By Derek Berry
DETROIT – Another team from Boston, a familiar result for the Miami University RedHawks.
Last year, Miami lost a heartbreaker in overtime to the Boston University Terriers in the NCAA championship game. The RedHawks led in that game until the late stages. In Thursday’s second NCAA Frozen Four matchup, Miami never had a lead as the Boston College Eagles took it to them. The result even led Miami senior forward Jarod Palmer to say ‘the curse of Boston continues.”
Curses or not, the fact is, the Eagles destroyed the RedHawks at Ford Field in front of a North American record crowd for an indoor hockey game, 7-1.
The victory pits Boston College against the Wisconsin Badgers in Saturday night’s championship game at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN.
Boston College, which features a team consisting of 18 freshman and sophomores, is making their 22nd appearance all time in the Frozen Four. BC has won three national titles and will try for a fourth. The Eagles recently played Wisconsin in the 2006 NCAA championship in Milwaukee, falling to the local favorite Badgers.
In this game, both teams came out flying, playing an up and down first period and seemed to be evenly matched. Both handled the puck well, but BC dominated most of the remainder of the game – with the exception of the early stages of the third period – making both semifinal games lopsided in the process.
“I guarantee if this was an NHL playoff series, this would go seven games,” said Boston College coach Jerry York, who leads his team into their fourth national championship game in the last five years. “Miami has a very strong team. I thought (BC junior goaltender) John Muse played well.”
Boston College scored the first goal late in the first period on a deflection by senior forward Ben Smith off a shot from junior forward Joe Whitney to make it 1-0.
“That first goal was a big one for us, to end the first,” said Smith, who scored two goals in the game. “Joe gave me a great shot pass and I was able to tip it by the goalie.”
The Eagles struck twice early in the second period, making it 3-0. Like the Badgers in the previous game, it was the second period and special teams that broke their opponents’ backs. Their second goal also came on the power play, not long after Miami had an excellent short-handed chance on BC’s Muse, who stood his ground on the play, which York called “the turning point in the game.”
BC created traffic in front of Miami sophomore goaltender Connor Knapp (Buffalo Sabres) as sophomore forward Jimmy Hayes scored off a rebound that went wide of the net and came back out in front to make it 2-0.
A minute later the Eagles got another from Whitney to make it 3-0, chasing Miami goaltender Knapp from the game. He was replaced by sophomore Cody Reichard, who has shared time in goal with Knapp all season and was named player of the year in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA).
“Both of our goalies are the reason why we’re here,” said Miami coach Enrico Blasi. “We wanted to change the momentum at that point. We did for a little bit, then we started to take chances and gave up odd-man rushes. We had a great season. Tonight doesn’t take away from what our team accomplished this year.”
Boston College at first struggled with the goalie change. “Miami is a team with two tremendous goalies,” said Smith. “Reichard shut us out for the rest of that (second) period.”
Boston College played a physical game, was effective on special teams and never let Miami get a lot of strong chances, especially in the second period.
When Miami did have opportunities, Eagles goaltender Muse was right there to deny them. And Muse’s defense helped him, too, by not letting a lot of shots get to the net.
Miami often appeared choppy and uneven through parts of the game and seemed to be playing on their heels at times.
It has been well-documented that the RedHawks have had problems on the power play and needed to score in a big game like this one to have a chance at winning.
The RedHawks came back strong in the third period, dominating the play while BC got flat-footed. Miami scored roughly five-plus minutes into the third period on a goal by RedHawks freshman defenseman Joe Hartman, making it 3-1. Suddenly, Miami looked like a new team, with a flurry of chances and good defensive play.
“That goal was big for them,” said Whitney, who had a goal and two assists. “But we had a lot of enthusiasm on the bench and didn’t want to change the pace. We wanted to get the next goal and keep it going.”
Reichard stood strong in goal and, just like in their game with the University of Michigan in the NCAA Midwest Region final, the RedHawks looked like a different team in the third period. That was until midway through the final frame.
Just as Miami seemed poised for a big comeback, BC scored three times on goals by forwards Cam Atkinson and Paul Carey and freshman defenseman Patch Alber in a 1:30 span to put the final nails in the RedHawks coffin. The onslaught extended the Eagles lead to 6-1.
Smith tallied his second goal of the game late in the third period, officially making both national semifinal games routes, giving the Eagles a 7-1 lead. A visibly frustrated Blasi called it a ‘total domination” by Boston College. “They definitely deserved to win tonight,” he added.
“We turned pucks over and they put up seven goals,” said Miami junior forward Tommy Wingels. “That was pretty frustrating. They’re a very skilled team. We knew they were like that. All the credit goes to them for taking it to us and capitalizing on their opportunities.”
“Defensively, we were very strong,” added York. “We were very strong, quick and creative offensively.”
The Eagles are a confident team come tournament time, which shows in their reaching the national final so many times in the latter part of this decade.
“When you’ve had seniors who’ve been there before it makes it easier,” said Muse, speaking of a BC senior class that won its 100th game Thursday. “At this point in the season, we’re just looking for wins, whether you allow seven (goals) or one.”
Like Wisconsin, Boston College is making its third trip to the city of Detroit for the Frozen Four. The Eagles lost both times in the semifinals of those previous Detroit tournaments, to Providence in 1985 in triple overtime and in 1990 to the Badgers …
The attendance was 34,954 for the two semifinal games, the largest ever to watch indoor hockey games …
The second intermission of this game featured a demonstration of sled hockey, which many Paralympians and disabled athletes play. The exhibition featured members of the U.S. Paralympics sled hockey team, which won a gold medal at the recent Games in Vancouver.
Derek Berry is a freelance writer for TheHockeyNews.com and covers the CCHA as a freelance writer for Michigan Hockey Magazine.