March 24, 2011 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Familiarity Breeds ... Respect

New Hampshire Knows It Has Its Hands Full With Miami

by Joseph Edwards/CHN Writer

If familiarity really does breed contempt, there may be some issues in the Northeast Regional in Manchester, N.H., this weekend.

There could be plenty of contemptible emotions to go around should Hockey East rivals New Hampshire and Merrimack or CCHA adversaries Miami and Notre Dame meet up in a potential regional final on Saturday with a spot in the Frozen Four on the line.

Before it gets to that point, however, there will be plenty of familiar feelings in the first round when the UNH Wildcats (21-10-6) and Miami RedHawks (23-9-6) drop the puck on their fifth meeting in the last two seasons.

Last season in Durham, NH, Miami took a 6-3 win and 5-5 tie back home to Oxford, where the teams kicked off the current season by splitting 6-3 wins. That’s a combined 37 goals in their last four match-ups, and there’s no love lost when you consider that they’ve also put 144 penalty minutes on the scoresheets, including 62 in their most recent game on October 9th.

“Were a little bit familiar with Miami,” Wildcats coach Dick Umile said of the fourth-ranked, top-seeded RedHawks. “We’re all familiar with (Andy) Miele and (Carter) Camper, but you know, (Reilly) Smith has has 28 goals and is up there with 54 points. (Pat) Cannone’s got 37 [points]. They’re just a very talented team. We have a major challenge on our hands.”

It’s a challenge that 10th-ranked, fourth-seeded UNH may very well be suited for, however, as the two teams share a number of similarities.

While both are most always among the top-ranked squads and have become NCAA postseason staples (UNH has made 10 straight tournaments, Miami six) that have seen multiple Frozen Fours and Final games, neither has been able to get hold of the elusive Championship trophy. Both are also the only two participants in the playoffs to have wins in each of the last two tournaments.

Both are among the nation’s top offenses, and each features a trio of 40-plus point scorers in Miami’s Miele (71), Carter (56), and Reilly (54) to go with New Hampshire’s Paul Thompson (52), Mike Sislo (46), and Phil DeSimone (40), two of only five schools to have such an arsenal. In fact, the RedHawks and Wildcats will ice three of this year’s 10 Hobey Baker finalists on Friday in Miele, Camper, and Thompson.

The high-octane offenses, at times, overshadow the strong and often stellar defenses. Miami’s third-ranked defense is backstopped by the junior goaltending tandem of Cody Reichard and Connor Knapp, either of whom Miami coach Enrico Blasi can dispense at will. Umile has seen junior Matt DiGiralomo emerge as his go-to guy in net this season, leading the nation in saves (1,088) and second in minutes played with 2242:51 - all but two minutes on the Wildcats’ season.

Preparing for Miami for a third time this season has given Umile, as well as fellow Hockey East coach Mark Dennehy of Merrimack some insight, and he sees even more similarities with another team each has become familiar with over recent seasons.

“I know that this question was asked with Mark, but they are very similar to Boston College,” Umile said. “They are extremely talented and can beat you in a lot of ways. You best pay attention to specialty situations and obviously play your very best. They have good goaltending — they have used two goaltenders, I think (Cody) Reichard is probably going to play this weekend. I know Enrico has used both. They just have talent from the net out.

“They are a team that has got a lot of confidence and are playing extremely well right now.”

What's in New Hampshire’s corner this time around, however, is just that: the game is 45 minutes from their Durham stomping ground in Manchester, where the Wildcats usually play at least once a season. Besides having less travel, the promixity will allow for plenty of UNH fans to make the trek, as well.

“It’s going to be a tough draw to play New Hampshire in Manchester,” said Blasi. “We’ve been there before. It was tough. Their fans are right behind them.”

But don’t hand the victory to UNH just yet.

“Just the fact that we are playing out in Manchester doesn’t mean you automatically win,” Umile said. “It’s going to be an exciting atmosphere, and a great venue to play in. But we're going to be playing one of the top teams in the country, so we're excited about that.”

It’s a guarantee for fans-on-their-feet excitement in Manchester, but for the RedHawks and Wildcats, it’s yet another chance to size up what’s becoming a constant and consistent series between two increasingly similar and successful teams.

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