DURHAM, N.H. — Miami wasn’t supposed to be here at all, said the team’s coach and starting goalie.
Well, the RedHawks took no time at all in making their presence known in the Northeast Regional, toppling top-seeded New Hampshire 2-1 on Saturday afternoon.
Junior captain Ryan Jones assisted on the game’s first goal and scored the game-winner, and second-year ‘Hawk Jeff Zatkoff stopped 43 shots in the program’s first NCAA tournament win.
“Some people felt like we shouldn’t be here. We felt like we had nothing to lose,” said Zatkoff of his team’s underdog approach to the game.
“Obviously, everybody wanted a BC-UNH rematch,” said head coach Enrico Blasi of the region, which featured New Hampshire and Boston College just one week after BC wrested the Hockey East title from the Wildcats.
“Our guys have a lot of pride … we weren’t supposed to be here,” Blasi proclaimed, echoing Zatkoff’s underappreciated remark.
The CCHA’s Northeast representative flew out of the gates, pouncing on the stunned Wildcats with only 1:47 gone from the game clock. Junior Nathan Davis scooped up the puck to the left of UNH goalie Kevin Regan, and beat the South Boston native far-side from a low angle.
Miami peppered Regan and the Wildcats on the game’s first power play, putting four more shots on net early in the first. New Hampshire regrouped on its own man-advantage, however, taking three high-quality shots in quick succession just before the halfway point of the frame.
Right off the draw, Zatkoff saved a bomb from inside the blueline. The rebound went straight to the blade of senior Jacob Micflikier, who slid the puck toward the lonely left post, only to have it kicked away by a brilliant flash of the pad. Brett Hemingway took a final shot toward a suddenly exposed five-hole, but Zatkoff was there once more to deny the game-tying bid.
Miami freshman Jarod Palmer made a desperate, diving poke-check to break up a three-on-two late in the power play, the first of two outstanding efforts for the Minnesotan winger.
As the first period closed and the second commenced, the momentum clearly shifted in favor of New Hampshire. Whereas the hometown Wildcats outshot the RedHawks 14-10 in the first period, the discrepancy in the second frame was a preposterous 16-5 for the top seed. The teams traded penalties throughout the second, but action was predominantly peripheral.
Then in the third, Blasi’s boys found a little extra gas.
Jones circled behind Regan’s net early, and wheeled around with a shot from low to Regan’s right side. The puck bounced off a skate at the edge of the crease, and snuck through the ‘keeper’s legs.
“[The goals] were similar plays, both fluky bounces,” said Regan afterward.
The Wildcats went on the power play at 5:48 as Gary Steffes was dismissed for a high stick, and immediately threw a well-executed tip on Zatkoff. Palmer made another diving poke with play at the blueline to clear the puck later in the kill, and the threat was averted.
With only 4:45 to play in regulation, the favorites woke the quiet and frustrated crowd. Junior center Mike Radja scored his 19th goal of the season shorthanded, backhanded, one-handed as he turned defender Alec Martinez inside-out on a breakaway. Radja flipped the puck over Zatkoff’s right shoulder while plowing down the right-wing slot, and the puck just eked inside the elbow joint on the far side.
Miami nailed Regan’s post on a delayed penalty a minute and a half later, and Radja took an ill-advised holding minor with only 3:03 on the board. Wildcat rearguard Brad Flaishans whipped a rink-long shot toward Zatkoff with a minute and a half to go that bounced only 10 feet in front of the startled netminder, but the goalie smothered the puck quickly.
Jones came through with a big block — one of 20 on the game for the RedHawks — with just seconds left and Regan on the bench, and the game ended in the most baffling fashion as sophomore Wildcat Jamie Frisch carried the puck up ice in the most nonchalant of manners.
The nation’s second-best penalty kill held UNH in check on seven opportunities.
“They played really hard against us; they put the body on us,” said Radja of the tenacious Miami defense.
The RedHawks won despite being outshot 44-25.
“We were opportunistic on our chances, no question about it,” said Blasi of the disparity. “When you get here often enough, you know what to do, you know what to expect. We just made one more play than they did,” he said.
Miami (24-13-4) will play the winner of Boston College versus St. Lawrence on Sunday evening. New Hampshire (26-11-2) was dismissed short of expectations, and Umile enters the offseason one win shy of 400 for his career.