Championship Game Preview
Minnesota Goes for 6th Title, Union for 1st
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
PHILADELPHIA Don Lucia’s Thursday night wasn’t as crazy as you might expect.
Following Minnesota’s last-second win – literally – over North Dakota in the NCAA semifinals, Lucia traveled back to the team hotel, ate a quick meal and tried to study up a bit on Union before turning in for the night, or rather, early morning.
“I didn't even crawl into bed until 3 a.m.,” he said. “You’re eating your postgame meal at 12:30. You get back to your room at 1. It takes a while to decompress and here we are back at the rink at 11.”
The first time Don Lucia played for a national championship, in 1996 with Colorado College, things were much different. He remembers a semifinal game against Vermont that featured Martin St. Louis, and not being prepared for how good his line was. CC wound up winning that game in overtime, then losing to Michigan in overtime of the final.
Now, teams are able to get plenty of video to scout the opposition, and there's more online media attention.
From the quick look he did get at the Dutchmen, the Minnesota coach sees a lot of similarities to North Dakota, especially on the blue line where players like Shayne Gostisbehere can change the game whenever the puck hits his stick. Fellow defenseman, Mat Bodie, can do the same.
“You have two elite defensemen that can control their back end, one of them for the most part can be on the ice all game long,” Lucia said. “North Dakota's defensemen were very offensive and very active in the play last night, so that's going to help us with the mentality we're going to have to have in the game tomorrow.”
For Bodie, a win over the Gophers his freshman year at the Mariucci Tournament really has helped set the tone for Union’s run of success over his four years.
The Dutchmen were coming off a 21-win season the year before, but were fluttering just barely about the .500-mark the year before that.
Heading into that game on New Year’s Eve, 2010, Union had won just five of its previous 12 games.
After the 3-2 come-from-behind win in overtime, Union won 15 of its next 18 games (15-2-1).
The next season the Dutchmen won 26 games and advanced to the NCAA semifinal before winning 22 games and reaching the regional final last season.
“That was a massive win for us,” he said. “Guys were really excited. It was an overtime game. It was at their place. It was one of the bigger programs we've ever beaten. It's all about taking baby steps, and I think that was a huge step in the growth of Union College.”
Bodie and Gostisbehere have grown as well, and will present two huge challenges for the Gophers on Saturday.
Bodie has 37 points from the blue line this season and Gostisbehere has 31.
The North Dakota team the Gophers faced Thursday featured four defensemen with at least 21 points.
“I think the big thing is for our forwards,” said Minnesota senior forward Nate Condon. “We have to be more sound defensively. When (North Dakota) got in the offensive zone they ran a lot of high cycles and their "D" used their feet to change shooting lanes and things like that.
“So it is more of a matter of our wings have to be more active defensively. It wasn't so much as standing out and guarding your point. It was really that you had to be involved and be communicating with the 'D' corps, and the guys that you had to switch with there in the 'D' zone. So it made it a whole five-person, six-person effort in the 'D' zone where you had to really communicate well. That was probably one thing we picked up big early in the North Dakota game.”
Union will be looking at a much different team than it faced on the semifinal.
Depth up front hasn’t been a strength for the Eagles. Johnny Gaudreau, Kevin Hayes and Bill Arnold – you know the names – have been dominating the scoresheets in most of BC’s games.
Minnesota is a different story.
The Gophers’ leading scorer, Kyle Rau, is under a point per game (39 points in 40 games) and has fewer points than all three players on BC’s “big line.”
Like the Eagles’ top line, Minnesota’s depth up front can cause nightmares.
The Gophers have five players with at least 13 goals – none of whom are seniors – and Lucia regularly rolls four forward lines for 60 minutes.
“They have a lot of depth,” Union head coach Rick Bennett said. “Obviously their goaltender is phenomenal. We have to make sure that we get some traffic in front of him, you know. That is standard coach-speak that you're going to hear. In general, we have to be sharp. It's more about us. I feel the same as it was last night against Boston College, we don't have to help them out either.”
The puck will drop at 7:36 p.m. Saturday night. The game can be seen live on ESPN2 and heard nationally on Westwood One radio (Westwoodone.com).