Friday, October 16, 2009

#1 Miami at New Hampshire - Oct 16-17, 2009

Talk about two teams with a Terrier problem...

When most of the nation last saw New Hampshire in the 2009 NCAA Tournament, they'll likely recall the shocking image of Boston University's Jason Lawrence scoring a game-winning goal after it was redirected by a Wildcat defenseman past UNH goaltender Brian Foster. Lawrence's goal, with less than 15 seconds remaining in regulation, lifted BU to a 2-1 victory and earned them a trip to the Frozen Four. Of course, UNH had engineered their own late game heroics by scoring with 0.1 seconds remaining to force overtime against North Dakota in their first round game and this year's captain, senior Peter LeBlanc, won it with a one-timer just 45 seconds into the extra frame.

Then, there's Miami.

After defeating Denver, Minnesota-Duluth and Bemidji State to earn a bid in the school's first ever national championship game in any sport, Miami endured the final inconceivable comeback during a tournament filled with last second heroics. Unfortunately for Miami, they were on the losing end when the Boston University Terriers rallied for two goals in the last minute of regulation to tie the game, and of course they went on to claim the 5th national title in school history by defeating Miami 4-3 in overtime.

Something tells me the fan bases of the two schools could commiserate over an adult beverage about their disdain for BU's amazing comebacks. But, that will have to wait for there is hockey to be played in Durham, N.H. this weekend as the #1 ranked Miami RedHawks travel to take on the New Hampshire Wildcats at the Whittemore Center. Faceoff is scheduled for 7pm tonight and tomorrow on the Olympic sized ice surface.

Entering play tonight, Miami is 3-4 all-time against the Wildcats. The schools last met in the first round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament with Miami snatching a 2-1 victory over the #1 seeded, 5th ranked Wildcats. Today, Miami enters as the unanimous #1 team in all 3 major polls after sweeping a two-game series in Oxford against St. Cloud State of the WCHA.

Miami returns 8 of their top 10 scorers, both goaltenders and five of their top 6 defensemen from last year's national runners-up so another run at the Frozen Four is a definite possibility. Junior Tommy Wingels (Wilmette, Ill.) has been named captain after his tremendous run during the national tournament not only showing great scoring ability, but great leadership in the face of the difficult championship game loss as well. However, the RedHawks have not officially named any assistants to this point.

Last Friday, Miami got 22 saves from sophomore goaltender Cody Reichard (Celina, Ohio) to escape with a 3-2 overtime win. Freshman Curtis McKenzie (Golden, B.C.) and junior Pat Cannone (Bayport, N.Y.) scored in regulation before junior Carter Camper (Rocky River, Ohio) buried the gamewinner at 1:52 of overtime. This game featured a lot of first game mistakes, lack of flow and some WCHA chippiness with both teams entering into several scrums around the boards.

On Saturday night, the RedHawks limited St. Cloud to just 20 shots on goal enabling sophomore goaltender Connor Knapp (York, N.Y.) to register his third career shutout. Goals just 20 seconds apart in the 3rd period from senior Jarod Palmer (Fridley, Minn.) and freshman Devin Mantha (Ann Arbor, Mich.) were all the offense needed as Miami reverted to their strong puck possession play limiting the Huskies chances throughout the night.

Head coach Enrico Blasi (Miami '94) praised the defensive effort of his team to lift Miami to Saturday night's win.

"It's always been one of our strong suits and it will need to continue to be," he said. "We blocked a lot of shots. Our defense was real aggressive and when we did break down, Connor was there."

New Hampshire returns three key forwards who scored more than 30 points last year in Mike Sislo (19-12—31), Peter LeBlanc (14-16—30) and Bobby Butler (9-21—30) to a team expected to finish no higher than fourth in Hockey East. This group will have to be even better this year to offset the loss of 17 goals and 40 points from James van Riemsdyk who signed with the Philadelphia Flyers shortly after the end of last season. But, the biggest returnee is likely to be goaltender Brian Foster upon whom Coach Dick Umile (New Hampshire '72) expects to lean heavily during the season's outset.

Said Umile, “We’re going to need him early on. If you look at our schedule, we’ve got Miami coming in and us going west to play Wisconsin. He’s going to have to play solid until our younger guys get their feet wet and find out what their role truly is."

The younger guys Umile refers to reside mainly on the blueline for the Wildcats where they return just two experienced defensemen in Blake Kessel and Nick Krates and lost 42 points and valuable minutes from three departed senior defensemen. Kessel, the younger brother of Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel, is expected to carry much of the offensive load from the blueline and quarterback the Wildcats powerplay while UNH hopes to get quality minutes from junior Matt Campanale and sophomore Damon Kipp, who have played sparingly, and freshmen Connor Hardowa and Brett Kostolansky.

Last weekend, New Hampshire stumbled to an opening 3-1 loss at RPI from the ECAC. Despite 38 shots on net and a powerplay goal from senior forward Bobby Butler, the Wildcats struggled to score and dropped their first opener in nine years. They will have to find a way to get more offensive support against a Miami team that prides itself on team defense and shutting down the opposition.

Expect Miami to play both goaltenders again this weekend as Blasi has already said the rotation will continue throughout the early part of the season to keep both netminders sharp and to encourage competition.

Fearless predictions --

New Hampshire is still a quality opponent and Miami will be offering the opposition for their home opening weekend. However, if Miami plays the way they did Saturday night against St. Cloud, and uses the larger ice surface of the Whittemore Center the way they did in Minneapolis during last spring's NCAA Tournament, then a sweep is quite likely. Miami can roll four lines and is incredibly deep. On paper at least, it would appear that UNH is not quite as deep as in past years and may have difficulty with Miami's big, physical defensemen. All that said, I think Miami sweeps but would not be surprised to see a weekend split.

Miami 3

Miami 3

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