Gostisbehere powers Union past Minnesota for its first national championship

Union coach Rick Bennett lifts the national championship trophy after the Dutchmen’s win over Minnesota (photo: Melissa Wade).

PHILADELPHIA — If Saturday’s national championship game ends up being the final collegiate game for Union defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, he picked the perfect night to put forward one of the best performances in recent memory of the Frozen Four.

Scoring a key goal in the game’s opening period and adding two assists, Gostisbehere finished the game a plus-7 as he was on the ice for all of Union’s goals in a 7-4 victory over Minnesota to clinch the first national title for the program in its 23-year history of Division I hockey.

2014 Frozen Four

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The performance earned Gostisbehere, a draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, the tournament’s most outstanding player honor in front of a crowd of 18,742 at the First Union Center, a venue at which he one day expects to play professional hockey.

“A plus-7, that’s pretty staggering,” said Union coach Rick Bennett. “Maybe some of the plays he wasn’t a part of out there but he does create something because you have to be aware [of him].”

While his first-period goal that evened the score at 1-1 settled his team down after it fell behind early, a defensive play late in the game is one that likely will be remembered in a game where the final score wasn’t indicative of how close the game was.

Just two minutes after Minnesota’s Hudson Fasching scored on the power play to pull the Gophers within a goal at 5-4, Gostisbehere made a diving play to break up a Taylor Cammarata rush.

In doing so, he passed to fellow defenseman Mat Bodie, who headmanned the puck to Kevin Sullivan. His low shot beat Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox (41 saves) to set off a massive celebration among the Union faithful with 1:22 remaining.

Bodie’s empty-netter less than a minute later was the exclamation point for the victory.

If there was any doubt this would be a battle of offenses, it was erased in the opening stanza as the two teams combined for the wildest period of hockey in a title game since 1963.

Union scored four times to Minnesota’s two, and the teams combined for 35 shots total, the second-most in a period of a title game.

It was the Gophers striking first as Justin Kloos took advantage of a mishandled shot, burying the rebound past Union netminder Colin Stevens at 2:37.

Gostisbehere, playing in the rink of the Philadelphia Flyers, the team that holds his NHL rights, evened the game at 9:26 by firing a shot through a screen set by a Minnesota defender on a rush and past Wilcox.

After Minnesota retook the lead at 10:03 on a Sam Warning goal off a rebound of a Kyle Rau wraparound bid, Union stormed back with three goals in a 1:54 span to shock the Gophers.

Mike Vecchione scored the first of the trio of tallies after Wilcox left multiple rebounds on the doorstep. The fifth shot attempt finally found the back of the net to even the game at 15:09.

Just 57 seconds later, it was another rebound, this time off a draw, that Eli Lichtenwald fired home to give Union its first lead.

And further rebound trouble led to Daniel Ciampini firing home his fourth goal of the Frozen Four at 17:03 to give Union a 4-2 edge through one period.

“I think that’s been a staple of our team all year that we come in waves,” said Bodie. “You really felt that at the end of the first there. All three of those goals were pack-of-wolves goals where guys were on net, and second and third chances.”

“The game probably got away from us in that little three or four-minute stretch in the end of the first period where they scored the three goals,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “I think some of that was just trying too hard, trying to do somebody else’s job.”

It appeared that the second period was going to follow a similar story line when Taylor Cammarata pulled Minnesota within a goal at 1:13 and Nate Condon hit the post on his bid to tie the game at 4:58.

A flurry of saves by Stevens with four and a half minutes left in the frame kept the Union lead at 4-3 heading to the third.

Union regained a two-goal cushion at 5:31 of the third when Max Novak worked a perfect give-and-go with Kevin Sullivan, redirecting a pass perfectly over Wilcox’s shoulder.

The national title is the first in the Dutchmen’s history that dates to 1903. It caps a wild four-year ride for the Union seniors that began with the team’s first NCAA appearance in 2010-11, its first Frozen Four appearance a year later and of course a national title this season.

The seniors captured three ECAC Hockey regular season and postseason titles and earned 106 career wins.

“It’s unbelievable the growth this program has taken over the past probably eight years,” said Bodie, the team’s senior captain. “I’ve only been here for four of them, but this championship’s for anyone that’s ever had a hand in Union hockey because we wouldn’t be here without all those players before us.”

Gostisbehere now can contemplate whether he will return to Union or possibly even simply stay right in Philadelphia and begin his pro career.

For now, however, it’s all about living the moment and the dream that comes with a national title.

“It was really awesome,” said Gostisbehere. “It feels like we’re dreaming right now, but sometimes dreams come true.”