2014 Frozen Four: Union College, Minnesota to meet for National Championship

By DJ Powers

Seth Ambroz (Minnesota) and Zane Gothberg (North Dakota) - 2014 Frozen Four

Photo: University of Minnesota forward Seth Ambroz celebrates teammate Justin Holl’s last second, game-winning goal as stunned University of North Dakota goaltender Zane Gothberg looks on in Minnesota’s 2-1 semi-final win over North Dakota at the 2014 Frozen Four (courtesy of Elsa/Getty Images)

Union College junior Daniel Ciampini and University of Minnesota senior defenseman Justin Holl (CHI) made this year’s NCAA Frozen Four semi-final games ones to remember.

Ciampini netted his first career hat trick in Union College’s 5-4 win over Boston College in the first 2014 Frozen Four semi-final game. Holl picked the best time to score his first goal of the season when he netted the shorthanded, game-winner with just .6 seconds remaining in regulation time to give Minnesota a thrilling 2-1 win over the University of North Dakota in the second semi-final game.

In the first semi-final game, the Dutchmen’s relentless forechecking and pressuring of the puck wreaked havoc on Boston College for much of the game. The speed and transition game that have been the hallmarks of the Eagles' team all season was kept in check by Union College throughout the game.

The turning point of the game came near the midway point of the third period. At the 6:49 mark, Union senior Mat Hatch received a five-minute major and a game misconduct for checking from behind. After successfully killing off the major, freshman Mike Vecchione extended the Dutchmen’s lead to 4-2, a lead that Union did not relinquish the rest of the way.

“Bodes (Mat Bodie) got us together on the bench there and just said five-minute PK,” junior defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere (PHI) explained following. “Pretty sure if we kill that, we kill their momentum.”

Ciampini completed his first career hat trick at the 18:51 mark of the third period on an empty-netter that would hold up as the game winner.

The win sent Union College to their first-ever National Championship game in just their second Frozen Four appearance.

Despite being on the losing end, Boston College junior Johnny Gaudreau (CGY) was able to reach the 80-point plateau (36 goals, 44 assists) in 40 games, becoming the first player since Colorado College’s Peter Sejna accomplished the feat in 2002-03. Sejna went on to win the Hobey Baker Award that season.

The Dutchmen will face Minnesota on Saturday night after the Golden Gophers capped one of the greatest finishes in recent Frozen Four memory. Holl broke the hearts of North Dakota fans when his shorthanded, game-winner had just beaten the buzzer to end regulation time. The goal was Holl’s first in over a year. His previous goal came back on March 8th, 2013 versus Bemidji State.

“At first I didn’t even know that Justin had scored that goal,” freshman Hudson Fasching (BUF) said of Holl’s game-winner. “I was just in shock and so excited. But once I found out that it was Hollsey who scored the goal, I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s such a great guy and to get his first goal of the year like that was amazing.”

Much of the game featured a great goaltending battle between two sophomore NHL prospects in Zane Gothberg (BOS) for North Dakota and Adam Wilcox (TBL) for Minnesota.

It wasn’t until the third period that the teams finally got on the board. Minnesota drew first blood when junior Sam Warning put home a rebound at the 10:51 mark. Just 32 seconds later, however, North Dakota answered Minnesota’s goal when junior Connor Gaarder also scored off of a rebound at the 11:23 mark. But Holl's last-second goal ended the game, sending the Golden Gophers to the National Championship game.

Saturday’s matchup marks the first NCAA Tournament meeting between Union College and Minnesota. The two teams have previously met three times, all during the regular season, with the most recent coming in the Dodge Holiday Classic tournament back on Dec. 31, 2010.

“When you come here to Minnesota, you dream of playing in the Frozen Four and for a national championship and now that we’re here, it’s a pretty great feeling right now,” freshman Taylor Cammarata (NYI) said of playing for a national championship. “I think we match up well against Union, so it should be a real good game on Saturday.”

Both teams rank in the top 10 nationally in team offense and in the top five nationally in team defense. Union College sports the nation’s second-best offense that is averaging 3.73 goals, and the nation’s fourth-best defense that is allowing an average of 2.10 goals per game.

Minnesota sports the nation’s sixth-best offense that is averaging 3.48 goals per game while sporting the nation’s second-best defense that is allowing an average of just 1.98 goals per game.

Union College junior Colin Stevens and Minnesota sophomore Adam Wilcox currently rank first and second respectively in goaltending winning percentage. Stevens is at .848% while Wilcox is at .784%. Both goalies also rank second and third respectively in wins with Stevens winning 27 while Wilcox has 26.

While both teams are very balanced throughout their lineups, one factor that could determine who wins the National Championship on Saturday is how well each team plays and executes within their systems.

The NCAA National Championship game gets underway at 7:30pm on Saturday, April 12th. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF