RedHawks Break Through
Miami Earns Program's First Tournament Win Behind Zatkoff, Penalty Kill
by Mike Machnik/CHN Senior Editor
MANCHESTER, N.H. It was a long time in coming, but boy was it worth it.
Defense and goaltending led Miami to its first-ever NCAA tournament win, a 2-1 upset over No. 1 seeded New Hampshire in the Northeast Regional semifinal.
It was quite a difference from last year's 5-0 whitewashing by Boston College in the regionals — or from any of Miami's first four tournament appearances between 1993 and last year, all defeats.
"This senior class, when they were freshmen, we had to go into Colorado Springs and play Denver, who eventually won the national championship in front of their crowd," said RedHawk coach Enrico Blasi, who coached that game against mentor George Gwozdecky.
"And last year, obviously, we had to play Boston College in Worcester. So when you get here enough times, you know what to do, you know what to expect, you know that there's going to be distractions. And now it's a routine, guys don't lose their focus.
"So absolutely it was an advantage for us. The teams that have had success in the national tournament are the teams that continually get there, and I thought that was an advantage for us."
In fact, when junior Hobey Baker finalist Nathan Davis banged home a rebound less than two minutes into the game, it not only put Miami ahead for good, it was the first time the RedHawks took the lead in an NCAA tournament game in 10 years.
"You could just feel the energy on the bench when you get up a goal or two," Blasi said. "Again, it's having been there, and knowing what to expect. We know every play's crucial, try to pay attention to detail, make strong plays with the puck.
"Hey, UNH could have scored a number of goals. But I thought our guys blocked shots, I thought we played hard. We could have scored a couple more goals too. All in all, I thought it was a great college hockey game, and we just made one more play than they did."
Sophomore goaltender Jeff Zatkoff (43 saves) came within five minutes of his sixth career shutout, beaten only on a highlight-reel shorthander by UNH's Mike Radja late in the game.
"They threw a lot on net," said Zatkoff. "I was able to see the puck well. I thought our team defense did a great job to keep them on the outside.
"I think the majority of them were outside shots, a couple deflections, but all in all, that makes my life 10 times easier when we keep it to the outside like that. Guys came up with huge blocked shots when we needed them."
"That's the kind of game that we like to play," said junior center Ryan Jones (game-winning goal and assist). "We like to play an up-tempo game where we're all over teams and force them to make mistakes.
"As far as blocked shots, that's just the team working hard and sacrificing themselves to win a game, and I thought that we did a great job. There were a couple big shots that, guys blocked one, (defenseman Mitch) Ganzak blocked one I think with his head right in the crease that could have went in. That's a great play."
The battle of Miami's second-ranked penalty kill and UNH's ninth-ranked power play clearly went to the "visitors." But Blasi said he didn't plan anything special to stop the Wildcats.
"That's exactly what we do every game," said Blasi. "Our two assistant coaches who are in charge of the penalty kill, Coach Blashill and Coach Bergeron, spend a lot of time watching video and teaching our penalty kill from day to day. And our guys have really bought into that. We have some guys who can skate, and we just felt that if we can get pressure on teams, like Ryan said, force them to make some mistakes, it would be to our advantage.
"Obviously sometimes we give up some 'grade A' scoring chances, but that's where your goaltender comes to play."
It didn't hurt that his goaltender seemed to have a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. As expected, the crowd was clearly partisan to host UNH and fellow Hockey East member BC, but the RedHawks seemed to feed off of that and kept Wildcat fans silent much of the afternoon.
"From our point of view, everyone was coming in here talking about UNH and BC, and we felt like we had nothing to lose," said Zatkoff. "We felt that some people wrote us off, like we weren't supposed to be here, so we approached it as we had nothing to lose."
In fact, Miami almost wasn't here, after losing in the CCHA quarterfinals. But the Pairwise broke its way last Saturday.
"We knew if we came in and we played our game, we played hard for 60 minutes, good things would come from it," Zatkoff said.
"Obviously everybody here wanted a UNH-BC (Hockey East finals) rematch," said Blasi. "Our guys have a lot of pride. And they want to come out and play hard. This is not the first time we've been here. We lost a tough one last year with a pretty good team.
"And so, we came in here just confident, nothing to lose, we're not supposed to be here. And go out and play, and play for 60 minutes. And that's exactly the approach we took. We didn't talk about them disrespecting us or anything like that.
"I have a lot of respect for (UNH coach Dick) Umile. I thought he did a great job of trying to deflect the media in trying to hype up a BC-UNH rematch. He's just a great friend and a great coach, and I thought he did a great job in doing that. But our guys weren't really buying into that."
Miami first played varsity hockey in 1978-79, coached by Steve Cady. The school still holds the NCAA single-season record — tied with Colorado College — for most losses (8-31-0, 1986-87).
But now Blasi has Miami's first tournament win. And less than 24 hours to try to get No. 2.
"I think once the season's over, I'll have a better chance to reflect and think about certain things." said Blasi. "But right now, our focus is on who we're going to play tomorrow and trying to get our team ready.
"Oddly enough Greg Hogeboom, who plays for Manchester Monarchs, was here. He was one of our key players, one of my first recruits to Miami, and he was able to see the game today.
"I just think about that first class that we recruited — guys like Derek Edwardson, Greg Hogeboom, Mike Kompon — who meant so much to our program and really put us on the map. They started this NCAA kind of feel in our locker room. And obviously Andy Greene last year. So I'm really happy for the program, I'm really happy for all the alums, all our coaches, our administration.
"Steve Cady's been around for 31 years and hopefully he's enjoying it a little bit."