By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 11, 2009
This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Miami. The RedHawks lost nine players at the end of the 2007-08 season, including six who signed professional contracts. Among the departed were both of the RedHawks' goaltenders, a Hobey Baker Award finalist and four members of the defensive corps, including an all-American who was named one of the best defensemen in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
If you had asked assistant captain Kevin Roeder then if he thought that this year would be when the RedHawks made it to their first national championship game, he might have laughed.
"I could never have imagined this," Roeder said. "We came in with two freshman goalies, four freshman defensemen and a lot of learning to do. But the coaches definitely did a great job bringing us all together. . . . It's an exciting feeling to take this program where it's never been before as a senior."
The RedHawks (23-12-5), who hail from Oxford, Ohio, will make the school's first-ever appearance in any NCAA title game when they face top-seeded Boston University (34-6-4) tonight at 7 at Verizon Center.
With all the attention paid to the trio of teams that many didn't pick to reach the Frozen Four, Boston University has somewhat been made out as the big bad wolf of the tournament. Although they're heavy favorites with a roster full of NHL draft picks, they are playing for the Terriers' first national championship since 1994-95.
"We've been working for this for a long time," said Terriers co-captain John McCarthy. "Last year I thought we had a great team, but we struggled. It had to be my most frustrating year at BU. We didn't even make NCAAs. This means a lot to us."
Miami ended the fairy-tale run of Bemidji State with a 4-1 win in a national semifinal Thursday with a performance that never allowed the No. 16 seed Beavers to gain much momentum. And one could argue that Miami would have been the darling of this year's Frozen Four if it hadn't been for the Beavers, except that the RedHawks aren't newcomers to the upper echelon of college hockey.
In 10 seasons under Coach Enrico Blasi, they have seven winning records and were the No. 1 team in the country for 13 weeks last season, but in each of the past three years the RedHawks were ousted in the NCAA region tournament by Boston College. This season, the RedHawks didn't know if they would have a chance to make a fourth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. Miami exited the CCHA tournament in the second round, losing a three-game series to Northern Michigan.
"In the locker room after the game we acted like things were over because we thought they probably were," Miami senior forward Bill Loupée said. "I was probably the worst of any of the seniors. I saw some of the older guys starting to tear up, and I just lost it in the locker room. But just being able to experience how horrible that feeling is has helped us out a lot."
Miami players and coaches crunched numbers of every possible scenario that might lead to an at-large bid, then as they were watching the NCAA selection show in their dressing room at Steve Cady Arena, promised to make the most of the second chance.
"We wanted to take advantage of it," Roeder said. "We came out and said we're going to do absolutely everything we can do to make sure we never feel like that again. For us seniors, we're not going to be in this locker room again. We have to make the most of this."
While nightmarish memories of tournaments past have helped fuel the upperclassmen, eight freshmen, happily devoid of those first-hand experiences, have buoyed the RedHawks with their dependability.
Goaltenders Connor Knapp and Cody Reichard, who is 4-1 with a .929 save percentage in the playoffs and the likely starter in the championship game, formed a reliable tandem. Forward Alden Hirschfeld recorded his second goal of the tournament against Bemidji State. And then there's the quartet of freshman defensemen -- Cameron Schilling, Matt Tomassoni, Will Weber and Chris Wideman -- who have become staples in the Miami lineup. They've been so reliable that senior captain Brian Kauffman said it's "almost like not having freshmen anymore."
"They still say we're a little immature," Schilling said after a practice this week in which he and Tomassoni started a faux scrap with towering 6-foot-6 senior Michael Findorff. "We're always goofing around trying to keep it loose," Schilling said. "We're in the Frozen Four, but we can't let ourselves get tense. We just try to keep it fun when we can, while focusing on what we need to do."
All that's left for the RedHawks now, after knocking out Denver, Minnesota Duluth (ranked fourth and eighth, respectively) and Bemidji State, is to face the daunting Terriers in an effort to capture the first national championship in program history and the first NCAA title in any sport during Miami's 200-year history. No pressure or anything.
"Geez, I get goose bumps just thinking about it," Roeder said. "We want our little part of history."
Frozen Four Note: Capitals General Manager George McPhee was on hand to present the Hobey Baker to Boston University defenseman Matt Gilroy last night at Verizon Center. McPhee won the award in 1982.