Union College has been one of the most successful hockey programs in the country over the past four years. The Dutchmen have made the NCAA tournament all four seasons, won three of the past four ECAC regular season championships, and claimed the past three ECAC playoff titles. From 2010-14, Union teams have collected 104 victories and find themselves in their second Frozen Four in three years.

Remarkably, Union has not lost a game since back-to-back 2-1 losses vs. Rensselaer and at St. Lawrence on January 25th and January 31st. Since that time, the Dutchmen have gone 14-0-1, outscoring opponents 62-25 (an average margin of 4.13-1.67). In eleven of those fifteen games, UC has scored four or more goals.

Overall, the ECAC is far different than the conference that was much-maligned for more than a decade as an easy out in the NCAAs. League members Colgate, Cornell, Quinnipiac, RPI, and Yale have combined with Union to go 14-8 in the tournament over the past four seasons, with four Frozen Four appearances and a national championship (Yale, 2013).

By comparison, in the four years before that (2007-10), five ECAC schools (Clarkson, Cornell, Princeton, St. Lawrence, and Yale) had a combined NCAA tournament record of 3-9 with zero Frozen Four appearances. Because of those performances, some had taken to calling the league the “EZAC”, as in “easy victory”. But that is definitely no longer the case.

For further evidence of this shift, “exhibit A” is last season’s NCAA tournament game between Union and Boston College, the first-ever meeting between the two programs. The Dutchmen throttled BC 5-1 in a game that was basically over after Union scored two goals in the first 64 seconds of the middle frame to take a commanding 3-0 lead.

And there are many who think that this year’s version of the Dutchmen is better, deeper, and more experienced than last year’s team.

(Incidentally, if you want a closer look at how Rick Bennett and his boys dismantled Jerry York’s squad, Joseph Gravellese of BC Interruption does a great job of breaking it down here.)

Union plays a tough, in-your-face brand of hockey all over the ice that takes away time and space. It’s the same style that Notre Dame employed against Boston College in winning three of four March games between the teams. The Irish continually frustrated the Eagles, outscoring BC 13-5 in the three victories and holding Johnny Gaudreau (the presumptive Hobey Baker winner) to just one goal and one assist in those three games combined.

To be fair, Gaudreau scored two goals and added one assist in the Eagles’ 4-2 victory over Notre Dame, but “Johnny Hockey” was held off the scoresheet in the third and decisive game of the Hockey East quarterfinals.

And it’s my opinion that Union does a better job of playing that gritty style of hockey than Notre Dame does, led by junior Shayne Gostisbehere (a Hobey Baker finalist) and senior Mat Bodie on the blue line.

Boston College’s playoff success is well documented. The Eagles have made the tournament in fifteen of the past seventeen seasons (missing the NCAAs in 2002 and 2009), advancing to the Frozen Four eleven times and winning national titles in 2001, 2008, 2010, and 2012. And yes, this year is 2014. That seems to be on Jerry York’s side.

The other thing going for BC is the best line in college hockey. Johnny Gaudreau and Kevin Hayes are both Hobey Baker finalists, and linemate Bill Arnold is also an accomplished player (143 points in 158 career games). The three haven’t been skating together all season, but they boast combined stats of 76 goals and 116 assists (192 points) in 117 games played this year. To put that in perspective, the top three point getters from outside of Chestnut Hill this year are:

Greg Carey, senior forward, St. Lawrence: 18 goals, 39 assists (57 points) in 38 games
Cody Wydo, junior forward, Robert Morris: 31 goals, 23 assists (54 points) in 42 games
Brent Gensler, senior forward, Bentley: 21 goals, 32 assists (53 points) in 37 games

Carey, Wydo, and Gensler combined for 70 goals and 94 assists (164 points) in their 117 games, and they play on different teams. The three Eagle teammates outscored the three other top scorers in the nation by 28 points this year. That’s astounding.

There are two other factors that make this game interesting…

In last season’s NCAA tournament matchup between the Dutchmen and the Eagles, Union won the special teams battle decisively. UC converted three of seven power play opportunities, killed all seven BC power plays, and scored two four-on-four goals early in the second period to put the game out of reach. Boston College has the advantage on paper this season (combined power play and penalty killing percentages of 114.5%, compared to 104.6% for Union), but the Eagles have had 166 shorthanded situations and 137 power plays this year, while the Dutchmen have been called upon to kill just 135 penalties and have been awarded the man advantage 162 times.

A second area of the game that bears a closer look is goaltending. Boston College rookie Thatcher Demko is facing off against an experienced netminder in Union’s Colin Stevens. Stevens already has twelve career shutouts (in 56 games played), while Demko has but two in 23 games this season. However, Stevens did not appear in an NCAA tournament game over his first two seasons (that honor went to goalie Troy Grosenick, now with the Worcester Sharks of the AHL), and so the two goaltenders are even on the playoff side of the ledger.

The winner of this contest will face off against either Minnesota or North Dakota on Saturday night for the 2014 NCAA ice hockey championship. For a full preview of the UND/Minnesota matchup, click here.

Boston College Team Profile

Head Coach: Jerry York (20th season at BC, 496-241-68, .658)
National Ranking: #3
This Season: 28-7-4 overall, 16-2-2 Hockey East (1st)
Last Season: 22-12-4 overall (NCAA East Regional finalist), 15-9-3 Hockey East (2nd)

Team Offense: 4.10 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.28 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 24.1% (33 of 137)
Penalty Kill: 90.4% (150 of 166)

Key Players: Junior F Johnny Gaudreau (35-42-77), Senior F Kevin Hayes (27-36-63), Senior F Bill Arnold (14-38-52), Senior F Patrick Brown (14-15-29), Sophomore D Michael Matheson (3-17-20), Freshman D Ian McCoshen (5-8-13), Freshman G Thatcher Demko (16-4-3, 2.16 GAA, .920 SV%, 2 SO)

Union College Team Profile

Head Coach: Rick Bennett (3rd season at UC, 78-27-16 .711)
National Ranking: #2
This Season: 30-6-4, 18-3-1 ECAC (1st)
Last Season: 22-13-5 overall (NCAA East Regional finalist), 10-8-4 ECAC (4th)

Team Offense: 3.70 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.05 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.6% (35 of 162)
Penalty Kill: 83.0% (112 of 135)

Key Players: Senior F Daniel Carr (22-26-48), Junior F Daniel Ciampini (19-17-36), Senior F Kevin Sullivan (8-27-35), Junior F Max Novak (14-15-29), Senior D Mat Bodie (6-29-35), Junior D Shayne Gostisbehere (8-21-29), Junior G Colin Stevens (26-4-2, 1.93 GAA, .932 SV%, 6 SO)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: March 30, 2013 (Providence, RI). The Dutchmen blitzed Boston College with three second period goals, including two back-breaking 4 on 4 tallies in the first 64 seconds of action, as Union dismantled the Eagles 5-1. Boston College got a late goal by (who else) Johnny Gaudreau, but gave up three power play goals on seven opportunities and were held scoreless on all seven of their man advantage situations. Union would lose 5-1 to Quinnipiac in the regional final the following day.

Most important meeting: Since the Eagles and Dutchmen have never met in the Frozen Four (and have only faced each other once before), I will call Thursday’s national semifinal the most important meeting between the squads.

Game News and Notes

Boston College is undefeated this season when leading after the first period (18-0-2). The Dutchmen have lost only three times away from their home rink (Achilles Center) all season (17-3-3). These two teams were both participants in the 2012 Frozen Four (Tampa, FL). Union lost 3-1 to Ferris State in the semifinals, while Boston College took home its fifth national title with victories over Minnesota (6-1) and Ferris State (4-1). Eagles head coach Jerry York has 963 career coaching victories (including 496 in twenty seasons at BC), while Rick Bennett has collected 78 victories in his first three years at Union.

The Prediction

This game will be much tighter than last year’s affair (a 5-1 Union victory). I’ve got a feeling that the Dutchmen can contain the high-flying Eagles, but if BC’s power play starts to click, anything can happen. I see it as another victory for the ECAC, but it’s close, with an empty-netter at the end. Union 4, Boston College 2