Posted on: April 10, 2009 11:31 am
Edited on: April 10, 2009 11:42 am

Frozen Four: Cohesive RedHawks eye first title

WASHINGTON -- During a game he stands behind his team like Michael Corleone. He's calm, collected, yet ready to pounce if instigated.

I should know, I once instigated. Well, rather, I asked a stupid question.

It was one of my first assignments for the now-defunct student newspaper the High Street Journal in Oxford, Ohio and following a loss to Michigan State I asked coach Enrico Blasi what his RedHawks team did wrong.

"Wrong? We lost to a better team, simple. Anything else?" And that was it. He walked away after chewing me up and spitting me out. That's what happens when you mess with the don of Miami hockey.  

It's that same sense of authority, rather, sense of power that has guided the RedHawks to within one win of the school's first title in any sport. It's the same sense of controlled arrogance that makes Miami what it is.

It's The Brotherhood. The element that makes this group of men more than just a team. It’s a family atmosphere and talking with  players it’s the one common thread they identify to explain why Miami is one win away from the greatest sporting achievement in school history.

"I think the most important thing is bonding off the ice," said winger Tommy Wingels, who recorded two goals in the team's win over Bemidji State Thursday night. "You might not play with guys in your previous (junior) team, but spending time with them 250 days a year at the rink and outside the rink, it means a lot to the guys.  The better you get to know someone obviously the better chemistry you're going to have. Whether it's older guys, (Raymond) Eichenlaub and (Bill) Loupee, guys who have played before, it's just a connection we have."

It's more than just a connection, it's actually a written and signed oath to abide by The Brotherhood's code. The Code is a document that lives in the locker room and dictates the daily process that the players have developed.

It's about how to approach preparing for the ice:

"When we talk about experience,” Blasi said, “we talk about the juniors and seniors and sophomores that have been there before and played in this environment.  It really helps the freshmen understand right from day one what's expected.  So every day in preparation, the process is exactly that.  There's a purpose to what we do on and off the ice.  And so when our freshman are put in these situations, they know exactly what they need to do, because we've done it all year."

It's about how to approach preparing off the ice:

"We hold each other accountable and responsible for each other. It's really what Miami hockey culture is all about."

It's not just Miami's hockey culture. It's Miami campus culture. The school is known in sports circles for the stray professional athlete it produces and its Cradle of Coaches, but it's probably better known at the collegiate level for its dominant fraternity culture. The campus boasts four alpha houses for national fraternities and one alpha sorority. It doesn't sound like a big deal, but it's a rural campus and fraternity life engulfs the 17,000-plus student body. Blasi was a captain on the 1993-94 team and 18th on the school’s all-time scoring list. He's Miami through and through which is why it’s no surprise that a notion like brotherhood could have permeated from his time as a student at one of the most fraternity-laced campuses on the planet.

Or it could just be an Italian thing.

"I've always been a believer in family. Growing up in an Italian household that's pretty much instilled in me."

Whatever it is, it's working, as he's turned Southwest Ohio into a hotbed of hockey. The team is in its fourth straight NCAA tournament, it has the best combined record since the 2005-06 season and has a handful of players on the roster likely bound to join alums like Sharks all-pro defenseman Dan Boyle at the professional level. The team recently moved into a state-of-the-art hockey facility on campus featuring a club level among its 3,200 seats. Tickets to hockey games are some of the more sought-after in the Miami sporting scene and really, the program is legitimate for those who've followed the sport this decade. It was the Gonzaga, or Boise State of hockey. Some weird gem of a program, with some awkward name for a school, in some part of the country few pass through.

And Miami has become so because of Blasi. Because he’s preaches toughness:

“We're a physical team.  And when we're on, we're finishing checks and we're doing a good job defensively, and we're getting pucks deep.  And we're a good puck possession team, which, again, if we're on, we're wearing teams down just because we're playing well.”  

Because he puts the offensive system, defined by his “scoring areas,” above the individual.

“We try to execute our game plan, and if you're in the position where you can score a goal, then obviously we want you to score a goal. I think Bill Loupee, Alden Hirschfeld, they've put themselves in situations (vs. Bemidji). They've gone to what I call the scoring areas in front of the net.  And with all the good goaltending, you have to go to the net to score goals.  And those guys are certainly doing that.”  

Because he expects greatness.

“That's what our program stands for.  That's our culture.  We want to be the best we can be every day.”

And because he’s consistent. I remember some later conversations I had with Blasi while covering the team in college and he always stressed this notion of family. He’d rather talk to you about that than Xs and Os any day. It’s not something hokey to him. It’s not a cute slogan he’s adopted to shield a team of talented players from expectations. It’s a legitimate way of operating a hockey program. It’s his way of turning a marginal hockey school into something bigger. It’s the edge a school like Miami can, rather must, exploit to compete with the big dogs.

And if his players take down the Terriers Saturday night, he may just temporarily put aside one of his other defining characteristics: his rigidness.

“Maybe,” he says when asked if he’ll smile after a win Saturday.

Category: NHL
Posted on: January 2, 2009 12:13 pm
Edited on: January 2, 2009 1:36 pm

Don't let six losses fool you, ACC is rising

Fans of bowl season like to make a fuss over the strength of a conference. The Big Ten stinks. The SEC rocks. Why does J. Darin Darst love the Mountain West Conference oh, so much?

The ACC is not immune to such generalization, particularly when six of the 10 teams chalked up losses this bowl season. So what if Wake Forest, Maryland, Florida State and Virginia Tech all won? So what if the Hokies won a BCS game, their first in program history?

This is America where majority rules and six beats four. The ACC is just the Big Ten with an East Coast attitude.

Not so fast. If I'm a gambling man, I put big money on the ACC reversing those numbers next season. I say six wins, four losses. The year after that? Maybe eight wins, two losses. I say this because I look at the teams that won and I look at the teams that lost.

I see the winners and I see experience. Not with the players, but with the coaches. I see Bobby Bowden, he of 33 years in Tallahassee. I see Frank Beamer, he of 23 years in Blacksburg. And I see Ralph Friedgen and Jim Grobe, each head coaches in their respective towns since 2001.

I look at the losers and I see coaches rebuilding programs (Miami, UNC and N.C. State). I see coaches working to instill their philosophy in Boston College and Georgia Tech. And I see one bowl-losing program with a soon-to-be full-time coach in Clemson. All these schools, with all these issues all made it to bowl games. All, except Georgia Tech, came close to winning. All have bright futures.

The glass isn't just half full, it's going to overflow soon. The ACC is a sleeping giant, not a basketball conference masquerading as a made-for-football conference. This is a buy low opportunity for football fans.

Virginia Tech, Thursday night's Orange Bowl winner, featured 18 players with eligibility among its 22 starters. Miami was littered with freshman playing prominent roles, and the program led the country in touchdowns scored by first-year players. Its offense made big strides.  You going to bet against Butch Davis in Chapel Hill? Tom O'Brien with a massive state school athletic budget? Even Duke seems to be hell bent on maximizing what it can do with its football program.

But that's not the entire picture. You can't talk college football without talking money. Revenue for the conference increased 44.5 percent from $110.6 million in pre-expansion 2003-'04 to $159.8 million in 2006-'07, according to the Sports Business Journal. Recently, football finally passed basketball as the top moneymaker for the conference. Each school has seen their conference checks rise 7.5 percent since realignment. Virginia Tech, SBJ reports, pulled in $12 million in 2006-07, which is nearly double what it received in its final year in the Big East. Georgia Tech's Dan Radakovich tells the publication:

"The ACC does have a basketball reputation and a generation of people who have grown up with ACC basketball. While some of the new teams that came in might not have had great basketball histories, they've brought a lot of other things to the table ... sure, the ACC has taken some hits, but it has increased payouts which was the hope when it was done."

That's the kicker -- increased payouts. More money means better-funded programs, means more successful programs. The ACC is leaving its growing pains stage. It's maturing into a decent football conference and soon its product will likely surpass the Big Ten's. Don't believe me? Wait until the new TV deal for the conference is struck. There are two years left on the current deal, which pays the ACC $37 million annually. The Big Ten has a deal with ESPN that pays the conference $60 million annually. But as the ACC matures, and with TV suits seeing markets in Boston, Washington, Charlotte, Atlanta and Miami, a bigger deal just may be in the works.

Until then, the haters will speak of six losses, a lackluster Orange Bowl and vanilla programs in Charlottesville and College Park. But history will look at this era as one in transition -- a basketball power conference evolving into a balanced superconference. It took some lumps, but the future is only bright for the ACC. Just ask Frank Beamer, whose uber-successful Virginia Tech program can now claim a BCS win to its fame:

"People get tied up in this a little bit. We (the ACC) had the best non-conference record against opponents ever. When you play in this league every week you realize how good it's going to be. Most of the teams have a chance to get better too. If you play enough games the ACC is going to come out with their share of wins, and BCS wins."

On to the best CBSSports.com blogs ... around

Finally, somebody stands up for Joel Przybilla. 999's Sports Blog ranks JP as one of the NBA's most underrated players, or as I like to call them: The Ledell Eackles-es.  

The Eagle's Blog Has Landed breaks down the wild-card matchups, and the big question is which version of the blogger's Philly squad shows up in Minnesota.

Welcome back Mind of The Big B into the blogosphere. He has five resolutions for his Detroit Pistons, including having Allen Iverson come off the bench.

Can anybody argue that the NHL has the ultimate in-season event with the Winter Classic? In the Crease looks at the game, the reactions and comes to that conclusion.

Klick of the Day 

Kathy Griffin barks back  on NYE (NTSFW)

Posted on: September 10, 2008 12:51 pm
Edited on: September 10, 2008 12:55 pm

Miami juiced to take down Jose Canseco Street

Not one to personally know the ego-stroking enjoyment that comes from having a street named after myself; I'd imagine back in 1988 it was sort of a big deal when Miami decided to name Southwest 16th Street from 87th Avenue to 107th Avenue "Jose Canseco Street."Jose Canseco Street

Twenty years later, the id of local politicians is flexing its primitive ways, now doing their darndest to remove the name from parts of the thoroughfare. Did somebody say, "election in November, election in November?"

"I think it's an embarrassment," Miami-Dade County commissioner Joe Martinez told the Miami Herald. "It runs through my district, right by my office ... It's the fact that he did it, and he lied for such a long time. The book was just to make money."

The book, of course, is Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big, Canseco's tell-all tale of his and the league's steroid use during the past 20 or so years. The street, of course, was meant to honor one of Miami's homegrown Cuban talents and personalities. The irony, of course, is the Miami skyline was created as a way to launder money from the cocaine trade.

Now a political chip, Canseco was a god in 1988 Miami. Then again, on neighboring Calle Ocho, Miamians were juiced up, setting the Guinness Book of World Records that same year, forming the longest conga line (119,986 people).

On to the best CBSSports.com blogs ... around 

Last week the Big East didn't look so hot. This week the conference has a shot to solidify the ACC as college football's worst, says The Eagle's Blog Has Landed.

For the past three seasons, Terrell Owens has been on his best behavior in Dallas. Reason enough for Cowboys Fan: The good, bad, and ugly!! to blow up the T.O. myth.

What do Big Ben (whoa now), Terry Bradshaw, Steelers fans and Myron Cope have in common? They're all part of The Thoughts of a Gentledawg's Top 10 reasons why the blogger hates the Steelers.

Living in Athens, Georgia, perfection is the buzzing word of the land. What I do instead of work looks at the Bulldogs' shot at perfection, in perfect style.

Klick of the Day 

Clearly, Sarah Palin isn't even the best Palin for the job.

Category: MLB
Posted on: September 8, 2008 1:19 pm
Edited on: September 8, 2008 1:47 pm

MAC schools hang tough -- for a half

Akron 28, Syracuse 14. Ohio 7, Ohio State 6. Temple 6, Connecticut 0.  Pittsburgh 10, Buffalo 9. Minnesota 14, Bowling Green 10. Michigan 10, Miami U. 3. Iowa State 28, Kent State 21.

That's the halftime scoreboard for the Mid-American Conference last Saturday. Three teams leading vs. BCS schools and four within one score. That's the good. The bad is what you'd expect: only one of those teams, Akron, went on to win.

Mid-American Conference: Men against closing.

It's nothing new for the conference, granted, but it's a frustrating feeling for those few who follow it -- like being on a date with a woman out of your league, having everything go perfect at dinner. But at the local disco, you end up vomiting linguini all over her while dancing to Total's Kissing You and ending the night in front of your computer doing Google searches for "Nancy Marchand + naked + free site."

Playing tough for one half is nice, but playing Ford Tough for an entire game is a bit more fun. So what did we learn? Nothing we didn't already know: The Mid-American Conference is legit until midway through a game with most BCS schools and I'm a sucker for sitting around on Saturday expecting anything different.

Turner vs. L.T. update 

How about that Michael Turner? One excellent week (vs. the Lions, mind you) doesn't make a season, but I'm feeling solid on my bet that Turner would outperform L.T. this season.   To refresh, I need to win two of these three categories to collect my bottle of scotch:

100-yard games: LT 0, Turner 1
Total touchdowns: LT 0, Turner 2
Rushing yards: LT 97, Turner 220

On to the best CBSSports.com blogs ... around

Another Sunday, another episode between Browns and Steelers fans. Despite the two teams not even playing each other, The CBS Sportsline Fan Facebook shares a story from Columbus that starts with hope and ends with a Browns loss and a roughed-up loudmouth Steeler...

... who wasn't this lady -- The Steelers answered yes to some questions vs. the Texans -- O-line OK? Willie OK? Big Ben-Hines OK? -- which is why In Love with the Game, Mom's View feels OK saying: Welcome to Steelers football.

Browns bloggers are out chirping away. The Thoughts of a Gentledawg looks at the good (Chudzinski), the bad (linebackers) and the ugly (dropsies) from the Cowboys-Browns game.

In one of the more entertaining poll blogs, The Greek Speaks presents The Best Damn Poll In The Land Not So Top 10. Cracking the list this week, an ACC school ... not named Duke. Hint: it rhymes with Schmascharyland. (This blog is featured in the college football cover, FYI)

Klick of the Day

My name is Jean Claude Van Damme and I dance for you

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com