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Fourth-seeded Miami shocks Denver in NCAA West semifinal

by Staff
Fourth-seeded Miami of Ohio dominated top-seeded Denver for most of the game and skated off with a 4-2 victory in the first semifinal at the NCAA West Regional at Minneapolis.

The RedHawks will play Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday night for a berth in the Frozen Four in Washington on April 9. The Bulldogs trailed Princeton 4-2 with 40 seconds to go in regulation, but tied the game with a pair of sixth-attacker goals and won 5-4 in overtime on a power-play goal by Mike Connolly.

Miami used a puck-possession game to limit Denver's opportunities. The Pioneers' 18 shots on goal was a season low.

"We thought going into the game one of the things we could do is possess the puck because of the extra ice that’s out there" on the Mariucci Arena's Olympic-sized rink, said Miami coach Enrico Blasi, a former assistant at Denver. “When we are on we are a puck possession team. We pride ourselves on defense as well, but when we’re on we posses the puck very well."

Denver, which won the NCAA title in 2004 and 2005, finished the season 23-12-5, with back-to-back losses. The Pioneers have lost both of their NCAA Tournament games since winning the 2005 championship. They were the second No. 1 seed to lose Friday -- Michigan, the top seed in the East, was beaten 2-0 by Air Force.

Miami came into the tournament on a 2-4-1 skid that included a loss in the first round of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs. But it limited Denver to just 13 shots until the Pioneers pulled goalie Marc Cheverie for an extra attacker with about six minutes to play and the RedHawks ahead 4-1.

Denver center Tyler Bozak, returning from a 21-game absence due to a knee injury, made it 4-2 by scoring on a power play with 4:48 left, but the Pioneers couldn't score again.

"We got off to a slow start and could never recover,” Denver coach George Gwozdecky said. “We had trouble generating scoring chances and Miami did an excellent job in its coverages. Give Miami credit for a good game plan and the win."

Miami, now 21-12-5, grabbed a 2-0 lead after one period. Justin Mercier's perfectly placed wrist shot from between the circles beat Cheverie at 7:28. Fourth-liner Alden Hirschfeld doubled the lead at 18:04 by tapping in Kevin Roeder's passout.

Bill Loupee made it 3-0 at 5:36 of the second before the Pioneers got on the board late in the period when center Joe Colborne redirected Patrick Wiercioch's shot behind Cody Reichard for a power-play goal at 17:29.

However, the RedHawks capitalized on a fortunate bounce to regain their three-goal left before the end of the period. Andy Miele's high wrist shot from the left wing hit off the glass behind Cheverie, took a funny bounce and landed in front of the left post, where Miele banged it in with 32.7 seconds remaining in the period.

It was a sweet win for Blasi, who was an assistant under Gwozdecky at Denver before taking the Miami job in 1999.

“I can only say that coach and I go back a long way," Blasi said. "Everybody makes a big deal about us playing each other, but when we talk during the week we don’t talk about hockey. For me, he has been like a second father. Obviously, my mentor in coaching and we had a good time last night when we got a chance to get together. At the end of the night, we knew that one would be going home disappointed. If you are going to be disappointed it is better to be disappointed losing to someone you love.”

Said Gwozdecky: "It’s a little bit like coaching against your son. There was no question that you could see the passion, the fire, and leadership abilities that he provided as a player. A friend of mine once said, 'You may not have the best of everything, but you make the best of what you have.' That's what Enrico has done. He believes in it."

UMD pulled off a rally for the ages to beat Princeton and advance to the regional final.

Princeton led 4-2 before Jack Connolly scored with 39.4 seconds left to cut the margin to one goal. UMD (22-12-8) then controlled the puck in the Tigers' zone, and Evan Oberg tied it with 0.8 seconds to go, coming out from behind the net and beating Zane Kalemba with a wrist shot from the lower left circle.

"Our bench kept saying, 'It's not done, we can do it,'" coach Scott Sandelin said, "and we got it done."

Both sides had chances before Princeton forward Cam MacIntyre was called for tripping at 13:23 of overtime. Just 16 seconds later, a pass from the left side found Mike Connolly all alone near the right post, and hit the wide-open net, setting off a celebration from the largely pro-UMD crowd.

"I got open off the back post and was able to put it into an empty net," Connolly said.
Connolly said the Bulldogs were sure they'd win in overtime after rallying to extend the game.

"Once we got it into overtime, we knew the game was ours," he said.

Andrew Carroll and Brady Lamb also scored, and Alex Stalock made 27 saves for UMD. Brett Wilson had two goals, Derrick Pallis and Brandon Kushniruk also scored, and Kalemba stopped 30 shots for Princeton (22-12-1).

"Unfortunately, we had something like that happen a week ago against Cornell," Wilson said. "Obviously, we have a pretty empty feeling right now. We wanted to give Princeton its first-ever NCAA win after getting here two years in a row."

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