Peca's early punch powers Quinnipiac past Union in East and into Frozen Four
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Matthew Peca posted the fastest hat trick in tournament history, making it 3-0 less than 13 minutes into the game, and Quinnipiac -- an upstart program that raced to the top of the rankings this season for the first time -- were off and running as the top-seeded Bobcats beat Union 5-1 on Sunday in the East Regional final to earn their first trip to the Frozen Four.
Peca who started a Quinnipiac third-period rally Saturday that avoided an upset at the hands of Canisius, the No. 16 seed, picked up Sunday where he left off. A junior left wing from Petawawa, Ontario, Peco scored three times 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," a humble Peca said. "So, that's what it I take out of it."
Union head 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, who posted their first tournament win Saturday, will face Saint Cloud State on April 11 in the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh.
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 [Sunday]," 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 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 on 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 beat Troy Grosenick with a backhander off a rebound scramble 9:46 in. Peca, who now has 15 goals this season, then stole an errant pass at center ice, moved down the right side and beat Grosenick with a snap shot at 10:59. He then 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 [Sunday night]," 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 Samuel-Thomas, who scored the tying goal Saturday, scored at 7:22 and Peca assisted on a Kellen Jones goal at 11:42.
Grosenick, a Hobey 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 on 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 -- a finalist for this year's Baker Award and 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.