Commentary

Miami making a name for itself

RedHawks seeking school's first national championship

Originally Published: April 10, 2009
By David Albright | ESPN.com

WASHINGTON -- Miami University has an identity crisis.

So much so that the school has resorted to requesting -- almost pleading -- with everyone to refrain from referring to it as Miami of Ohio or Miami (Ohio). There's a notice listed on Page 1 of the hockey media guide. And Page 1 of the school's game notes.

[+] EnlargeEnrico Blasi
AP Photo/Susan WalshMiami U. coach Enrico Blasi led his RedHawks to the program's first national title game.

On the eve of Miami's first national championship game appearance -- in any sport -- the NCAA opened up the RedHawks' news conference following Friday's practice with a reminder about the proper way to reference the school.

And there were questions about Bemidji State entering this weekend's Frozen Four? If you have to tell people who you are and how to properly identify you, then you clearly haven't arrived.

That arrival could commence on Saturday night when No. 4 Miami faces off against No. 1 Boston University (ESPNHD and ESPN360, 7 p.m. ET) for the 2009 NCAA Division I national championship at the Verizon Center.

Truth be told, Miami (23-12-5) is very much a known commodity within college hockey circles.

The RedHawks have been in the NCAA tournament four years in a row and five times in the past six seasons. Miami won a school-record 33 games in 2007-08 and was the No. 2 overall seed in the national tournament before losing in overtime to eventual national champion Boston College in the Northeast Regional final.

But until this year, the RedHawks were never able to get over the hump and reach college hockey's final weekend.

"Losing in the final of the regionals the last two years has actually been good preparation for right now," senior forward Bill Loupee said. "You can't go into these games nervous or uptight. It's really helped us experience what a loss and the season ending would mean, and now we know what we're trying to avoid and we're playing for something huge and it's great."

Miami finally reached this new territory by taking the West Regional with wins over No. 1 Denver and No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth. Then on Thursday night, Miami ended the sentimental run of Bemidji State by a 4-1 score in the first national semifinal.

All that's left is the biggest hurdle to date -- the top-seeded Terriers (34-6-4). BU, which has four national titles to its credit, advanced to the title game with a 5-4 win over Hockey East rival Vermont. The Terriers are one of the brand names in college hockey, but BU coach Jack Parker knows the challenges his club will face Saturday night against Miami.

"[Miami is a] very talented and very determined team that is playing at the top of its game," Parker said. "They are a very hardworking team with a lot of talent, and that is why they are here. We will have our hands full and hopefully they will have their hands full and we will have a really good college hockey game."

Ultimately it's the way we live our life. It's about getting better every day both on and off the ice as a person and as a player, and that we take care of each other both on and off the ice.

--Miami senior captain Brian Kaufman

Miami is led by a trio of sophomore forwards in Carter Camper (20-21-41), Pat Cannone (11-24-35) and Andy Miele (15-15-30). But the RedHawks' offense came from some unlikely sources in Thursday's semifinal win over the Beavers.

Sophomore Tommy Wingels scored a pair of goals (his ninth and 10th on the season) and freshman Alden Hirschfeld (fifth of the season) scored the game winner.

"I think at this time of year, nobody really cares who scores the goals," Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. "We try to execute our game plan, and we have guys that can score goals but we know they're going to be checked tightly. So maybe next game it's somebody else."

Regardless of who scores the goals, Miami has advanced to the title game in part because of some great goaltending by freshman Cody Reichard. His season totals (10-7-2, 2.02, .917) aren't that impressive from a strictly numbers standpoint, but he's been a difference-maker in the tournament.

Miami has allowed just four goals in three games, and Reichard (3-0, 1.33, .942) has made 65 saves along the way.

Reichard's numbers are even more impressive when you consider that the RedHawks' defensive corps also has four freshmen in it. New assistant coach Brent Brekke, who came over from Cornell, is credited with getting all the new faces on the blue line to jell into a cohesive unit.

"When you come to Miami, this is what we're going to play for," Blasi said. "And so every day in preparation, the process is exactly that. There's a purpose to what we do on and off the ice. And so when our freshmen are put in these situations, they know exactly what they need to do because we've done it all year."

[+] EnlargeTommy Wingels
AP Photo/Nick WassTommy Wingels scored two goals in the RedHawks' 4-1 win over Bemidji State.

Part of knowing what to do on and off the ice is because of the culture that Blasi has created. Within the program, it's referred to as The Brotherhood.

"Ultimately it's the way we live our life," senior captain Brian Kaufman said. "It's about getting better every day both on and off the ice as a person and as a player, and that we take care of each other both on and off the ice.

"If you know somebody is slipping up or if a guy is not going to class, then The Brotherhood is a constant reminder that it's your duty to grab that guy and pull him aside and have the tough conversation."

The culture of The Brotherhood is also a very important part of the recruiting process. Prospective recruits are judged by the current players on how well they will fit in with the rest of the team.

After a recruiting visit, Blasi and his staff usually ask the current players "fit" questions before discussing anything else.

"They don't take the best players, they take the best players with the best attitude and who will provide the best chemistry," Kaufman said. "They recruit for character. And I think that's why we are where we are when you consider we lost a lot of talent from last year's team."

Another reason for this recent surge of success in the hockey that's being played in Oxford, Ohio, is the new Goggin Ice Center. Opened in 2006 at a cost of nearly $35 million, the 4,000-capacity Steve Cady Arena has all of the amenities and creature comforts that were lacking in the old Goggin Ice Arena, built in 1976, which was demolished shortly after the opening of the new building.

State-of-the-art facilities allow the RedHawks to attract top-level recruits, and that investment in the program is paying dividends as witnessed by this weekend.

"It's made an unbelievable difference-maker in recruiting," Kaufman said. "That was the one thing that the school was missing. Everything else about the school was great, but then you come to the rink, although it was an unbelievable atmosphere for game days, in relation to the rest of the league the facilities weren't as great as other places."

Just as Agganis Arena has opened up new recruiting frontiers for Parker at Boston University, the new Goggin puts Miami on a level ice surface with the other top programs inside and out of the CCHA.

"You're in the ballgame with everybody else," Blasi said. "We can compete with the BUs and the Michigans and the Notre Dames -- some of the bigger programs out there. Ultimately, if you don't have players, you're not going to be able to get where you want to go."

The key is finding the right players. Ones who buy into The Brotherhood. And ones who understand what it means to play for Miami University.

David Albright covers college sports for ESPN.com and can be reached at espncaa@gmail.com.