RedHawks end on downer but future is bright

TOLEDO, Ohio – There was a defiant tone to Miami University hockey coach Enrico Blasi’s voice. About 20 minutes had passed since the RedHawks had lost 4-1 to St. Cloud State in the NCAA Midwest regional final at the Huntington Center. That’s a tough time to reflect on a season but when you head up one of the top programs in college such things come with the territory.

So Blasi, like any good coach, got back to the basics.

The RedHawks, a team with 18 freshmen and sophomores on the roster, weren’t expected by many to be playing at this point despite the program’s pedigree but here they were one win away from a trip to the national semifinals.

“You’ve got to take the good with the bad,” said Blasi. “It stings right now. There’s nothing I can say to these guys that’s going to make them feel better but on Monday when I design a championship ring for them and they get one, that’s special. This senior class has gone to a Frozen Four, they’ve won a Mason Cup, two regular season championships and been to the national tournament four straight years.

“You tell me why they should feel sorry for themselves. No way. I’m extremely proud of them. They’ve done a heck of a job. They’ve left our program better.”

Miami’s season ended at the hands of an unlikely scoring hero and a hot goaltender. Sometimes you just get beat.

That’s what happened Sunday.

Freshman forward Joey Benik, who had just three goals coming into the regional tournament, scored twice while sophomore goalie Ryan Faragher made 20 saves to send the Huskies to their first appearance in the Frozen Four. They will face the winner of the East regional final between top-ranked Quinnipiac and Union on April 11 in the Frozen Four semifinals in Pittsburgh.

Benik had two goals and one assist in Saturday’s 5-1 victory against Notre Dame in the semifinals. He was named the Most Outstanding Player of the regional tournament.

This victory was no fluke for St. Cloud State (25-15-1). The Huskies might have been the fourth seed in the regional tournament but they were regular season champions of the Western Collegiate Hockey Conference. The Huskies got ahead 2-0 thanks to Benik and
answered every threat Miami sent their way.

“I think we worked hard; we tried to generate some things,” said Blasi, “but in the end they were just up for the task.”

Sophomore Blake Coleman got Miami’s lone goal of the game, scoring on a power play at 7:50 of the second period to cut the deficit to 2-1.
 
The Huskies regained their two-goal advantage 2:22 later when junior forward Cory Thorson beat Miami freshman goalie Ryan McKay to the short side. McKay made 18 saves, including several from point-blank range, but Miami couldn’t beat Faragher despite a strong offensive surge through the first 30 minutes of the game. That two-goal lead proved too much to overcome.

This was the eighth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance for the RedHawks and their fifth regional championship game appearance since 2007. They were seeking a third trip to the Frozen Four.

With such a young nucleus for a team, there’s no reason to think Miami won’t be back in this position sooner than later.

“The young guys provided a lot of energy all year and I think that’s a lot of our success,” said Coleman. “It’s a confident group of guys we have in the locker room. We’re all going to work hard this offseason. We have to bounce back from this and learn from this.”