BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — No matter how you break it down, it’s been a historic week for Union.
But the Dutchmen aren’t looking at it that way.
“We’re not getting too high with any of this,” junior forward Jeremy Welsh said following Union’s first Division I NCAA tournament victory, a 3-1 win over Michigan State Friday night at Webster Bank Arena in the East Regional. “We didn’t come here to get one win. This is what is supposed to happen, so we’re focused on tomorrow.”
They’ll be playing Saturday thanks to a staunch defensive effort and 20 saves from Hobey Baker finalist Troy Grosenick.
“I was talking to [ECAC] commissioner [Steve Hagwell] a little bit today and he asked me how it was going,” Union coach Rick Bennett said. “I said it seemed like a whirlwind. We’re in Atlantic City and the next thing you know, we’re here in Bridgeport.”
The top-seeded Dutchmen returned to Bridgeport for the second straight year. They were shutout by eventual national champion Minnesota-Duluth last year, but return to Bridgeport on the heels of their first ECAC championship.
Grosenick wasn’t tested often, but came up with a huge glove save on Brock Shelgren’s blast from the point with Union clinging to a one-goal lead with just under three minutes left.
“That’s what you need,” Bennett said of his goalie’s late save.
“We expected it would be a tough game to find space,” Michigan State first-year coach Tom Anastos said. “I thought the difference was that they took advantage of some mistakes that we made and scored. [We had] some real good opportunities that we weren’t able to do that.”
Spartans’ goalie Will Yanakeff struggled with rebounds for much of the game and Union capitalized early in the second.
Mat Bodie launched a shot from the high slot that rebounded to a crashing Welsh on the right post. The junior swooped in from the wing, corralled the puck, and deftly maneuvered around Yanakeff to make it 2-0 at 3:40.
Union had a chance to extend its lead while shorthanded, but Nolan Julseth-White missed on a three-on-one rush and Michigan State quickly regrouped, driving down ice and making it 2-1 on Matt Berry’s snipe from the right circle that rang off the crossbar and past Grosenick.
But a hooking penalty against Greg Wolfe sent the Dutchmen to the power play at 18:26 and Union capped it when Wayne Simpson blasted a shot past Yanakeff at 19:42 following a defensive zone faceoff win by Kelly Zajac.
“We wanted to play to the end because against a good team like that, it’s never really over until it’s over,” Simpson said. “The guys did a really good job finishing it off.”
The Dutchmen’s first goal came after Michigan State’s Dean Chelios barreled into Daniel Ciampini near the Dutchmen bench midway through the first, drawing a five-minute major and a game misconduct for a hit from behind.
Union didn’t convert on the extended power play, which was prematurely negated when Daniel Carr was called for interference.
But the Dutchmen struck while skating four-on-four when Max Novak took a Welsh pass on the rush and wristed a shot from the left circle past Yanakeff at 15:09.
The Spartans (19-16-4) threw a bevy of shots at Grosenick at the close of the period, but the sophomore turned away all of them amidst traffic.
A nearly six-minute delay ensued while the officials reviewed a no-goal call against the Spartans at 18:42. The call was upheld after it was determined the net was dislodged prior to the puck entering.
“I didn’t feel it sucked the life out of us,” Anastos said of the call.
Despite the loss, Friday marked the Spartans’ first NCAA tournament appearance since 2008, and 27th all-time, fourth among Division I programs. The game was also MSU’s first-ever contest against Union.
“At Michigan State, we don’t just pride ourselves in getting into the tournament,” said CCHA player of the year and MSU captain Torey Krug. “At the same time, our team’s come a long way. When coach Anastos was hired, he told us we were his guys and he was going to win with us.”
Union (25-7-7) faces No. 3 Massachusetts-Lowell Saturday night at 6:30 p.m.