Bulldog legend captures college hockey’s biggest prize

Former Bulldog Kevin Rooney was right at home on the Garden ice in Saturday's championship game. (Michael Tureski photo)

Canton’s Kevin Rooney was right at home on the Garden ice in Saturday’s championship game. (Michael Tureski photo)

His name is hockey royalty around these parts, but Kevin Rooney has played his way onto the throne.

Only five years after delivering Canton High School its first state hockey championship and three years removed from winning a New England prep school title as a member of the Berkshire Bears, Rooney has done it again — this time as a member of the Division 1 Providence College Friars on one of the sport’s biggest stages.

Playing in the friendly confines of Boston’s TD Garden on Saturday, April 11, Rooney and his Friars teammates pulled off an improbable comeback over the vaunted Boston University Terriers, winning 4-3 in the Frozen Four finale to capture the NCAA men’s national championship, the pinnacle of success in college hockey.

It’s the first time that Providence has ever hoisted that trophy and just the second time that a Friar team had ever reached the finals — the only other appearance coming in 1985, when Kevin’s uncle Steve, an eventual NHL Stanley Cup winner, starred on the team.

Suffice it to say, the younger Rooney’s latest achievement is a victory for the whole family, including parents Dave and Dawn, older brother Bryan — a Bulldog legend in his own right who went on to star at Stonehill College — and cousin Chris, a Providence hockey alumnus who graduated in 2013.

“It’s pretty crazy how everything unfolded,” acknowledged the unassuming 21 year old on Sunday, still basking in the afterglow of the victory.

As Rooney himself pointed out, this year’s Friars team certainly had its share of “ups and downs,” but they never questioned their talent and they seized upon every golden opportunity that came their way — from Minnesota’s victory over Michigan that allowed them to sneak into the NCAA tournament field to the mishandled puck by the BU goalie that led to the game-tying goal in the finals.

“I think we just kind of all believed that we were going to be good this year,” said the junior centerman. “We got that second chance and we did not let that one slip by.”

In the end, the Friars finished with a program-best 26 victories, but it was their brilliant tournament run, highlighted by victories over Miami (OH), Denver, Omaha and BU, that will be remembered for many years to come.

And while Rooney was quick to deflect the credit to his teammates, especially their NHL-bound and All-American netminder John Gillies, there is no denying the Canton native’s place on this squad.

In addition to playing in all 41 games this season, Rooney posted career highs in goals (7) and assists (8) and finished with a solid plus-7 in plus/minus. He also had at least one point in his last three playoff games, including arguably the assist of his life in the final period of the national title game, when he won a faceoff and dished it to Brandon Tanev for the game-winning goal.

“I thought I played pretty decent,” said Rooney, whose line was frequently matched up with the Terriers’ top group. “I think I could have played a little better, but we ended up getting the win and that’s all that matters.”

As for the gaffe by the BU goaltender that has absorbed much of the media attention since Saturday night, Rooney said it was certainly an unusual and fortunate turn of events for Providence; then again, he said, “hockey is a crazy game.”

Asked if he considers the Friars to be deserving national champions, Rooney didn’t hesitate. “Absolutely,” he said. “If you look at the two teams up and down the roster, I think we were the better team. I firmly believe that.”

Looking ahead to next season, Rooney, who will be a senior and one of the team’s top returning players, said he fully expects the Friars to be in contention for another championship. “That’s our goal,” he said, “but we’ll see how it goes.”

Rooney said he plans to take a few weeks off before starting his offseason training program. Last summer, he attended the New York Rangers development camp, and he is hopeful for a similar opportunity this year as he continues to pursue his dream of playing in the National Hockey League.

Asked what it feels like to be a national champion, Rooney said it is truly indescribable, and the fact that it happened at the Garden made it all the more special.

“I guess those memories from high school never go away,” said the former Hockomock MVP, who has now played six meaningful games in that venue. “Right when I knew [the Frozen Four] was at the Garden, I just wanted it so much. It was just so great for me to go back there and as a team too. It was really special.”

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