March 25, 2006 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Still Searching

by Mike Lipka/CHN Correspondent

WORCESTER, Mass. — One thing is clear: Miami University badly wants to win an NCAA Tournament game.

The RedHawks want it badly enough that during Friday's first-round game against Boston College, they pulled the goalie not once, not twice, but three times in the third period, starting when there were more than seven minutes to play in the game. Even after Chris Collins' empty-netter made it 4-0 Boston College, it let it all hang out, giving their best effort on the 6-on-5.

Unfortunately, in the NCAA Tournament, there are no points for effort.

"It was a hard-fought game," said Miami coach Enrico Blasi. "They scored five goals. We didn't score any."

Miami will have to wait another year to get its first NCAA Tournament win. (photo: Phoebe Sexton)

Miami will have to wait another year to get its first NCAA Tournament win. (photo: Phoebe Sexton)

Coming into Friday, Miami, the No. 2 seed in this year's Northeast regional, seemed to be on the dawn of a new era. The RedHawks ran away with their first CCHA regular-season title in 13 years. Senior defenseman Andy Greene was picked as a Hobey Baker finalist. And next fall, the squad will open a brand new arena by welcoming some of the nation's best teams for the Ice Breaker Tournament.

But in the tournament that matters most, it was still the same old story for Miami.

After a stellar season in which the RedHawks were flirting with earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament as late as last weekend, Miami instead was sent to Worcester, Mass., where they were matched up with an equally talented, third-seeded Boston College team.

And for the 28th straight year since they became a Division I program, the RedHawks (26-9-4) had to pack it up for the summer still looking for their first win in the Big Dance.

"I think at times you'd like to win a game in the tournament," said Miami goalie Charlie Effinger. But the sophomore stayed positive.

"This team we had this year lost nine games," he said. "We fought hard all year long. We played every day like it was the last time we'd play together. There's a lot of good things that come out of this year for us, and I know we're gonna work hard in the offseason and be able to rebound well and look for that first win next year."

It certainly wasn't that the RedHawks couldn't match up with BC. The scoreless first period looked like a stalemate, and Miami outshot the Eagles 33-31 for the game.

But the three-goal outburst by BC in the second period proved to be the difference, even though each goal was a bit fluky in its own way. Benn Ferriero scored the first two — one off his skate and the other off Miami forward Matt Davis. The RedHawks, meanwhile, were never able to get one past Cory Schneider despite eight chances on the power play and numerous looks from point-blank range.

"Coach said it in the room," said forward Ryan Jones. "He said, 'It wasn't meant to be.'"

In their first three shots at a win — in 1993 against Wisconsin, in 1997 against Cornell and in 2004 against eventual national champ Denver — the RedHawks had the same problem they had Friday: not enough offense. In four NCAA Tournament games, Miami's only mustered five goals.

Of course, defense was never the problem for this team, which allowed a national-best 1.95 goals per game. The offense, meanwhile, was harder to come by — in this game, it was so hard that Blasi had to get desperate early.

"All year long, we played desperate hockey," Effinger said. "We were gonna go out fighting, and I'm proud of the way the guys went all the way to the end."

But Blasi seemed to be looking at it as more of a beginning. Most of the RedHawks' core — including their whole first line and both goaltenders — is young. And if you ask BC coach Jerry York, they're headed in the right direction.

"We played them a number of years ago in Duluth, it was like five years ago, and Rico was just taking over the program," York said. "They've taken great, great strides here. That's an excellent hockey team we defeated tonight."

And for now, a stoic Blasi seemed more than happy with the group he had.

"Strong season is an understatement," the coach said. "This team lost nine games. The national champion's not going to be able to say that. To win the CCHA regular season, in our league, as competitive as it is, is an unbelievable accomplishment.

"We were picked to finish sixth in our league," he added. "Nationally, we weren't even picked to finish 30th. And these guys came to play every night, and they're a great group of guys. And they'll go out champions, and that's the bottom line."

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