BU looks to complete season with title
Terriers take on Miami RedHawks in men's hockey national championship
WASHINGTON -- Rock the Red.
It's the official marketing slogan of the Washington Capitals, and with the primary tenant on the road this weekend while the Frozen Four set up residence at the Verizon Center, a pair of college teams carried through on the hometown team's motto.
The 2009 NCAA tournament registered one upset after another during the regional round, but in the end Thursday night, it was all about the favorites. No. 1 overall seed Boston University beat Hockey East rival Vermont 5-4 in the second national semifinal, while Miami (Ohio) sent home sentimental choice Bemidji State in the opener by a 4-1 final.
So the red-and-white clad Terriers (34-6-4) will face the red-and-white clad RedHawks (23-12-5) in Saturday's national championship game (ESPNHD, 7 p.m. ET). BU will be vying for its fifth college hockey national championship -- and first since 1995. Miami, on the other hand, will be playing in its first national championship contest in any sport in school history.
Based on the basic breakdown, BU would have to be considered the prohibitive favorite. But that has little bearing in winner-take-all elimination games.
Just ask the Terriers, a superior team whose inferior play at times against UVM almost cost them a shot to play in Saturday's title game.
"I feel happy, fortunate and humbly gratified that we are the team in the final," BU coach Jack Parker said. "I thought it was a fabulous college hockey game with the emotional swings, the tide turning one way or the other. There were an awful lot of positive things going on out there. And the game is a game of mistakes, and you're trying to limit your mistakes all the time, but sometimes big players make big plays. There's not much you can do about it."
BU jumped out to a 2-0 lead first-period lead before the Catamounts stormed back with three in the middle period -- including a pair in a 35-second span -- to take a 3-2 lead.
In the end, UVM couldn't hold a pair of one-goal leads as BU tied it up at 3-3 late in the second period. Parker called Vinny Saponari's goal at 18:39 on the power play the turning point in the game because it kept the Terriers from having to play from behind in the critical third period.
Back in November when Vermont and BU played a weekend series at Agganis Arena in Boston, both games were tied at 3-3 going into the third. And both games ended 4-3 in favor of Vermont, which marked the first weekend sweep by a visitor in Boston since 1992.
So just as the previous scripts had been written, UVM took a 4-3 lead at 9:40 of the third, when freshman defenseman Drew MacKenzie scored his first career goal by beating BU goalie Kieran Millan between the legs. But half of a period is a long time to keep at bay a team that is as talented and determined as this BU team.
And it would prove to be too long. And very painful.
From that highest high of his first goal, MacKenzie went to a crushing low a little more than three minutes later, when BU senior Chris Higgins was credited with his 14th goal but the puck actually went off MacKenzie's stick as he dived to help out goalie Rob Madore.
Higgins finished the night with a goal and three assists, the most important of the latter coming on the game-winning goal.
With just under six minutes remaining, BU sophomore and Hobey Baker finalist Colin Wilson won a faceoff in the Vermont zone and the puck ended up on Higgins' stick. He took a shot from the top of the left circle that found Madore's pads before becoming a juicy rebound that Wilson buried at 14:19 for his 17th goal of the season (and second of the game).
"I didn't see where Chris went with it, but I knew he would be shooting," Wilson said. "So I just got to the net, and sure enough, the rebound went off my tape and just put it in."
The Terriers tightened up the rest of the way and held on for the one-goal win, which pushed them one step closer to their one biggest goal all season -- a national championship.
When they needed it most, BU's best players were at the top of their game. And the leader of that group was Wilson, who looked every bit like a first-round NHL draft pick (Nashville, 2007).
"Having him get as many points as he did this year and be the leader, at times he's been like a man playing with boys," Parker said. "And he showed that a lot tonight. I thought this was one of his best games of the year."
Up next is a Saturday night date with a Miami team that on the surface would be little more than the final road bump in the Terriers' title tour. However, given the Terriers' struggles at times Thursday night, it's a good bet that BU won't be looking past Rico Blasi's club.
"I thought Miami had the best team in the nation last year," Parker said. "Sometimes, the year you think you're going to win it, you don't win it. And remember, Miami is not trying to knock off the No. 1 team. They don't need to knock anybody off; they just want to become the No. 1 team. And we'd like to become the No. 1 team."
Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon, whose club played both BU and Miami this season, gives the edge to his league partner.
"They're such a good team that you can't give them an inch," Sneddon said of BU. "I think [they're] the team to beat. They're, in my opinion, the best team in the country and have been that way for most of the year."
But the best team doesn't always win. Just ask 1-seeds Notre Dame (lost to Bemidji State), Michigan (lost to Air Force) or Denver (lost to Miami) about being the "best" team in this year's NCAA tournament.
The BU players know in their hearts that their season will be incomplete if they can't find a way to close the deal Saturday night against the RedHawks. And the players who remain after this season would be reminded of it every day when they get back on campus.
"We walk down our hallway [at Agganis Arena] with the pictures of all the championship teams," BU captain and Hobey finalist Matt Gilroy said. "We look at it every day, and then you come out and you look at the banners and the tradition is there. And we'd love to add to it. That's been one of our goals this season, and we're one win away."
David Albright covers college sports for ESPN.com and can be reached at email@example.com.
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