The Frozen Four lived up to the hype Thursday night in Philadelphia as fans were treated to two wild finishes in the semifinals.
In the early game, Union College held off a furious comeback attempt from Boston College and skated away with a 5-4 victory. In game two, the University of North Dakota and the University of Minnesota played to a 1-1 tie for the first 59:59 of the game before Justin Holl scored a shorthanded game winner for the Golden Gophers with just 0.6 seconds left on the clock (and they say buzzer beaters are for basketball).
Florida Panthers prospect Kyle Rau (3rd round, 2011) led the Gophers last second charge up the ice, setting up the game winning goal and tallying his second assist of the game in the process. The pair of helpers were just one piece of a very active game from Rau who also led his team with five shots while winning 72% of his face-offs (13/18).
Minnesota’s last second heroics spelled the end for Panthers prospect Rocco Grimaldi (2nd round, 2011) and North Dakota. Grimaldi recorded five shots in the semifinal and looked especially dangerous on UND’s power play in the game’s final minutes. The forward finished the season as North Dakota’s leading scorer, compiling 39 points (17-22-39) in 42 games.
The Golden Gophers will play in their 11th championship game and first since 2003 on Saturday night. There, they will face off against the Union College Dutchmen who advanced to their 1st national championship with their victory over Boston College.
The small private school from Schenectady, NY held on for the win against the Eagles, despite allowing two goals in the final two minutes. Up 4-2 in the third, Union conceded a goal to Ryan Fitzgerald at 18:15 into the period. Union would re-extend their lead to 5-3 less than a minute later at 18:51 when Daniel Ciampini scored on an empty net for his third goal of the game. BC again cut the lead to one thanks to a goal from Patrick Brown but with just five seconds left on the clock, it was too little too late for the Eagles. Margate native and former JR Panther Shayne Gostisbehere picked up two assists in the victory for Union.
BC’s loss wrapped up the season for Panthers prospects Mike Matheson (1st round, 2012) and Ian McCoshen (2nd round, 2013) as well as for Kevin Hayes, the younger brother of Panthers forward Jimmy Hayes. Matheson finished the season as BC’s top scoring defenseman with 21 points (3-18-21), while McCoshen led the defensive corps in goals with five (5-8-13).
Looking ahead, Saturday’s 7:30 championship game features a matchup between two schools on opposite ends of the college hockey spectrum. Minnesota has five national championships under their belt to go along with 11 championship appearances. The school consistently pumps out top NHL players and has an enrollment of 51,526. Union College, on the other hand, is in its first national championship game, has no alums currently competing in the NHL and an enrollment of 2,246.
Coming on the heels of Thursday’s wild finishes, the national championship game has a lot to live up to, but if it is anything like the action that was witnessed in the semis, fans should be in for a thrilling ride.