College Hockey:
Peca’s hat trick sparks Quinnipiac over Union as Bobcats advance to first Frozen Four

— In what amounted to the de facto ECAC Hockey title game, Quinnipiac had Matthew Peca — and Union didn’t have a way to defend against him.

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Peca posted a natural hat trick over a span of 3:12 in the first period Sunday night at the NCAA Tournament East Regional Final at the Dunkin Donuts Center to propel the Bobcats to a 5-1 win over Union. It was the fastest hat trick in NCAA tournament history, and helped send Quinnipiac to its first-ever Frozen Four.

“It’s huge,” said Peca. “It helped us win, so that’s the biggest thing. It helped Quinnipiac to their Frozen Four, so I think that’s as much as I can take out of it.”

The Bobcats join nearby league rival Yale in the Frozen Four, as the Bulldogs beat North Dakota, 4-1, to advance to Pittsburgh. It’s the first time two ECAC teams have been in the Frozen Four since 1983, when Providence and Harvard both made it.

Yale faces Massachusetts-Lowell at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 11, while Quinnipiac goes against St. Cloud State at 8.

“They’re going to put you in spots where you don’t want to be,” Union coach Rick Bennett said of the Bobcats. “You have to make smart decisions.”

Sunday’s game was the first time that two ECAC teams had meet in the NCAA tournament since 1978, when then-league members Boston College and Boston University met in the national title game. It was also a matchup of the regular season champions (Quinnipiac) against the tournament champions (Union).

“I felt extremely confident that we were going to be good tonight,” said Bobcats coach Rand Pecknold, who admitted Saturday that his team hadn’t been playing its best lately. “We dictated the game. I thought we won a lot of battles and a lot of races.”

Peca’s first goal came off a broken play at 9:46 in the first with the Bobcats on a power play. The sophomore drove down the left wing and tried to hurdle past Union defender Sebastien Gingras, but got caught up and went to the ice. Kellen Jones laid out and pushed the puck on net, where Connor Jones threw a shot that bounced off Troy Grosenick and out to Peca, who backhanded it into the open net.

The sophomore scored again 45 seconds later, grabbing a Union turnover near the blue line and snapping it through a defender and into the net from the right circle. Peca completed the hat trick when he took the puck along the left end boards, maneuvered his way past the Dutchmen’s Shawn Stuart, and backhanded a shot past Grosenick (21 saves) at 12:58.

It was Peca’s first multi-goal game of the year.

Union’s Matt Wilkins was handed a five-minute major and game misconduct for hitting-from-behind after laying out a Bobcats player in the corner at 6:27 in the second. Quinnipiac (29-7-5) converted on the ensuing power play when Jordan Samuels-Thomas took a pass on the backhand and flicked it into the net.

Kellen Jones made it 5-0 at 11:42, taking a pass from Peca on a rush and driving straight up the slot before beating Grosenick.

Daniel Ciampani scored the Dutchmen’s (22-13-5) lone goal on a power play at 3:15 in the third.

Union had the best chance of the opening minutes of the game when Max Novak drove hard on net, but his shot was turned away by Eric Hartzell (18 saves).

“Max has been playing great for us,” Dutchmen forward Wayne Simpson said. “I think he we all thought it was going in. That was big; we could have got the first goal.”

Peca, Hartzell, Gostisbehere, Josh Jooris, and Connor Jones were named to the all-tournament team. Peca was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.

“We compete hard and we battle and that’s what we’re good at,” Pecknold said. “We might not have the most talent in the country, but we’re No.1 for a reason.”

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