March 30, 2008 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Miami Left With Same Old Questions

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

WORCESTER, Mass. — They can't get over the hump. They just don't get the bounces. They can't win the big one.

Or ...

They know how to win. They've been there before.

These are cliches that are invariably ascribed to a variety of college hockey programs. Fans who follow it know these things by rote at this point.

New Hampshire, Colorado College, St. Cloud State — they "can't get over the hump."

North Dakota, Boston College — they "always find a way."

And there's no denying that it seems true. Year after year, some teams really do find a way, and some teams seem to always fall short. No matter the regular season, no matter what happened leading up to the NCAAs, the same script has happened again this year.

But why? Is it really this way? Is there really a certain intangible that makes this happen? Is there something about the coaching staffs? Is there something in the water?

Or are these the random fluctuations of a small sample size, coincidence, circumstance, that when seen through a certain lens only appears to be more than it is? Do fans make it a self-fulfilling prophecy, and forget the times the "always find a way" teams actually failed too?

Miami coach Enrico Blasi was forced to face these kinds of questions again Sunday, right after the RedHawks lost to BC, 4-3, in overtime. He gets a bit defensive defending his program, just like he did after the RedHawks — the week they were trying to integrate Nathan Davis back in the lineup — went 0-1-1 against Michigan in a big home showdown during the regular season.

Privately, he understands that there will be questions about "getting over the hump," yet truly believes that it's not anything tangible that Miami is "missing."

"I really do feel like we're there. It's just a matter of maybe getting a bounce or execution here or there," Blasi said.

"We had our chances. You saw that game. That game could've gone either way. I think our guys have done a great job. They've done a lot of great things. And I'm not just talking about on the ice — I'm talking about off the ice that people don't see that don't understand what you need to do to be a program of this magnitude."

What we know is that Miami has now lost three straight years to Boston College — two straight in the regional final — each time getting a little closer. And we know that BC — no matter what seems to happen during the regular season — has been to eight out of the last 11 Frozen Fours.

Here's the thing ... It's not like these teams have never won anything. Miami, in its current run, has a CCHA tournament championship and regular-season championship under its belt. Is this somehow less difficult to win? Somehow less pressure-packed than an NCAA regional? New Hampshire has won Hockey East tournament titles and regular-season titles, gone to some Frozen Fours and two national title games.

Meanwhile, North Dakota and BC have been to all those Frozen Fours, but it's not like either has won it in recent years. Did BC and North Dakota "choke" in the Frozen Four, or just run up against "the bounces" and circumstances and random fluctuations? And BC did lose a regional final in overtime, in 2003.

We don't know the answers, but we keep asking the questions.

"It's ... I don't know. I don't think — it has nothing to do with being there," Blasi said. "We've been there. ... If you keep coming back here, you'll get a bounce. We've gotten a lot more bounces the last couple years, so ... we'll see."

Clearly Miami outplayed Boston College for large portions of the game. Unquestionably, if a stick was in the right spot, or the puck bounced a different way, Miami wins. Then again, goalie Jeff Zatkoff made some huge saves, and the game could've gone BC's way a lot sooner than OT.

"I thought we worked them down low," Blasi said. "We had our opportunities. They had their chances. Great game like that, somebody's got to lose unfortunately. Just so happens it was us."

And around and around we go.

Injuries are, of course, also a factor, and Miami — which lost senior forward Nathan Davis to a separated shoulder in Saturday's win over Air Force — is not the first team to face the loss of a key player for the NCAAs.

But losing Davis seems like a particularly cruel fate for the RedHawks, and Davis.

Davis was arguably the best all-around player in college hockey coming into this season, a Hobey finalist a year ago and part of a dynamic duo with Ryan Jones. But he was hurt early in the season, tried to come back, and was hurt again. He finally returned in February, but was thrust right into the biggest regular-season weekend in Miami program history, that fateful weekend against Michigan. It took everyone a few weeks to feel totally comfortable with him again.

And just when that was happening, he got hurt again. His senior year was limited to 20 games, three of which he left early because of injury.

"We all feel bad for Nate. There's nothing you can do though," Blasi said. "If he was healthy and in our lineup all year, would he have been a difference tonight? Probably. Truth of the matter is, we haven't had him all year. So, you can't worry about that.

"Everybody feels bad for Nate. Nate feels bad for Nate. Unfortunately, sometimes life throws you a curveball and you have to handle it. Hopefully it makes Nate better. I think it made our team better and our program better knowing that you really have to come together when you lose a player of that magnitude. And we learned a lot of lessons from it."

Davis and Jones were two seniors who stuck around, turned aside professional offers, to return en masse for one last run at Miami. They will be missed, but, theoretically, Miami has a very strong team returning — assuming all of those guys come back as well.

That is the trick, however, and these days in college hockey, that's a rarity.

"Well, we'll go to work," Blasi said. "We'll see. I don't know. I don't know what people are thinking right now. I know we'll have meetings in the near future here. You're always concerned, but we'll see what happens."

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