November 11, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Team of the Week: Miami

RedHawks Shake Off Title Game Devastation, Start Hot

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

Enrico Blasi has helped lead Miami to No. 1 in the rankings and another crack at a title. (photo: Josh Gibney)

Enrico Blasi has helped lead Miami to No. 1 in the rankings and another crack at a title. (photo: Josh Gibney)

The question every college hockey fan in America wanted to know this season was how Miami would respond to one of the most crushing losses in NCAA history.

A No. 4 seed entering the NCAAs, the RedHawks put it all together at the right time, and sat 60 seconds from a national championship with a two-goal lead against Boston University. You all know what happened next.

There was no question Miami still had a lot of talent coming back, a more intact and talented group then just about any other team in the country. The question was how it would respond.

Miami coach Enrico Blasi dealt with this, not by running from it, but by taking it head on. And reminding his troops just how fortunate they are.

"As I've told everyone who wants to listen, it was a great experience," Blasi said. "If you said we would have a chance to win a national title with a minute to go, we would've signed up. However it got to that, we have to look at it with pride. We learned to play at a high level, we learned to get through adversity in games. Hopefully we learn those lessons. It's good life lessons for all of us.

"I know it was devastating, but I'm a big believer that everything happpens for a reason. It builds character, makes you stronger. There's probably going to be tough times in everyone's lives. Hopefully this is something people remember fondly."

As strong as that comes across, it was clearly a tough loss in the grand scheme of hockey, and took some time getting over. But from there, it was back to work.

"We spent a lot of time making sure the players understood what was learned out of that," Blasi said. "We have great leadership, in (captain) Tommy Wingels, the junior class. I give them a lot of credit. ... In the big picture, it was a great run."

Pat Cannone, now a junior, is one of those leaders who has helped the team along. He helped himself by dedicating himself to his summer training.

"Obviously, you're a little bitter," Cannone said. "We let that game slip out of our hands. Everyone wants to work to get back to that point. Our hard work has attributed to that.

"I thought about it a lot when working out — how close we were, what it would take to get back to that point. It's very heartbreaking. I try to use it as motivation."

Blasi talks frequently about the "culture" at Miami, and how important it is for the program's success — a program that has the best winning percentage in the sport over the last five years. This culture did not come overnight, and there were many bumps, but as it was built, the RedHawks have been left with a foundation that can overcome most anything, including that NCAA championship game loss.

The team is filled with leaders, filled with balance in offense, defense, goaltending and special teams. Their players — by and large — stick around four years; they don't get into trouble. It's starts in recruiting and it snowballs based off the players who are there passing down their attitude to those who come in. And the coach.

"He's a great player's coach," Cannone said. "He's interested in your personal life, and family and you in genral. It makes it a lot easier to approach him if you have a problem. (And) he knows the game so well. He explains it in a way that you understand. He's been great for the three years I've been here."

Touching on those positives is how Blasi eased things along this offseason.

"We have a lot of support here at Miami," Blasi said. "It's packed every night, the students line up before every game, it's a great environment. We have to be thankful for what we have. That's the biggest lesson we've learned through all of this."

The point of all of this is that, at 8-1-1, Miami is very much in position to make another big run. It's coming off a two-game sweep of Michigan at Yost Arena, a place the Hawks had only won three times in 45 prior meetings going into the weekend. They are a unanimous No. 1 in the country in one poll.

All of that, however, ensures nothing. Just ask the three No. 1 seeds that were bumped off in the first round of last year's NCAAs.

No matter how great Miami appears now, no matter how great the "culture" of the program, no matter how well they have moved on from last year — nothing in March, let alone April, is a guarantee. Miami could go 25-1-1, and it would still would not be guaranteed a spot in the NCAA championship game with a two-goal lead and 60 seconds remaining. And they know it.

So, now that Miami has, seemingly, successfully guarded against carrying over the negatives of last year's tough finish — it must likewise now guard against the tantalizing impatience of wanting to be back in that spot again, and remember how grueling the "process" — as Blasi likes to say — is in getting back there. No matter how much you do right now, it won't matter if it's not done right in March and April.

"We were so close, a couple seconds away (from a national title), and now we're a whole season away," Cannone said. "But you try to limit those thoughts and focus what's going on that day, try not to think about it that much and just move on."

The other harsh reality of all athletics is that being the best doesn't guarantee anything either. Luck could go against you, a bad call, running into a hot goalie, injuries, and so on. Any number of things can go wrong at the worst time.

All you can do is put yourself in position to succeed, and Miami, at least, has done that ... so far.

Said Blasi, "We want an environment where we're successful both on and off the ice. It takes a little luck on that, but we had our share of guys leave early- matter of which leave and how you replace them. No matter who comes in and leaves, the way we hold each other accountable is three things — relationships, daily behavior, and accountability."

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