Connecticut hockey, welcome to the national spotlight.
Quinnipiac routed St. Cloud State, 4-1, Thursday night to advance to the national title game where it will meet its closest and oldest rival: Yale University.
The two programs are 10 miles apart in New Haven and Hamden, Conn., and both play in the ECAC.
Yale knocked off Massachusetts Lowell, 3-2, in overtime earlier to reach the final, and a few hours later, Quinnipiac filled out the all-Connecticut lineup for the title game at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Consol Energy Center.
"I think it makes for a good story, teams being so close in proximity," said center Jeremy Langlois. "But, once it comes to game time, I don't think it matters what league you're in. It's just two teams going for it."
Only one national final pitted teams closer: the 1978 final between Boston College and Boston University when both played in the ECAC.
These two teams are fierce rivals.
"It's awesome, something the school really rallies around," said Quinnipiac's Jordan Samuels-Thomas, who had a goal and assist. "It's usually our biggest game all year. I think we play entertaining games when we play them because we're so close. It's definitely real exciting to play them anytime."
The Bobcats (30-7-5) got 33 saves from Hobey Baker finalist Eric Hartzell and a strong defensive performance in front of him.
But it was an opportunistic offense that set the wheels in motion forthe semifinal win by wasting little time after the puck dropped 45 minutes late because of overtime in the first game.
The Bobcats took a 2-0 lead just 5:07 into the game.
Samuels-Thomas, a third-line winger with 17 goals, stuffed a wraparound past Huskies goalie Ryan Faragher on a power play at 1:49.
His center, Ben Arnt, then one-timed a feed from behind the net at 5:07 to make it 2-0.
Langlois buried a rebound on a rush that followed the end of a St. Cloud State power play that made it 3-0 at 11:19 and the complexion of the game was set.
"I think we'd do anything to replay the first 10 minutes of the hockey game," said St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko. "We dug ourselves a hole. Give Quinnipiac credit ... Hartzell was outstanding tonight. Probably end of the story."
Joey Benik got St. Cloud State on the board at 6:25 of the second period when he finished into a wide-open net with Hartzell on his stomach in the crease.
But Kellen Jones made it 4-1 when he muscled the puck down the right wing and across the goal mouth to draw Faragher, then beat him with a quick move at 14:31 of the second period.
St. Cloud State outshot Quinnipiac, 34-28, but went 0 for 5 on the power play and dug a hole they were unable to recover from.
"It's a proud moment for the Quinnipiac University hockey program," said Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold.
"I was real proud of my guys tonight. I don't think it was our best game of the year ... but we battled and found a way to score some goals.
"We got that nice lead early. Hartzell was great again. I thought he was the best player on the ice ... You saw why Eric Hartzell is in the Hobey Baker Hat Trick right now.
"I'm real proud of my guys. It's a great group of guys. We've got to get one more."
Quinnipiac, the overall No. 1 seed, reached the Frozen Four after knocking off Canisius, then Union at the East Regional.
First Published April 12, 2013 3:15 AM