Quinnipiac earns Frozen Four bid
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Next stop, Pittsburgh.
That was the jubilant chant from a proud fan base that had traveled from Hamden, Conn., home of Quinnipiac University, to the Dunkin' Donuts Center on Sunday night.
Indeed, their Bobcats, the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, are headed to Pittsburgh and the Frozen Four after a thorough 5-1 win over Union in the East Regional final.
Matthew Peca posted the fastest hat trick in tournament history, making it 3-0 less than 13 minutes into the game, and the Bobcats -- an upstart program that raced to the top of the rankings this season for the first time -- were off and running against a Dutchmen team they defeated three times this season.
Peca who started a Quinnipiac third-period rally on Saturday that avoided an upset at the hands of Canisius, the No. 16 seed, picked up on Sunday where he left off. The junior left wing from Petawawa, Ontario scored three in a 3:12 span and also added an assist to power the Bobcats (29-7-5).
"It helped us win and it helped Quinnipiac make it to its first Frozen Four," said a humble Peca, deflecting his accomplishment to his team. "So, that's what it I take out of it."
Union coach Rick Bennett, who saw his Dutchmen close at 22-13-5, was more blunt.
"Peca basically won the game for them in the first period," he said. "It's tough to come back from that."
The Bobcats will face St. Cloud State April 11 in the semifinals. UMass Lowell will meet Yale in the other game.
The Huskies earned their first-ever Frozen Four berth with a 4-1 win over Miami (Ohio) as Joey Benik and Cory Thorson each scored twice.
"St. Cloud State has been close," said coach Bob Motzko, a 1987 graduate. "This is a very special time for our program."
St. Cloud State outshot Miami 22-21 and played keep-away from the RedHawks in the final two periods.
It wasn't always this easy for Quinnipiac, which struggled down the stretch and didn't even make the ECAC tournament final. And then on Saturday, the Bobcats were sluggish and trailed the underdog Golden Griffins 3-1 before turning on the jets en route to the historic weekend. Before you knew it, the Bobcats had six goals in a span of 24:56 across two games, and the East Regional was essentially over with two periods still to play.
"We prepared better for the game today," Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said. "We compete hard and we battle and that's what we're good at. That's why we're the No. 1 team in the country. We're not the most talented team, but we're always going to compete and battle. That's who we are."
Quinnipiac goalie Eric Hartzell, a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, lost a shutout bid when Daniel Ciampini scored 3:15 into the third for Union.
"Peca's a great kid and a great player," Hartzell said. "And it's definitely great to see him get rewarded. Obviously, it was huge for our team and really set the tone for us."
Warren Miller of Minnesota had the previous fastest hat trick, doing it in 4:20 March 17, 1975 against Harvard. The hat trick was the first in a tournament game since March 28, 2010, when Boston College's Ken Atkinson and Yale's Mark Arcobello did it in the same game.
Peca, who recorded the first multiple-goal game of his college career and now has 15 tallies this season, beat Troy Grosenick with a backhander off a rebound scramble 9:46 in to start it off.
He then stole an errant pass at center ice, moved down the right side and beat Grosenick with a snap shot at 10:59. Finally, he walked out all alone in front and scored on another backhander at 12:58.
A few hours later, he was named most outstanding player in the East.
"We were ready to roll. We took over and Matthew was the best player on the ice tonight," Pecknold said. "But it was a team effort and we played well all around."
After Union's Matt Wilkins was hit with a five-minute major and a game misconduct for a hit from behind at 6:27 of the second, Jordan Samuels-Thomas, who scored the tying goal Saturday, scored at 7:22 and Peca assisted on a Kellen Jones goal at 11:42.
Grosenick, a Baker Award finalist last year, allowed six goals on the first 12 shots. Union was attempting to reach its second Frozen Four. Along the way, it saw its seven-game winning streak end.
It was, of course, a quick turnaround for Bennett's team. The No. 6 seed looked weary after defeating defending national-champion Boston College 5-1 Saturday night.
"It's amazing in sports," Bennett said. "One night, you can have one of the biggest wins in program history. The next night, it's just a tough one, and a tough locker room to be around."
Hartzell -- the player and goalie of the year in the ECAC -- made a big stop on Max Novak early, but really had most of the rest of the night off. He has all 29 Quinnipiac wins on the season.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.