Wednesday, April 7, 2010

This is Our Time!

Miami prepares to take on Boston College at Ford Field

Well, its come down to this.

The Miami RedHawks, last year's national runners-up, ranked #1 for the majority of this season, the runaway winners of the CCHA regular season title, champions of the NCAA Midwest Regional and the NCAA Tournament's top overall seed are back in the Frozen Four. Standing in their way in tomorrow night's national semifinal, however, is a name all too familiar to Miami hockey fans, players and alumni, Boston.

Whether it's followed by "University," as it was in last year's national championship game, or "College," as it was in 2006, 2007 and 2008, it has meant the same thing - loss. In some cases as in 2008 and 2009, it meant heartbreaking loss.

As Miami's program has continued to improve, the past six years have returned remarkable success. Consider:
  • Miami has the best winning percentage in college hockey since 2005-06.
  • Since 2007-08, Miami has spent more time atop the college hockey polls than any other school.
But, they are just 1-4 against Boston College/University during those years with the one victory coming over BU at the now defunct Lefty McFadden Tournament in Dayton back in 2004. And, tomorrow's opponent, Boston College, knocked the RedHawks out of the national tournament three consecutive years.

In 2006, Miami captured just its second ever CCHA regular season title and was ranked number one during the regular season for the first time in school history. However, they would fall in the CCHA Championship game dropping the RedHawks from a #1 to a #2 seed setting up the first of three consecutive meetings with the Eagles. This one coming in the first round. A broken stick and two empty net goals led BC to a 5-0 blanking of Miami. BC earned a trip to the Frozen Four, but lost in the national championship game to Wisconsin.

In 2007, Miami eeked out an at-large berth and #4 seed drawing New Hampshire in the first round. Led by junior captain Ryan Jones and classmate Nathan Davis, the RedHawks upset UNH earning the school's first-ever NCAA Tournament victory. Awaiting in the regional final? BC. Once again, the Eagles shut out the RedHawks breaking open a close game late and winning 4-0. With the victory over Miami, BC earned another trip to the Frozen Four, but fell in the national title game to Michigan State.

In 2008, Miami finished the regular season and CCHA Tournament 32-7-1 garnering a #1 seed in the national tournament. In the first round, Miami found themselves in a dogfight with all-world netminder Andrew Volkening and Air Force. After defeating the Falcons in overtime, they found themselves face to face with nemesis Boston College. Again. This time, Miami would take a 2-0 lead in the second period, but on the strength of three quick, consecutive goals, BC led 3-2 entering the final period. Senior captain Ryan Jones tied the game at three, but a fluke goal during overtime by current BC junior Joe Whitney sent the Eagles to their third consecutive Frozen Four. This time, they would not be denied winning the national title by defeating upstart Notre Dame in the final.

So, seeing Boston College on the docket standing between Miami and a return trip to the national championship game isn't all that surprising. The Eagles started slowly but have gone 17-4-1 over their last 22 games finishing 27-10-3 and are currently riding an 11 game unbeaten streak. But, BC has been incredibly lax defensively surrendering 14 goals over the past three games which will be a killer against a Miami team that is number one in the nation in team defense and ranked in the top 10 offensively. On the flip side, the Eagles can score. They rank second nationally in team offense and have potted 19 goals over those past three games winning each of them including a wild 9-7 win over Yale in the Northeast Region final.

Boston College appears to be a small team, compared to Miami, with one line that encompasses nearly 40% of their scoring. The Eagles are led by the line of Cam Atkinson (27 goals), Brian Gibbons (16) and Joe Whitney (16). However, none of the three are taller than 5'8" and Whitney is just 5'6". What does that mean? It means Miami's big, and mobile, defense should have a field day clearing pucks, punishing BC forwards and should dominate this game. You have to believe the CCHA's Defensive Player of the Year and CBJ draft pick, Will Weber (6'4", 225) is licking his chops considering the size differential. Weber and his defense partner, Joe Hartman (6'4", 200), comprise Miami's top defensive pairing. And, with Vincent LoVerde likely still out of the lineup due to injury, you can expect this pair plus Cameron Schilling (6'2", 185) and Steve Spinell (6'1", 200) to see quite a bit of ice time versus the diminutive, but speedy, Eagles.

In net, Miami and BC have experienced netminders to choose from. BC's John Muse backstopped the Eagles to the national title in 2008, and of course, Miami's Cody Reichard took the RedHawks to within a heartbeat of the title last year while Connor Knapp made 55 saves in the 3-2 double overtime Midwest Regional final victory over Michigan just under two weeks ago. But, I'll take either of the Miami pair over Muse who has been, frankly, awful of late.

After a review of the stats, schedules and rosters, I think Miami will find a way to win this game. BC's defense and goaltending have been abysmal, and you can't count on scoring five goals in a game like this. Defense and goaltending win championships and I think Miami has a distinct advantage in both categories.

Like the Michigan game, Miami must defeat a team that's become their nemesis. If they want to become a truly elite program, these are the teams, in these situations, that the RedHawks must knock off to exorcise their past failures. In a sense it's a revenge game for Miami. Considering BC has beaten them three consecutive times in the tournament, you'd think Miami will be more than up for this game and playing with something to prove. They desperately want to beat a team with the word "Boston" on the front of their sweaters.

Should Miami be fortunate enough to advance, they would play the winner of the RIT/Wisconsin semifinal at 7pm Saturday night on ESPN.

What: Frozen Four National Semifinals
Who: #4 RIT (28-11-1) v. #1 Wisconsin (27-10-4) - 5pm ESPN2 (Thursday, April 8)
#1 Boston College (27-10-3) v. #1 Miami (29-7-7) - 8:30pm ESPN2 (Thursday, April 8)
Where: Ford Field, Detroit, Mich.

National Championship Game
7pm ESPN (Saturday, April 10)