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For Miami, the second time against Michigan this post-season was the charm, and the one that means that the RedHawks continue to play.
One week after losing a CCHA semifinal game to the eventual Mason Cup-winning Wolverines, the RedHawks earned their first-ever playoff victory over Michigan when Alden Hirschfeld scored 1:54 into the second overtime of the Midwest Regional final, giving the ‘Hawks a 3-2 win and sending Miami to the Frozen Four for the second year in a row.
“I didn’t really know it went in until everyone started skating out,” said the Miami sophomore. “Coach kept telling us every chance we got to get the puck on net.”
After a scoreless first OT in which the Wolverines were the dominant team — UM outshot Miami 20-6 in the first extra period — Hirschfeld intercepted Brian Lebler’s clearing attempt from the boards on the opposite side of the left circle and fired the game-winner past Michigan goaltender Shawn Hunwick.
“The puck just kind of popped out,” said Hirschfeld, “and I picked it up around the top of the circle and I just shot it through on net and it went in.”
“What a heck of a battle tonight,” said Miami coach Enrico Blasi. “Obviously, it goes into overtime like that and one shot can win it for you.”
The RedHawks’ win ended Michigan’s improbable late-season run. After finishing seventh in the CCHA in 2009-10, the Wolverines needed to win the league’s playoff title to earn an auto-bid for the NCAA tournament. To do so, they compiled an eight-game win streak down the stretch in front of junior back-up, walk-on goaltender, Shawn Hunwick.
UM coach Red Berenson said that this season’s NCAA appearance, the Wolverines’ 20th consecutive showing, was especially meaningful.
“It’s a fine line between winning and losing. I feel so good about our team and what they accomplished. The thing I liked about this team is that they really came together. There were no individual agendas and everyone was for the team.”
The Wolverines and RedHawks battled closely all night, exchanging goals minutes apart in both the first and second periods. Miami’s Pat Cannone scored at 12:08 in the first on a RedHawks’ power play, burying Curtis McKenzie’s backhanded, backwards feed from behind the UM net. On the next shift, David Wohlberg answered for Michigan, forcing the puck in after he picked up his own rebound at 13:42.
Michigan took a 2-1 lead at :49 in the second period on Chad Langlais’ power-play goal, a rocket from the left point that got by a screened Knapp. Then, at 3:18, Cannone netted his second goal of the night, again with the man advantage, poking the puck beneath Hunwick, who couldn’t contain it with traffic in front of the net.
In the scoreless third period, the Wolverines looked like they had little left after playing the late contest Saturday.
“I thought they had us on our heels in the third period,” said Berenson. “In the overtime, I thought we had them on their heels, but it was one of those games.”
Michigan, who outshot the RedHawks 57-35, had plenty of chances in the first OT, a period in which Carl Hagelin had seven of his eight shots. At 2:37, Hagelin fed linemate Kevin Lynch, who put the puck in the net just after play was blown dead to assess a high-sticking penalty to Miami’s Joe Hartman.
“That’s a tough one to swallow,” said Berenson.
Then Matt Rust hit the crossbar at 12:38.
“You’re so close,” said Berenson. “This team was really making believers out of everyone that wouldn’t have given us a hope in heck of making that Frozen Four appearance.”
For the RedHawks, the return trip to the Frozen Four comes after an up-and-down, personal year. After watching a two-goal lead evaporate in the last minute of last year’s title game against Boston University, the RedHawks lost their student manager, Brendan Burke, to an auto accident in February.
“It feels like ten years ago,” said Blasi, “but it’s hard to believe that a year has gone by. I keep saying that everything happens for a reason.”
Blasi’s start of Knapp in net tonight drew some questions. The sophomore has shared time with classmate Cody Reichard, but Reichard saw most of the action through the second half of the season and the playoffs. He won last night’s game, but was pulled in favor of Knapp in last weekend’s CCHA semifinal contest against Michigan.
“Like I said yesterday, we have two number-one goalies,” said Blasi. “Tonight was Connor’s night, and we knew he would go in there and do exactly what he did. We reminded him that Michigan shoots from everywhere and to be ready. He was great all night.”
The Wolverines finished their season with a 26-18-1 record. The RedHawks (29-7-7) will face Boston College in the late semifinal game April 8 in Ford Field in Detroit.