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Union, Minnesota set to play for NCAA title

by Adam Kimelman

PHILADELPHIA -- After one of the more dramatic nights in NCAA hockey history, the Union College and University of Minnesota hockey teams were back at work Friday, trying to put the celebrations and memories behind them.

"I think when you wake up this morning, you realize that you're playing for a national title and you better get your mind ready to go," said Minnesota center Kyle Rau, a Florida Panthers prospect who assisted on both Gophers goals in their 2-1 win against the University of North Dakota on Thursday. "Because if you're not, you're going to lay an egg."

Union started Thursday with a 5-4 win against Boston College in the first national semifinal, and Minnesota closed the night by scoring the winning goal with 0.6 seconds left against UND.

Both teams hit the ice for short skates before some video work to prepare for the championship game Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

The teams last played Dec. 31, 2010, when Union beat Minnesota 3-2 in overtime in the first game of the Dodge Holiday Classic played at Minnesota's home rink, Mariucci Arena.

"That was a massive win for us," Union defenseman Mat Bodie, a freshman at the time, 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."

Minnesota coach Don Lucia remembers even then being impressed by the Dutchmen.

"In that game I said you know what, that's a darn good hockey team," Lucia said. "Then they went on that run the last few years and they've been tremendous."

That run included a trip to the 2012 Frozen Four and now a spot in the championship game. It's the first time any Union team plays for an NCAA title since the 1929 men's lacrosse championship.

"It's great for the school, it's great for the program," Bodie said. "It's great for players and everyone involved to get to this point. As far as winning it, it would be huge. I don't really know if you can put it into words, but it would just be huge for everyone involved."

Two of the players most involved in Union's success are Bodie and fellow defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. With 37 points in 30 games, including a goal and an assist Thursday, Bodie is the highest-scoring defenseman still playing. Gostisbehere, Union's only NHL-affiliated player -- he was a 2012 third-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers -- had two assists to give him 31 points in 41 games.

By comparison, Minnesota has 13 players with NHL ties on its roster.

"They have two elite defensemen that can control the back end," Lucia said. "One of them for the most part can be on the ice all game long. North Dakota's defensemen were very offensive and very active in the play [Thursday] and that's going to help us with the mentality we're going to have to have in the game [Saturday]."

Union (30-6-4) was the only team in the field to win its conference's regular-season and tournament title (ECAC), so while they don't have the Gophers' pedigree or name recognition, the Dutchmen feel they belong in the championship game. That's why after their win Thursday against Boston College, the celebration was a bit muted.

"It was a huge win for the team and for the program," Bodie said, "but at the end of the day it's just a semifinal game. So you really haven't won anything yet. I think that's why guys weren't celebrating as much as some people might expect."

To win Saturday the Dutchmen know they need a better start than they had Thursday, when they trailed 2:08 into the game.

"You want to get out to a quick start and hopefully we can learn from [Thursday] that you've got to bring it from the opening shift," Bodie said. "We're just treating it like any other game. You prepare the same way and you've just got to be ready to go."

Union coach Rick Bennett said the key for his team is staying ahead of Minnesota's offensive depth. The Gophers have five players with double-figure goals and five with at least 30 points. Rau leads the way with 39 points, and his 14 goals are tied for second.

Minnesota also is tight defensively, backstopped by Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Adam Wilcox, who had 36 saves Thursday. Wilcox was the Big Ten Player of the Year and a finalist for the Mike Richter Award.

"Just a lot of depth," Bennett said. "Obviously their goaltender is phenomenal. We have to make sure that we get some traffic in front of him. … In general we have to be sharp."

Lucia knows his team also has to be better than it was Thursday to take home the sixth NCAA title in program history, and first since 2003.

"I think they're a deep team," Lucia said. "From the goaltender [Colin Stevens] right on out, they're elite at every position. That's why they're playing for a national championship."


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