Guest Article: My Favorite Miami Hockey Moment
On the heels of the Miami Memories series from www.muredhawks.com, and the RedHawks upcoming series against the hated Michigan Wolverines, Guest Warrior @happygirl2525 brings us another of her guest articles. Let’s go back a few years with her…
Can you imagine Miami University without hockey? One of my favorite Miami memories is a hockey moment. And it almost never happened. It’s a shocking thought, but something that was discussed 20+ years ago.
The program was abysmal. In its first eight seasons in the CCHA, Miami had a losing record every season, going a collective 83-210-19 (I had to get out my calculator to double check my math on that loss column – just awful). The team was more known for its late-night parties and prowess at the Uptown watering holes than any success on the ice.
My first year at Miami, the 1990 – 91 season, George Gwozdecky’s second season as the Redskins head coach, the team went 5 – 29 – 3. You could show up 15 minutes past the opening faceoff of a Miami hockey game and get a seat in the third or fourth row behind the bench. The only lines waiting to get in to Goggin were students trying to register their broomball teams in the Co-Rec leagues.
We had two organized cheers, the obligatory Rock and Roll History Party 2 “We’re Gonna Beat the Hell Out of You,” and the “And they still suck,” cheer as the visiting team returned to full strength. I have horrible memories of being out-cheered in our own building by fans from Michigan and Michigan State.
Those were some dark days in Miami hockey history. But the tide was turning. Gwozdecky, the former assistant coach at Michigan State, was creating a new environment for Miami hockey that would revitalize the hockey program and captivate a university.
In October 1992, the Redskins started their season with road games the first two weekends, first taking on Alaska and then going up to East Lansing at month’s end to take on the Michigan State Spartans. The Redskins split the series with Alaska, which wasn’t too surprising. Alaska was trying to gain admission into the CCHA and had been about a .500 team.
The following weekend, the Redskins found themselves battling Coach Gwozdecky’s former school, NCAA hockey powerhouse, Michigan State. Something remarkable happened in East Lansing, Miami won both games, sweeping the Spartans. It was the first time we swept MSU. As a road series though, the excitement really didn’t have much of an affect on campus.
That November of 1992, the Redskins put together a nice little run, defeating the likes of Notre Dame, Kent State and Ohio State, but in our first two-game series versus the University of Michigan Wolverines, we tied the first game and lost the second. If you followed CCHA hockey during the 1990’s, you knew the road to the CCHA Championship went through Michigan, on its way up to the Joe.
For Miami to be taken seriously as a CCHA contender, it would need to win against the Michigan teams. Until then, we were just that “fake Miami,” the Wolverine fans kept calling us. Gwozdecky knew this. The players knew this. The students knew this. But for the first time, in a long time, people actually cared about that too.
During the holiday break, the Redskins played in a tournament out east, going up against those two Boston teams and then the University of Maine, whose roster included Paul Kariya and was one of the best teams in the nation. While we didn’t win the tournament, we held our own against the Maine Black Bears, giving the team a huge boost in confidence.
But still the fans were wondering if we would ever have that elusive win, at home, against those Michigan teams. That year, 1993, something magical happened and the Redskins faithful would be rewarded for their loyalty.
Returning back to campus, the Redskins would tie and then defeat the Lake Superior State Lakers in early January. The Redskins went on a winning streak, defeating their next five opponents, including Notre Dame, University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC), Michigan State, Western Michigan and Kent State. If you checked the standings, you would have seen that the Redksins were the third best team in the nation.
The ranking and the winning made the students start to notice our hockey team. On February 6, 1993, around 3 PM in the afternoon, a line started to build outside of Goggin. Students were waiting outside in the cold and sleet to see their Miami Redskins take on the second best team in the nation, the big, bad boys from Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan Wolverines. I took turns with several of my friends waiting in line to make sure we got in to see this game.
I mean, after all of the rotten, losing games I’ve watched, I deserved to see a good game. Michigan brought its fans down to Oxford by the bus load. I swear the middle of the stands was a sea of maize and blue, waiving their flags, chanting their little Michigan cheers, reminding us the “real” Miami was in Florida.
But we Miami students were not going to take it anymore. And as the Wolverine fans started one of their cheers, the Miami crowd started a cheer of its own, “Overrated.” Quickly, Michigan realized playing in Oxford, would no longer be so friendly.
Miami had a 3 – 2 lead going into the third but the Wolverines showed why they were ranked #2, when they tied it up in the third. Gwozdecky’s Redskins showed poise and never let the Wolverines take the lead and the game was tied at the end of regulation. It was such a hard fought battle and truly neither team “deserved” to lose.
Waiting for the Overtime period to begin, I was preparing for a loss. I told myself we at least got one point from those blue and maize cake eaters. And we shut their darn fans up – which was a huge win in my book. Regardless of the outcome, this was a huge battle won for my Redskins. I just didn’t realize how huge it was about to become.
Redskin fans didn’t have to wait long for this contest to be decided. Jason Mallon, who was definitely more of a mucker and grinder, put the puck into the Michigan net. The horn blew. The red light flashed. For a brief second, time stopped. Then the arena exploded. The team poured out on to the ice. I hugged people I’d never even seen before. Our lives were changed by a kid from Thunder Bay, Ontario, (where?) and Miami Hockey would never be the same.
Miami went on to win its first CCHA Regular Season Championship and qualify for its first NCAA Tournament. One of the most influential members of that Redskins team, Rico Blasi, would eventually come back to coach Miami.
It’s been 19 years since that season. To put that in perspective, current Miami center Austin Czarnik was not even two months old when this happened.
I’ve seen a lot of great Miami hockey moments since that day in February 1993. But for me, that will always be my favorite Miami hockey moment, watching Jason Mallon bury that puck against Michigan in OT, that look of exhilaration on his face, the Wolverine goalie slamming his stick in total frustration, the look of disdain on Red Berenson’s face, the tears pouring down my face, not to mention the drinks we had Uptown after the game.
Each time I walk into the new Goggin Ice Center, I think about that, how far this program has come in such a short time. It makes me proud to be a Miamian and a proud supporter of The Brotherhood.