It’s 7:30 a.m. on a Thursday morning. It’s quiet, still dark outside and the fluorescent lights shining on the Steve ‘Coach’ Cady Arena at the Goggin Ice Center seem brighter during the early morning.
The sound of composite hockey sticks hitting the ice punctuate whistles from Scott Hicks, the head coach of Miami’s women’s hockey team. It’s normally this quiet during morning practices at Miami, but it was much louder a week ago on Feb. 26 at the Compton Family Arena in Notre Dame, Indiana.
On that Sunday the Lady RedHawks overcame a 3-0 deficit in the final 10 minutes against the Michigan State Spartans and went on to win the Central Collegiate Women’s Hockey Association (CCWHA) D1 Playoff Championship in quadruple overtime.
“To find ourselves down three-nothing with ten minutes to go and then find a way to come back – it was a really gutty, character effort from the girls,” Hicks said. “It showed a lot of who they are. I was really, really proud of them but was still a little shocked that we were able to pull it off.”
The Sunday championship game was the accumulation of a 5-4 Saturday victory over Robert Morris University, a 26-game season that started in September and numerous 6 a.m. morning practices.
The 7-year-old team has won the CCWHA championships three times in the past four years. With the CCWHA championship win the team gets an automatic spot in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) playoffs. It will try to win the ACHA championship for the third time in the past four years on March 15-19 in Columbus.
The CCWHA championship game saw the RedHawks attacking the Spartans, but with nothing to show on the scoreboard. Through the first two periods and for ten minutes into the third, the ‘Hawks took 40 shots on MSU goalie Katie Hamer. Miami found themselves down 3-0 with ten minutes left in the game.
“Some of us thought, ‘Oh, we’re done. There’s eight minutes left in the game,’” senior forward Izzy Smith said.
Then senior forward Kaley Mooney scored. 3-1. Eight minutes left.
Then senior defenseman Jordan Hanson banged in a goal amidst a net-front scrum. 3-2. Three minutes left.
Hicks decided to pull the goalie, since the girls were carrying the puck well. The team had drawn up a set-play, had forced MSU to use their timeout and had an offensive zone faceoff.
Freshman forward Ireland Mooney completed the comeback. 3-3. The game was headed to overtime.
“I didn’t expect us to come back from down three. But we’re kind of known for coming back – the comeback team,” Hanson said.
CCWHA rules call for five-minute overtime periods – the first is 4-on-4 and all subsequent overtimes are 3-on-3. Both teams battled through three overtimes, with Michigan State controlling much of the play. Senior goaltender Emalee Wills stood tall for the RedHawks and would end up stopping 33 of 36 shots.
Three minutes into the fourth overtime period, Smith streaked to the low slot and fired a shot into a gap on the glove side – the comeback was completed. The goal horn sounded and the bench flowed onto the ice to engulf Smith.
“It was awesome, because we did not expect that,” Smith said.
The program has grown to expect dedication and hard-work from the girls who are recruited. They have grown to expect practices that happen at ungodly hours in the morning, but practices that occasionally end with lighthearted coast-to-coast shootout practice.
And though the team is used to seeing less press and less recognition from the school – they aren’t a D1 team, after all – they want the Miami community to know about their efforts on and off the ice.
“We’re actually pretty good. If people come to watch us a lot of feedback we get is, ‘hey, you guys are actually quite good. I didn’t know it was this exciting.’ I think people would enjoy it if they come to watch. These kids work hard and they have to pay to play and they work really, really hard for what they have,” Hicks said. “I think that’s what I want people to know – how hard they work, how much effort they put in and how good they are.”
It’s not just about winning championships. It’s about lifelong friendships, the people and playing hockey for four more years. But winning championships is a testament to the girls and their efforts.
Smith said, “We’re pretty good. That’s it.”