Make The Most Of It
The RedHawks made sure to take advantage of the shots they had: they scored on their first shot on goal in the first period, and again on their first shot in the third period.
Contrast that to New Hampshire, which couldn’t covert until its 38th shot, with just five minutes remaining in the contest. The Wildcats outshot the RedHawks 44-25 in a losing effort.
“We were opportunistic when we got our chances, no doubt about it,” said Miami coach Enrico Blasi.
Getting The First
The win Saturday was the first NCAA tournament victory for Miami, and came in its fifth try. Miami was 0-4 in previous attempts, three of which were upsets. In 1993, No. 3 seed Miami lost to No. 6 seed Wisconsin 3-1. In 1998, No. 6 seed Cornell won a 4-2 decision over No. 3 seed Miami, and last year, No. 3 Boston College dumped No. 2 Miami 5-0.
Oddly enough, the closest the RedHawks came to winning was in 2004, when, like this year, Miami was the underdog. No. 3 MU lost a 3-2 nailbiter against No. 2 seed Denver. Denver went on to win the national championship. That experience, said Blasi, helped shape this team.
“As freshmen, they went into Colorado College and played against Denver,” he said. “It seems like the teams that have success in this tournament are the teams that make it every year, and I hope we’re becoming one of them.”
Miami joins Massachusetts and fellow CCHA team Notre Dame in getting its first NCAA tournament win.
“After the season is over, I’ll probably think about it some more,” Blasi said, after the game. “But I think about the first class I recruited, Greg Hogeboom, Mike Kompon, Nick Petraglia. And Andy Greene really paved the way for this. And Steve Cady’s been with us for 31 years; I hope he’s enjoying this.”
Cady currently serves as the Senior Associate Athletics Director, and was responsible for bringing varsity ice sports to Miami. He was the head hockey coach for the team’s first seven seasons, and he now shares his name with Miami’s new $34 million hockey facility.
Penalty Kill Wins Championships
Miami’s penalty killing unit ranked second in the nation in efficiency, stopping 214 of 240 chances coming into this game. The RedHawks managed to hold the potent UNH offense, first in Hockey East, 0-for-7 on the power play, and that contributed directly to the one-goal win.
“Blocking shots is just what we do as a team,” said Miami team captain Ryan Jones, who had a goal and an assist. “It’s just an example of us giving it all for the team. I think one guy took one off the head.”
“They did a good job,” said Umile about Miami’s PK unit. “We tried to change it up, it was like we were five-on-five. You have to give credit to their goaltender, who made the saves when he had to.”
“That’s what we do every game,” said Blasi. “The assistant coaches in charge of the penalty kill, Jeff Blashill and Chris Bergeron watch a lot of video and are teaching our guys every day. We try to put pressure on the other team, try to force them into making a mistake.”
Its Not Good To Be The Top
Since the NCAA went to the four-regional format for the postseason tournament in 2003, only one No. 1 seed had lost in the first round: last year, No. 1 seed Minnesota lost to No. 4 seed Holy Cross.
This year, however, No. 1 seed Clarkson and No. 1 seed New Hampshire lost to No. 4 seeds Massachusetts and Miami, respectively. While No. 1 seed Notre Dame managed to get past underdog Alabama-Huntsville, it required double overtime to make it. No. 1 seed Minnesota trailed Air Force in the third period.
This parity is just an example of a topsy-turvy year though the college hockey postseason as a whole. In the women’s tournament, of the top four seeds, three lost in the first round, while the fourth needed four overtimes to advance.
In Division III men’s hockey, national champion Oswego is the first team from the “Pool C” group — non-conference winners that were selected with at-large berths — to take home the title.
No Place Like Home?
New Hampshire was the host of this year’s Northeast Regional, and the makeup of the crowd reflected that. It was largely pro-UNH, and there was only a scattering of Miami fans.
“From our point of view, everyone was talking about a UNH-BC rematch,” said Miami head coach Enrico Blasi. “We had nothing to lose. We knew that if we just came out and played our game, we could win.”
The video scoreboard operator didn’t help excite the crowd. During TV timeouts throughout the game, clips were shown of previous NCAA tournament games decided in overtime. During the second period, the final minutes of the 1999 national championship game were shown, as Maine defeated the Wildcats 3-2. The crowd was understandably silent throughout.
Better Luck Next Year
The seniors on this New Hampshire team have appeared in the NCAA tournament all four of their years. Those games, however, have resulted in a less than stellar 1-4 record, with just seven goals scored in the five games, including this year’s Mike Radja’s shorthanded tally. Coming in, only two players, Jacob Micflikier (two) and Brad Flaishans (one), had points in NCAA tournament play. This year marked the second straight first-round exit for the Wildcats.
“It’s always disappointing,” said Dick Umile, UNH head coach. “It was disappointing last year, and it’s disappointing this year. It’s disappointing that we’re not playing tomorrow [in the regional final].”
The one bright spot in New Hampshire’s game, the shorthanded goal by Radja, was electrifying. Radja knocked a puck loose from a defenseman, then went in on a shorthanded break, being shadowed by a Miami defender. As he fell to the ice, he slapped at the puck, which went up over the far shoulder of Miami goalie Jeff Zatkoff and into the net.
“The puck was just laying there, and I tried to swipe at it and got a stick on it,” said Radja.
The goal was similar to one in last week’s WCHA championship game, won in overtime on a falling chip-shot goal by Minnesota’s Blake Wheeler.