History offers a potentially valuable lesson for CCHA champion Miami.
The RedHawks, the top seed at the 2011 NCAA Northeast Regional in Manchester, N.H., will open their pursuit of an NCAA Championship on Saturday afternoon against regional host New Hampshire. However, it wasn’t that long ago that the roles were reversed, conveniently enough, at Verizon Wireless Arena.
In 2007, the RedHawks made the second of three straight appearances in the Northeast Regional. Still reeling from a CCHA quarterfinal loss to Lake Superior, the RedHawks were seeded fourth in Manchester, and matched up against the host Wildcats. The RedHawks got goals from Nathan Davis and Ryan Jones, Jeff Zatkoff made 43 saves, and Miami upset New Hampshire, 2-1.
Five years later, the roles are reversed, but as he prepares to guide the RedHawks on Saturday, Miami head coach Enrico Blasi doesn’t see much point in reflecting on the past, especially since he doesn’t see UNH as any kind of No. 4 seed.
“All I know is that UNH is not a 4-seed,” Blasi said. “We’re playing a great team, and we’re in their building. I don’t think it gets much clearer than that. Nobody from that team is on this team that played in New Hampshire, and nobody on their  team is on their team. It’s a whole new year, and we don’t consider UNH a 4-seed. We know exactly what they can do.”
Indeed, Blasi’s team is very familiar with the Wildcats, as Saturday’s game will mark the fifth meeting between Miami and UNH in the last two years. Miami beat and tied UNH on campus in Durham last season, and the teams split a pair of games to open this season at Steve Cady Arena. On Saturday in Manchester, the teams will have a rubber match, with the right to keep playing on the line.
“You could easily put a No. 1 seed on UNH and a No. 4 seed on Miami,” Blasi said. “This is two good teams going at it, and I think it will be one of the better games in the first round, but everybody’s a great team when you’re talking about the national tournament.”
The game could also have a significant impact on the race for the Hobey Baker award, as Miami’s Andy Miele (24g, 47a) and Carter Camper (19g, 37a) and UNH’s Paul Thompson (28g, 24a) are all finalists for the award. However, individual awards are the least of anyone’s worries at this time of year.
“I don’t know about the Hobey,” Blasi said, “but we’ve got our hands full with Paul Thompson and the rest of the cast that UNH has.”
For UNH head coach Dick Umile, the feeling is mutual.
“They are a very very skilled team,” Umile said. “We’re all familiar with Miele and Camper, but you know, [Reilly] Smith has has twenty eight goals and is up there fifty four points. [Pat] Cannone’s got thirty-seven. They’re just a very talented team. They are a team that has been to the Frozen Four the past two seasons. Obviously, they are well coached and it is a challenge, but you know, were familiar we are excited to be in the tournament.”
The excitement may be even greater at Merrimack, as the Warriors will be playing in the tournament this year for the first time since 1988, facing Notre Dame in the second semifinal on Saturday. Still, as his team prepares to take on the Fighting Irish, head coach Mark Dennehy knows that the challenge has just begun for the Warriors.
“There isn’t a soft opponent left,” Dennehy said. “[The Irish] are a very disciplined team with skilled guys. They are a storied program that is on the rise as well. No one prepares their team as well as Coach [Jeff] Jackson and his staff.”
Where the Miami-UNH game features seniors like Thompson, Camper and Miele, to name a few, youth is the story of the day with the Warriors and the Irish. Merrimack sophomore Stephane Da Costa is ninth in the country in points per game at 1.38 (14g, 30a in 32 games), while Notre Dame boasts national rookie scoring leader T.J. Tynan (22g, 30a in 41 games) and the fourth player on the list, Anders Lee (22g, 19a in 41 games). However, while Da Costa and goaltender Joe Cannata get most of the attention for the Warriors, Dennehy knows that his defense is ready to handle the Irish’s young talent.
“It’s pretty safe to say that Adam Ross would be in the league leaders for blocked shots if we kept track of who was blocking shots,” Dennehy said. “Karl Stollery plays Herculean minutes for us. We feel like we have three great defensive pairs and a great goaltender.”
Still, as prepared as his team is, Dennehy knows that making it out of Manchester and advancing to the Frozen Four will be a tall order.
“I’ve been quoting Henry Kissinger of late,” Dennehy said. “‘Each success only buys an admission ticket to a more difficult problem.’ It’s, ‘Congratulations, you made the NCAA tournament. Now, your team’s going to play a Notre Dame team that’s been in the tournament the last five years coached by one of the great all-time coaches in college hockey, and if you’re lucky enough to move on, you get UNH at UNH or a Miami team that just seems to be running teams over.’ We’ve got our hands full.”
So does everyone else in Manchester.