Miami Makes It With Freshmen 'D' Quartet
Perhaps no greater demonstration of Miami's evolution as a major Division I college hockey program, is finally making the Frozen Four one year after losing the most talented and accomplished group in the program's history.
"Small-market" programs might have the opportunity to build up towards a Frozen Four, and, make it or not, then spend years trying to re-tool back to that point.
Programs like Michigan, Denver and Boston College, are able to shake off previous season's disappontments, and make the Frozen Four anyway.
To do so, however, the talent that's lost has to be replaced with just as good talent, even if it's raw and unknown at that point. And that's exactly what Miami did.
Ryan Jones and Nathan Davis graduated, and defenseman Alec Martinez decided to leave after three seasons. So Miami brought in — among others — a pair of freshmen goaltenders, and four freshmen defensemen.
Supporting two freshmen goaltenders with four freshmen defensemen is not often a recipe for success. But — along with veterans like Kevin Roeder, Vincent Loverde and Ray Eichenlaub — Miami didn't just succeed, but thrived, this season with that formula.
"We recruited them to upgrade our team's skill level on the back end, but you never know in a season how much they'll progress," Miami coach Enrico Blasi said.
Leading the way was the youngest and most unheralded of the foursome, Chris Wideman, a 5-foot-10 19-year old. He has 26 points this year, all assists, and is second on the team in plus-minus (plus-8). The St. Louis native was named to CHN's All-Rookie team, but was actually the last of the foursome to be recruited — coming only after Blasi found out that Martinez wasn't returning.
Then there's a Will Weber, an imposing figure at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, from Michigan, and a second-round NHL Draft pick.
"To see his growth over the course of the year, defensively and making decisions, is remarkable," Blasi said. "And credit goes to Will. Credit goes to all the players. We can only provide an environment for them to learn, they have to do it."
Cameron Schilling, a walk-on from Indiana, has played the fewest games of the group, but still has played 23 and was in there last weekend for the regionals in place of Eichenlaub. He has seven assists.
"He continues to improve. He plays with energy and passion."
Matt Tomassoni, a 20-year old from Illinois, leads Miami with a plus-10.
"He's not the biggest guy, but he plays well with the puck, he has good feet, and he gets himself out of jams just by skating," Blasi said.
The pedigree of these four players also symbolizes Miami's rise on the national scene. On big factor for Miami has been the quality of players available to it in nearby recruiting areas, and its ability to land those players. All four of these freshmen defensemen are from the American Midwest. Likewise, goaltender Cody Reichard is from Ohio.
Meanwhile, Roeder and LoVerde are both from Illinois, and they lead by example — helping anchor the other four.
"They're not necessarily guys that would stay after practice and work on things, but the way they prepare and practice every day, it's hard not to follow their lead," Blasi said. "They're physical players, so that helps. It really brings the best out of the rest of the guys, especially the younger guys."
For young defensemen, the physical aspect is often the biggest hurdle. But it hasn't been a problem for the Miami quartet.
"In regards to Weber and Schilling, they are physical specimens — there's no reason for them to even worry about the physical play," Blasi said. "They came in stronger than most freshmen would. ... The others, strength is an issue at times, but they have good feet and are able to make plays to get themselves out of jams."