- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Count the players and coaches at Vermont and Miami (Ohio) among those who don't buy the theory that a team needs to enter the NCAA tournament playing its best hockey.

The Catamounts and RedHawks limped into the postseason after losing on home ice in the quarterfinals of the Hockey East and Central Collegiate Hockey Association tournaments, respectively.

But instead of continuing the slide and quickly bowing out of the postseason, Vermont and Miami used the extra week off to regroup and won two games each to advance to the Frozen Four at Verizon Center.

Miami plays Bemidji State on Thursday at 5 p.m., and Vermont faces Boston University at 8:30 p.m.

Whereas Boston University (15-1-3 in previous 19 games) and Bemidji State (7-1 in previous eight games) entered the tournament on a roll, things weren't looking great for Vermont and Miami.

The Catamounts traveled to Bridgeport, Conn., on a three-game losing streak.

The RedHawks headed to Minneapolis in a 2-4-1 slump.

Now both teams are two wins from what would be the first national title for either program.

Vermont squandered three separate one-goal leads in the regular-season finale and lost to New Hampshire in overtime.

“That was a tough loss for us,” coach Kevin Sneddon said. “We had the game in hand and blew the lead and lost in overtime. That was a tough one to swallow because we felt we had a good chance of sweeping UNH.”

The next weekend, the Catamounts were swept by Lowell in the Hockey East tournament.

“We knew we had a tough matchup against Lowell because they were probably the hottest team in the league aside from BU,” Sneddon said. “Our players realized we didn't do the little details to win a playoff series.”

Vermont had 13 days between games, and Sneddon credits his players - the roster includes nine juniors and seniors - for refocusing on the things that allowed the Catamounts to post road sweeps against Boston University in November (the Terriers' only multigame losing streak of the year) and Maine in February.

“It's a credit to our team that they took the time to get rid of the negative emotion and rebuild,” Sneddon said. “Their focus on the details for the eight days until we played in the regional - we got back to playing our style of hockey.”

Miami had 12 days to stew over a series loss to Northern Michigan. It wasn't the first adversity to face the RedHawks this year.

Miami won eight straight games in November and December but followed with five straight losses.

“A lot of things went wrong, but for the most part I think there was a little lack of confidence in the locker room,” senior Justin Mercier said. “It was a snowball effect. Our coaches told us not to get too high or too low when we hit adversity, and fortunately for us we're led by one of the best coaches in college hockey. He was able to refocus our attention to getting back to the winner's circle.”

The RedHawks and coach Enrico Blasi rebounded with a seven-game unbeaten streak, but then came another slump that included three losses to Northern Michigan.

“The mood wasn't very good,” Blasi said. “We had two weeks to mentally and physically prepare for our second chance, and that's exactly how we looked at it.”

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