Miami (Ohio) vs. Bemidji State
Verizon Center | Washington, D.C.
Thursday at 5 p.m. ET (ESPN2HD, ESPN360)
How they got here
MIAMI (Ohio): West Regional 4-seed
Miami 4, Denver 2
Miami 2, Minnesota Duluth 1
BEMIDJI STATE: Midwest Regional 4-seed
Bemidji State 5, Notre Dame 1
Bemidji State 4, Cornell 1
Is Bemidji State a one-line team? Look at the numbers put up by the trio of Matt Read (39 points), Tyler Scofield (38 points) and Matt Francis (25 points) and it appears that way. Of course, Notre Dame and Cornell knew that, but it didn't do them any good: The trio produced six of the Beavers' nine goals at the Midwest Regional and impressed onlookers with their speed and skill. Contributions from another line would be a plus -- the Ben Kinne-Shea Walters-Ryan Cramer unit was fairly effective in regional play -- but the Scofield-Read-Francis group has to carry the load for BSU to be successful.
Noted wordsmith Yogi Berra once told a reporter that the Yankees team of which he was a member "had deep depth." He could have been talking about Miami's forwards: a balanced, versatile group of capable scorers who are also responsible on their own end. Forward Carter Camper, the team's leading scorer, is an underappreciated talent. He's one of eight RedHawks forwards with more than 20 points and one of six Miami forwards with 10-plus goals. They might not be a glamorous bunch, but the mix of speed, size, smarts, playmaking ability, finishing skills, and grit makes them unique.
Take a glance at the roster, and you could probably guesstimate the size of the typical Bemidji State defenseman: right around 5-foot-11, 190 pounds. It's not a physically intimidating collection on the blue line, but the Beavers' rear guards are fairly adept at creating offense, especially freshman Brad Hunt, who enters the Frozen Four with nine goals (including seven power-play goals) and 32 points. Really, the BSU defensemen are a lot like cornerbacks in football: If you don't notice them, they're doing their job.
Mention the words "Miami defenseman" to a college hockey fan, and the first image to pop into their heads is the smooth-skating, offensively gifted rear guard along the lines of Dan Boyle or Andy Greene. The heir to that legacy is freshman Chris Wideman, who has 26 points this season, all of them assists. By contrast, the team's other eight defensemen have combined for a total of 36 points. The RedHawks are quite young on defense; in the West Regional final win over Minnesota Duluth, four of Miami's six blueliners were freshmen.
Bemidji State's Matt Dalton was nearly flawless in the Midwest Regional, stopping all but one of the 35 shots he faced in the Beavers' opening-round win against Notre Dame, and turning aside 25 of 26 shots in the regional final against Cornell. He certainly benefits from the team's defensive philosophy of emphasizing pressure on the puck, which forces opponents to shoot from the perimeter more often.
Miami freshmen Cody Reichard and Connor Knapp shared the RedHawks' goaltending duties for the majority of the season, but Reichard started both West Regional contests. The two are nearly identical statistically. Miami's goalies benefit from a sound defensive system and one of the nation's best penalty-killing units, and the RedHawks are traditionally a good shot-blocking team.
The outcome of this game might boil down to strength versus strength: the Beavers' potent power play against the RedHawks' stifling penalty kill. Miami's penalty kill isn't fancy, just extremely effective, built around disciplined positioning and smart decisions. Even though it's one of its strengths, Miami would be wise to limit the chances BSU's top line gets with the man advantage. Miami's power play and Bemidji State's penalty kill are good, but not great. The RedHawks' forward depth and versatility give them the advantage here.
After a couple of years of being on the cusp, Enrico Blasi finally got Miami into the Frozen Four for the first time in the program's history. The RedHawks' demeanor is a reflection of their coach: quietly confident and efficient with a close attention to detail. Bemidji State's Tom Serratore, meanwhile, has pushed all the right buttons thus far, and his team's confidence is soaring. A straight shooter with a self-effacing wit, his demeanor is perfectly suited for this stage.
Why Bemidji State wins: The Beavers have a blueprint for how to win this game, and it's the same one they successfully implemented against Notre Dame and Cornell. Pressure the puck, don't let the opponent get comfortable on offense, keep the shooters on the perimeter and generally make life easier for Dalton in the process. And though BSU didn't score first against Cornell, the Beavers would certainly benefit from an early goal, which would get the neutral fans into the game on their behalf.
Why Miami wins: Balance up front, and not just because it has three really good lines that are capable of generating offense. Because of their strong two-way play, the RedHawks won't be forced to match lines in an attempt to keep Scofield, Read and Francis in check. Look for them to try to wear down the Beavers' top line by throwing fresh bodies at them. Getting off to a good start will also be important; Bemidji State will come out flying, and everyone in the building not rooting for Miami will become de facto Beavers fans.
Also see: Boston University-Vermont breakdown
For more on college hockey and the 2009 Frozen Four, check out Inside College Hockey.