PROVIDENCE — His appetite whetted, Matthew Peca came back for more.
The Quinnipiac sophomore had the most spectacular goal of the NCAA East Regional semifinal against Canisius Saturday — a quick little shot tucked over the goalie’s right shoulder and under the crossbar, a goal that made his coach guffaw and earned a spot on “SportsCenter” — so when Quinnipiac faced Union Sunday night for the chance to play in the Frozen Four, Peca went right back for more.
Peca scored three goals in 3 minutes 12 seconds, the latter two unassisted, for a natural hat trick that lit up the scoreboard in the first period, sending Quinnipiac to a 5-1 victory over Union in the NCAA East Regional final at Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
The No. 1-ranked Bobcats earned their first trip to the Frozen Four.
“He’s a big-time player for us,’’ said Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold. “He was the best player on the ice tonight. But beyond that, it was a great team game.’’
Peca, who had never scored more than one goal in a game at Quinnipiac, beat the record for fastest hat trick in an NCAA Tournament game by more than a minute. That mark had belonged to Warren Miller of Minnesota, who scored three in 4:20 against Harvard March 13, 1975.
After collecting his 13th, 14th, and 15th goals of the season as well as an assist, he was named the regional tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
“It’s huge, it helped us win, it helped Quinnipiac get into their first Frozen Four,’’ said Peca. “I think that’s as much as I can take out of it.’’
Peca later admitted he had a little extra energy to give against Union.
“Every time you come off a game where you have a goal, you have a little more confidence,’’ he said. “Today was one of those games where my head was up, the puck was glued to my stick. So it’s one of those games where you take the ball and run with it as much as you can. I was pretty fortunate to have three open looks and I capitalized on all three.’’
Peca and linemates Connor and Kellen Jones broke out midway through the first period, steaming in on Union goalie Troy Grosenick all at once. Peca got off a shot as he was dumped to the ice by the Union defense.
Kellen and Connor Jones each got a poke at the puck, but it was Peca, who had jumped back up and zeroed in on a bouncing rebound to swat the puck into the net at 9:46.
It was the first shot of the game for Peca. His next shot was a goal too, a screamer from the top of the right circle, after Peca stole the puck from a defender just outside the blue line and carried it quickly into the zone. His shot beat Grosenick to the glove side at 10:59.
Peca had the advantage of a power play for his third goal, but still did all the work himself. Coming out of the left corner with the puck, he deked around Shawn Stuart, then stepped behind fallen defender Mat Bodie and flicked a quick backhand to the far post at 12:58.
“Obviously, the goals were pretty spectacular but he’s a complete hockey player,’’ said Pecknold. “He’s one of our best penalty killers. He’s third or fourth in ECAC in faceoffs, he does little things well, he blocks shots.’’
It was quite a body of work, performed in an arena full of Union fans that had gone creepy quiet. Peca added an assist on Kellen Jones’s second-period goal, just a footnote to his performance.
“Peca basically won the game in the first period,’’ said Union coach Rick Bennett. “Those were some tremendous plays. It was a great play with the goal yesterday and he’s had one heck of a tournament.’’