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Miami vs. Michigan

It’s that time of year again: the NCAA men’s college hockey championships are underway. We’ve been saturated with coverage of the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments, both of which have been in the round of 16 this weekend, so you might have missed the fact that this is also round-of-16 weekend in men’s hockey. And as I write, an amazing game is taking place, the last of the four regional finals, Miami University versus the University of Michigan. The second overtime has just begun. I’m typing in one screen while watching it on another.

[Well, it just ended, in the second minute of second overtime.]

Last April, I wrote a long post about college hockey in the aftermath of the championship matchup between Miami and BU. You may recall that Miami had a 3-1 lead in that game with 59 seconds left. BU proceeded to score two goals, 42 seconds apart, forcing an overtime in which they won. I have a special attachment to Miami hockey, thanks to my friendship with the university’s president. I also have an attachment to Boston hockey and an affection for all four of the major Boston college teams (Harvard, BU, BC, Northeastern), having spent so many years there and watched so many of their games. But I suffered with Miami after their loss, and looked forward to greater success this year.

So far so good. Miami has been ranked #1 for much of the season, occasionally slipping to #2 after a loss and then regaining the top ranking. In their conference tournament two weeks ago, they were upset by Michigan in the semi-finals, but despite that loss, they were given the #1 seed overall for the NCAA tournament.

Let me explain how the tournament works. Sixteen teams are invited, sent in foursomes to four sites for the four regional tournaments. The four top-ranked teams are split up, each one sent to a different regional site and given that regional’s #1 seed. The other three teams in each region are given seeds #2 through #4 for that region, with the #1 seed playing #4 and #2 playing #3. It’s single elimination — the losers go home, the winners face off in the regional final to determine who goes on to the frozen four. (Yes, that’s right, in hockey the semi-final and final rounds are called the frozen four, not the final four.)

The tournament committee ranked the top four teams, in order, as follows: Miami, Denver, Wisconsin, BC. In the East Regional, fourth seed Rochester Institute of Technology shocked Denver 2-1 in the first round two nights ago, then beat third seed New Hampshire 6-2 yesterday to advance to the frozen four. The West Regional held to form, with first and second seeds Wisconsin and St. Cloud State winning their opening games, and Wisconsin then beating St. Cloud in a close game to earn its spot in the frozen four. (I watched the end of this one, thanks to Joel. The regional games are all on ESPNU, but ESPNU is not part of our cable package. Joel, however, showed me how to get catch the ESPNU broadcast online.)

The Northeast Regional was exciting. Third seeded Yale beat traditional power and second seed North Dakota 3-2 in a thriller, while first seed BC beat Alaska. Today, in a wild one, BC beat Yale 9-7 to advance to the frozen four. BC was the national champion two years ago, but didn’t make the field last year.

That leaves the Midwest Regional, the one I most cared about. Yesterday, Miami beat fourth seed Alabama-Huntsville 2-1 in an unexpectedly close game, while third seed Michigan wiped out second seed Bemidji State 5-1, setting up tonight’s final between Miami and Michigan. I wasn’t able to start watching until midway through the third period, at which point the game was tied 2-2. Miami had a shot off the post with 3:00 left in regulation time that looked like it was going in, but somehow it didn’t. Early in the first overtime, play was stopped by the ref’s whistle just as Michigan scored. The ref had lost sight of the puck, which it appeared might have been smothered by the Miami goalie, so the whistle was blown. But the puck was free and, just as the whistle blew, a Michigan player put the puck in the net. It didn’t count. Michigan dominated the rest of the first overtime, but couldn’t score. As the second overtime began, I started writing this post. And then it was over. In the second minute, Miami scored and the game was over.

A painful loss for Michigan, but a well-deserved victory for Miami. I was exchanging messages with David (the Miami president) late in the game, which added to the excitement, hearing from someone watching the game in person. On to Detroit for the frozen four.

As the #1 overall seed, Miami will face BC, #4, in one of the semi-final games. Wisconsin, at #3, plays the surprising R.I.T. team, which took the place of #2 Denver. These games will be on ESPN2, so we’ll be able to watch them on TV rather than through a web stream. I recommend you watch them too. There will be some great hockey.

And remember, root for Miami. They deserve your support. Go Redhawks!

Categories: Hockey, Sports
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