After Great Run, Miami Stumbles In CCHA Semis
by Matt Slovin/CHN Reporter
DETROIT Twenty minutes into the first CCHA semifinal at Joe Louis Arena on Friday, Miami appeared to be right in the thick of things.
One period later, though, it became clear there wouldn’t be a repeat winner of the Mason Cup. When the dust settled, Western Michigan eliminated the RedHawks by a 5-2 margin.
“We got beat in every aspect of the game tonight,” said Miami coach Enrico Blasi.
The Broncos jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, something Western Michigan coach Andy Murray emphasized before the game. His team had earned all of the momentum following a shorthanded tally by senior J.J. Crew. Crew caught up to a loose puck that sailed down the ice out wide, and managed to bring it back to center ice, where he faked out Miami goaltender Connor Knapp, finishing through the five hole.
Knapp, who had been named the CCHA’s Goaltender of the Year just the night before, never had a chance and never recovered.
The RedHawks had earned some of the momentum back by the first intermission. With just over 90 seconds remaining in the frame, captain Reilly Smith, playing on the home ice of his older brother, Brendan, redirected a puck into the net to pull his team within one.
It would be as close as Miami would come, as the wheels fell off shortly thereafter.
Instead of carrying over the energy into the second period, the RedHawks fell apart, as the ice was tilted the other way the entire 20 minutes.
With Knapp playing subpar, a comeback seemed unlikely. He allowed two more Western Michigan goals in the second, making just three saves before Blasi pulled him in favor of senior Cody Reichard.
“You need to change something,” Blasi said. “(But) I’m not blaming Connor. … At that point, you don’t want the kid that’s played great for us the past few months to stay in there.”
Reichard couldn’t stop the bleeding, and the offense in front of him failed to generate much of anything for the remainder of the game.
Penalties also marred the RedHawk second period, much to Blasi’s dismay. The Miami penalty kill struggled to get pucks out of the defensive zone, and the Broncos were happy to capitalize. The RedHawks took a total of five penalties during the second-period parade to the sin bin.
Miami couldn’t recreate its victory in the league title game last year, when it defeated the Broncos. The RedHawks also won both of the regular season meetings between the two teams.
When asked if it’s especially hard to defeat the same team three times in a season, Blasi was blunt.
“When you don’t play well, absolutely,” he said.
The RedHawks will attempt to bounce back Saturday against the loser of the Bowling Green-Michigan nightcap. Regardless of the result of that consolation game,Blasi feels confident in his team’s status for the NCAA Tournament — and rightfully so. Miami is currently sitting tenth in the PairWise rankings.