The NCAA championship game will decide a national title -- and local bragging rights.
Yale and Quinnipiac, a pair of Connecticut schools about 15 minutes apart, will face off for the national championship Saturday night after winning semifinal games Thursday at the Frozen Four at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh
Yale, the 16th and final team in the field, advanced by beating UMass-Lowell 3-2 on Andrew Miller's goal 6:59 into overtime. Quinnipiac, the top seeded team in the nation, scored three times before the game was 12 minutes old and beat St. Cloud State 4-1.
The ECAC rivals will be meeting for the fourth time this season -- the Bobcats (30-7-5) won each of the first three, outscoring the Bulldogs 13-3.
Thursday's results also guaranteed that an ECAC team will be national champion for the first time since Harvard won in 1989.
"I think it's phenomenal for our league," said Bobcats coach Rand Pecknold, whose league has largely been overshadowed by Hockey East for the past two decades. "The ECAC was one of the best if not the best league all year, top to bottom."
In the opener, Yale (21-12-3) blew a 2-0 lead in the second period when UMass-Lowell (28-11-3) scored twice in a span of 14 seconds. But the Bulldogs outshot the River Hawks 16-3 in the third period and had all seven shots on goal in OT to finish with a 47-18 advantage.
Miller, Yale's captain, gave the university its first trip to the title game when he took a pass from Carson Cooper, stepped past defenseman Gregory Amlong in the River Hawks' zone and went forehand-to-backhand before sliding the puck through the legs of goaltender Connor Hellebucyk, who kept his team in the game with 44 saves.
In the end, Yale's constant pressure was just too much.
"I've been with teams that have outplayed other teams and for one reason or another don't get the bounce. But I also believe that was the right approach for us, and if we stuck with the plan, the odds would favor our team breaking through, and that's what happened," Yale coach Keith Allain said. "Until you get the goal, you're always wondering when it's going to come, for sure."
It was a frustrating end for the River Hawks, who had been the nation's hottest team for the past three months.
"They played a great game tonight, and we just didn't have our legs first period, and we did have a good second and the third and overtime," said forward Riley Wetmore, who scored UMass-Lowell's first goal. "They got a lot of shots on us and they found one that went in."
Yale, making its first appearance in what is now the Frozen Four since 1952, dominated the first period, outshooting the River Hawks 11-5 and scoring twice to take a 2-0 lead.
The Bulldogs capitalized on their first power-play opportunity when Mitch Witek's right-point shot got past Hellebucyk at 12:55 with Shayne Thompson in the box for high-sticking. Antoine Laganiere made it 2-0 at 19:08 when he set up in front of the net and converted a perfect pass by Matt Killian after Killian skated out of the right-wing corner.
The two goals were one more than UMass-Lowell allowed in defeating Wisconsin and New Hampshire to win the Northeast regional.
The River Hawks got even with a pair of quick second-period goals.
Wetmore, who missed on a shorthanded breakaway earlier in the period, got UMass-Lowell on the board when he picked up a deflected shot and swatted a quick backhander behind goaltender Jeff Malcolm at 14:38. The goal energized UMass-Lowell, which tied it 2-2 at 14:52 when Joseph Pedenza took a drop pass by A.J. White and ripped a wrister from near the right faceoff dot that beat Malcolm high to the short side.
The second game was decided quickly. Quinnipiac opened the scoring 1:49 into the game when Jordan Samuels-Thomas scored on a power-play wraparound. It became 2-0 at 5:07 when Ben Arnt raced down the slot and banged home a feed from Samuels-Thomas. Jeremy Langlois scored at 11:19 for a 3-0 lead.
"You're coming out to play the biggest game of your life, don't expect to come out flat-footed," said St. Cloud forward Drew LeBlanc, a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in college hockey. "They came out flying, we came out flat and it really decided the game."
Added St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko: "I think we'd do anything to replay the first 10 minutes of the hockey game. We dug ourselves a hole. They score [on] three of their first four shots. We hunkered back down but just couldn't overcome it."
The scheduled start of the second game was pushed back by 40 minutes because of the length of the first semifinal, but Pecknold made sure his team was ready from the start.
"We talked as soon as the game went into OT. We talked how we need to jump on St. Cloud," Pecknold said. "We don't know how they're going to handle it, but I thought it was an advantage for us."
The Huskies (25-16-1) cut the deficit to two when Joey Benik scored 6:25 into the second period. But St. Cloud State couldn't get another puck past Hobey Baker finalist Eric Hartzell, and Kellen Jones scored a backbreaking goal at 14:51 when he outmuscled defenseman Andrew Prochno, cut in front and roofed a shot past goaltender Ryan Faragher.
That was more than enough support for Hartzell, who made 33 saves as the Bobcats improved to 26-0-1 when scoring three or more goals.
"I thought [Hartzell] was the best player on the ice," Pecknold said.
The Huskies, a surprise winner of the WCHA regular-season title and an upset winner in the West Regional, had no answer against a more experienced team.
"Obviously, they've been top in the country all season for a reason," LeBlanc said. "They've got a lot of upperclassmen. I don't know if they just came out buzzing and we came out flatfooted or what, but I don't think anything is a surprise to us.
"I don't know with the other game going into overtime and delaying us a bit. But give them credit. They handled it better than us. They came out flying; we came out flat, and it really decided the game."
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