Notebook: Union’s Gostisbehere staying in the present as Philly questions continue

Boston College’s Michael Matheson and Union’s Max Novak tangle on Thursday (photo: Melissa Wade).

PHILADELPHIA — Union junior defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere was a third-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2012, and the local media has been, well, pressing him about his plans following Saturday’s game.

When asked after the Dutchmen’s 5-4 victory over Boston College on Thursday about playing in the Wells Fargo Center, his potential future home, Gostisbehere made it clear that he was thinking about the here and now.

2014 Frozen Four

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“It’s pretty funny, actually,” said Gostisbehere. “Me and Bods [captain Mat Bodie] were just talking in the locker room. We were just so keyed into the game. We were like, ‘Is there even a big crowd out there?’ We didn’t really notice. It’s a great building. I’m sure it’ll all sink in after this, but right now it’s all about playing that game.”

When Union competed in its first Frozen Four two years ago, it was junior Jeremy Welsh who was the subject of all the media speculation about whether he’d stick around for his senior season. The undrafted forward from Bayfield, Ontario, had 27 goals and 17 assists in his junior year.

That situation is one that third-year Union coach Rick Bennett remembers well.

“I think we learned as a coaching staff, as a first-year coach going into the last Frozen Four, I don’t feel I did a good enough job with Jeremy Welsh,” said Bennett. “It was such a circus behind it.”

Bennett was determined to do things differently with Gostisbehere.

“This time, we went to Shayne early in the week and talked to our staff and just wanted to know how I could help him,” said Bennett. “Whatever comes of this, it’s an ownership; it’s going to be his decision. I’m not worried about that. As I said before, he plays for Union College and that’s all that matters to us. Whatever happens that game Saturday night happens, but he knows that we’re with him here as a coaching staff and we’re here to help him.”

Gostisbehere had two assists in Thursday’s national semifinal game and was instrumental on Union’s five-minute penalty kill in the third period.

“It means a lot to my team and my focus is with my team right now,” Gostisbehere said of his performance. “I was just happy that I could contribute today, tonight, any way I could.”

Said Bennett: “I think he’s handled it excellent. I think you saw that by his play tonight.”

Kids were all right for Eagles

Boston College is the youngest team in NCAA men’s Division I hockey this season, but you couldn’t tell by the way they played, said their coach, Jerry York.

“I thought they handled themselves pretty well,” said York. “We played big games before during the course of the season — none of this magnitude — but I thought for the most part they handled the surroundings and the game in a pretty positive manner.”

How young are the Eagles? When the 2013-14 season began, the Eagles’ average age as a team was 20 years and 58 days. Eight skaters who took the ice for Boston College on Thursday were freshmen — five juniors and three defensemen — and freshman goaltender Thatcher Demko (2.44 GAA, .919 save percentage) is the youngest player in all of D-I men’s hockey, having begun his rookie season as a 17-year-old; he turned 18 last December.

“I thought he played well, made some really big saves,” said York. “The breakaway save, they followed with a rebound situation. [He] made two clean breakaway saves. I thought he composed himself very well for this stage, and that says nothing but bright, bright things for the kid.”

Demko finished the night with 36 saves. Freshmen were responsible for two of Boston College’s four goals: forward Ryan Fitzgerald (13-16–29) and defenseman Steve Santini (3-8–11).

Different mind-set for Union

This is Union’s second trip to the Frozen Four in three seasons. When the Dutchmen were part of the field that played in Tampa in 2012, few people expected them to have gone so far, especially with a first-year coach.

Now that coach, Rick Bennett, is 6-2 in NCAA tournament play and his team will vie for a national championship Saturday night. It’s all part of Union’s growth as a team, said senior captain Mat Bodie.

“I think the biggest thing is the mind-set,” said Bodie. “When I came in as a freshman [in 2010-11], there were goals set but our ultimate goal was not to win a national championship that year. That bothered some guys.

“The next year, [the goal] was to win a national championship and we took a step toward that. We won our league for the first time. It’s just been growing each year. Coach preaches to get better every day and I think that that’s what we’ve done over the past four years.”

Bodie, a defenseman, had the goal early in the second period that tied the game for Union 1-1 and he has netted a goal in all three of Union’s NCAA postseason games this year.

Bennett credited Bodie and his fellow upperclassmen with preparing this year’s team for the Frozen Four and said that the entire team is taking all of this in stride.

“As coaches, we can tell them just to relax and take it easy and all this other stuff and whatever coach-speak you want, but that just makes us feel good as a coaching staff to say it,” Bennett said. “They’re a pretty level-headed group. This is the furthest our program has ever been, so we’re going to have to learn basically through this, but what’s important now is those guys watch the game on TV, get a meal in them, rest up and get ready for tomorrow’s practice.”

As level-headed as they are, the Dutchmen showed some excitement post-game.

“I grew up watching BC and watching them dominate and everything, so to come out here and play them and end up beating them in the end is just an amazing feeling,” said freshman forward Mike Vecchione of Saugus, Mass., whose third-period goal from senior Kevin Sullivan gave Union a 4-2 lead. “We came out here to win a national championship, so getting past them was the first step. It’s going to be either NoDak or Minnesota, so we’re just starting to prepare for that one right now.”

“It’s a dream come true,” said Sullivan. “We’re trying to keep our emotions in check here because we’re trying to treat it like any other game, but obviously it’s awesome. It’s a great accomplishment for us, but we’re not done.”

Bennett himself was loose in the postgame news conference, joking with the media. When asked if he said anything to his team between the first and second periods, when Boston College was up 1-0, he said: “Yeah, we just told them that you keep playing like that we’re going to all walk home. That’s what we said to them.”