MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Something had to give. Miami and New Hampshire were the only two D-1 schools to win games in the 2009 and 2010 NCAA tournaments. But the Red Hawks seemingly had the edge, winning their last four regional semifinals, dating back to a 2-1 win over none other than the Wildcats, in Manchester during the 2007 tournament.
Saturday, No. 4 seed New Hampshire (22-10-6) turned the tables on their guests, and got some measure of redemption, taking their Northeast Regional semifinal match against No. 1 seed Miami (23-10-6), 3-1, at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, NH. And they did it with discipline, avoiding the penalty box, and defense, allowing only 22 shots on goaltender Matt DiGirolamo while blocking more than 20.
"They did a great job sacrificing their bodies, and blocking a lot of shots," said Miami senior captain Carter Camper.
"We knew it was going to be tough coming in here, and we knew they'd have the home crowd," said Miami's stellar goaltender, Cody Reichard. "We just didn't execute."
The Wildcats, however, did. "We probably played as well as we have all season, start to finish," said UNH coach Dick Umile.
New Hampshire's win also assures that the 2011 Frozen Four in St. Paul will have a completely different look, as none of last year's semifinalists are still in the tournament after Boston College and Miami got knocked out in the opening round this weekend (Wisconsin and RIT did not make the field of 16).
"We're focused on one thing right now," said UNH's Mike Sislo, who scored the third-period game-winner for the Wildcats. "You look forward to these opportunities, and we took advantage of our opportunity."
The Red Hawks came into the NCAAs red hot, riding a 13-game unbeaten streak (10-0-3). "We've been playing on such a high for so long," said Miami coach Enrico Blasi. "It just wasn't our night, and I take full blame for that."
"UNH outplayed us tonight," said Blasi.
The teams feature three of the 10 Hobey Baker finalists, including UNH's Paul Thompson and Miami's Andy Miele and Camper. Sure enough, the Verizon crowd didn't have to wait long for the Red Hawks to open the scoring.
Miami's Camper dug the puck out of the deep left corner, and whipped a pass to the low slot. Teammate Bryan Paulazzo corralled it, and snapped a shot that beat UNH goalie Matt DiGirolamo, but clanged off the post. Paulazzo was quicker to pounce on the rebound, and tucked it into the net for a 1-0 Miami lead at 53 seconds.
The Wildcats answered exactly a minute later. UNH's Matt Campanale rifled a shot from the left face-off circle that flew behind the Miami net but ricocheted off the backboards to an unmarked Kevin Goumas. The freshman wasted no time, flicking the puck off of Miami's Reichard to tie the game, 1-1, at 1:53.
"That was real important," said Umile of the first goal. "The guys on the bench got real excited after that."
The Wildcats appeared to have taken a 2-1 lead at 6:27, when high-scoring forward Paul Thompson drove hard behind the Red hawk net and threw a pass out front that deflected off Sislo's skate and behind Reichard. However, after video review, the on-ice officials determined that Sislo intentionally redirected the puck, and took the goal off the scoreboard.
Reichard then stoned UNH's Stevie Moses on a point black bid at 13:10, keeping the game deadlocked. That's how the period ended, despite the promise of pyrotechnics from these two offensively gifted squads.
"We had the confidence, it was a question of putting it together," said Umile.
Both teams stepped up defensively in the second stanza, starting with UNH's Connor Hardowa breaking up a Miami 2-on-1 with a sweeping stick check, and Reichard following up with a sparkling pad-stack stop on a clean Sislo breakaway at the 4:30 mark.
The Wildcats showed their quick-strike capabilities to start the third. UNH's Blake Kessel threaded a tremendous diagonal cross-ice pass down low to Sislo, who slipped in behind the Red Hawk defense and tapped the puck past Reichard for a 2-1 Wildcat lead at 39 seconds.
"It was a great pass," said Sislo. "That's the kind of play you dream about as a forward."
Miami's Alden Hirschfeld kept the Red Hawks within one, blocking Thompson's sure-fire bid with Reichard out of position at 3:30. Seven minutes later, with UNH's Stevie Moses in the box for hooking, Paulazzo hit his second post of the night, but this time the puck stayed out.
From that point, it was the DiGirolamo Show, as the junior netminder preserved the Wildcats' win and a spot in the Northeast Regional final.
The Wildcats only allowed 22 shots to get through to DiGirolamo, constantly frustrating a team that came into the NCAAs ranked in the top five in the nation for offense. Told that his teammates had blocked 20 shots, DiGirolamo said: "It was unbelievable. I love it when they block shots."
The win guaranteed the Wildcats a spot in a Regional final for the third straight year. However, they haven't made the Frozen Four since 2003, when they lost to Minnesota in the finals, 5-1.
"It's all about the next step, and that's all we're going to focus on right now" said UNH coach Umile. "We just want to win that next game, and move on."
Brion O'Connor covers college hockey for ESPNBoston.com.