Vecchione's Journey, Celebrations, Mistakes
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
Union defeated Minnesota, 7-4, on Saturday night to win its first ever national championship.
The Dutchmen finish the season as the only team to win 30 games – they went 32-6-4 – knocking off the tournament’s two highest seeds, Boston College and Minnesota, en route to the title.
The Championship That Almost Wasn’t
Mike Vecchione almost wasn’t a part of this Union team.
Vecchione originally committed to New Hampshire out of Malden Catholic High School in Massachusetts. But, after the Wildcats asked him to play more junior hockey before matriculating, he re-opened his recruitment and found a home at Union.
“This whole journey, my parents, friends and family, they were all saying, 'Everything happens for a reason.' It definitely shows,” he said. “UNH is a great program, I have a lot of respect for Dick Umile, but things just didn't work out for us, and I thought it was a good idea to find a different school to go to. Union was at the top of the list, and Dumais was all over me to come here. Now we won a national championship. It's just too crazy how everything fell into place for me.”
Vecchione finished his freshman season with 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists) in 38 games including two goals and one assists in the Frozen Four. Five of Vecchione’s 14 goals have come since the ECAC playoffs started on March 15 (five goals in seven games).
It’s a Celebration
When the final horn sounded, Shayne Gostisbehere was at the bottom of the Union player pile behind the net. On the bench, head coach Rick Bennett was in the middle of a coach pile, after his assistants mobbed him and the team’s trainer and jumped on top.
“It was definitely pretty awesome,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s something you don't get to do often, and to share it with these guys, my brothers I've been going to battle with for eight months now, three years some of them, it's just amazing. To send off those seniors as champions, it's no better feeling.”
Bennett, likewise, was happy to share the moment with his staff.
“It was a team hug,” Bennett said. “I didn’t shake an individual’s hand or hug an individual. It was fitting. It was really fitting. It was a team bench hug. It was great.”
He also wound up sharing the moment with one more player. While his teammates celebrated in their spot, All-American defenseman Mat Bodie came over, tears in eyes, to embrace the coaching staff, particularly Bennett.
Minnesota’s sloppiness in the second half of the first period wasn’t for a lack of effort, according to head coach Don Lucia.
“I told them after the first, guys, you're physically trying your rear off, but you're trying a little bit too hard,” he said. “All of a sudden, you start to chase instead of just doing your job. Whether that's nerves or not, you know, who knows. But you just can't chase. That's what we did. You get yourself into trouble, and then obviously that happened to us. I thought after the second we were in decent shape. We came back. It's four-three.
Doing the Philly Thing
Saturday’s national title game finally had some Philadelphia flair.
Late in the third period, after Minnesota scored to, at the time, cut its deficit to one goal, “Gonna Fly Now,” from the famous Rocky movie blared over the loudspeakers.
After the game, while Union was celebrating its title, the team toasted over a huge tray of cheesesteaks after cutting and distributing the nets to players and staff.
“I think I saw some UConn guys do it for basketball so I figured why not for us,” Max Novak said.
On the whole, the NCAA said the event brought 15,000 out-of-town fans to Philadelphia, resulting in about $10 million in revenue for the city.
“I said earlier this week we never looked at ourselves as Cinderella. We looked at ourselves as Union College and we're just a team trying to win the national title. I guess we proved all those people wrong.” — Union’s Shayne Gostisbehere on being tabbed as a “Cinderella” team.
“It seemed there were a lot of fireworks there going on. I like to write a few things down after goals, and it seemed like I was grabbing that notepad and pen and writing pretty furiously there. So it was a good time to write. It was just an explosion. — Union coach Rick Bennett on his team’s three goals in a 1:54 span of the first period
“It just got away from us. We hung our goalie to dry. He's been our best player all year, and for us to put him through that was kind of disappointing. I think we just made mental mistakes. I don't think you can look at anyone in our locker room and say they weren't physically trying their hardest, but mentally I think made a few too many mistakes in that segment." — Minnesota’s Justin Kloos on Union’s three goals in a 1:54 span of the first period.
“We felt we were in the whole game. Two goals are nothing. We were never out of it, we kept battling. Hats off to the seniors for an unbelievable career. This one’s tough, but we’ll come back next year.” — Minnesota’s Brady Skjei on the comeback attempt in the third period.