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Gophers fall to little-known Union, but it wasn't an upset

by Mike McFeely


Union College is an NCAA Division III school in Schenectady, N.Y., that nobody outside of college hockey had heard of beforeThursday. Now it is the Division I men's college hockey national champion after dominating the mighty Minnesota Gophers onSaturday night.

It wasn't even close. The state of the Union is doing just fine, thank you.

The Dutchmen rolled past the Gophers 7-4 at Wells Fargo Center for their first title in the 23 years of the program. Unionis a private liberal arts college with an enrollment of about 2,200. The Dutchmen don't have athletic scholarships, but dohelp their athletes with financial aid to help offset the spendy tuition.

How's that for a story? Little Union knocks off one of the traditional major powers of college hockey. The Gophers wereshooting for their sixth national title.

"I don't really know what it feels like right now," said freshman center Mike Vecchione. "I'm just so overwhelmed with joy.I'm just so happy we could do it for the seniors who started this whole thing. They were here four years ago building theprogram and look where we are now. I can't be more proud of what they've done for us."

Inside an arena that was decidely pro-Union -- dozens of University of North Dakota fans who stayed in town for the titlegame showed lots of love for the Dutchmen -- the Gophers took a 2-1 lead midway through the first period only to see theirworld unravel. Union scored three goals in 1 minute, 54 seconds toward the end of the period to take a 4-2 lead and everyounce of momentum.

Bang, bang, bang.

The goals had a similar look. Union would get a shot on Gophers goalie Adam Wilcox, get the rebound and try again. Andagain. And again. It was chaos and Minnesota couldn't clear it away.

The goal that tied it 2-2 was the epitome. Carr whacked away at several close-range shots that Wilcox or a Gopher defensemanstopped before Vecchione got a couple of backhand chances. Wilcox made a save and tried to hold the puck, but it slipped outand Vecchione knocked it in with a forehand.

I lost count at five shots. A reporter in the postgame press conference said he counted seven shots. Either way, it was toomany.

The other two goals in the outburst were rebound goals, too, though with not quite as many chances.

"All three of those goals were 'pack of wolves' goals," Carr said. "Just throw the puck on net and keep going after it.That's a Union goal. That's what we've done all year."

The Gophers didn't offer their goaltender much help.

"I told our guys after the first, 'You're trying your rear off, but you're trying a little bit too hard,'" said Gopherscoach Don Lucia. "All of the sudden you start to chase instead of just doing your job. Whether that's nerves or not, whoknows? But you just can't chase. That's what we did and you get yourself in trouble."

Said Minnesota defenseman Brady Skjei: "They were getting pucks to the net and crashing our net. They did a good job. Wewere trying to pick up our sticks and make it tough for them."

It wasn't over yet. The Gophers made it 4-3 a little more than a minute into the second period when Taylor Cammarata got twochances at a Justin Kloos rebound and knocked the second one in. Union answered early in the third period.

The Gophers again made it a one-goal game at 5-4 on a power-play goal by Hudson Fasching with 3:40 left. But Union answeredagain on a Kevin Sullivan goal to make it 6-4 with 1:22 remaining. The Dutchmen added an empty-netter and the celebrationwas on.

"We felt we were in the whole game. Two goals are nothing," Skjei said. "We were never out of it. We kept battling. Hats offto the seniors for an unbelievable career. This one's tough, but we'll come back next year."

It's now 11 seasons and counting since Minnesota won a national title. Lucia won two early, the second coming in 2003. TheGophers spent much of this season ranked No. 1 and entered the Frozen Four as the top seed. It's another opportunity lost.

In the end, the better team with the best player won. This was no upset. Union defenseman Shayne Gottisbehere was voted the tournament'soutstanding player. He was a remarkable plus-7 against the Gophers and scored a beautiful goal to tie the game 1-1 in the first period when he zipped between two defenders, veered left, paused and snapped a wrist shot over Wilcox's glove.

"He's a special player and he kind of controlled the game back there," Lucia said. "In my opinion, he was the best player onthe ice tonight. He made a nice play on the goal. With the long TV timeouts he can play major minutes in a game like thisand impact the game even more. They have a lot of good players and that's why they're sitting with the nationalchampionship."

Union, the champions of college hockey. If you predicted it before the season you're better than 99.9 percent of all sports fans, most of whom couldn't tell you the school is located inSchenectady.