If you’re lucky enough to be a part of one of the teams still standing, you’ve endured an intense, grueling battle. Given the caliber of NCAA hockey every year, clinching one of four final spots is no easy task. When the teams hit Ford Field in Detroit on April 8, not only will we get to see the finest teams in college hockey compete for the national title, the tournament will also be played on an indoor football field for the first time ever.
Redemption looms in the minds of Miami as it returns to the Frozen Four after suffering a heartbreaking loss to Boston University in last year’s championship. The RedHawks allowed a two-goal advantage slip through their hands within the last minute of play as the Terriers clinched the national title, sending Miami home empty-handed. With a new season and a new life, its quest for the title is well underway.
Though Miami’s road to the NCAA’s wasn’t an easy one, their arrival in the Frozen Four is no surprise. A veteran squad finds itself in familiar territory after snapping a five-game winless playoff streak against Michigan, winning the Midwest region with a 2-1 double-overtime victory. Sophomore goaltender Connor Knapp submitted the performance of his career, making a career-high 55 saves in the effort.
The RedHawks' success is no fluke. With a 27-7-7 overall record, they’ve led the CCHA and national rankings all year. They have played with additional purpose this season, as they not only attempt to avenge last year’s NCAA heartbreak, but also play in honor of longtime team manager Brendan Burke, who lost his life earlier this year in a car accident. The experience helped the players form an unbreakable “brotherhood" — the team nickname they now use — and redefined Miami's mission by channeling focus and efforts onto the ice.
Miami possesses everything necessary for a championship contender. The RedHawks' highly physical style of play, combined with depth in every position, is only a fraction of the weapons that they have at their disposal. With a versatile offense comprised of some of the most skilled forwards in the country, plus an outstanding defense with the ability to jump into the play on a dime, and the luxury of having two No. 1 goaltenders, they are lethal against any opponent. When they play a disciplined, physical game, they’ve even been described by opponents as a nearly flawless hockey club.
Topping the list of key players to watch are Hobey Baker finalist and CCHA player of the year, goaltender Cody Reichard, who has a record of 18-4-3, a 1.79 GAA and a .924 save percentage. Three RedHawks power forwards have hit 40 points or more, with Jarod Palmer’s 18 goals and 27 assists atop the list. Vincent LoVerd’s three goals and 11 assists lead the blue line in scoring.
Miami is commandeered by NCAA Coach of the Year Enrico Blasi. In his 11th season behind the bench, he has compiled a 210-151-33 overall record and is 151-102-27 in the CCHA. The one item he’s still hoping to add to his resume is a national title. He and the Redhawks will get a chance to move one step closer on Thursday night at 8:30 p.m.
"It is our goal to win a national title," Blasi said. "We have the support of our institution and the community, and we feel like the future of Miami hockey has never been brighter."
After falling just short in last season’s decisive match to Boston University, Miami is hoping the experience from their first trial will work in their favor the second time around — something that seemed to work for the RedHawks' opponent, which finally captured the championship in its third consecutive attempt.
“It feels like 10 years ago, but it’s hard to believe a year has gone by," Blasi said. "We’re excited. I think if you walk by our locker room, you can tell. We’ll get a couple days rest and then start preparing for Boston College. I keep saying everything happens for a reason.”
Blasi knows that his team’s top ranking reflects the trials, hard work, and perseverance his team has exhibited this season.
“We’re obviously very excited to be the No. 1 seed overall,” Blasi said. "It’s a credit to the team and what they did this season. I'm proud of our team; I thought they had a terrific run this last month or more. Everybody left everything they had on the ice. It could have gone in for us and it didn't.”