A strange view
CINCINNATI — Sitting up in Section 136 of US Bank Arena with his family is not where Enrico Blasi figured to be Friday night. It’s not that Blasi doesn’t love being with his wife and daughters but for the past eight seasons the Miami RedHawks have been the ones being watched play in an NCAA hockey tournament, not the ones doing the watching.
That’s the kind of season it was for the Miami program, one of the elite programs in the nation. The RedHawks were preseason ranked No. 2 in the two major hockey polls — USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine — but finished under .500 (15-20-3 ) for the first time since the 2004-05 season and in last place in the first year of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. The RedHawks played better the final month of the season, including making a run to the NCHC title game, but another trip to the NCAA tournament was not to be.
Miami is the host school for this weekend’s NCAA Midwest Regional. Wisconsin, Ferris State, Colgate and North Dakota were the four teams playing on Friday as Blasi watched on. Hockey is a tight-knit community and Blasi was going to support his community because others in the community would do the same for him and his team, but…
"Oh, I hate it," said Blasi. "It’s fun to watch them go through. I’d rather be on the other side, a little bit nervous and worrying about our power play or something like that but I get to spend some time with my family, which is not all bad."
Miami started the season 7-4-1 against a schedule that included NCAA teams Wisconsin, Providence, St. Cloud State and North Dakota but hit a major slump once the calendar turned to 2014.
The RedHawks went just 2-12-1 before beating Denver 2-1 in the regular season finale. They followed that up with a sweep of top-seeded St. Cloud State, the team that beat Miami in the Midwest Regional final last year, in the best-of-three quarterfinal series. A 3-0 shutout of No. 2 seed North Dakota put Miami one game shy of an NCAA berth but it fell 4-3 in the finals to No. 6 Denver.
The fact that the No. 8 and the No. 6 seeds were playing for the NCHC title was a testament to the strength of the new conference. Blasi knew how strong the league, a mix of teams from the old Central Collegiate Hockey Association that Miami was a long-time member and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, would be.
Miami’s roster was dominated by freshmen and sophomores. Forwards Austin Czarnik and Riley Barber led Miami with 47 and 44 points, respectively, but injuries limited the playing time of juniors Blake Coleman and Jimmy Mullins. Coleman was the fourth-leading scorer with 28 points despite missing 11 games.
"Every night is tough and you can’t take a weekend off," said Blasi. "Not that you can take a weekend off in college hockey anyway but everybody in our league is capable of winning the whole thing. I think we were proof of that at the end when we went to St. Cloud and beat them two straight and then beat North Dakota in the semifinal."
Blasi was confident after the championship game loss to Denver that the RedHawks will be able to bounce back next season. The young group started to figure itself out.
"We’ve got good pieces in place," said Blasi. "We were fairly young this year but I thought the last four weekends we started to play the way we did at the beginning of the year. It happens to teams and unfortunately it happened to us. I take full blame for it. I’m the head coach of the team. We will turn it around."