Friday Notebook at the Frozen Four
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
WASHINGTON, D.C. Other than Jack Parker, the only coach participating in Washington this weekend with prior Frozen Four coaching experience is Miami assistant Brent Brekke. Brekke was an assistant at Cornell when the Big Red went to the Frozen Four in Buffalo in 2003, losing to New Hampshire, 3-2, in the semifinal.
"That seems like forever ago," Brekke said Friday. Brekke came to Miami this year, paving the way for Casey Jones to leave Ohio State and return to his alma mater in Ithaca. It worked out well for everyone, and if Cornell had beaten Bemidji State in the Midwest Regional, Brekke would've gotten to face his old mentor Mike Schafer.
“He was a big part of helping the freshmen coming in," Miami coach Rico Blasi said of the RedHawks' four freshmen defensemen. "We knew we wanted to hire someone like Brecks and his experience at Cornell as a defenseman, what a great hire, we were blessed he decided to join our staff. He’s done a tremendous job with our d-core.
"Chris Bergeron (the other assistant) has been with me for nine years, we played together at Miami, and he’s done an unbelievable job in recruiting. Jeff (Blashill) doesn’t get enough credit because he’s not with us anymore, but this team was recruited by Chris and Jeff. It’s just been a really good staff and everyone is on the same page, and when your staff is on the same page your players will be on the same page. It’s a great group of guys, really good coaches and kids.”
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The Oxford, Ohio, area, and Miami University alumni, have of course been buzzing with the RedHawks' run. As is well known by now, Miami — one of the first universities in the Midwest — has never had a national champion in any sport. That's despite being known as the "Cradle of Coaches," a moniker that stuck from the 1950s, when the school produced the likes of football legends Bo Schembechler and Ara Parseghian.
In recent years, of course, the school has also produced a two-time Super Bowl champion, in Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“I have not heard from Big Ben," Blasi said. "I know our AD is very close with Ben and I can tell you he’s a hockey fan. I know he knows we’re playing for a national championship but I have not spoken to him. Dan Boyle, Ryan Jones — some of the NHL guys — have all called.”
Said senior Brian Kaufman, "The President of our school is here and was the first one to congratulate us when we got off the bus at the hotel; that says a lot right there. I’ve gotten a lot of e-mails from alumni and friends after last night’s game saying that the whole town was going crazy. About four or five of my teachers cancelled class and flew out for the game. It’s been really special.
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As good as the freshmen BU brought in this season were, Parker's two biggest "recruits" were sophomore Colin Wilson and senior Matt Gilroy, both of whom decided to turn down NHL offers to remain in school.
At that point, Parker said he knew the team could win a championship.
"We were going to have a talented team either way," Parker said. "We had the best recruiting class we ever had when we had those two guys coming back. I didn’t know what our goaltending situation was going to be, but I knew that it was going to be better than the year before. I thought we would go with the goalie rotation a little longer than we did but then we had to go with Kieran (Millan) because (Grant) Rollheiser got hurt."
Having Millan rise to the forefront as he did, gave the whole team a lift, too.
"They both did a great job this year. I think early Kieran really gave us a lot of trust and showed us that he really is a big time goaltender and when Rollheiser came in he was up to the task and played with a lot of confidence," said BU defenseman Colby Cohen.
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For all the players, it's a constant balance of staying cool, as they have most of the year, versus the enormity of playing for a national championship.
“We know it’s a big game, but every big game we’ve played in we’ve approached very even keeled, not getting too high or too low," BU forward Nick Bonino said. "We’ve played on a lot of big stages this year, Beanpot, Hockey East, even the Denver Cup was pretty big. We are kind of used to the big stage. With the leadership we have, we are always prepared and the coaching staff gets us ready, so we should be ready to go tomorrow night.”
Said Cohen, “I think we’ve got a great mix of guys who like to keep it light and guys who like to really prepare themselves for games and I think our seniors will lead the way keeping everyone pretty calm. I don’t think it will
really hit anyone until they go drop the puck on Saturday night, but I think it will be a good atmosphere and we’ll be ready to go."
Friday, even Parker admitted the team was still coming down off the thrilling 5-4 win over Vermont.
“I think it was one of the most thrilling games that any of use have every played in, especially since it was on such a national stage," Cohen said. "I think guys looked around when we were trailing 4-3 and decided we weren’t ready to stop playing. We weren’t ready to be done yet and that’s why the outcome was the way it was.”