The Miami University hockey team pulled off an unlikely weekend sweep of No. 4 St. Cloud State University in the first round of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference tournament. The RedHawks won 5-4 in OT in the opener and then 4-3 to advance to the league’s first-ever Frozen Faceoff.
Unlikely might be a bit of an understatement in the national eye, as the Red and White have been reeling for a large portion of 2014. The Huskies might have come into the NCHC tournament heavy favorites in the opening best-of-three series, but they will be licking their wounds until they regroup and head almost assuredly to the NCAA Tournament.
“It might be in the back of our minds,” junior forward Blake Coleman said in a March 13 press conference about the upcoming series. “I’d be lying if I said it wouldn’t feel good to get one back on them after the way they ended our season last year.”
Coleman was referring to the 4-1 loss and ticket home that St. Cloud handed the ‘Hawks in the regional final last year. Little did Coleman know, the next two games against the Huskies would extend his team’s season, and bring them two games away from a ninth-straight NCAA Tournament berth.
Miami never trailed in the opening win and the score ping-ponged back and forth until late in the third period. St. Cloud senior defenseman Kevin Gravel was the recipient of a well-placed pass from senior forward Nic Dowd on the back door, where he beat sophomore goaltender Ryan McKay with 0.1 second left on the clock to force overtime. After a long review, the goal was allowed to the thunderous applause of the hometown barn. Junior forward Riley Barber played the spoiler at 10:10 of the overtime period when he crashed the net on a rebound from sophomore forward Sean Kuraly and somehow redirected the puck.
Saturday night may have been even crazier. The RedHawks fought off an early Huskie onslaught, only enter the third period down by two scores. Four Miami goals in 16 minutes lifted them to a 4-3 win, capped off with freshman forward Justin Greenberg’s dramatic finisher – and only his second strike of the year – with 2.6 seconds remaining. The Brotherhood upended the No. 4 team in the country, on its own ice, two consecutive nights to advance to Minneapolis, Minn. and the conference semifinals.
“The wave of emotions go from high to low and you try to stay even keel,” head coach Enrico Blasi said. “As coaches we have to focus on who’s coming up next and what instructions we need to bark out, but once the game was over it was pretty exciting.”
Next up is the University of North Dakota, which stands second in the NCHC standings. Miami’s 1-3 record against UND shields two very close loses, and a 9-2 blowout during its last outing Feb. 15, something the RedHawks will not soon forget.
“The team feels good about what they’re doing and their getting rewarded, so hopefully it keeps going for a couple more games,” Blasi said. “Nothing changes. Our focus stays the same, and on upcoming North Dakota.”
The semifinals start Friday, March 21 in Minneapolis.