You know what they say about a two-goal lead: it’s the hardest lead to keep.
The 2008-09 Miami RedHawks proved true that old clich on the most public of college hockey stages. Having netted two goals less than three minutes apart late in the third period of the 2009 NCAA championship game, the RedHawks played with their 3-1 lead over Boston University until the final minute of regulation play for the season, in their first trip to the Frozen Four.
Then BU’s Zach Cohen happened at 19:01, and Nick Bonino at 19:43, and the championship belonged to the Terriers before the puck dropped in overtime.
It was there. It was so close. And then — within the span of three-quarters of a minute — it was gone. In a place where they call hockey “The Brotherhood,” do you really think that the RedHawks can shake off sting of such magnitude in six short months?
“Our guys have really done a good job of putting the title behind them,” said coach Enrico Blasi, “and understanding that it was a great experience.”
While the Miami faithful will always remember April 11, 2009, as the day the national championship got away, the experience — the “great experience,” in coachspeak — has the potential to be the single event that galvanizes a rising program. It’s great when a program can return a tested team to the ice after a good season; it’s even better when that team returns hungry.
And let’s not forget that in addition to being tested and hungry, the RedHawks are absolutely dripping with talent.
The RedHawks return five of their seven double-digit goal scorers from a year ago, including four juniors that any team would love to have — Carter Camper, Pat Cannone, Andy Miele and Tommy Wingels — and the underrated senior Gary Steffes.
The young Miami defensive corps of a year ago is now battle tested, and the RedHawks’ two sophomore goaltenders, Connor Knapp and Cody Reichard, proved themselves well before the end of last season, combining for 23 wins and a .909 team save percentage. Reichard was the goalie of record through the NCAA tournament, stopping 93 of 101 shots for a .921 save percentage in four games.
“He did a great job in getting us to that final game and unfortunately there were some bad bounces,” said Blasi. “I can tell you that two days after that game, he was in the video room, watching that game, critiquing his own game. He does a good job of making sure that he is focused on what is at hand and I think the experience that he had in the tournament will benefit him.”
Focusing on the task at hand is a Miami hockey philosophy. Blasi preaches in the Church of the Even Keel, urging his players to get neither too high nor too low, and to focus on what they can control, in the moment, on a given day.
The RedHawks have no control over where they’ve been, but they can use that great experience of the past to steer the course of their future.