They’ve been playing professional hockey at Memorial Coliseum for 58 years. Sunday night’s game featured amateurs, but it will certainly go down as one of the all-time classics ever played on the Coliseum’s ice.
In the finals of the NCAA Midwest Regional, being held in Fort Wayne for the first time, Miami of Ohio won a 3-2 double-overtime thriller over Michigan and earned a trip to the Frozen Four.
Sophomore left wing Alden Hirschfeld netted the game-winning goal by wristing the puck from the left circle. It squeaked through the legs of goaltender Shawn Hunwick at the 1:54 mark, propelling the RedHawks (29-7-7) to their second straight Frozen Four appearance.
“I didn’t even actually know it went in, right away, not until I saw the ref make the call. Then, everybody just started skating out,” Hirschfeld said. “Obviously, it was an unbelievable feeling. We fought hard all night. Coach (Enrico Blasi) kept tell us, ‘Every chance we get, just keep shooting the puck on net.’ Luckily enough, I got it on net and it went in.”
Miami, the top-seeded team in the tournament, will play fourth-seeded Boston College at Ford Field in Detroit on April 8.
Michigan came into the game as the hottest team in the nation, having won seven straight games, including the Central Collegiate Hockey Association tournament, just to get to Fort Wayne.
Then they manhandled Bemidji State 5-1 on Saturday.
“It was one of those games where someone was going to win it sooner or later,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “I’m proud of our team. They had a terrific run here the last month. All I can say is everybody left everything they had out on the ice. The puck could have gone in for us and it didn’t, but it did for (Miami).”
Hunwick had been the star during Michigan’s recent run, having never started a game before February, and he stopped 32 of 35 shots on Sunday. At the other end of the ice, Miami’s Connor Knapp stopped 53 of 55 shots.
“We knew Connor would go in there and do exactly what he did,” Blasi said. “We reminded them this morning that Michigan shoots from everywhere, and you have to be ready. He was ready, right off the bat.”
The Wolverines (26-18-1) asserted their will in the opening seconds, getting a flurry of shots on net, but Knapp foiled Matt Rust and Kevin Lynch from point-blank range.
Knapp’s early heroics set the stage for Miami to take the first lead.
During a power play at 12:08 of the first period, Curtis McKenzie sent a pass out from behind the net and Pat Cannone one-timed it into the top of the goal for a 1-0 lead.
Michigan answered 1:34 later as David Wohlberg took a shot from the slot, got to his own rebound and banged it past Knapp.
The Wolverines took a 2-1 lead 49 seconds into the second period, during a power play, when Chad Langlais’ shot from just inside the blue line sailed into the top of the net.
But the back-and-forth action continued between these conference rivals, with Cannone fighting his way through a scrum in front of the net to sweep the puck underneath Hunwick and tie it at 2 at 3:18 of the second period.
A crowd of 3,204 attended the game, after attendance for Saturday’s semifinal games were announced at 4,133. Fort Wayne’s pro team, the Komets, average 7,891 fans per game.
The atmosphere was intense between fans from these rival schools, even as Miami dominated the action late in the third period, only to see Hunwick make 12 saves in the frame.
Miami’s best chance to score came at the 17-minute mark, when Cannone’s spinning backhand shot from the left circle ricocheted off the right post.
In overtime, a rejuvenated Michigan team thought it had won the game at 2:37, when Carl Hagelin made a wraparound shot and Lynch crashed the net to tuck it into the back of the net. But the whistle had blown because the referee lost sight of the puck before Lynch got to it, a ruling affirmed through instant replay.
Despite its dominance in puck possession, the RedHawks had to be strong penalty killers, fighting off a power play in the last two minutes of regulation and early into overtime.Miami was 2 for 6 on the power play. Michigan was 1 for 7.
Hagelin had another great chance to end the game, stealing the puck 10:49 into overtime, but Knapp foiled two shots from close range.
Michigan’s Rust also got some premature celebrations going, as his shot from 18 feet out hit the post at 12:42.