UNH Bounces Back After Hockey East Disappointment to Stun Top-Seeded Miami in NCAA Tournament


March 26, 2011

MANCHESTER, N.H. — New Hampshire coach Dick Umile demanded the most out of his team this week, and he wasn't leaving his message up for debate. With UNH limping down the stretch, Umile told his Wildcats they'd need their best performance of the year Saturday against top-seeded Miami, and that's what they gave him.

The fourth-seeded Wildcats stunned Miami 3-1 in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and they'll play Sunday in the Northeast Regional Final at Verizon Wireless Arena. If UNH wins Sunday, it will advance to its first Frozen Four in eight years.

"Obviously, we were a little upset about last weekend," UNH defenseman Blake Kessel said about a flat performance against Merrimack in the Hockey East semifinals. "We knew we had to come out and have a good week of practice. As a team, we pulled together throughout the week, and we realized we're not ready to be done yet. We had to come out and play that hard game that we haven't really played in the last couple months. It's something we felt confident we could do, and we obviously went out there and did it."

Kessel made a nice play to set up UNH's decisive goal, faking a shot from the right point before firing a crisp pass through the slot to Mike Sislo, who redirected it past Miami goalie Cody Reichard to give the Wildcats a 2-1 edge 39 seconds into the third period.

For Sislo, it validated the Wildcats' superior performance through the game's first two periods. UNH struggled to break through Miami's forecheck in the first period, but it controlled the play otherwise and had plenty of opportunities to break the 1-1 tie. Despite UNH's underdog status, its reinvigorated play showcased a level of desire that had been missing for some time.

And Miami had been such a machine for the last five years. The RedHawks had advanced to the last two Frozen Fours, including the 2009 national championship, and they have two Hobey Baker finalists and the highest-scoring player in the country in Andy Miele.

"This wasn't our night. This was UNH's night," Miami coach Rico Blasi said. "They played well. Let's not take anything away from what they did. They played a very, very good hockey game against a good team and made us look not so good."

UNH snapped out of a 4-5-2 funk since early February, and it lost the Hockey East regular-season championship on the final weekend of the season.

"Everything is on the line, and if we don't play our best game, we're not going to be playing [Sunday]," Sislo said. "We have a lot of experience in this situation, and we knew what Miami is capable of. We had to leave everything out there in order to win."

That's exactly what the Wildcats did Saturday. They've got the skill to line up against any team in the tournament, and if they match that with an elite level of desire, they'll be a tough team to knock off.

"We probably played as well as we've played all season from start to finish. We knew we had to play at our best in order to beat Miami," Umile said. "I told the team we'd have to play our very best game that we've played all season, and that's what we did."

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