Love and honor to the Brotherhood. One well-placed shot by sophomore Alden Hirschfeld late Sunday night was all the No. 1 seeded Miami University hockey team needed to punch its ticket to the Frozen Four.
Miami’s double overtime victory in the NCAA Midwest Regional Final marked the first time in program history the Red and White has beaten University of Michigan (UM) in the postseason in addition to the first time the RedHawks won an overtime game in the NCAA Tournament.
With the victory, Miami secured its bid to play Boston College in the NCAA Semifinal in Detroit and moved one step closer to competing, again, for a national championship.
“It feels like 10 years ago, but it’s hard to believe a year has gone by,” Miami Head Coach Enrico Blasi said, referring to last April’s national championship loss to Boston University. “We’re excited; ff you walk by our locker room you can tell. We’ll get a couple days rest and then start preparing for Boston College.”
Before Sunday’s nail biter, the Red and White had to get over another hurdle in the form of CHA Tournament champion University of Alabama-Huntsville (UAH).
The Brotherhood outpaced UAH throughout most of the Midwest Regional Semifinal matchup Saturday. Exercising its signature puck possession style of play, Miami limited the Chargers’ shots on goal (SOG) to the single digits in each of three dominant stanzas and patiently established a controlled lead.
The RedHawk defense smothered most of the Chargers’ offensive drives along the boards and protected the puck bin at all costs, making life easy on sophomore goaltender Cody Reichard. The CCHA Player of the Year and Hobey Baker Award Finalist did not face a single SOG until 8:58 of the first frame.
The Chargers took several penalties early on in the contest, but UAH’s fifth ranked penalty kill (PK) used good neutral zone positioning to ward off any odd man rushes by the Red and White. Miami’s coaching staff was heads up about the Royal Blue and White’s tactics, though, and adjusted the RedHawks’ power play attack to a more effective umbrella formation.
Miami took the change all the way to the bank when freshman Curtis McKenzie took advantage of UAH’s third trip to the box and netted the Brotherhood’s first goal of the night.
One minute into the man-advantage, junior Carter Camper popped the puck out from behind the net right into the crease where McKenzie was waiting to pull the trigger, putting the RedHawks on the board at 10:24.
“I was just finding myself in the net where I’m supposed to be,” McKenzie said. “I saw Talbot cheating a bit there and just put it over his pad.”
More penalties early on in the middle stanza doomed the Chargers to a two-goal deficit at 6:06. Junior net minder Cameron Talbot stopped sophomore Cameron Schilling’s initial attempt but didn’t cover up. The unattended puck trickled past the goal line for the Brotherhood’s second tally of the game.
“What we care about is timely goals,” Blasi said. “Tonight we had two power play goals, and that was the difference in the game.”
As the game wore on, Miami’s four lines wore UAH down and the Chargers saw themselves outshot 28-10 in the final two frames. The Chargers 10 penalties over the course of the contest cost them precious energy and resources as well.
“We just kept trying to get some momentum going, but as soon as we got that and a little bit of life it was wiped out by the power plays,” UAH Head Coach Danton Cole said. “The whole third period was that way – we kind of shot ourselves in the foot.”
It took a six-on-four advantage for the Royal Blue and White to finally break through in the closing moments of regulation. Sophomore Chris Wideman’s holding penalty and an empty net gamble for UAH paid off when senior Brennan Barker put a hard shot into the back of the net with 38.3 seconds remaining on the clock, robbing Reichard of what would have been his sixth shutout in 2009-10.
“The puck was bouncing around in front of the goal all night,” Barker said. “Finally we got one when desperation set in.”
The Chargers played with desperate intensity but it was too little too late and the scoreboard read 2-1 at the final buzzer. With the victory, Miami improved to 25-0-0 when leading after two periods this season.
“Congrats to the Miami team,” Cole said. “When we weren’t good out there it was because of them. They have a really good chance to win a national championship. We don’t like losing, but (Miami) did a lot of good things out there, and I’m very impressed with them.”
All dreams of winning a national championship aside, the Red and White still had a monumental hurdle to get over in the Regional Final game v. UM.
“The last time we played Michigan I don’t think we showed them anything,” Blasi said. “It looked like we were chasing them around.”
Both teams knew there was no room for error going into the matchup, and the two teams stuck to each other like glue throughout the duration – forechecking, backchecking, matching lines and battling heatedly along the boards with the weight of their seasons resting on their shoulders. Goaltending played a crucial role as well, as Miami sophomore Connor Knapp and UM junior Shawn Hunwick – both No. 31 – stood heroically tall throughout the contest.
Few chances were granted at even strength, but Miami continued to shine on the power play and netted the game’s critical first lamplighter 35 seconds into UM’s first trip to the sin bin. With junior Louie Caporusso out for tripping, junior Pat Cannone managed to tip the puck in from a tough angle off the crossbar over Hunwick’s left shoulder. Entering the contest, the RedHawks were 22-0-3 when netting the first goal of the game.
The Red and White’s lead was short lived, however, as UM sophomore David Wohlberg knotted the action just 1:34 later. The left-winger saw his initial shot from between the circles stonewalled by Knapp, but hustled into the crease unmarked and buried the rebound at 13:42. The tie held up for the remainder of the period with Knapp and Hunwick recording 10 and five saves, respectively.
In the middle period, both teams burst forth with renewed energy.
Just 38 seconds into the frame, freshman Reilly Smith was whistled for holding. It took the Wolverines just one faceoff win and 11 seconds to capitalize on Miami’s man-disadvantage and put the biscuit in the basket. Working off of a feed from senior Steve Kampfer, junior Chad Langlais sent in a blast from the blue line that gave UM the lead at the 49-second mark.
Just 2:29 later, the RedHawks retaliated with a power play tally. Hunwick made an initial save but the puck remained loose. Cannone forced it under the junior net minder’s pads to even things up again.
Knapp came up with a huge save to keep the Red and White in the game at 4:09 in the third, twisting around to dive on the puck before it could cross the line. Hunwick was equally as sharp, smothering the puck in the crease after Miami sent a shot in off the post that was close to going in.
The RedHawks faced some adversity in the last moments of regulation when senior Brandon Smith was whistled for hooking, but the third stanza ended scorelessly, necessitating an extra session. Miami entered the fourth frame with a 1-2-7 history in overtime this season.
Controversy erupted early when a referee blew a high sticking penalty on freshman Joe Hartman just moments before the Wolverines netted the puck. The situation was reviewed and a ‘no goal’ order was issued.
“That’s a tough one to swallow,” Michigan Head Coach Red Berenson said. “You can’t win on those calls.”
UM redoubled their efforts, outshooting Miami 20-6 in the extra session, but it was Knapp time. The 2009 Buffalo Sabres draft pick tracked the Wolverines’ every move to keep the Brotherhood in the game for the entirety of the extra 20 minutes.
“Tonight was Connor’s night, and we knew he would go in there and do exactly what he did,” Blasi said.
When the scoreboard still showed 2-2 at the conclusion of the fourth stanza, Miami encountered uncharted territory. Sunday marked the first multiple overtime game the team has faced in the program’s history.
Just 1:54 into the second overtime period, Miami punched its ticket to its second consecutive Frozen Four appearance.
After working the puck loose from along the boards down in Miami’s zone, sophomore Alden Hirschfeld brought it up the right side of the ice. Sophomore Trent Vogelhuber freed it from the melee and dished it to Hirschfeld, who let it fly from the top of the left circle for the game winner, sending the crowd into frenzy.
“It was a heck of a battle tonight,” Blasi said. “Obviously it goes into overtime like that and one shot can win it for you. The guy to my left (Hirschfeld) had the good fortune of that happening to him, but its tough when both teams are giving it everything they have. We are very proud of our team and the way they responded to the little bit of adversity.”
Miami will now face Boston College in the semifinal round of the Frozen Four April 9. Puck drop is slated for 8:30 p.m. at Ford Field in Detroit. Should the RedHawks advance, the national championship game will take place at 7 p.m. April 10.