Timely Union penalty kill helps Dutchmen advance to Frozen Four championship game

Union celebrates its victory over Boston College (photo: Jim Rosvold).

PHILADELPHIA — Throughout the postseason, Union has made a habit of stymieing its opponents on the strength of timely, quick-scoring bursts.

Against Boston College Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center, it was the Dutchmen’s timeliness on the penalty kill that helped Union advance to the school’s first-ever national championship game.

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Daniel Ciampini scored at 6:31 in the third period to put Union up 3-2, but the Dutchmen found themselves short-handed almost immediately after the go-ahead goal when Matt Hatch was given a five-minute major and game misconduct for checking from behind after slamming Michael Sit into the boards.

“The bench was actually pretty calm when it happened,” Union coach Rick Bennett said. “And it just seemed like it happened so fast. First, two minutes [went up on the scoreboard], and then you see Hatch coming across the ice and realize it’s five.”

Not only did the penalty threaten to erase Union’s recently gained lead, but it took away the speedy Hatch, who sees plenty of short-handed time for the Dutchmen.

“It was one of those things. Matt Hatch, he’s killed hundreds of penalties for our team the last four years,” senior forward Daniel Carr said. “That was just one of them that the guys were going to step up for him.”

Hatch, who opened Union’s NCAA tournament scoring with a short-handed goal against Vermont in the East Regional, realized what a big shift his penalty could have been.

“That’s probably the worst penalty I’ve ever taken at the worst time. It was really discouraging. … It was a big relief for the guys to pick me up,” Hatch said.

The Eagles managed only three shots during the five-minute major. Ciampini and Carr each were able to carry the puck out of the defensive zone on several occasions, while Charlie Vasaturo and Noah Henry sprawled out to knock away the puck multiple times, and goalie Colin Stevens was there for the few shots Boston College was able to sneak through.

“He’s never out of sync, and guys feed off of that,” senior captain and defenseman Mat Bodie said of Stevens. “And I think that’s not something you can really keep stats of, but it really helps our team and really makes it go.”

While the Eagles power play has plenty of skilled players, the Dutchmen were able to take away forward Johnny Gaudreau, the nation’s leading scorer.

“We knew the puck was going to be in Johnny’s hand coming up ice,” Union defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “That was our focus. But when it was in zone, we stuck to our system. I don’t think we’ve changed our system all year for any team.”

If the penalty kill didn’t end Boston College’s chance at a comeback, then the sequence immediately following it likely did.

The teams had been back at full strength for a only a few seconds when Kevin Sullivan tracked down his own rebound and found a trailing Mike Vecchione, who ripped a shot past Thatcher Demko to give Union a two-goal lead.

“I think me and Mike were on for the last few minutes of the penalty kill and neither me nor him killed a lot of penalties. We were a little excited. … That kill was unbelievable; our penalty killers did a great job.”

Ciampini added an empty-net goal to make it 5-3 just 36 seconds after Ryan Fitzgerald pulled the Eagles to within one.

“I think we’ve got a few different ways to build mental toughness,” Carr said. “I think guys are pretty good at buying into the little details and I that’s what makes it possible.”