By Derek Berry, special to The Hockey News
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The 2009 Men’s NCAA Hockey Tournament has featured some wild and crazy endings.
So, it was fitting there was yet another crazy ending, this time in the national championship.
A crowd of 18,512 looked on as the surging Miami RedHawks gave the mighty Boston University Terriers everything they had, including a 3-1 lead that evaporated in a matter of 42 seconds late in regulation when Boston U pulled freshman goaltender Kieran Millan and decided that its season of destiny was not over.
The RedHawks played a solid game right up until the last minute of regulation, but the Terriers got two season-saving goals from junior forward Zach Cohen at 19:01 of the third and sophomore forward and Anaheim Ducks prospect Nick Bonino at 19:42 to tie the game 3-3.
Miami’s championship dreams died in overtime as Boston University defenseman Colby Cohen, a Colorado Avalanche draft pick, got a feed from fellow defenseman and fellow future Avalanche blueliner Kevin Shattenkirk and took a shot that deflected off a Miami defenseman and past freshman goaltender Cody Reichard for a 4-3 BU win at 11:47 of the first overtime period.
Just like after their semifinal victory Thursday night, when BU survived Vermont 5-4, Terriers head coach Jack Parker knew his club had just escaped, this time with the big prize.
“Wow, what a hockey game,” said Parker, who broke Boston College coach Jerry York’s record for most wins all-time in the NCAA tournament with 30. “What a finish. The finish made it an unbelievable game.”
Parker said the game was the greatest comeback he’s ever been involved in during his nearly 40 years as BU head coach. He said the contest reminded him of the 1991 national title game when his Terriers came back and scored three straight to tie Northern Michigan. BU ended up losing that game though in triple overtime. Tonight’s result was much different for BU.
“I was thinking about that tonight,” said Parker. “We spent so much emotion in the last couple of minutes, but the team was so jacked up when we went into overtime, I didn’t want them to leave it all there. We won that game because big-time players make big-time plays.”
In true team fashion, Cohen gave all the credit to his BU teammate Shattenkirk for setting up the play that led to his game-winner.
“Shattenkirk makes a great play,” Cohen said. “He gets over the blueline and leaves it for me and I just let it go and I saw it get blocked and go over the goalie’s glove. I don’t remember anything after that. It’s just an unbelievable feeling.”
The Terriers also had some extra motivation through the season and in the NCAA tournament. It was provided by their archrival, the Boston College Eagles, who were the defending national champions. Bonino said it was in the back of the Terriers minds.
“We remember watching the game last year (when BC defeated Notre Dame in the 2008 NCAA final) and a couple of guys wouldn’t watch it,” he said. “It was just kind of painful to see them, our biggest rival, take it home. We wanted to match them. And we came out here with kind of a vendetta to get it.”
Miami head coach Enrico Blasi was proud of his team and their effort despite the loss.
“Heckuva hockey game,” said Blasi, in his 10th season as head coach of his alma mater. “Somebody’s gotta lose and unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be for us. BU played great. They executed at the end and I thought it was a great college hockey game.”
Blasi and senior captain Brian Kaufman both felt there was little the RedHawks could do when BU began a surge of momentum in the final frantic moments of regulation when the Terriers tied the game.
“They worked hard, got everything to the net,” Kaufman said. “With one extra guy you can’t cover everybody. They did a great job of getting pucks to the net and getting traffic in front.”
Blasi agreed and didn’t take back anything his players tried to prevent in that sequence.
“We had the right guys on the ice, but got caught up in the moment,” he said of his club being just seconds away from its first national championship. “We knew exactly what they were going to do. They executed. BU made a play that we talked about on the bench actually. I’m so proud of the way our guys played right into overtime. It doesn’t feel good right now, but the sun will come up tomorrow and the guys will feel good about what they accomplished.”
The RedHawks were methodical in their approach and Parker complimented Miami, saying they won many of the physical battles through the game.
They blocked shots in their own end and did a super, if not unusual, job of skating right by the BU defense through much of the game, getting two huge goals from sophomore center Tommy Wingels, a San Jose Sharks draft pick, at 12:31 and freshman right winger Trent Vogelhuber, a Columbus Blue Jackets draft choice, at 15:52.
All of the goals in the third period from both teams were created by the getting to the net and generating rebounds.
Wingels tally came off a rebound in which he had a wide open net to look at after a shot bounced in front of Millan.
The third Miami goal looked like a backbreaker for the Terriers and it was do or die time. That’s when the Terriers called a timeout with 3:32 to play and suddenly woke up. And pulled Millan from the net.
Boston University opened the scoring on a shot that appeared to deflect off of RedHawks freshman Alden Hirschfeld’s skate. The puck rolled around in the crease and BU freshman Chris Connolly stabbed it home to put BU in front 1-0 at the 15:15 mark of the opening period.
Both teams were very physical in the first period, which was very intense in the first five minutes, as each team released their nervous energy.
Boston University’s defense proved why it’s one of the best in the nation. They did allow 10 Miami shots, but their defense collapsed around Millan, not allowing the RedHawks a truly good look. Their penalty kill was sensational, never allowing Miami a power play goal all evening in seven tries.
“We got in some trouble at the beginning of the game with some penalties,” said Hobey Baker Award winner, BU defenseman Matt Gilroy. “All year long we’ve been killing penalties. We take pride in it. We wanted to take it to them and not sit back and I think we did that tonight.”
Miami did a good job as well of backchecking through the neutral zone and forechecking, too. The Terriers used their speed to chip pucks deep in the RedHawks zone and when Miami had anything close to resembling a breakaway, Boston University’s speedy defensemen got back quickly.
The RedHawks evened up the game in the second period after a big flurry of chances by BU. Miami crashed the net around Millan and junior Gary Steffes tipped in a rebound after a scramble in front of the BU goal. The goal was initially reviewed by officials to see if Millan was interfered with, but that was ruled not to be the case.
Both teams played a very entertaining wide-open style, with each team putting 32 shots on goal. Miami made some good, crisp passes and for stretches had the Terriers on their heels.
This year marked BU’s first appearance in the Frozen Four since 1997…
BU’s Gilroy became the 5th player all-time to win the Hobey Baker and the NCAA Championship in the same season…
The CCHA and Hockey East have both had great recent success in reaching the NCAA championship. Before Miami made it to the final this year, Michigan State won it all in 2007 and Notre Dame was the runner-up last year. As for Hockey East, it was BU winning it all this year and BC last year. BC was also the runner-up in 2007 and in 2006, losing to Wisconsin.
Derek Berry is a freelance college hockey writer based in the Washington, D.C. area. He covers the CCHA for Michigan Hockey Magazine, based in Metro Detroit.