PITTSBURGH - Quinnipiac jumped to an early lead and cruised past St. Cloud State 4-1 on Thursday in the NCAA hockey semifinals.
Jordan Samuels-Thomas had a goal and an assist for the top-seeded Bobcats while Ben Arnt, Kellen Jones and Jeremy Langlois also scored for Quinnipiac (30-7-5), who will play in-state rival Yale in the final Saturday.
Hobey Baker Award finalist Eric Hartzell stopped 32 shots for the Bobcats, easily outshining fellow finalist Drew LeBlanc of St. Cloud State. LeBlanc was held scoreless as the Huskies (25-16-1) struggled to keep up with Quinnipiac. Joey Benik scored his tournament-leading fifth goal for St. Cloud State but it wasn't nearly enough.
Ryan Faragher made 24 saves for the Huskies but was overwhelmed in the first period as Quinnipiac scored three times in the first 12 minutes to grab control.
The buzz from Yale's 3-2 overtime victory against UMass Lowell had barely died down when the Bobcats jumped on the Huskies. Samuels-Thomas gave Quinnipiac the lead 1:49 into the game, working behind the net then beating Faragher on a wraparound.
The Bobcats needed just over three minutes to double its lead. Samuels-Thomas again did most of the work, controlling the puck in the corner then darting behind the St. Cloud State goal. This time, when he tried to stuff it by Faragher the puck skittered loose. No biggie, the puck rolled right to Arnt's stick and the senior had little trouble flipping it over Faragher's right shoulder for his eighth goal of the season.
Langlois pushed the lead to 3-0 barely halfway through the period, giving Hartzell all the cushion he would need.
St. Cloud managed to regain its footing after falling into such an early hole and pulled to within 3-1 6:25 into the second period. Hartzell made an uncharacteristic mistake, committing early to a shot from Kevin Gravel and found himself woefully out of position as the puck found its way to Benik's stick at the doorstep. Benik had so much time to score he was able to collect himself before depositing it into the net for his eighth goal of the season.
Quinnipiac's lapse was only momentary. The Bobcats came in 25-0-1 when scoring at least three goals, and though St. Cloud State recovered a bit after the early collapse, it wasn't nearly enough to derail Quinnipiac's run.
Jones restored the three-goal lead on a stellar effort by Jones, who took a pass off the boards and raced into the zone. He turned left and headed for the net, fighting off St. Cloud State's Andrew Prochno and flipping the puck by Faragher's stick.
The loss marked an end to a remarkable season for the Huskies, who started the year as an afterthought before capturing the Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season title for the first time since joining the league in 1990.
Victories over Notre Dame and Miami propelled St. Cloud State into its first Frozen Four appearance, but Quinnipiac - and it's talented roster of experienced players - was simply too much.
The Bobcats, sensing a trip to the final in their grasp, clamped down the rest of the way to set up a showdown with the Bulldogs.
Quinnipiac dominated all three meetings with Yale this season, outscoring the Bulldogs 13-3 on its way to the ECAC regular-season title.
The matchup between the Bobcats and the Bulldogs assures the ECAC - which for years has struggled in the shadow of the formidable Hockey East - its first national title since Harvard won it in 1989.
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