CHN Staff Report
Justin Mercier is a senior, and has followed a tradition at Miami: Staying in school. Numerous top-end talent has had a chance to leave early in recent years, but chose to stay, following in each other's footsteps (Alec Martinez notwithstanding).
But this season wasn't too kind to Mercier most of the way. After a breakthrough 25-goal campaign as a junior, Mercier had just 11 goals this season heading into last weekend's NCAAs. Blessed with blazing speed and a tremndous wrist shot, he was struggling with being the target of opponent's defenses this year.
Of course, it wasn't just him.
"I guess you could say a lot of things went wrong (midseason)," Mercier said. "We had a little bit of lack of confidence in the locker room. It was a snowball effect. ... (But) I think we're led by one of the best coaches in college hockey and he was able to re-focus our attention."
Miami, and Mercier, righted the ship. He had three goals in being named West Regional MOP. Now, it's his job, along with the other seniors, to get everyone focused on one final weekend.
"You come in at the beginning of the year with the mindset of winning a national championship. As fun as it's been making it to the Frozen Four, we can't lose focus on that," Mercier said.
Miami's Enrico Blasi was just 27 years old when he took over at his alma mater, making him the youngest coach in Division I at the time. To this day, he's still among the youngest, even though it's 10 years later.
Like his opponent Thursday, he is a proud alumnus of the school that he now leads. Tom Serratore at Bemidji State has helped lead that program up the ranks of Division I. Blasi, meanwhile, has helped turn Miami from NCAA tournament contender to consistent power. But he remembers when it wasn't that way.
"I think of all of the building blocks. We went through tough times," Blasi said. "I arrived as a freshman and Miami was on the verge of being cut. Somehow they were able to save it, and not only that, but fund it fully. So 1990 was the first time it was funded like everyone else in Division I. A lot of people put a lot of time in, sweat and tears. And ... they're very proud they were part of the Miami program."
We mentioned in another article that this was the first time since 1990 that none of the players in the Frozen Four have previously played in it. That year, Wisconsin, Boston College, Boston University and Colgate were involved, and none of the teams had made it in at least five years. Wisconsin defeated Colgate — the last ECAC team to play in the national championship game — for the title.
Other interesting factoids ... showing the power of three:
- There are 3 relatively young coaches, and BU's Jack Parker
- There are 3 coaches that alums of the schools they are coaching, Vermont's Kevin Sneddon (Harvard) being the exception
- 3 of the teams will start a freshman goalie, BSU's Matt Dalton being the exception. A freshman (BC's John Muse) won it all last year.
- 3 of the teams had a week off before the NCAA Regional, BU being the exception
Ryan Adams scored a huge goal against Cornell in the Midwest Regional Final. He's the kind of story that makes these events special.
Last year at this time, Adams just wrapped up the season for Wayne State, which then disbanded its program, leaving many players without a home. Some, like Adams, were lucky to catch on with other D-I schools.
"We picked Ryan up in late April, early May," Serratore said. "He found a home here. It's a special story for him. That's what these things are about."
Bemidji has reveled in all of it.
"It's been pretty surreal," Tyler Scofield said. "It feels like we're rock stars. We got off that plane (from Grand Rapids) and saw all our fans screaming and yelling at 1:30 in the morning, it put it all in perspective. It doesn't really sink in until you read the papers, and see it. We have a great opportunity here."