Finally, It's Miami's Year
RedHawks Advance to First Frozen Four, Stopping Duluth's Own Magical Run
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
MINNEAPOLIS Who would have known that Miami's trip to Minneapolis for the West Regional would become a championship homecoming?
After beating his former head coach, George Gwozdecky, Friday night to advance to the championship, the RedHawks defeated Minnesota-Duluth 2-1 Saturday to gain the program's first Frozen Four bid, winning at Mariucci Arena on the campus of the University of Minnesota, home to athletic director Joel Maturi.
Maturi was the Athletic Director at Miami 10 years ago and is responsible for the hiring of Blasi, then a young and green assistant at the University of Denver, to run the RedHawks program.
The victory Saturday was certainly emotional for the former Miami captain-turned current head coach, who's been around for the first NCAA tournament berth, first NCAA tournament victory and now the school's first Frozen Four appearance. It came after years of close calls, and seasons when it earned much higher seeds. But, like the night's other Frozen Four qualifier, Vermont, the RedHawks lost its league tournament quarterfinal series, got in the tournament anyway, and got hot in the NCAA Regional.
"I call [Maturi] a genius," Blasi joked, but then turned more serious. "The man who took a chance on a young coach when everyone else thought he was crazy."
He was 27 at the time, 37 now. Still among the youngest D-I head coaches.
The victory, Blasi said, was not just one for the current group of RedHawks. He rattled off a number of alumni who have contributed over the years, during his time as a player and now as a coach.
"Ryan Jones has been calling me non stop since the game's been over," Blasi said, referring to last year's top scorer and Hobey Baker Award finalist. "Finally, I picked up and he's yelling on the other line.
"There are so many players — alums from the early '80s when the program didn't have scholarships — so many people that are enjoying this moment right now and it means so much to them. We happen to be the team going through it, but I think everybody associated with Miami hockey is tasting a little bit of the victory right now."
Without Boston College in Miami's way, the RedHawks doubled their NCAA tournament win total this weekend. Miami won its first two games each of the last two seasons before losing region final games to BC.
For seniors like Justin Mercier, eliminated by BC each of his first three years on campus, advancing past the regionals for the first time was extra special. After turning down an NHL contract following last season — as Jones and Nathan Davis and others had done in the years before him — in order to return for one final shot, the senior had a down year, at least by his standards, as his goals and points numbers dropped dramatically between last season and this one.
"He decided to stay because he believed in what we were doing," Blasi said. "He believed we could go to the national tournament and maybe a Frozen Four."
For his part, Mercier — who scored both of the RedHawks' goals in Saturday's win and had three goals on the weekend — was named the West Region's Most Valuable Player.
"He had a tough year. He was a marked man in our league and everybody knew it," Blasi said. "We had a talk early in the week and said that nobody remembers the regular season at this point. Boy, did he ever come to play this weekend.
"The entire team played with emotion and passion. I'm really proud of our guys for that."
On the other side of the ledger, Minnesota-Duluth's magical run finally came to an end.
After finishing seventh in the wild WCHA race, Duluth won its playoff series with Colorado College, then became the first team in Final Five history to go from the Thursday play-in game to the championship, getting shutouts in the last two games. Then, at the NCAAs, when goalie Alex Stalock finally allowed some goals, the Bulldogs rallied from down 4-2 in the closing minute, tying the game with 0.8 left in regulation, and winning on a power play goal in OT.
Saturday, the magic ran out. And it's Miami whose turn it was to get the breaks.
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