#9 Miami at Western Michigan

WMU’s Lawson Ice Arena is a great old barn.

In an odd “home” series, Western Michigan (11-10-3, 4-7-3-3 7th NCHC) will host #9 Miami (15-9, 8-6 T4th NCHC) in Kalamazoo tonight and again next Saturday in Chicago as Miami once again will go outside to play at the Hockey City Classic for the second time in three years.

Earlier this season, Miami swept a home NCHC series in Oxford by 1-0 and 5-2 scores while the Broncos were really struggling. But, Andy Murray’s squad has faired much better over the past several weeks going 8-2-2 over its past 12 games including a demolition of defending national champion Union in the Shillelagh Tournament in South Bend, Ind.

For Miami, these are two incredibly important games.

I suppose every game down the stretch for the RedHawks is important as they struggle to maintain a top four league finish and secure home ice in the first round of the playoffs.

What’s clear is Miami has a very difficult schedule down the stretch and they’ll have to perform much better if they want to challenge for a regular season title — or at this point — a top four finish in the very competitive NCHC.

The Broncos are a big, physical team. Most fans, coaches and pundits call WMU an “awful team to play against.” As they have gotten more confident in themselves, and head coach Andy Murray’s system, the wins have come.

Offensively, the Broncos are led by senior forward Justin Kovacs (4-16-20) and junior forwards Colton Hargrove (10-9-19) and Nolan LaPorte (9-10-19). Junior defenseman Kenny Morrison (5-8-13) and junior goaltender Lukas Hafner (10-7-3, 2.13, .922) form the backbone of a Bronco team that has surrendered just 28 goals in the past 12

Junior Lukas Hafner has had an outstanding year for Western Michigan.

games. Of note is that WMU was blown out 7-0 by SCSU a few weeks ago. If you remove that game, it’s just 21 goals in 11 games. Needless to say, the WMU defense has been playing well which is a bad sign given Miami’s almost incredible inability to manufacture goals. Over the past nine games, Miami has netted only 21 goals which is a dismal 46th in the country during that stretch. (source: MURedHawks.com)

As stated, this brutal run to the finish began last weekend. Miami stands 1-1 in the series of games that will largely determine their post-season fate. Miami has had difficulty winning important games and with Western Michigan perhaps in an even more desperate mode, I do not see Miami winning tonight but I do see a bounce-back in Chicago next weekend. Still, Miami really needs a sweep here. Will they have enough to rise to the occasion?

#11 Denver at #9 Miami

Joey LaLeggia leads a tough Denver team against Miami in Oxford.

After a week spent licking its wounds following an embarrassing sweep at the hands of then seventh place St. Cloud State, 9th ranked Miami (14-8, 7-5 4th NCHC) jumps into the final stretch of the regular season with a challenge from #11 Denver (13-7-1, 6-5 5th NCHC) in Oxford. For Miami, these are the first home games since December 5-6 when they split a league series against Omaha.

After five meetings last year, these are the first of the 2014-15 campaign and first since Miami’s 4-3 loss to Denver in the NCHC championship game in Minneapolis last March. Last season, Miami and the Pioneers split four regular season meetings before Denver prevailed in the title game propelling DU to the NCAA tournament where they were routed by Boston College in the first round of the Dance.

This weekend’s NCHC series against DU is the start of a brutal final month-plus of the regular season as Miami will next face Western Michigan (@Kalamazoo, @Chicago/Hockey City Classic) followed by Colorado College (road), Minnesota-Duluth (home) and Denver again (road) before finishing the regular season with a home series against North Dakota on March 6-7.

The Series

Miami trails the all-time series with the Pioneers 7-6 including a 1-1 mark against Denver in NCAA tournament games.

The Coach

Maine alum Jim Montgomery is in his second season behind the DU bench after replacing legendary head coach George Gwozdecky before the start of last season. Overall, Montgomery is a modest 33-23-7 in his season and a half with the Pioneers and the program is still really looking for the spark I feel they lost in making a mistake by firing Gwozdecky.

The Team

Having seen Denver twice in person, they are a smooth skating, puck-moving team with decent size and goaltending. In a 4-1 victory over outmanned RPI, Denver was dominant. However, in a humbling 3-1 loss to North Dakota, the Pioneers were exposed by speed and stretch passes as UND dominated from start to finish.

Denver was soundly defeated by North Dakota last month. Miami should attempt to replicate UND’s formula for success this weekend.

So, a mixed bag, perhaps. What I will say is that Miami needs to get out in space and challenge the DU forwards to backcheck. It was either an off-night or the Pioneers don’t care much for defensive play so perhaps Miami can use that to its advantage.

Offensively, the Pioneers are led by freshman Danton Heinen (9-16-25) and last year’s leading scorer, sophomore Trevor Moore (9-11-20). On the blueline, junior Joey LaLeggia (8-12-20) leads a stellar group of puck movers and is a player Miami must keep tabs on, particularly on the powerplay.

In net, the Pioneers have split minutes between sophomore Evan Cowley (2.09 GAA, .924 SV, 14 GP) and freshman Tanner Jaillet (2.01 GAA, .920 SV, 12 GP) to almost identical results. Cowley was thought to have been on the short list to make this year’s US WJC team, but was one of the final cuts before the team skidded to a 5th place finish. Frankly, I thought Cowley should have gotten the nod before Brian Halverson who saw little action backing up Boston College’s Thatcher Demko.

Overall, this is a big, fast Pioneer team and Miami will have its hands full. Expect to see both Crash Cousins in the lineup this weekend as Enrico Blasi attempts to get favorable line matchups with the final change.

The Prediction

This is a series Miami needs to sweep. The first two home games in well over a month. Coming off that embarrassing sweep. Despite the fact the students are still on break, I say Miami shows its heart and finds a way to get a tough NCHC series sweep over the Pioneers.

A wasted weekend

In one of the uglier performances in recent memory, #5/6 Miami was swept in St. Cloud by the Huskies this weekend by 3-1 and 3-2 scores.

Offensively, Miami could generate little against a team that came in 7-10-1 and looked listless with the exception of the first period of Friday night’s game when they registered 17 shots on goal and should have buried the Huskies for the weekend. Alas, the RedHawks did not dent the scoreboard and gave SCSU hope and momentum, dangerous living indeed against a desperate team.

In fact, this weekend looked a lot like last year when the travel-weary RedHawks could generate little energy. We said in our preview the weekend would be tough. Miami has now played six consecutive games away from home since December 28. They MUST get back to the winning side of things when they welcome in another road-weary opponent, Denver, who was swept themselves in a road series at Omaha after playing in a holiday tournament in New Hampshire (v. Dartmouth, v. Brown) the weekend prior. Before heading out to play Miami January 23-24 in Oxford, the Pioneers have a home series against SCSU meaning they’ll have flown to New Hampshire, Omaha and back to Denver before again flying to Oxford. Miami should take advantage of that heavy travel schedule and get an important home sweep of a league opponent.

The RedHawks will have a much needed week of rest and need to refocus their game before the Pioneers come to town.

#5/6 Miami at St. Cloud State

St. Cloud won the Penrose Cup, awarded to the NCHC’s regular season champion in 2013-14.

Fresh off a 3-1 holiday road trip that featured two shutouts by junior netminder Jay Williams, Miami is on the road again this weekend in a two-game series at NCHC rival St. Cloud State.

This will be the first and only time the two schools meet this year after playing six times last year culminating in Miami’s two-game NCHC playoff series sweep of the Huskies who finished first in the league’s inaugural regular season.

Though they rode high last year, this year has been very different for the defending Penrose Cup Champions.

The Huskies (7-10-1, 2-5-1 NCHC) find themselves mired in seventh place while Miami (14-6-0, 7-3-0 NCHC) sits in first place in the league standings after finishing a disastrous dead last one year ago.

Both games can be seen via NCHC.tv and heard via Miami All-Access. Tonight’s game will also be shown live on Sports Time Ohio and Fox Sports North Plus (good lord) at 8:37 PM EST and tomorrow the puck drops at 8:07 PM EST.

The Series

Miami has dominated this series though the number of games between the burgeoning rivals is relatively limited. Miami leads the all-time series 12-5-1 including a 4-2 mark last year. After splitting two regular season series on each other’s home ice last season, the RedHawks went to St. Cloud fighting for an opportunity to salvage their season, and salvage they did as they swept the Huskies out of the NCHC playoffs.

The Coach

St. Cloud head coach Bob Motzko is a familiar name to Miami fans as he was an assistant with the program under former Miami head coaches George Gwozdecky and Mark Mazzolini for five seasons. At SCSU, Motzko has taken the program to its only Frozen Four and has gone a respectable 191-146-41 in 10 seasons behind the bench of his alma mater.

The Team

Coming off last season’s first place regular season finish, SCSU was picked to finish third in this year’s preseason poll behind North Dakota and Miami. However, they will have to go on some kind of run in order to fulfill those lofty preseason expectations.

In net, the Huskies run out sophomore Charlie Lindgren who has decent numbers with a 2.63 GAA and .905 save percentage. However, the Huskies simply aren’t scoring like they did a year ago averaging just 2.44 goals

SCSU’s Jonny Brodzinski is a Hobey Baker caliber player.

per game vs. 3.58 a season ago. Leading scorer Jonny Brodzinski paces the Huskies with 11-6-17 after netting 21 goals a year ago. The loss of Hobey Hat Trick Finalist Nic Dowd has been huge because after Brodzinski’s 11 goals, only one player, Joey Benik, has at least 8 goals for SCSU. In fact, the next highest scorers after Benik are Andrew Prochno and David Morley who have just three goals apiece.

The Prediction

Looking at this matchup on paper, Miami should sweep the weekend. SCSU can’t score and when Miami’s right, they can. However, road weariness could take its toll as the RedHawks will be playing their fifth and sixth games away from home since December 28. As much as I want to say Miami will sweep, I think they leave the series with yet another NCHC split.

Miami splits in Florida, heads to Troy

After blowing a two-goal third period lead and losing 3-2 in overtime to a down Notre Dame team (9-9-2), Miami (12-6-0) rebounded yesterday with a convincing 3-0 win over Cornell in the consolation game of the Florida College Hockey Classic. That Miami did not handily win the Florida tournament is disappointing in that none of the other three teams have a winning record. In fact, Notre Dame has dropped contests to duhOSU (5-9-1), Lake Superior (4-17-1), and Rensselaer (6-13-1), the team Miami will face this weekend in non-conference action.

Now, there has been talk of whether there was or was not video review of the tying goal late in the third period which Miami contested was directed in off a glove. Frankly, it was almost impossible to follow the audio call on Sunday because it was so bad so we aren’t making a claim that Miami was robbed. The fact is, regardless of how it happened, Miami let another late lead evaporate, something that has plagued this team for years.

It has to stop.

Heading to Troy, N.Y. this weekend, Miami will face a two-game road series against ECAC foe, Rensselaer, who I saw in person here in Denver earlier this season.

RPI is not a good team. I said so then and the Engineers have done nothing evidenced by their record to disprove my take from a few months back. Miami should sweep this team, and frankly, can’t afford another loss against a team outside the top 30 of the PWR.

What I recall about RPI was that they had good size, decent speed but are offensively inept and defensively suspect. I guess that’s about what you’d expect from a team that’s 6-13-1.

Miami will once again be without the services of sophomore winger Anthony Louis who has looked good representing Team USA in the WJC this week. The RedHawks need to play their game, get out with two wins and prepare to reenter conference play next week when they travel to St. Cloud, Minn. to face the Huskies on January 9-10.

Notes

– Ryan McKay was in net in the 3-2 OT loss to Notre Dame. His first start since November 15 at North Dakota.

– Jay Williams got the shutout on Monday, his 3rd of the season. He is now 3rd nationally in GAA (1.66) and tied for 6th in shutouts.

– Conor Lemirande and Taylor Richart scored their first collegiate goals in the two games.

– Miami is currently 6th in the PairWise rankings that typically determine the NCAA tournament field.

#4 Miami 8, #12 Nebraska-Omaha 2

Thoughts after last night’s 8-2 whipping of #12 Omaha.

Overall, it was a thorough beat down as Miami rattled off seven consecutive goals after actually surrendering the first goal of the game just 4:14 in. Six different RedHawks combined for the 8 goals with senior Cody Murphy notching a natural hat trick (3 consecutive goals) while Kevin Morris, Matthew Caito and Michael Mooney found the net for the first time this season. For Mooney, it was his first career goal, shorthanded, while the Omaha net was mysteriously vacated by Omaha head coach Dean Blais, despite trailing 7-2. Bit of a bush league move if you ask us. Senior captain Austin Czarnik recorded four assists, including his 100th and gave up an opportunity to record his first goal of the season when he passed the puck to Mooney on a 2-on-1 break. On the year, Czarnik has a 0-16-16 line in what can only be described as a bizarre start to his senior season.

Miami captain, Austin Czarnik, is now 13th on the RedHawks all-time scoring list. (photo: Miami University)

Thinking more about Czarnik’s scoring line, I wonder if it’s something having to do with last season when this team seemed to be all about individuals rather than the greater good. I wonder if it’s a sign of maturity as a leader on this club that Czarnik isn’t trying to do to much. That he’s more comfortable with the ‘C’ on his sweater? While I still have some leadership concerns with the ‘C’ I think the formal addition of Sean Kuraly and Blake Coleman as assistant captains was an appropriate move.

Coleman was a bit out of his mind last night, but you have to like the combination of skill and snarl he brings. He’s tough to play against and will make his presence known to the opposition when he doesn’t like something.

Other thoughts and notes:

Depth: This team has it. It didn’t last year. I believe Tim Bray said 14 Miami skaters have tallied goals this year and that, amazingly, does NOT include senior captain Austin Czarnik who entered 2014-15 with 37 career goals.

Goaltending: Jay Williams was good, not great last night. I’m sure he’d like to have the first goal back scored off an ugly rebound of a harmless point wrist shot that hit him square in the chest. But, with this offense (and really any offense), two goals or less should get a W and Williams now has 11 of them this year. Those 11 wins are just one short of his career high set his freshman year, the last year of existence for the CCHA. Despite his success, I could see Miami head coach Enrico Blasi give Ryan McKay a start tonight since he hasn’t played in a few weeks. However, this is another important league game. I’d rather see Williams again tonight and then give McKay a start in the Florida College Hockey Classic on either December 28 or 29. There’s certainly no fatigue issue with Williams, or shouldn’t be, because Miami is coming off a bye week, and will have two off-weeks for exams and Christmas before heading south.

Attendance: 2,006? For a matchup of top-15 top-12 squads? I really don’t know what’s going on in the SW Ohio area. The Reds don’t draw. The Bengals don’t draw. And now, Miami hockey doesn’t draw.

Admittedly, I live in Denver and my partner-in-crime Miamibeef04 lives in Columbus. However, Beef was there last night making the two hour drive south. Just because it’s no longer Michigan and Ohio State is no reason that building isn’t full. Here’s a rundown of Miami’s home attendance this year. Because capacity has never really been settled — is it 3,200? 3,642? 4,000? — I’m going with 3,200 to qualify as a sellout.

vs. Bowling Green – 1,860

vs. Ohio State – 3,554 (sellout)

vs. St. Lawrence – 2,589 and 2,663

vs. Colorado College – 3,153 (sellout) and 2,878

vs. Western Michigan – 2,633 and 2,470

Frankly, this is pathetic. You have a top-5 team again. It was one bad season last year. That there aren’t at least 3,000 butts in seats (seriously, it’s not a big building to fill) each night is embarrassing. I don’t want to hear about the new seat licenses, though surely that hasn’t helped. Tickets are available. If you don’t want your season tickets anymore, fine. Walk up and buy a ticket. Good seats still available.

I can guarantee you I will be at Magness Arena here in Denver and World Arena in Colorado Springs when Miami visits the Centennial State twice in February.

Get to the games, people!

Highlights: Here is a link to the highlights from last night courtesy of NCHC.tv

http://www.nchc.tv/omaha/video/omaha-miami-vs-omaha-highlights—12-5-14

And, check out John Lachmann’s analysis at http://www.wcpo.com/sports/redhawkey

Tonight: Miami and Omaha will complete their NCHC weekend series, and the season’s series, tonight at 7:05 PM at Steve Cady Arena in Oxford.

#4 Miami vs. #12 Nebraska-Omaha

Miami captain Austin Czarnik hopes to have more success this season than last against Ryan Massa and Nebraska-Omaha. (Michelle Bishop, USCHO.com)

After a week off following a sweep of Western Michigan, the #4/5 Miami RedHawks (10-4, 6-2 1st NCHC) prepare to face another ranked NCHC team as Dean Blais and the #12/13 Mavericks of Nebraska-Omaha visit Oxford for a two game series. To date, six of Miami’s first eight opponents are either currently ranked, or were when the RedHawks played them awarding MU the 5th toughest schedule in the country.

And, if that weren’t enough, this weekend’s series against Omaha (7-3-2, 3-2-1-1 4th NCHC) is huge in more than one way.

First, six NCHC league points are on the line.

Second, Miami owes the Mavericks for putting a line of 0-3-1 on the RedHawks last season as UNO owned Miami, especially in Omaha where I had the displeasure of watching both whippings live and in person.

Lastly, Omaha is just above Miami in the PairWise rankings checking in at #3 while the RedHawks currently rank #4 in the all-important table that largely determines the participants in the national tournament at the conclusion of the regular season.

Simply put, this is a monster series to conclude the first half of the conference season.

The Series

This is a rekindling of an old CCHA rivalry as Miami and Omaha are once again conference mates with the formation of the NCHC after college hockey’s realignment. Overall, Miami has had success against the Mavericks going 17-10-4 but are a dismal 0-4-1 in the last five against them.

The Coach

Dean Blais brings his Omaha Mavericks to Oxford to battle Miami. (Omaha.com)

Thinking about Miami’s recent run of poor play against Omaha, it certainly corresponds with the arrival of legendary head coach Dean Blais. Blais, who coached North Dakota for 10 seasons guiding the green and white to two national championships before departing for the CBJ of the NHL, has also led Team USA to World Junior Championship gold in 2010 and will once again wear the red, white and blue later this month as Team USA plays for the title in Canada — ironically the same country where Blais last struck gold for the US. Needless to say, the man can coach and has Omaha’s program pointed in the right direction.

The Team

Surprisingly, this team is built from the net out as senior goaltender Ryan Massa has been nothing short of outstanding so far. Massa, who entered 2014-15 having never had a GAA lower than 2.60, leads the NCHC with a ridiculous .943 save percentage and owns a minuscule 1.68 GAA. Of course, Miami can counter with junior Jay Williams, his 10-1 record, 1.56 GAA and .928 save percentage. What a goaltending battle we could have this weekend.

Offensively, the Mavs are led by uber-pest/sophomore Austin Ortega (5-8-13) and classmate Jake Guentzel (5-6-11). Ortega was particular chirpy following UNO’s 4-1 victory over UMD three weeks ago saying, “Tonight we were able to get up on the board; we really showed we’re a scoring team,” Ortega said. “Kind of sending a message to North Dakota that we can score on any goalie out there.” Um, of course, UND took four of six points from UNO last weekend in Grand Forks with the Mavericks securing a shootout win on Friday to avoid a series sweep. During the weekend, the Mavericks scored just four goals so it wasn’t like they were proving to be a true “scoring team.” We’ll see what happens this weekend against Miami’s 12th ranked scoring defense.

On the blueline, Omaha is powered by junior Brian Cooper (2-5-7) and Ian Brady (2-3-5). They aren’t flashy, but the team defense numbers speak for themselves as they are obviously helping Ryan Massa in a big way.

Overall, this is one of the smaller teams that Miami will face in NCHC play. I’d like to see them throw their combination of speed and size at Omaha to wear down the defense and make it very tough on smaller Maverick forwards like Ortega (5’8″ = Hobbit?), Guentzel, Dominic Zombo, Tyler Vesel and Jake Randolph who are all under six feet tall. Let’s get the Crash Cousins on the forecheck and Scott Dornbrock, and possibly, Colin Sullivan in our zone taking the body and making it hard to get to the scoring area, force turnovers and lead to transition opportunities.

Yeah, that’d be my approach if I were Miami head coach Enrico Blasi.

The Prediction

Omaha has been very good on the road this season going 5-1-2 so far. But, Miami is 7-1 at home. I think Miami owes Omaha a little “adjustment” and I really like how we match up against a younger, smaller opponent. I think we get some revenge this weekend.

Miami sweeps.

Miami hosts Western Michigan to Start Homestand

After a thrilling split in North Dakota where the RedHawks earned their first ever win in Ralph Englestad Arena, #7 Miami (8-4, 4-2 NCHC) entertains the Western Michigan Broncos (3-6-1, 1-4-1-1 NCHC) tonight and tomorrow. With last year’s disappointment beginning to fade, Miami will look to avoid the winter swoon and continue to avenge some of last season’s heartache.

The Series

Miami and Western Michigan are just about even when it comes to the head to head matchup all-time. We’ll let you decide who is correct on the all-time record between these two teams: Miami says 57-56-10 to their advantage (Miami Record Book, page 47). WMU says 57-55-10 to their own advantage (WMU Record Book, page 46). By my count, since 1999-2000 when Enrico Blasi took over, Miami is 24-12-5 and overall, Miami’s got the edge at 57-56-10.

In any event, we know that last season, Miami was ranked #13 in both major polls as they kicked off the second half of the season in Kalamazoo. 2 1-goal losses to the hands of the Broncos and 2 more defeats just a month later, and Miami’s tailspin was real. Starting with WMU, Miami lost 13 of their last 16 regular season games last season. This year, the teams are currently headed in different directions, and Miami has no doubt forgotten about the 4 losses to WMU last season.

The Coach

Andy Murray isn't nearly as unhappy with his 3-6-1 record as this photo suggests. (Source: AP)

Andy Murray isn’t nearly as unhappy with his 3-6-1 record as this photo suggests. (Source: AP)

Andy Murray is in his 4th season at the helm of Western Michigan and has 20 years of experience as a head or assistant coach in the NHL. Despite being just 3-6-1 on the year, Murray still likes where his team is at. “I like our compete level. I like our leadership. We may be sitting at 3-6-1, but we feel that our best hockey is still in front of us. I’m excited about the remainder of our games.”

And after his first three years at the helm in which he led the Broncos to winning seasons, why not? After a stretch of 8 years in a row with a losing record, Western Michigan earned itself a spot in the new “SEC of College Hockey” with it’s up-and-coming label. Jeff Blashill – a former Miami assistant – had something to do with the rise of WMU as well, but the sustained success is now credited to Murray’s resume.

The Team

Undrafted Junior Nolan LaPorte leads a list of relatively unknowns from WMU in scoring with just 9 points on the year. For reference, Miami has 5 players with 9 or more points already. The 2nd and 3rd highest scorers for WMU are defensemen, so it’s safe to say their scoring is coming from a lot of different places. After several years of well known NHL draft picks and NCAA studs, the Broncos have just 3 Seniors on the roster. All 3 of them (Forwards Will Kessel, Justin Kovacs and Goalie Frank “The Tank” Slubowski) have 100 or more games played in their time in Kalamazoo. But this team is young and promising. Look no further than their Junior Goalie Lukas Hafner, who will likely see the majority of play this weekend. He sports a .916 save percentage and 2.16 goals against average in his 7 appearances, with a 2-3-1 record to show for it.

Lukas Hafner will likely be a little less relaxed this weekend with Miami firing nearly 38 shots per game - second in the nation. (Photo by Tom Turrill/MiHockey)

Lukas Hafner will likely be a little less relaxed this weekend with Miami firing nearly 38 shots per game – second in the nation. (Photo by Tom Turrill/MiHockey)

Western Michigan has 3 NHL draft picks on their roster and each of them are 6’2″ or taller, with Sophomore D-man Mike McKee topping out at a whopping 6’5″ and 250 pounds. Eat a salad, brother. As Miami has done, Western has greatly increased their size with 8 of their 9 current defensemen logging in over 6 feet tall (and the 9th is 5’11”). That size will be on display as Miami and WMU usually play a physical style with lots of penalties. Needless to say, special teams play will be crucial this weekend.

Despite the record, Western is not being outscored by much with a -3 goal differential on the season. They’re in games and have an 0-3 record in 1-goal games. Turn those around and 3-6 becomes 6-3 and they are leading the league instead of Miami.

The Prediction

Jay Williams is making it clear that last season was a departure from the norm and rides an 8-1 record into this weekend’s play. For some reason, Coach Blasi tried to get Ryan McKay back on track in the biggest series of the season with a start on last Saturday night. We don’t exactly agree with that decision, which turned out to be a poor one. I won’t go as far as to say that the 2-headed goalie monster is dead, but I won’t be surprised to see Jay Williams in the remainder of the big games this year. This weekend should be a bit of a “relax” moment and we will likely see the rotation one last time.

Williams3_20121229070145_640_480

Jay Williams has been electric this year. He’s 8-1 with a .920 save percentage and is allowing just 1.68 goals per game. (Cathy Lachmann/WCPO.com)

In any event, Miami stands at a crossroads. Just take a look at last year’s results compared to this year after 12 games. In 2013-14, Miami had a 7-4-1 record allowing 3.4 goals per game. Fast forward to 2014-15: an 8-4-0 record allowing 3.0 goals per game. Miami finished 8-16-2 last year, was last in the NCHC and had its streak of 9 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances snapped. Where do we go from here?

Miami’s 5-1 at home this year and the one loss was due to a bad stretch of about 20 minutes of play against St. Lawrence. Western Michigan is 0-5 on Friday nights. After a sweep of Western Michigan tonight and tomorrow, Miami should be again headed for the NCAA tournament.

Both games can be seen on NCHC.tv (via paid subscription) and heard on 1450 WMOH, 1490 WKBV and on muredhawks.com. Saturday night is Autograph Night, so stick around and get some signatures and selfies with the team.

Miami drops series finale vs UND

There’s a lot to talk about regarding Miami’s 4-1 loss to UND in Grand Forks last night. Suffice it to say, we’ll be watching these over the coming days and weeks.

Consider:

– Goaltending: Ryan McKay was again average at best in net for Miami. His season line now looks like this – 0-3, 3.59 GAA and .897 save percentage. Simply not good enough to be considered a top flight goaltender in the NCHC and certainly not good enough for a team that has national title aspirations. While that’s a relatively small sample size, to the eye, McKay hasn’t looked like what we’ve come to expect out of a Miami goaltender in over a year.

– Officiating: We don’t complain about the officials because it’s pointless and comes off as whining, BUT, how the heck did they determine that Cody Murphy’s goal that would have put Miami up 1-0 in the 2nd period should be overturned? To me, the puck was over the line before the contact and it looked as if UND’s McIntyre kicked it in of his own accord. There were certainly some other questionable calls that went against Miami last night, but again, it’s pointless to whine about it. It’s the same for each team over the course of the season.

– Coaching: Starting Ryan McKay in a HUGE road series as hot as Jay Williams has been, has to be questioned. I know what Blasi was thinking (you have to give McKay another chance if he’s healthy) but it was a costly decision because McKay did little to further the cause outside of a good 1st period. UND started their best on both nights.

– The stars: Senior captain Austin Czarnik and sniper Riley Barber returned to campus for a reason. Their play thus far has me confused as to what that reason is. Both players were shutout, read – didn’t record a point, this weekend. That can’t happen. The two of them have to carry this team especially against top competition. Czarnik was absolutely invisible all weekend and Barber looks lost. They must be Miami’s best players — along with junior Sean Kuraly who certainly did his part on Friday night and senior Blake Coleman who while held off the scoresheet was his usual disruptive self at times returning after a week off due to illness.

– Defensive zone turnovers/losing puck battles: Yep, those reared their ugly heads last night as Miami was losing puck battles and turning the puck over in their own zone. Sooner or later, we need to be taking the body rather than allowing players like Drake Caggiula to embarrass the team over and over. Caggiula is a player that had 19 goals in his first two seasons at UND. This isn’t Johnny Hockey and we continually make him look like he’s a top flight prospect.

All is not lost. But, Miami must begin to pick it up as we get closer to the new year. Thankfully, they’re in a good spot at 8-4 overall and 4-2 in the NCHC. But, as you may recall, it was at about this point last season that things went awry and the wheels fell off big time. Will they avoid some of the same mistakes that plagued last year’s team, or was last night a predictor of things to come?

Miami defeats North Dakota 3-2

In a battle of top 10 teams, the seventh ranked Miami RedHawks outlasted second ranked North Dakota in Grand Forks by a 3-2 score.

The RedHawks (8-3, 4-1 NCHC, t1st) were once again led by the tandem of junior forward Sean Kuraly (2-1-3) and junior net minder Jay Williams (21 saves) as Miami has now won three in a row for the second time this season. For Kuraly, it was his sixth game-winning goal. Miami has eight wins on the season. That’s a pretty amazing stat this early in the year. And, for Williams, it was his eighth win of the season as he pushed his record to 8-1 as Miami’s primary keeper of the crease so far this season. Michael Parks and Drake Caggiula scored for North Dakota (7-2-1, 2-1 NCHC, t4th).

This game featured a total of 20 penalties (12 by Miami) including game misconducts to UND’s Colten St. Clair and Miami’s Matthew Caito each for grasping the facemask during a first period scrum that was essentially started when Miami senior forward Blake Coleman was called for goaltender interference at 16:45.

The teams settled down after that and played hard throughout the remainder of the night.

Miami opened the scoring in the first period by striking quickly for two goals to take a 2-0 lead. Junior forward Alex Gacek scored at 3:09 after an offensive zone

UND’s Drake Caggiula (9) attempts to skate past Miami’s Taylor Richard (2). (photo: UND Sports)

face-off when he pounced on a puck in the corner and beat UND junior Zane McIntyre inside the post. Kuraly and Anthony Louis assisted on Gacek’s first goal of the season.

Sean Kuraly was involved again scoring his 8th goal of the season when he and Gacek executed a 2-on-1 to perfection while shorthanded. Gacek brough the puck up the left wing and moved the puck to Kuraly who easily beat McIntyre to give the RedHawks a 2-0 lead with 15:45 left in the first period.

North Dakota would get on the board late in the period, but Miami carried a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.

Striking quickly, UND’s Drake Caggiula tied the game shorthanded just 1:22 into the second period. But Kuraly would strike again for Miami on the power play at 6:50 when he was the recipient of a perfect bounce of the back wall following a point blast by freshman defenseman Scott Dornbrock and he quickly beat McIntyre who was recovering from the point shot.

In the third, Miami simply packed it in. I might say they packed it in a little early as the ice was tilted in UND’s favor. However, Miami blocked several good UND shots and though Jay Williams was credited with only five saves, it seemed that he was busier than that as North Dakota pushed for an equalizer they would not find.

In his postgame press conference, Miami head coach Enrico Blasi was pleased with his team’s overall effort on the night.

“We came to play tonight,” he said. “I thought we got a pretty good team effort from everyone. This was one of those games we knew would come down to the wire and our guys sacrificed their bodies all night, especially at the end, to get the job done.”

Miami was close to putting the game away late in the third.

With UND’s Zane McIntyre to the bench for the extra attacker, Miami did a good job of moving the puck quickly and getting clears. Junior Riley Barber and senior Austin Czarnik both had looks at the open net, but somehow UND got bodies in front of the net and kept the puck out.

UND’s Connor Gaarder (13) looks to make a play in front of Miami’s Ben Paulides (28), Jay Williams (1), Austin Czarnik (7) and Louie Belpedio (58) in Miami’s 3-2 win over North Dakota. (photo: Logan Werlinger/Grand Forks Herald)

“Our penalty kill did a good job of blocking shots tonight,” Blasi said. “Jay also made saves when we needed him to. Sean’s line got the bounces and took advantage, but this was a good team win from top to bottom. We had good performances from everyone tonight, but we know they are going to come out hard again tomorrow and we’ll have to be ready.”

The RedHawks will go for their first-ever sweep of North Dakota tonight at 8:07 PM. The game might be on Fox College Sports and will definitely be available via NCHC.tv. Greg Waddell will have the Miami call at Miami All-Access, 1490-AM WKBV and via the Tune In app on your smartphone.

Notes:

– UND saw the return of both sophomore defenseman Paul LaDue and senior Mark MacMillan to the lineup after playing games about their availability all week.

– Miami once again hit the 30 SOG mark firing away, especially during the first and second periods when they rang up 15 and 11, respectively. But, the four shots in the third period was an indicator of just how much control of the game UND seized as Miami held on for the victory.

– The RedHawks held UND to just 23 SOG after blocking a whopping 19 North Dakota shots. Can anyone say “hot tub?”

– With the win, Miami snapped UND’s 8-game unbeaten streak since dropping their opener 5-1 to Bemidji State.

– Miami snipers Austin Czarnik and Riley Barber were held off the scoresheet last night seeing a rare goose egg thrown at them by the UND defense. However, Barber led Miami with 5 SOG.

– Miami announced before Friday’s game that sophomore Trevor Hamilton has elected to leave the team and return to junior hockey. Not sure if that means USHL or if he’s going to try the CHL, but based on his play at Miami, I can’t believe the CHL would be interested. If the early lines were any indicator, he wasn’t likely to play much this season, but shortsightedness (e.g., get your damn education — unless there are other college aspirations) appears to have claimed another one.

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