if we had the same jump tonight that we’ve had over the last few weekends.”
Union busted out of the gates, out-shooting the Crimson 15-6 in the opening period and demanding the very best of Girard. The ‘keeper was up to the task, making a handful of exceptional stops to keep the game scoreless heading into the first intermission. Despite sneaking out of the period with the scoreless draw intact, Harvard lamented the missed opportunities of three failed power plays. Union only drew one penalty in the frame.
Girard was kept plenty busy in the second period as Union took the game by the throat. Harvard didn’t register a single shot until the final three minutes of the frame, while the Dutchmen tacked a dozen more to their – and Girard’s – game totals. The Crimson found a spark late in the period, but Grosenick shook off the cobwebs to make four challenging stops before the second horn.
“‘Raph’ was outstanding,” Donato said. “He gave us a chance after two periods to be in a zero-zero game – we felt like we could play a period and maybe win a championship.”
Harvard drew first blood at 4:59 of the third when Killorn tapped an Alex Fallstrom pass through Grosenick’s pads on a two-on-one rush. Union responded promptly, as Welsh finally solved Girard with a five-hole wrister from the right wing circle.
“When they scored first, the whole attitude on the bench wasn’t ‘uh oh’,” Carr described. “It was ‘Alright, we’re good here. Let’s keep going, and good things will happen.’”
Carr made it happen four minutes later when he converted a rebound into a red light. The Crimson found a new gear and kept Grosenick moving as time wound down. Junior David Valek hit Grosenick’s post with two and a half minutes to go and senior Eric Kroshus whiffed on a bouncing puck with the goalie out of position moments later.
Donato lifted Girard with a minute and a half remaining, but it wasn’t meant to be as Jooris drove the final nail into the coffin with an empty-netter.
Union advances to the NCAA tournament for the second time ever and the second time in as many years. The Dutchmen fell to eventual champions Minnesota-Duluth in the first round of the Bridgeport (East) Regional last spring, where they are likely to land again next weekend.