Upset (up’-set), n.: a game or contest in which the favorite is defeated.
No. 4 seeds went two-for-two Friday in the NCAA regionals. After Air Force a rode a 43-save performance by Andrew Volkening to a 2-0 win over Michigan in the East Regional, Miami — not to be outdone — dominated top-seeded Denver in a 4-2 victory in the West Regional at Mariucci Arena.
Those two victories marked the fifth and sixth times that a No. 4 seed has beaten a No. 1 since the NCAA tournament went to its current 16-team format in 2003.
Just for starters, six wins out of 26 total one vs. four games isn’t too bad of a success rate for the tournament’s biggest underdogs.
Even more interesting is that all six of those victories have come in the last four tournaments. Starting in 2006, at least one No. 4 seed has won each year, the first being the granddaddy of all upsets: Holy Cross over Minnesota.
The Crusaders’ win over the Gophers was a watershed event, and nothing since has matched it in terms of impact. At the rate that the numbers are accumulating, though, the novelty of the big first-round upset is going to wear off pretty quickly.
That brings us to the RedHawks’ Friday victory. Upsets may lose their shine, but winning never gets old, especially when you weren’t sure you’d get the chance in the first place.
The RedHawks sat out last weekend after losing in the CCHA quarterfinals, and had to hope for the best in terms of at at-large bid with borderline credentials according to the numbers. Come last Sunday, Miami was in and not about to undervalue the opportunity.
“It was a second opportunity, for us to get into the tournament,” said Justin Mercier, who scored Miami’s first goal. “We took advantage of the situation, and we didn’t take it for granted.”
“We were lucky to get in,” agreed his head coach, Enrico Blasi. “But once we got in … [the players] wanted this.”
Miami got in, all right, and won its first game to boot. The PairWise Rankings said the RedHawks were underdogs, and as a result the seedings agreed. Did Blasi’s crew really feel that way?
“Obviously, we were [underdogs],” said Blasi. “We were a fourth seed, we were 13th in the PairWise.
“I’m not sure we talked about it … but we’ve been here before and our guys knew what they had to do.”
That they did. In beating Denver, Miami earned the distinction of becoming the first school in the 16-team NCAA tournament era to twice win from the No. 4 seed. The ‘Hawks also did it in 2007, putting New Hampshire out of the NCAAs and doing it in the Wildcats’ home state, no less.
Miami’s next opponent will be either Princeton or Minnesota Duluth, with the winner of Saturday’s game headed to the Frozen Four, a place the RedHawks have never been.
That wasn’t on the players’ minds, though — not after a victory like Friday’s, in which all four lines scored goals.
“Different guys can step up each game, each shift,” said Mercier. “When different guys are clicking and can score, it’s fun.”
If Miami wins again Saturday, the RedHawks’ next dose of fun on the ice will come in Washington, D.C.