By John Lachmann
OXFORD, Ohio – The goal that almost iced Miami’s first ever national championship in any sport. The game winner in double overtime that sent the RedHawks to their second consecutive Frozen Four.
Senior forwards and good friends Trent Vogelhuber and Alden Hirschfeld scored two of the timeliest goals in RedHawks history, and with the team heading to the NCAA Tournament this week, the duo will have another chance to play the hero’s role on the national stage.
And both are from Ohio, where the quantity of talented hockey players is growing annually.
“It’s definitely grown every year,” Hirschfeld said. “I think more and more Ohio guys are starting to play at Miami schools, not just Miami. I think a lot of it has to do with the game itself growing, more and more kids getting interested in playing, and playing growing up.”
When Enrico Blasi took over the coaching reigns at Miami in 1999, the RedHawks boasted just one Ohioan on their roster that season. In 2011-12, six Miami players hail from Ohio.
One key reason for the boost in hockey interest in Ohio is the presence of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who began play in 2000.
“I think the landscape of hockey players in the U.S. has changed,” Blasi said. “Obviously the addition of the Columbus Blue Jackets helps that, and added exposure of hockey throughout the U.S. You’re starting to see players come out of non-traditional so-called hockey markets. We try to go after the right people, whether they’re from Ohio or Michigan or Illinois or Canada or wherever, so it’s not something that we’re trying to do by design.”
In addition to Hirschfeld and Vogelhuber, two of Miami’s most skilled forwards – freshmen Tyler Biggs and Jimmy Mullin – are Cincinnati natives. Senior goalie Cody Reichard is from Celina, about 25 miles southwest of Lima, near the Indiana border, and senior goalie Ben Saksa, is from St. Clairsville – about 10 miles west of Wheeling. W.V.
“Anytime you’re adding an NHL team it adds exposure to the game, and kids want to play it,” Blasi said. “I think the (Blue Jackets) have been there for 12 years now, so you’re starting to see some of those kids who started at nine or 10 now starting to go to college.”
Vogelhuber experienced the hockey surge in Ohio firsthand as he grew up in the Columbus suburb of Dublin.
“It made it a lot easier to play hockey at a high level because after the Blue Jackets came, hockey exploded in Columbus and we got elite-level, triple-A teams,” Vogelhuber said. “I was able to stay at home and play at the highest level for high school kids.”
As a result, he was scouted by the Blue Jackets, drafted and earned a scholarship to Miami. Vogelhuber said not only has the quantity of teams in his hometown increased, the quality of players has vastly improved.
“Just in a few short years since I was 16, 17, it’s changed a lot,” Vogelhuber said. “There’s elite players coming out of Columbus now.”
Hirschfeld lived everywhere from Texas to Toronto growing up, but he settled in the Toledo suburb of Sylvania – the last major suburb south of the Michigan border. The Detroit Red Wings are king there, and Hirschfeld said the Blue Jackets’ presence has had little impact in his corner of the state.
Hirschfeld’s other brother went to Miami, and his father, Glen, played tight end for the RedHawks, earning all Mid-American Conference honors in 1985, which factored into his decision to come to Oxford.
They both came to Oxford in the fall of 2008, but due to injuries, Vogelhuber and Hirschfeld spent a good portion of their freshman seasons watching from the stands.
Recovering from his third ACL surgery in an as many seasons, Vogelhuber had not played hockey in a full year when he moved on campus. His first two knee surgeries were unsuccessful, and he was limited to 25 games that season.
“Really, it was a tough adjustment for me, not having played in that long,” Vogelhuber said. “It took me a while, I’d say pretty much my entire freshman year, to not only get back into physical shape with my leg, coming off a third ACL surgery, but mentally, being worried about the knee and being able to play like I used to.”
Meanwhile, Hirschfeld was healthy when the first practice of his freshman year was held. But that changed immediately when he hit the ice.
“Will Weber broke my arm,” Hirschfeld said, referring to Miami’s 6-feet-4, 226-pound defenseman. “First practice of the year actually, first drill, me and Webs were going on a 1-on-1 and took each other into the net and I just broke my arm on the post. I didn’t even know it happened, actually, I did the rest of practice because I didn’t want the coaches to think they recruited some (wimp) in case it wasn’t broken. But it ended up being broken so I felt better about myself at least. It was definitely a tough experience to go through.”
Hirschfeld played just 16 games in 2008-09, scoring five goals and dishing for one assist.
While their freshman seasons at Miami were a struggle because
of injuries, they became good friends, and both said their families have gotten very close during their careers in Oxford.
“We both kind of have similar backgrounds, coming from Ohio, and we’ve both played in juniors after high school for a year and we’re both kind of similar players, so we’ve had a special connection here at Miami and that was definitely special to be able to both take part in that goal to sent us to the Frozen Four,” Vogelhuber said.
Vogelhuber talked about Hirschfeld, who was an assistant captain as a junior and is a co-captain this season.
“He’s a verbal guy and everybody respects him,” Vogelhuber said. “He’s pretty funny at times, he likes to joke around, but when it comes to games just like everyone else, he knows it’s all business and a lot of the younger guys look up to him. He does everything right – he works hard, he puts in all the time before practice, after practice, he doesn’t take any shortcuts, so he’s the perfect kind of senior leader you need on a team to be successful, for the freshmen to have someone to look up to.”
The pair also befriended defenseman Chris Wideman – who is also a senior and Vogelhuber’s roommate the past two years – and he agrees about Hirschfeld being a leader.
Wideman knows Vogelhuber off the ice as well as anyone on the team.
“He’s a great guy, he knows how to make me feel better,” Wideman said. “He’s very laid back – we’re very similar. We like to watch movies, relax, hang out. He’s very easy going – I don’t think we’ve gotten into an argument ever in four years.”
Said Hirschfeld about Vogelhuber: “He’s always willing to do anything for a teammate, and he just wants the best for the team, which is great. Away from the rink, he’s a funny guy and a great guy to hang out with. He’s always trying to put a smile on other people’s faces.”
Despite Miami’s youth and having Vogelhuber and Hirschfeld banged up a good portion of the 2008-09 season, the RedHawks went to their first-ever Frozen Four and their inaugural championship game.
With 4:08 to play in front of 18,512 fans at Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., and Miami leading by a goal, 2-1, Vogelhuber forced a turnover just inside Miami’s offensive zone.
The loose puck was picked up by Brian Kaufman, who slid a behind-the-back pass to a streaking Vogelhuber. Vogelhuber, who had just one previous collegiate goal, whipped a wrist shot that beat Boston University goalie Kieran Millan on the glove side.
“It was obviously the biggest goal of my life, and that was kind of right when I was at the end of my freshman year when I was starting to feel comfortable not only with my knee but mentally getting back to being myself again on the ice,” Vogelhuber said. “(Kaufman) dropped it to me at the blue line, and I just skated across and let it rip and luckily it found the back of the net. It was one of the best experiences of my life.”
The goal made it 3-1, and practically every Miami highlight reel created since has shown the clip of that goal, and Vogelhuber skating along the wall with his arms raised.
The first player that met him along the boards was Wideman.
“Honestly, when I watch that it brings tears to my eyes,” Wideman said. “Seeing the picture in (the Vogelhubers’) basement where I’m jumping into his arms, that’s something that I’ll always remember. It’s an unbelievable memory, and we were obviously very happy. To be a part of being very happy with him, it was a great experience and something that we’ll share forever.”
Unfortunately for the RedHawks, they allowed two goals in the final minute and another in overtime to suffer a 4-3 loss to the Terriers.
A year later, it was Hirschfeld’s turn to wear the cape in a game that had a happier ending.
In 2009-10, Miami found itself in Fort Wayne, Ind., in double overtime of the regional final of the NCAA Tournament against Michigan.
Michigan had fired 57 shots at RedHawks goalie Connor Knapp, who had turned aside 55.
“That game was a grind,” Vogelhuber said. “We were definitely running a short bench, and we were gassed at that time and we were just trying to get anything to the net. We talked about any shot’s a good shot.”
Hirschfeld, a sophomore at this point who played all 43 games that year, had scored six times that season at that point.
With the score tied at two in the second minute of the second extra session, Vogelhuber battled for the puck in the corner, and was able to find Hirschfeld with a pass that was partly tipped.
Hirschfeld turned and wristed a shot from the inside edge of the faceoff circle, and it beat Wolverines goalie Shawn Hunwick.
“I just remember rolling off the top of the circle there, and knowing that I wanted to get a shot on net,” Hirschfeld said. “There was a defenseman kind of screening right in front of me, I kind of shot between his legs almost. I couldn’t even see it actually go in, but it’s one of those overtime goals where you put it on net hoping for something good to happen, and it happens.”
Hunwick and Michigan defenseman Brandon
Burlon obstructed his view, but Hirschfeld quickly surmised he had scored.
“Fan reaction, goalie reaction, getting blindsided by about 20 guys was when it all kind of hit me, not being able to breathe at the bottom of a pile,” Hirschfeld said. “Obviously, definitely the biggest goal I’ve scored, and the most exciting too. It was great to be able to help the team get back to the Frozen Four.”
Vogelhuber was able see to the puck roll into the net.
“After I passed it to him, I went to the net, kind of expecting it to be a rebound, and I saw it go right through the goalie’s legs and right in,” Vogelhuber said. “I turned and went straight for Hirsch and jumped on him.”
Junior season was anticlimactic, as Miami lost to New Hampshire in the first round of the NCAA Tournament after back-to-back Frozen Fours.
Hirschfeld has 34 goals and 35 assists in his RedHawks career, netting 10 goals and adding 13 helpers this season. Over his four seasons in Oxford he has a plus-43 rating and eight game winners, including his double overtime goal against Michigan.
“It’s kind of Hirsch’s MO – he scores big goals and obviously that was huge for us to get that win,” Blasi said. “He’s one of those guys that can shoot the puck and that’ll be a goal that he’ll always remember.
“Obviously he’s well respected and he does a lot of things on the ice but off the ice as well, and I could say the same about Trent as well.”
In 146 games, Vogelhuber has 20 goals and 30 assists for Miami, including three markers and 10 helpers as one of the team’s top penalty killers in 2011-12.
“Everywhere we’ve put him, he’s contributed,” Blasi said “He’s played the wing, he’s played center, he’s played with (2011 Hobey Baker winner Andy) Miele, he’s played with (freshman Tyler) Biggs and (junior Curtis) McKenzie, he’s played with a lot of guys and he seems to have done a real good job in all areas and he’s definitely a valuable asset. And he’s played on the power play and the penalty kill, so you can’t have enough of those guys.”
Miami opens the NCAA Tournament on Friday when the RedHawks play UMass-Lowell in Bridgeport, Conn. But regardless of whether Hirschfeld or Vogelhuber score another clutch goal, they both treasure their experience at Miami.
“It’s been the best experience I could’ve asked for,” Hirschfeld said. “We’ve had a great hockey team, good coaches, I’ve grown and developed as a hockey player and a person, met an unbelievable amount of good people and good friends, and besides all of the great hockey experiences there have been great experiences with teammates away from the rink that I’ll never forget either. So all around it’s been a very fortunate, unbelievable experience.”
Said Vogelhuber: “It’s kind of tough to put it into a couple of sentences, but it’s been unbelievable. There’s no doubt that my best friends that I’ll have for the rest of my life come from the teams I’ve had here at Miami – players who have graduated and guys that are still on the team now. From the other players and from the coaches as well, I’ve learned so much more what it takes to be a winner at a high level. It’s not just showing up on game days or showing up to practices, there’s so much more that goes into it.
“Also, the players that come before you – the Andy Mieles, the Tommy Wingels, the Carter Campers, Jarod Palmers, players that are playing at the higher levels right now – you learn from them and model the way they do things and hopefully some of the younger guys can learn that from us.
“The work ethic and the whole winning atmosphere that we’ve learned here at Miami is something that hopefully I’ll be able to hold in my career, going ahead.”