There was something more than joy in the way Miami (Ohio) forward Alden Hirschfeld's teammates swarmed him and pounded him on the back after his wrist shot sneaked past Michigan goalie Shawn Hunwick at 1:54 of double overtime in the NCAA Midwest Regional final on Sunday in Fort Wayne, Ind. With their 3--2 victory, the RedHawks earned the right to play Boston College in the Frozen Four semifinals on April 8 in Detroit—and to continue their emotional quest for a national title.
Miami had departed for Fort Wayne last Thursday, two days before its opening-round win over Alabama-Huntsville. A little over an hour north of their Oxford campus, the RedHawks' bus pulled over on U.S. 35, near Richmond, Ind. It was there that Brendan Burke, the popular student manager and son of Maple Leafs G.M. Brian Burke (SI, March 1, 2010), had been killed in February when the car he was driving collided with a truck. The players solemnly surveyed the site, then placed a cross, made from a hockey stick, into the ground. The stick bore a Miami m, as well as a green clover and the name BURKIE. "It was something we had to do," says coach Enrico Blasi, now in his 11th season at Miami. "It gave us a chance for closure. Now we honor Brendan by playing our game."
Even before Burke's death, the RedHawks were close. In last year's championship game, Miami, on the verge of its first NCAA team title in any sport, blew a 3--1 lead in the final minute against Boston University, then lost in overtime when a deflected wrist shot fluttered past goalie Cody Reichard. Blasi often tells his players they are part of a brotherhood, and after that collapse the 18 returning players took his philosophy to heart.
Throughout the off-season Blasi reminded his team it belonged in Detroit. Five of the RedHawks' top six scoring forwards were back, as well as four defensemen who were freshmen in 2009. Blasi also had the nation's best goaltending tandem, with the athletic Reichard, a finalist for this year's Hobey Baker Award, and the imposing 6'5" stand-up specialist Connor Knapp.
But Miami, ranked No. 1 for 18 weeks, stumbled late, falling to Michigan 5--2 in the CCHA tournament semis. Against Alabama-Huntsville, Blasi stuck with Reichard, who had lost to the Wolverines eight days before. The sophomore stopped 16 shots in a 2--1 victory. For the regional final Blasi switched to Knapp, who made 55 saves, including on a pair of breakaways by Michigan sniper Carl Hagelin.
Blasi's next goaltending pick will be crucial: BC has scored 19 goals in its last three games. The Eagles also knocked Miami out of the tournament in 2006, and again the next two seasons. (In the other semifinal, upstart Rochester Institute of Technology, a No. 4 seed and the only non--No. 1 in the Frozen Four, will face explosive Wisconsin.) "[Last year's final] feels like 10 years ago," says Blasi. "I keep saying everything happens for a reason."
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