Gostisbehere, Union leave their mark
PHILADELPHIA -- His nickname is Ghost.
Without a doubt the Minnesota Golden Gophers and their fans will be seeing Shayne Gostisbehere in their nightmares for a long time to come, while the Philadelphia Flyers and their fans hope to be seeing a lot more of him in their future. (Is he available for Sunday's regular-season finale against Carolina?)
The junior defenseman from Margate, Fla., the lone NHL draft pick (third round, 2012) on the Union College (32-6-4) hockey roster, was everywhere on the ice on Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. He piloted a one-time laughingstock of college hockey to its first national championship after a decisive 7-4 win over Minnesota (28-7-6).
"When we're just having fun out there and everything is clicking, it's amazing," Gostisbehere said. "We go down a goal in both games here at the Frozen Four, and we just bounced back like it's nothing. We've been there before. It starts with the leadership with [captain Mat] Bodie and all the way down. It's amazing what our team can do, and I'm glad it all paid off in the end."
The Dutchmen skated around, through and by the Gophers for much of the game, and Gostisbehere was a dominant force in the process.
How dominant? The official box score credits him with one goal, two assists, five shots and a plus-minus rating of plus-7.
Let that sink in for a minute.
"He's a special player, and he kind of controlled the game back there," Minnesota coach Don Lucia said after the game. "In my opinion, he was the best player on the ice tonight. With the long TV timeouts he can play major minutes in a game like this and impact the game even more."
As effortless as Gostisbehere made it look on the ice, one play in particular typified his impact on the game.
Minnesota had closed the Union lead to 5-4 on a power-play goal by Hudson Fasching at 16:20 of the third period. And given the talent level on the Gophers' roster, the feeling among the 18,742 fans in the building was that Lucia's club had plenty of time left to tie it up.
But then, as the clock ticked down toward the final minute, Minnesota's Taylor Cammarata made his way across the blue line and into Union territory. Before he had a chance to decide whether to pass or shoot, Gostisbehere dove on the ice, extended his stick and poke-checked the puck away. It ended up on the stick of fellow defenseman Bodie, who flipped it ahead to right wing Kevin Sullivan, who went on to beat Gophers goalie Adam Wilcox and make it 6-4 with 1:22 left.
"[Gostisbehere] can defend with his feet because he's such a great skater," Lucia said. "In this day and age, you can still defend with your feet and your stick. That is the strength of his game. He's not going to go be a big bruiser, but you don't expect that from him. But his ability to get to a puck, get it up the rink, initiates a lot of their offense.
"He's just effortless the way he plays. He's a special player."
Those sentiments were recognized on the Union bench, too.
"He's a big-time player, and this is the biggest game of our lives and he really stepped up," Bodie said. "He's the motor tonight that really got us going. That first goal was a great individual effort and it really got us going. So he's been tremendous all year for us."
For his seemingly effortless efforts, Gostisbehere was named the Frozen Four's Most Outstanding Player. Joining him on the all-tournament team were teammates Bodie, forward Daniel Ciampini and goaltender Colin Stevens, along with Minnesota forwards Kyle Rau and Sam Warning.
As dominant as Gostisbehere was when he was on the ice, Union was a complete team on Saturday night -- as it had been through this NCAA tournament run. Seven players scored the seven goals against Minnesota, and 11 players were credited with at least one point.
Union's title marked the third time in the last four years the trophy has been handed to a first-time NCAA hockey champion, joining Minnesota-Duluth (2011) and Yale (2013). This year's win also marked the first time the ECAC has won back-to-back titles since a Cornell and Boston University run back in 1970-72. Union has something else in common with Yale, becoming only the second school to win a championship in just its second Frozen Four appearance.
Keep in mind that this was just the Dutchmen's fourth overall NCAA tournament appearance, all in the last four years. Union, a tiny school of 2,200 in Schenectady, N.Y., moved up to Division I in hockey back in 1991-92, experienced six seasons with single-digit wins and didn't enjoy a winning season until 2007-08.
Not exactly college hockey royalty.
That all changed with the efforts of former coaches Kevin Sneddon (now at Vermont) and Nate Leaman (now at Providence) and has continued with current coach Rick Bennett, who has coached Gostisbehere for his three seasons at Union.
"I guess big-time players step up in big-time situations, and that's what he did," Bennett said. "He did it all game tonight. You know, guys are going to feed off that. Our bench, you could just tell by their reaction watching every guy on that bench after these plays that he actually made were just crucial plays.
"You know what? Like I said, great player. The magnitude of this game, he brought it."
The ghost of the 2014 Frozen Four will be remembered fondly and frighteningly, depending on your perspective, for a long time by all who watched him float around the ice.