By Meghan Creane
two years old,” however the Frozen Four seems to demand a different level of expertise.
Making it to the Frozen Four for the second time within the past three seasons, many of the Dutchmen are prepared to brave the championship with an improved outlook of what to expect this time around. “Last time was our first time for all of us,” explains forward Cole Ikkala ‘15. “Now, we have two classes that have been there, so we have a lot more experience… I think the team is really ready for it. We’ve been there once now, so all that hype is past us and now we’re ready to make a run with the title.”
This experience will be invaluable to the underclassmen Dutchmen who could otherwise be overwhelmed at the attention and media storm they will face upon arrival to Philly. As Daniel Ciampini ’15 explains, “the younger guys have someone to turn to if they want to ask questions as to what was going on previously when we got there… there’s a ton of cameras and it’s sold out to about 17,000 fans. I think for us older guys, we know what to expect, so I think experience is the biggest thing compared to how it went freshman year.”
Despite the hype and the press coverage at the end of the day the Dutchmen are there to win hockey games, something they will be challenged with from the start with the bout with Boston College.
The Eagles and the Dutchmen have faced each other only once before in last year’s Eastern Regional playoff, in which the “U” dominated Boston College 5-1. This score may not be the best judge of Thursday contest however, as at the moment Boston College leads the nation in offense (4.10 goals per game) with Union coming in second (3.70 goals per game). As noted by Ciampanini “I think they’re a good test. I mean, everyone’s talking about last year and how we did last year, but I think this year it’s a lot different, they have a different sort of team and I think it’s going to be a little bit more of a challenge than people think it would be.” Adding to the hype are one very special Eagle and one very special Dutchmen. Johnny Gaudreau and Shane Ghostisbehere have been the talk of the NCAA hockey blogs for months now, both electric players with an eye for the game. With both having been nominated for the Hobey Baker Award, and Gadreau still in the running, this semi-final game is likely going to be dependent, not only on arguably the two biggest stars of the Frozen Four, but those young men who play alongside them. After losing the seemingly unbeatable Troy Grosenick the Dutchmen turned to Stevens who has yet to let the Dutchmen down. Stevens has owned every crease he steps into this season with an impressive .932 save percentage with four shutouts in the last 15 games. Across the ice from Stevens will be the freshman net minder for the Eagles, Thatcher Demko. With a .920 save percentage Demko has definitely proven his ability to hold down the net for the Eagles, however, unlike Stevens, Demko has never attended a Frozen Four, something that could impact his play upon arrival to Philly.
Union is lead in scoring by a pair of Dans, Carr ’14 and Ciampanini ’15, Carr with over 40 points on the season and Ciampanini along with three others with over 30 points each. Carr is expected to put together a solid performance at the Frozen Four, this being both his second time at the show and his senior year. Combined with Ciampanini, Kevin Sullivan ’14 and Matt Hatch ’14 the Dutchmen’s offense is a well-seasoned group of veterans, helped along by underclassmen Max Novak ’16 and Mike Vecchione ’17. The defense is headed by two of Union’s most noted players, Ghostisbehere and captain Mat Bodie ’14, who have combined so far on the season for over seventy points.
Another question that has crossed the minds of many Frozen Four speculators is whether Union’s lack of Division I experience will impact them. This can be answered almost immediately by looking at the record of head coach Rick Bennett. Since taking over the team in 2011 Bennett has helped the Dutchmen earn a three-year record of 78-27-16, two Cleary Cups, three Conference Tournament Championships and two Frozen Fours, a surprising resume for the smallest enrolled school in the Frozen Four. Union is also the smallest enrolled school in NCAA Division I hockey that does not grant athletic scholarships, another example that speaks to the quality of the program put on by Bennett. As recently as last week Bennett has received even more honors, this time being named Coach of the Year by College Hockey News.
Philly does not know what is coming for them this year, a feisty team of veterans and rookies led by a coach that has been shaped by the game through years of experience looking so win a title many never dreamed they would come close to. Be sure to show your support to these amazing student athletes as they take on Boston College in the semi-final match up tonight at 5pm!