College Hockey:
Miami continues postseason roll by blanking North Dakota in NCHC semifinal

Miami goaltender Ryan McKay follows the puck as teammate Matt Joyaux and North Dakota’s Andrew Panzarella battle in front of the net (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

MINNEAPOLIS — When it finished as the last-place team in its conference, sweeping regular season NCHC champion St. Cloud State to advance to the Frozen Faceoff was a feat in itself for Miami — but it didn’t stop there.

The RedHawks will play for the NCHC playoff championship after posting three unanswered goals and a 3-0 victory over North Dakota on Friday evening at Target Center.

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See the tournament bracket and get links to schedules and stories at NCHC Playoff Central.

The scenario didn’t look to be the case earlier this season.

“I was thinking on the bench, sometimes you have to have a little bit of faith in your team,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. “I always say everything happens for a reason. Guys stayed with each other. They played hard, they practiced hard, they stayed positive and we’re going to the championship game tomorrow night. I’m really proud of my team and they way they played. It wasn’t easy tonight. It hasn’t been easy all year.”

With the heavy weight in its losing column, Miami rebounded from a 0-7 record in one-goal decisions earlier this season and collected victories in its past four games.

That result looked to continue when Blake Coleman tallied Miami’s first goal at 11:24 of the first frame when he caught a pass in the high slot and sniped it past Zane Gothberg (25 saves) to send the RedHawks ahead.

After returning to the lineup on Feb. 21, Coleman has notched nine goals in nine games.

The junior forward went on to win a faceoff in the second period and get the puck to Austin Czarnik for a shot that made it to the back of the net for a two-goal lead.

Though the goals came, the RedHawks’ main task was keeping pucks out of their own net.

“We wanted to make sure we were playing good team defense — that was our first priority,” Blasi said. “Making sure we managed the puck well — I thought we did that well, and we knew they were going to push. They’re a great team. It’s North Dakota, they were going to push, and they did.”

That push wasn’t displayed on the scoreboard as North Dakota entered the third period looking to erase a 2-0 deficit.

Anthony Louis made it three when he caught a pass from Riley Barber from behind the net and shot it in from the slot at 6:13 of the final frame.

As the clock ticked down, the three-goal margin paled in comparison to a 9-2 loss the RedHawks suffered when they traveled to North Dakota in mid-February.

Just over a month later, Miami proved the scoreboard did not define its abilities.

“I think that’s pretty obvious,” UND forward Mark MacMillan said. “They’re a lot better team than we played a month ago. I think obviously they got Coleman back from injury and I think he put a little spark in their team. They swept St. Cloud last weekend and came in and played a great game against us tonight. So obviously a much different team we played last time.”

Instead, Miami skated away with a spot in the conference championship game against Denver.

“I’m really excited and proud of our team,” Blasi said. “Not because we won tonight, but because of the way they’ve gone through this little journey. It’s not easy and we’re a better team for it and we’ve got to play tomorrow night for a championship.”

North Dakota won’t play for a championship. With a win in tomorrow’s third-place game, UND could potentially see its season continue into the NCAA tournament.

“Hats off to Miami University; they played a great hockey game tonight,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “They played hard, as did our team. Both teams battles hard. They scored the first goal of the game and got a critical one in the second period and we could not fight our way back into it. That being said, this one is over, it’s in the past. We’re moving toward tomorrow at 3:30 in the afternoon.”

After an attempt to silence a dominant North Dakota fan base that filled Target Center, Miami did just that.

The RedHawks’ preparation landed them a continuation of a season they worked diligently to build.

“It’s been tough, but I think we’ve got a really mentally strong team,” Coleman said. “Something we focus on all year is having each other’s backs. When everybody doubts us, we don’t doubt ourselves. We’ve pushed though it together and the only way to get out of a slump like that is to band together, and use each other to get out of it.”

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