By John Lachmann
OXFORD, Ohio – After the 2007-08 season, three of Miami’s top seven defensemen graduated, and a fourth left early for the pros.
Enter Will Weber, Cameron Schilling and Chris Wideman, incoming freshmen at the time who were asked to replace them after the RedHawks had racked up a school-record 33 wins and taken eventual champion Boston College to overtime in an NCAA regional final the previous year.
Along with Matt Tomassoni, a classmate who has since moved to forward, rookies made up two-thirds of the blueliners on the RedHawks’ lineup sheet each night.
All Weber, Schilling and Wideman have done in their Miami careers is play in the NCAA Tournament each season, including back-to-back Frozen Fours, and combine for a plus-143 rating.
“They’ve done a nice job for us for four years, have steadily improved and have been through a lot back there,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. “They’ve seen a lot of different situations in different games – in big games – and to go to the national tournament four years in a row, that’s not an easy feat, and they’re obviously a big part of that.”
Between them, they have racked up honors as members of the all-CCHA rookie team, the all-NCAA Tournament West Regional team and the conference’s top defensive defenseman.
And of course, all three will be in the lineup when the RedHawks open NCAA Tournament play against UMass-Lowell on Friday.
The three play completely different styles, yet they are close friends and help each other with nuances of their position.
Weber, at 6-feet-4, 226 pounds, is a physical beast on the ice and plays mostly in his own end. He has played in 153 games, recording five goals and 25 assists for his career.
“It’s crazy, sometimes we say he has stupid strength,” Schilling said. “It’s just ridiculous, he just throws guys, not necessarily even hits them. It’s amazing watching him play sometimes in practice and games, how he can manhandle guys, especially little guys on the ice. It’s definitely a treat to watch.”
As a sophomore in 2009-10, he was honored as the CCHA’s best defensive defenseman. As a junior he was named assistant captain and is a co-captain this season.
Weber’s road to this point has not been easy. His father, Dick, who played hockey at Cornell, died in a plane crash when Weber was 11. His junior season, Weber’s throat was cut by an opponent’s skate in a freak accident while that player toppled into the boards.
Weber only missed four games, but he still feels the physical effects of that injury.
“I never really took things for granted – I think that started with my father passing away,” Weber said. “But there’s always things like that where if you do take things for granted, it’ll definitely wake you up.”
Wideman is a born playmaker, and was named to the conference’s all-rookie team as a freshman after racking up a team-high 26 assists.
Wideman has played 162 games and is second only to junior forward Reilly Smith in career points among active players with 94. He has tallied 20 or more points in all four of his seasons in Oxford, and is plus-58 for his career.
In practice and warm-ups, Wideman is almost always one of the last players off the ice, and this season his younger brother, Alex is a freshman forward on the team.
“You don’t have to go out there and kill yourself, but an extra 10, 15 minutes each day, that’s going to pay dividends in a year, two years, and you just have to keep doing it,” Wideman said. “It’s not one day a week, it’s every day. That’s something that we learned as kids and it just comes naturally to us now.”
Schilling is a blend of the two, a physical player who also works the point on the power play. He boasts one of the hardest shots on the team.
He only played 25 games as a freshman but started in the national championship game that season.
“Cameron had some raw ability, obviously his skating ability was pretty good, but he has definitely improved himself every single season to a player that also contributes offensively now as well as defensively, so he’s a mainstay back there,” Blasi said.
Schilling was named to the West Regional All-Tournament team that season, and has eight goals and 50 assists in 143 career games with a plus-55 rating.
Weber was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the second round, 53rd overall in 2007. He played one season with the Chicago Steel of the USHL before starting his Miami career.
Wideman was supposed to play another season in juniors, but when Alec Martinez left a year early he was called in. After his freshman season Wideman was taken by the Ottawa Senators in the fourth round of the NHL draft.
Schilling was not drafted, but has drawn attention around the pros and should have no problem finding a suitor this fall.
The decision to come to Miami was a difficult one for Weber. Both his father and uncle had played at Cornell, and being from Gaylord, Mich., it was tempting to accept the offer to play at Michigan State, which won the NCAA Tournament