Going On the Block
Union's Well-Rounded Game Includes Tough Team Defense
by Jashvina Shah/Staff Writer
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BRIDGEPORT, Conn. After advancing to the Frozen Four, Shayne Gostisbehere — in his East Regional championship hat — stood in the locker room and place his hand on his heart.
“Coach said in his pregame speech — and it fired up the boys — it’s all about this right here,” Gostisbehere said.
"It stuck with us. I’ve never seen a guy block a shot and then celebrate like Kevin Sullivan did. It fired me up just shows how much heart this team has.”
With less than two minutes left in the game, Providence’s offense was pressuring Union. The Friars trailed 3-1, and had an extra attacker on the ice.
Friar forward Noel Acciari took a shot, but Dutchmen captain Mat Bodie blocked it. A few seconds later, Tom Parisi responded with a shot.
And Union’s Kevin Sullivan responded with a block.
After the play, Sullivan got in Parisi's face and shouted.
“I was pretty excited,” Sullivan said. “I think it was a pretty emotional game. It was a close game and just when I blocked that, emotions got the best of me so I shouted.”
Bodie, who was still on the ice, didn’t see the reaction.
“I had a bit of that stinger just from that play,” Bodie said. “But that was a huge block by [Sullivan].”
Sullivan’s block was his only of the game, and one of Union’s 13 blocked shots in the 3-1 win.
The Dutchmen are known for speed and opportunistic scoring, known for good goaltending and having a couple studs on defense. But it's so many of the little things that coaches refer to, that separate good teams from great. It's not always clear what coaches are referring to — but, getting in passing lines, making the right timing on a poke check, protecting the puck correctly, and getting your body in the way of pucks ... these things all add up.
“I think it’s incredibly important,” defenseman Charlie Vasaturo said. “I know personally and for the team, each one of us thrives on blocking shots. It just builds up momentum for the bench and everyone feeds into that and we feed off it and it’s a huge part of our game.”
While Providence took 61 shots, only 25 of them ended up on Union’s net.
“They won their net front,” Providence coach Nate Leaman said. “They do a good job in their own zone.”
Everyone knows that Gostisbehere possesses high-end flash. They can see his skill in skating and stickhandling. But he also finished with a team-high six blocks, including a couple while in "goaltender mode" in the first period. Eli Lichtenwald, Sam Coatta and Sebastian Gingras also took to the ice for blocks.
“Coach just tells us to have pride, do whatever we have to do for the team to win,” defenseman Jeff Taylor said. “That’s just what we do. Blocking shots is part of that.”
The Dutchmen don’t block the most shots in the country. But at the East Regional they took away the shooting lanes, limiting opponent scoring chances.
“Get in the lane,” Vasaturo said. “But like coach says, a lot of it is just heart. Just wanting to pay the price. ... Just wanting it more than the other guy.”
Of course, it's a symbiotic relationship between defense and goaltender. There are going to be times when the goalie is needed, no matter how good his defense is. Union practices taking away shooting lanes to help sophomore netminder Colin Stevens, but Stevens also has one of the highest save percentages in the nation on the shots that get through.
Vasaturo said Stevens spent extra time working with assistant coach Jason Tapp, who used to be the team’s goaltending coach.
“Colin’s the anchor of everything,” Gostisbehere said. “When he’s going, we’re going. If he has a down night, which isn’t a lot, we’re there to pick him up. Right now when you have a hot goalie it’s a good thing in these tournaments like this.”
Sullivan said teams have complimented the Dutchmen on their shot blocking after games.
“That’s kind of an identity of our team,” Sullivan said. “I think it’s just team effort, being disciplined and sticking to our defense for the most part. Our defense, Charlie Vastauro, Mat Bodie and Shayne Gostisbehere, do a great job of blocking shots and not letting them through.”
Bodie had a few of his own as well.
“It’s pretty easy to block them,” Bodie said. “You’re going to get some stingers, but they all feel good after the game.”