Miami Has Two Legs Up in Net
by Joseph Edwards/CHN Writer
Pick a hand.
Both have all the right digits and all the makings and markings of hard work. Each one is strong enough to pick up and carry the heaviest of things. You're ambidextrous; somedays you're a righty, and other, a lefty.
Such is a dilemma faced by Miami RedHawks coach Enrico Blasi with his sophomore goalie tandem of Cody Reichard and Connor Knapp. Both were key cogs in last season's Frozen Four run, though at one point in that run, the older Reichard was given the reins. He took it all the way to the National Championship game before running into a powerhouse Boston University team.
This year, it's been more of the same. Each is again a big piece heading into the CCHA Final Four this coming weekend at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
“We’ve got two No. 1 goalies,” Enrico Blasi says. “We’re very confident in Cody, and we’re very confident in Connor.”
Reichard is a 5-foot-11 netminder who went 18-3-3 with a 1.64 goals against average and a .930 save percentage – both numbers are top-3 in the country. His resume on the season includes pairs of wins at New Hampshire, at Michigan, and at Ferris State.
Knapp stands at a lengthy 6-5 ” with an 8-3-4 record in 2009-10 that has victories over Western Michigan, Nebraska-Omaha, and St. Cloud State. His numbers (a 1.96 GAA and .920 save percentage) are among the top-10 nationally. He was sick at one point earlier in the season, which is why Reichard played more.
So which hand does the coach choose this going into a matchup with Michigan, a team that struggled out of the gate despite lofty expectations, only to come into this weekend's matchup with a 6-2 record over the last four weekends?
“Right now, like always, we'll go week-to-week,” Blasi said, noting that he'll confer with his assistants as their next game approaches. “It wouldn't surprise me if you see Connor on Friday night, and then Cody on Saturday.”
Either way, that could spell doom for the Wolverines. Reichard is as close to an incumbent as either goalie could be, starting 24 of the Miami's 40 games, two of which were November wins over Michigan in which he allowed a goal apiece. Over the last few weeks, however, Knapp has seized the day, going 5-1-1 since late January, including taking a win with 22 saves in the rubber game of their first-round matchup against Ohio State, which sent the RedHawks to Detroit.
"Not many Miami teams have made it to the Joe," Knapp said after the win. "Even though we've had a lot of success the last five years, not many of them have gone to the Joe. Our seniors have only been there once. It's a big honor to make it there."
While Blasi heads into the CCHA Final Four with an embarassment of riches in net, Michigan coach Red Berenson must figure out how to prepare his team for the possibility of facing either goalie. His plan at this point? Put the team's focus on what they know will be there.
“They have as good of a defense as anybody in the CCHA and they have as good of a forward nucleus as anyone,” Berenson says. “I can’t remember a team that has dominated this conference the way they have this year.”
And that's just it. As good as the goalies are, the defense in front of them is just as good. Last year, it was stacked with freshmen — freshmen who gained a lot of experience. This year, they're all very experienced sophomores.
In conference play, Knapp and Reichard have been nearly unbeatable, combining to go 21-1-5 with a 1.37 GAA and .944 save percentage with eight shutouts in 28 games – a major reason Miami has the top-ranked defense in the nation at 1.79 goals allowed per game. And while both have been prone to occasional 'off nights,' they've only allowed more than three goals six times on the season, and with some help from the eighth-best offense in the country (3.51 g/g), have escaped those games with a 2-2-2 record.
With both having such success, it won't be an easy decision for Blasi, but no matter what he does, Michigan will be the team that has to deal with it – and rest assured, it won't be easy.