MINNEAPOLIS — Enrico Blasi paused, perhaps to think about everything that happened.
Asked to sum up his feelings about what surely ranks up there among his accomplishments in hockey, the Miami coach finally threw a question right back.
“You guys have some time?” he said.
In terms of time left in the season, Blasi and the RedHawks certainly do.
Justin Mercier scored twice, cementing his status as the West Regional’s most valuable player, and Cody Reichard made 25 saves as Miami earned its first trip to the Frozen Four with a 2-1 victory over Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday.
From a team that suffered a five-game losing streak at midseason and was ousted from the CCHA tournament two weeks ago after a first-round bye came another fourth seed headed to the Frozen Four.
“We had a pretty rough go the last three years, being knocked out by Boston College,” Mercier said. “As a senior, you never want to think about that last game. We didn’t want this to be it, and were going to do everything we could.”
For Mercier, that meant a dynamic performance that, combined with a smothering defensive zone, held off the second-seeded Bulldogs.
The RedHawks killed off a UMD two-man advantage for two minutes in the second period and responded from a first period in which they got only one shot on goal to storm ahead.
Mercier scored twice in special teams situations in the second period, sandwiched around an apparent Minnesota-Duluth goal that was waved off after a video review.
With the RedHawks skating shorthanded, he swiped the puck from UMD’s Justin Fontaine at the left point and led a rush up the right side. With Carter Camper joining him for a 2-on-1, Mercier snapped off a wrist shot that beat Bulldogs goaltender Alex Stalock high to the near side.
Mercier added a power-play goal with four minutes left in the second, redirecting a Chris Wideman shot in front of Stalock.
Blasi recalled that he last week pulled aside Mercier, a 25-goal scorer last season whose production dipped to 11 entering the tournament, and told him that no one remembers regular-season scoring at this time of the year.
“He had a tough year,” Blasi said. “He was a marked man in our league and everybody knew it. …
“Boy, did he ever come to play this weekend.”
In between Mercier’s goals, there was some dispute and there was a key missed opportunity for the Bulldogs.
MacGregor Sharp found room through traffic to get a power-play shot from near the right boards through Reichard, a development that would have tied the game at 1-1 if it stood.
But, on replay, the referees that UMD’s Justin Fontaine had his right skate in the crease and was obstructing Reichard’s view, a violation that negated the goal.
“Was his foot in? Yeah, but they’re battling for position,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said, referencing that Fontaine and a Miami player were locked up in front of the net.
“I can’t say what I really want to say, but they made the call and you’ve got to live with it.”
Meanwhile, the RedHawks (22-12-5) were called for four minor penalties in less than four minutes, giving UMD (22-13-8) two minutes of a 5-on-3 advantage.
Reichard stopped a shot by Sharp, who put the rebound over the net.
The freshman goaltender also stopped a Josh Meyers slap shot, and Miami finally took the pressure off by clearing the puck.
“The guys were battling in front of me,” Reichard said. “Guys were laying down, blocking shots. It was just a battle out there and the guys did well in front of me.”
Just as they did a night earlier, when they rallied with two goals in the final 40 seconds to force overtime against Princeton, the Bulldogs made a run at it near the end Saturday.
Sharp scored with 2:05 left and Stalock on the bench for an extra attacker after the puck popped up from behind the net over Reichard’s head and landed in front.
The Bulldogs had one last go, but Camper blocked Mike Montgomery’s shot just before the horn sounded.
“We certainly had some opportunities,” Sandelin said. “We had the right players on the ice. You’ve got to go for it. There’s no tomorrow.”
There’s a tomorrow for the RedHawks, who join last year’s Notre Dame team as the only fourth seeds who made the Frozen Four since the start of the 16-team tournament in 2003.
As breakthroughs go, this one was pretty sweet for the RedHawks.
“I think everybody associated with Miami hockey is tasting a little bit of the victory right now,” Blasi said.