Miami comes painfully close to completing miracle comeback against Providence

Miami’s Louie Belpedio dives to clear a shot at an empty net away from his goal on Saturday (photo: Matt Eisenberg).

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — None of the 7,908 who were at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center Saturday night will ever forget the game between regional top seed Miami and de facto home team Providence.

It wasn’t memorable for Providence’s seven goals, although it was the second-most the Friars scored all year. It wasn’t memorable for Miami’s disastrous play through 40 minutes, although it was certainly among the RedHawks’ worst two periods in recent memory.

It wasn’t even memorable for Providence earning its second straight appearance in the NCAA East Regional final. (The Friars beat Quinnipiac before losing to Union in Bridgeport, Conn., last spring.)

No, it was memorable for Miami’s three extra-attacker goals, scored over the final 8:34 of the third period, in defiance of all reason, sense, and probability. It will stand forever as one of the most incredible, damn-the-torpedoes, full-speed-ahead performances in NCAA history.

And in some way, it will be even more memorable because ultimately, Miami lost. The magical, miracle comeback fell short; Cinderella’s shoe was a size too big.

The RedHawks blocked two empty-net bids; Louie Belpedio sacrificed himself to clear a sure empty-net goal off the goal line, to the extent that he had to crawl the 60 feet back to the bench.

Alternate captain, senior center and leading scorer Austin Czarnik had the game-tying goal in his skates with 25 seconds remaining and Providence goalie Jon Gillies way out of position, but he couldn’t put his blade on the biscuit.

The RedHawks and coach Rico Blasi had redemption in their sights, just one goal away. Not just redemption for a miserable 40 minutes of NCAA play, but for six years of regret.

No, none of the undergraduate members of the Brotherhood played in the national title game in 2009, but the game is legendary: Miami, up 3-1 with a minute remaining, surrendered two extra-attacker goals to Boston University. Overtime — and Miami’s flickering optimism — lasted 11:47 before BU’s Colby Cohen extinguished it.

Blasi would rather not live every game through the lens of that exceptionally depressing game, even Saturday’s. He said that the crown-that-could-have-been never crossed his mind Saturday, and that the team stuck with the plan as it was outlined during the second intermission: Goalie out around the 14-minute mark, and play like your hair’s on fire.

The closest thing these RedHawks players may have to a veteran of the 2009 finale is senior forward Alex Wideman. His brother — current Binghamton Senators defenseman Chris Wideman — was a freshman on the 2008-09 team.

“Just never give up,” is advice he learned from his brother. “It’s not over until the horn blows. You might be up four or five goals, but it doesn’t matter.

“In the locker room between the second and third period, nobody was down. We know it’s their ‘home rink,’ whatever, but we’ve been on the road all year. It’s a hostile environment. Just unfortunately, the bounce at the end didn’t go our way. It sucks that it fell short, but I’ve got all the faith in the guys for next year and the years to come.”

Years to come from now, people will still be retelling the Title That Wasn’t. But now, at least, there will be another story written in The Brotherhood’s expanding tome: The Miracle that Almost Was.