By Derek Berry, Special to The Hockey News
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Miami University RedHawks will play for something that no other sports team in school history has ever played for Saturday night – a national championship.
The RedHawks, who defeated the surprising Bemidji State Beavers 4-1 in the first semifinal game Thursday night, will take on the Boston University Terriers Saturday at 7 p.m. EST in the NCAA championship game at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
After a RedHawks power play midway through the first period, Miami started to find its rhythm, firing bullets at Beavers goaltender Matt Carlton. The young sophomore netminder came up with several big saves, though, to hold Miami off the scoreboard.
Miami turned up the offensive heat on Bemidji in the second period, scoring three times while the Beavers scored once.
RedHawks center Tommy Wingels, a San Jose Sharks draft pick, rifled a shot past Carlton on a power play to put Miami up 1-0. The RedHawks continued to attack in the offensive zone, resulting in a goal by freshman Alden Hirschfeld, to put Miami up 2-0.
Bemidji would counter that with a goal of their own, bringing their fans and other non-partisan fans to life, by sophomore Matt Read, making it 2-1 and giving the Beavers hope.
But Miami would strike back and ultimately break the Beavers’ backs.
“That first shift after a goal is so important,” said Wingels. “I thought we came out and got back to our game. We were physical all game. We chipped pucks deep and we absorbed their speed and capitalized on our opportunities.”
Miami senior winger Bill Loupee collected a rebound in front of Carlton and scooped one by to make it 3-1. That goal, although not the game-winner, turned out to be the difference.
“(Miami defenseman Will) Weber put a puck on net, it went off the shaft of my stick and I got fortunate enough to have it roll in,” said Loupee.
RedHawks coach Enrico Blasi knows his team got some bounces but also played hard against a worthy opponent.
“We knew Bemidji would be tough,” said Blasi. “They have a real aggressive style. I thought our guys did a good job adapting to that.”
Beavers coach Tom Serratore admitted his team just didn’t have the intensity that Miami had, for whatever reason.
“We didn’t have the pursuit,” he said. “We weren’t relentless. We didn’t play as fearless as we obviously did (in the NCAA regionals).”
Bemidji senior winger Tyler Scofield said the emotions were strong in the Beavers dressing room, especially after the loss.
“It’s your last game of college hockey,” he said. “And it’s been a great four years. It’s been a great run this year. Senior year, going to the Frozen Four, you can’t ask for much more.”
While Bemidji was looked at as the ultimate underdog Cinderella story, the RedHawks almost could’ve fit into that role.
“I hope that our community, student body, alumni, and former coaches are enjoying the journey,” said Blasi. “We have one more step to go.”
That step will be against the top-ranked Terriers, who defeated Vermont in a tightly played second semifinal game.
The Catamounts started right out of the gate firing at Boston U freshman goaltender Kieran Millan, but the young netminder held his ground.
The Terriers struck first with two goals in the first period by ’08 seventh overall NHL draft pick Colin Wilson and Jason Lawrence to take a 2-0 lead.
BU looked like they had control of the game, but Vermont begged to differ.
The Catamounts came to life scoring three unanswered goals in the second period, including two in less than a minute, to take a 3-2 lead. The Terriers also took a lot of penalties and Vermont used those opportunities to spring to life, charging up their fans.
BU tied it though on a late goal by freshman right winger Vinny Saponari and had some momentum going into the third.
The Terriers peppered Vermont goaltender Rob Madore to start the final frame, but the freshman stood his ground.
Vermont took the lead again on a power play goal by freshman defenseman Drew MacKenzie – a Buffalo Sabres prospect - with a little more than 10:00 to go, but no lead is safe against the high-powered Terriers.
BU struck again at 13:06 on a goal by senior Chris Higgins, deadlocking the game at four apiece. The Terriers broke the tie at 14:19 of the third on a goal by Wilson, his second goal of the game. And it was a big one.
The Terriers didn’t allow Vermont another quality chance after that and went on to win, 5-4.
Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon credited BU, but was disappointed at what might have been.
“I thought BU played a great game,” he said. “Tough to put into words, the emotions going through our locker room. We had a taste of it, but unfortunately it slipped through our hands. We needed to be better defensively tonight to get the job done. I told our players that they’ll be able to look back at this experience and remember it as a positive one for the rest of their lives.”
Meanwhile, Terriers coach Jack Parker could only exhale after a close call with the Catamounts.
“I thought it was a fabulous college hockey game,” said Parker. “The emotional swings, the tide turning one way or another. The game is a game of mistakes. Sometimes you can’t do much about it.
“The third period was a great period for us. We were tied going into the third period, they scored and that’s when our team came to life. The last few minutes were a clinic by us, against a very talented team. To not let them close us out was big for us. A real solid effort. A real character building game. I’m humbly gratified that we have the (Hockey East) team in the final.”
From one Cinderella to another
The George Mason University pep band filled in for Bemidji State’s as the Beavers band was unable to attend the Frozen Four due to another commitment. George Mason is no stranger to Cinderella stories like Bemidji’s. Mason made a run in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 2006 that eventually led to the Final Four. The Patriots won their region in a thriller over the University of Connecticut - at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., no less - to advance to the Final Four.
Great crowds for opener
The 5 p.m. EST start for the opening semifinal had no bearing on the crowd, as many were in their seats in front of a nearly packed house by the beginning of the second period. The crowd for the second game was very vocal, especially the Boston University fans and pep band. A huge contingent of BU fans came down from the Boston area for the Frozen Four. The announced crowd was 18,427, a sellout.
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.