April 11, 2009
WASHINGTON, DC -- Miami University ice hockey coach Enrico Blasi sat at the podium after his team's heart-pounding, and ultimately heartbreaking, 4-3 overtime loss to Boston University in the NCAA Frozen Four championship game. There were long pauses between his words, perhaps due to nostalgic contemplation of a dream season or the overwhelming emotions of it ending in defeat.
"This senior class has won more games, I believe, than any other program in the country in the last four years," he said. "I would say that's pretty damn good."
For the RedHawks to play in this title game was pretty damn good; for the Boston University Terriers to miraculously rally from a two-goal deficit in the span of 42 seconds to tie the game with 17 seconds remaining was really damn good.
The title-clinching goal came at 11:47 of overtime, and it was a soul-crusher for Miami: Colby Cohen's shot deflected off a sprawling Kevin Roeder on defense and then floated over the glove of goalie Cody Reichard (28 saves). The RedHawks cheering section fell silent as the BU faithful erupted in the Verizon Center. The Terriers flooded the ice in celebration; a few Miami players surrounded their goalie as he remained on his knees, shielding him from the raucous celebration on the other end of the ice while giving the freshman keeper words of encouragement.
"I just told Cody it just wasn't meant to be, and I'm just so proud to be your teammate and to be a Red Hawks," said sophomore winger Tommy Wingels.
This was the fifth NCAA men's ice hockey championship for Boston University, and the third won by Jack Parker, BU's head coach in his 36th season with the team.
"Wow, what a hockey game. What a finish," he said. "It's the greatest comeback I've ever been involved in."
After Miami eliminated Bemidji State in the semifinals to advance to the title game, winger Justin Vaive was asked whether he received any advice about managing the pressure of a title game from his father, former Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres player Rick Vaive.
"Not really from my dad, because he's never really been in any championships," he said with a laugh.
Miami had never been in a national championship game either, and that was never more evident than in the final minute of regulation. Holding a 3-1 lead and with BU's goalie pulled, the RedHawks couldn't hold off the Terrier attack. Zack Cohen, who rarely appears in 6-on-5 situations, scored at 19:01 on a scramble in front to make it 3-2. Then it was Nick Bonino's turn to play the hero, converting a Matt Gilroy pass to tie the game at 19:43 and complete a furious comeback.
"I saw Nick sitting wide open," said Gilroy. "Once we had that, I think the whole bench and the whole team knew it was ours."
Blasi said the Terriers executed, but that his team made some newbie mistakes at the end.
"We had the right guys on the ice. We knew exactly what they were going to do. We were trying to keep our guys focused. They executed," he said. "Unfortunately, [our guys] got caught in the moment and BU made a play that we talked about on the bench, actually."
In the end, perhaps BU wanted it just a little more. Gilroy, the Hobey Baker winner, talked about the level of commitment for he and his teammates this season: "From the start of this year, what this team has done, and what we committed to the team ... we used to run the river twice a week at 5 o'clock in the morning. It was horrible."
"Stop lying about it," Parker cut in, to laugher from the press corps.
Gilroy continued: "It just brought us closer together."
Miami's run to national runner-up brought its team closer together; but more importantly, it also brought their program newfound fame.
"What the boys did this week, the last couple of weeks, is they made history," said Blasi. "No other team in Miami history has ever gone to a semifinal. No other team has played for a national championship. And we've done that. I think hopefully this is a step for more to come."
On Sunday: Puck Daddy's Photo Expedition of the Frozen Four, including an interview with Jesus Christ and a hot dog.