FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Enrico Blasi looked onward from high atop Allen County War Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night. Blasi looked relaxed, sitting in the last row, leaning back with his legs draped over the seat in front of him.

Perched so high after his team’s win over Alabama-Huntsville, the Miami (Ohio) coach watched the beginning of the Michigan hockey team’s 5-1 dismantling of the No. 2 seed Bemidji State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines’ speed and precision methodically took advantage of the Beaver’s mistakes — just like they did a week earlier against Miami in the CCHA Tournament.

Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson told Blasi on Friday that the Wolverines did everything they could in the two teams’ CCHA semifinal matchup last weekend — which Michigan won 5-2 — to help the RedHawks prepare for the NCAA Tournament.

Maybe it was too much preparation, as the Wolverines lost 3-2 in double overtime Sunday night in what felt more like a heavyweight fight than a hockey game.

It was a bittersweet ending to a Cinderella run for the Wolverines, who had won seven straight games in March, entering Sunday, which propelled them into the NCAA Tournament and past Bemidji State in the first round. It was even more remarkable considering Michigan had been the lower seed in the past five contests — wearing its road blue uniforms away from Yost.

Michigan (26-18-1 overall) and Miami had already played each other three times this season and the play was as even as it could be throughout the NCAA Midwest regional final game. Each team was feeling the other out, with quick jabs here and there, as junior goaltender Shawn Hunwick and the RedHawks’ sophomore goalie Connor Knapp seemed to try to outdo each other on save after save.

But the save Hunwick couldn’t make made the difference.

Miami (29-7-7) carried the play for most of the third period with the score dead even at 2-2. The RedHawks watched a puck that bounced over Hunwick’s left shoulder clang off the post with three minutes left in the game. Then, less than three minutes into the first overtime, a referee blew a play dead for a penalty on Miami right before freshman forward Kevin Lynch knocked home a loose puck.

“I thought it was a goal,” senior defenseman Steve Kampfer said. “We were all jumping up and down on the bench. I don’t know. Right there and then you get the momentum, they’re down and out. And I think we applied a lot of pressure right after that. It’s hard to lose a game like that when you outplay a team in overtime.”

The Wolverines picked up their intensity in the first overtime while it seemed that Miami was playing more timidly, as Michigan outshot the RedHawks 20-6. But Knapp kept Miami in the game, stopping all of the Wolverines’ shots.
And so the fight continued.

The game was scoreless for nearly 60 minutes after Miami knotted the game at the beginning of the second period. That is, until a puck trickled under Hunwick’s pads for the game-winning goal.

“I think this (game) hurts the most,” Kampfer said. “On a standpoint of we weren’t supposed to be here, we had a great run going. And now, our season came to a halt fairly quickly. And it’s unfortunate it has to come like that.”

Michigan scored five goals on the CCHA Player of the Year, sophomore goaltender Cody Reichard, when the teams met at Joe Louis Arena on March 20. Sunday night, Blasi decided to go with Knapp and the netminder validated his coach’s decision, making 55 saves. Knapp’s counterpart, Hunwick, finished with a career-high 32 saves.

“You’re so close,” Berenson said. “If we would have gotten (to the Frozen Four), this team was really making believers out of everyone that two months ago wouldn’t have given us hope in heck of making a Ford Field, Frozen Four appearance. This would’ve been great. And it was great, but it’s not as good.”

And the Wolverines went toe to toe with the No. 1 seed in the entire NCAA Tournament Sunday for 82 minutes. They were a lucky bounce away from dancing all the way to Ford Field.

“It’s a fine line between winning (and losing),” Berenson said. “I don’t even feel like we lost. I feel so good about our team and what they’ve accomplished. … The thing I like about this team was that they really came together. There was no individual agendas. There was no one worried about the wrong things. Everybody was for the team. And that had to be a great feeling for these guys in the locker room. I know it was for me as a coach.”

A minute and 54 seconds into the second overtime, Michigan’s season was over and the climactic battle had finished.

Blasi’s seat was much closer on Sunday night, and he certainly witnessed one for the ages.

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