Photo contributed by David Sherman, Miami University Athletics
A Blake Coleman hat trick led No. 6 Miami University hockey to a 3-2 victory over No. 18 St. Cloud State University in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Championship Saturday.
The RedHawks (25-13-1) claimed their second conference title in school history and their first as a member of the NCHC.
The victory secures the conference autobid and a top seed in the NCAA tournament.
"I couldn't be more proud of the entire team," head coach Enrico Blasi said in the post-game press conference. "We talked about being a team all week, and it was going to take a team effort to win the championship. I think we left it all on the ice."
Coleman was ejected from the game midway through the second period after a hit to senior forward Joe Rehkamp's head and a game misconduct penalty. The major penalty gave SCSU a five-minute power play, but Miami killed the penalty.
"It was the most stressful game I've ever played in," the senior center said. "I could never be a coach, I don't think, because that was just absolutely terrible…I'm so proud of the team. I put us in a tough situation and they bailed us out. It takes a team to win these championships, so I'm just really thankful that my teammates had my back and that we're able to celebrate together."
Coleman was named the NCHC Tournament MVP. Senior center Austin Czarnik and rookie defenseman Louie Belpedio joined Coleman on the NCHC All-Tournament Team.
Junior forwards Joey Benik and Jonny Brodzinski scored for the Huskies (19-18-1). SCSU had numerous chances to score an equalizing goal, but it did not capitalize on the five-minute power play in the second frame and mustered just one shot on goal in three power plays in the third.
MU junior goaltender Jay Williams saved 18 of 20 shots for his third-straight win.
Though Miami came out on top, their physical play did not leave them unscathed. Junior right-wing Riley Barber left the game with a leg injury after notching two assists. Blasi said Barber's status is unknown. By NCAA rules, Coleman will not play in the first round of the NCAA tournament. His third game misconduct of the season earned him a one-game suspension.
"It was a special [night] for sure, until he got that penalty," Czarnik said with a laugh. "He was hot all night … it was a great night for him. He's done it all year, and I'm proud to be standing here right now."
Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter
Blasi did not comment on Coleman's suspension, but he did say that physical play is necessary when playing in a championship game.
"These opportunities don't come every day," Blasi said. "To say that you want to play a game where you're not going to give it everything you have and not be physical and worry about injuries, that wouldn't be the right way to play the game. That would be cheating the game. That's cheating life. These guys sign up to play for the brotherhood of Miami; they sign up to be champions in every aspect of their life. We go out and we play hard every night, it doesn't matter what it is. You get an opportunity to play a championship, you leave it all on the line."
The RedHawks arrived in the tournament final after defeating defending champion No. 5 University of Denver in the semifinals Friday night. Eleven RedHawks recorded at least one point in the win.
MU moves to No. 4 in the Pairwise rankings, earning a No. 1 seed in the East Region for the NCAA Tournament. It is the team's tenth tournament appearance in the last 12 years.
The 'Hawks play No. 14 Providence College (22-13-2) in the first round Saturday. Puck drop is 6:30 p.m. at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island.
"It's a really exciting moment for us," Czarnik said. "It's our first time being the No. 1 seed in our four years. We're happy about it, but we have a tough task ahead of us for next week, so we have to get to work right away."