Miami Regroups In Time
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
At this point last season, Miami was shaking its collective head looking for answers, and being relegated to wishing to hold onto an NCAA spot.
The RedHawks had another strong regular season, but after losing the regular-season finale, it then dropped a pair of 2-1 games to Lake Superior State in the CCHA quarterfinals.
Miami recovered and won the program's first-ever NCAA tournament game, before bowing out in the second round. This year, it would prefer to build some momentum going into the tournament.
Saturday night helped accomplish that. The pieces have been fragmented at many points during this season, but they all looked back together again at Steve Cady Arena in a 4-2 win against Bowling Green. Miami sweeps the second-round series, returns to The Joe, and is — at least, temporarily — sitting as a No. 1 seed for the NCAAs.
(On going to Joe Louis for the CCHA semifinal round) "It's amazing what a difference a year makes. Last year we were here, disappointed, and wondering if our season was over. Now, we have an opportunity to play for a CCHA championship. That's our goal every year, to put ourselves in a situation to do that, play your best every night. And our guys have really bought into that. Now we're going to Detroit. We're very proud of them and what they've been able to accomplish. Along the way, we've been able to win 31 games. That's pretty good."
Senior Nathan Davis came into this season as a Hobey Baker Award favorite — a do-everything, speedy, all-around great player. But he was beset by multiple injuries this season. He returned in time to play Michigan in a huge series, but he wasn't quite up to Davis standards, and his team got throttled.
Meanwhile, freshman Carter Camper, who was a huge help in Davis' absence, got hurt down the stretch and missed eight games. Justin Mercier, a 20-goal scorer, went into a small slump. And Ryan Jones, the other star senior and a Hobey hopeful, was booted from Friday's game because of a hit from behind.
Those are the four players that scored in Miami's win Saturday.
"I had a little bit left in the tank from yesterday, only getting to play a period and a half," said Jones, whose 30 goals leads the nation and is the first Miami player to reach that mark since Brian Savage in 1992-93. "Kaufie (Brian Kaufman) made a nice pass and I just cut back and shot it. I didn't even see it go in. I didn't even get to celebrate because Ganzak got speared and I saw it and reacted to that.
"At the same time, it's sad because we're never going to play on this ice surface in front of these people again. Mixed emotions, but we're happy that we're going to The Joe. 'Z' (goalie Jeff Zatkoff) said in between the second and the third periods, 'Let's go to The Joe with some mo,' so we wanted to win this game with style."
Meanwhile, Zatkoff did his part, making 41 stops, the most in a game this season.
"I thought we executed when we needed to, but Jeff (Zatkoff) was the difference tonight, that's for sure," Blasi said.
Said Zatkoff, "They played real hard tonight. They played a great game. Fortunately, I was able to see the puck well tonight. They came out strong in the first, and threw about 18 shots on me. But it's nice as a goalie to build a little momentum and get into a little bit of a groove. It's a great game to have, going into this weekend at The Joe."
Miami will play Friday; if Michigan State wins Sunday, it will play the Spartans. If Northern Michigan upsets Michigan State, then Miami will get the winner of the Notre Dame-Ferris State series.
Either way, Bowling Green coach Scott Paluch likes the RedHawks' chances.
"Momentum-wise, Miami not only kills off the power plays, they gain momentum from that," Paluch said. "They have a lot of good players that can not only beat you offensively, but they can also put a guy like Jones on PK. He's a pretty special player, and they're an outstanding hockey team."