Enrico Blasi smiled Sunday night. After a long, emotional season, the Miami University hockey coach felt it was the most logical thing to do.
“This isn’t the end of the world,” Blasi said after his RedHawks fell one win short of the NCAA Frozen Four, losing 4-1 to St. Cloud State in the Midwest Regional championship game at the Huntington Center. “This is 18 freshmen and sophomores. The senior class did an unbelievable job.
“We won a (Central Collegiate Hockey Association) championship, which is hard to win. We got to a regional final, which is not easy to do. And we lost to a great St. Cloud team. We’ve been on the other side of things, too, so I think you’ve got to take the good with the bad.”
Blake Coleman had the lone goal for No. 2 seed MU, which couldn’t recover from a 2-0 deficit and finished 25-12-5. The RedHawks said goodbye to seniors Steven Spinell, Marc Hagel, Garrett Kennedy, Joe Hartman, Curtis McKenzie and Steve Mason.
The fourth-seeded Huskies (25-15-1), coached by former Miami assistant Bob Motzko, got two goals from Most Outstanding Player Joey Benik and are headed to their first Frozen Four in Pittsburgh.
“It stings right now,” Blasi said. “There’s nothing I can say to these guys that’s going to make them feel any better. But (today), when I design a championship ring for them and they get one, that’s special.
“You tell me why they should feel sorry for themselves. No way. I’m extremely proud of them. We have a statement in our locker room: You leave the program better than you found it, and guess what? They left the program better than they found it.”
Ryan McKay collected 18 saves in net for the RedHawks, who got outshot 22-21. St. Cloud goalie Ryan Faragher (20 saves) turned in a superlative effort, and teammate Cory Thorson tallied two goals, including an empty-netter with 0.2 seconds left.
“The fact that the majority of our team is young doesn’t mean anything,” McKay said. “We never said once this year, ‘Oh, we’re freshmen. If we win a few games, whoopty do.’ We never used that as an excuse. At the end of the day, we’re all college hockey players. It doesn’t matter if you’re 18 or 25.
“We ran into a team in St. Cloud that I felt got some bounces tonight, and our season ended. This is a tough pill to swallow like any season when you don’t win it all.”
It was a momentous day for the Huskies, who were 1-9 in eight NCAA appearances before coming to Toledo and eliminating Notre Dame and Miami, the CCHA’s last two remaining teams.
“I’m spent. I really am,” said Motzko, who coached Blasi for two seasons in Oxford. “It’s an emotional week, and I think it’s going to hit me more when we get back to St. Cloud. That third period in my eyes took two hours, holding onto a two-goal lead.
“I’m so proud of these guys. This program needed to cross that hurdle. These teams roll around … not every year. Their compete level and their work level — they’re just phenomenal guys. We have 16 all-academic kids, and we have no babysitting on this team. I can’t say enough about the character on this hockey team.”
The Huskies will meet Quinnipiac and Yale will face Massachusetts Lowell in the national semifinals. The RedHawks, meanwhile, will take a deep breath and move into the offseason.
“It was a great ride, starting at the end of last season and all through the summer and the beginning of the year,” said Spinell, MU’s captain. “I think we came together quickly. It’s been an amazing run. It’s been a great team to play with.”
This was Hagel’s only season at Miami after a solid career at Princeton.
“For me, it’s been a whirlwind starting in August, and it’s been a blast the whole time,” Hagel said. “I was fortunate to join these guys and have a great senior season.”