Miami Brings Impressive Balance to D.C.
The Miami RedHawks have had teams that earned more accolades than this one. They've had teams with better records than this one. However, this is the first Miami University team to make a Frozen Four.
This might be Miami's best team in other ways. They have four solid lines who contribute on both ends of the ice. They have a group of young defensemen who just aren't making a lot of mistakes. When necessary, they get great goaltending. Sounds like a championship formula to me.
It sounds simple, but it's not. Head coach Enrico Blasi comes from the coaching tree of Denver's George Gwozdecky. Denver has won two national titles under Gwozdecky, and it's probably not an accident that those Pioneer squads bear similarity to this Miami team.
The 2004 Denver team was a regional underdog who got the Frozen Four, and was completely overlooked. They won the national championship with a comeback win over Minnesota-Duluth in the semifinals and a 1-0 win over Maine in the championship. They featured four balanced lines, a very tough defense, and great goaltending. The 2005 team had the same characteristics, but had higher-end talent.
Miami carries another trait of that 2004 Denver team into this week's Frozen Four. Like Denver, the RedHawks lost in the quarterfinals of their conference tournament, then didn't make the NCAA Tournament by a lot. Instead of getting rusty during their week off, they took advantage of it by getting some extra rest and preparing for the tournament.
"We had about two weeks to mentally and physically prepare for our second chance," Blasi said. "We knew it wasn't going to be easy."
After beating Denver in the NCAA West Regional, Blasi said he felt the week off probably gave them an advantage. Will that carry over into the Frozen Four?
Why Miami Will Win
They're tough on the boards, and they like to have the puck there. Miami made very few mistakes during the regional wins, and they looked incredibly focused through 120 minutes. They dominated a top seed in Denver before taking out college hockey's hottest team, Minnesota-Duluth.
Even though they've finally made it to the big stage, senior Justin Mercier doesn't think they're done working.
"You come in at the beginning of the year with the mindset of winning a national championship," Mercier said. "As exciting and as fun as it's been to get to the Frozen Four, we can't lose focus on our ultimate goal."
Freshman goalie Cody Reichard was poised and sharp in the regional, having emerged from a season-long rotation with fellow freshman Connor Knapp.
"They have developed and created an atmosphere of competition among themselves," Blasi noted.
Why Miami Won't Win
Teams that lack firepower can run into trouble in one-game situations. All it takes is a couple mistakes by a defenseman or the goaltender, and if you don't have enough offensive punch, a 2-0 hole can look like 8-0.
Miami is one of those teams. If they fall behind, it can be a serious problem.
They have four freshmen playing regularly on defense, which means these mistakes can certainly happen. Miami did a great job keeping the game simple for their young blue-liners in the regional, but good-skating teams like Bemidji and Boston University could cause trouble for the RedHawks.
Though freshmen have won national titles more than a few times before, you always worry about a team that starts a freshman in goal ... especially when the backup is also a freshman.
What Will Happen
Miami is the kind of team that can handle Bemidji's speed. They'll neutralize the Beavers by making them win battles along the boards against bigger and stronger players. Miami has dangerous shooters on top of the power-play formation, and they have the goaltending to make a 1-0 lead stand up.
The RedHawks will beat Bemidji in the semifinals, but they'll meet their match with Boston University in the championship game. The Terriers skate too well to fall into Miami's style of play, and it will be very difficult for the RedHawks to slow them down.