>Miami Musings

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Carter Camper was buzzing last weekend in frigid Alaska

Here are some mid-week thoughts on the #1 ranked Miami RedHawks.

Pairwise Rankings
It’s hard to believe, but Miami has just five series remaining in the regular season meaning it’s time to start paying real attention to the rankings. Right now, Miami is tied with Denver atop the Pairwise with the slight advantage in RPI to the RedHawks. Pairwise Rankings

There are four regions in the 2010 NCAA Tournament which culminates with the Frozen Four at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan on April 8 and 10. This year’s four regional sites are St. Paul, Minn., Ft. Wayne, Ind., Wooster, Mass. and Albany, N.Y. Obviously, the Ft. Wayne regional would be the closest in terms of travel for Miami and that would probably be where the RedHawks are sent as long as the host school, Notre Dame, does not get into the tournament as a #4 seed. Because the host school must be sent to their regional regardless of seed, it could interfere with first-round matchups. That is, teams from the same conference cannot play each other in the first round. The problem could occur if Miami earns a #1 seed whereby the tournament selection committee sends the top seeds to the closest regional to help boost attendance. Accordingly, Miami could not go to Ft. Wayne as a #1 if Notre Dame squeaks in as a #4. Currently, Notre Dame is just 22nd in the Pairwise, but we don’t know exactly where the cutoff line will be in selecting the 16 teams meaning we do not know how high Notre Dame would have to finish in the Pairwise to get in, assuming the Irish do not win the CCHA’s auto-bid by winning the conference tournament. Something else to consider are potential upsets that effectively “steal” at-large bids. For instance, Bemidji State will get into the tournament as an at-large team should they not win the final CHA tourney, so the Irish will be rooting for the Beavers so as not to lose one of the 10 at-large bids. The same can be said for other likely tournament locks like Denver, Wisconsin and probables such as St. Cloud State and New Hampshire. The Irish want as few upsets by teams like Boston University or Minnesota – teams that are currently behind the Irish in the Pairwise to increase their chances of getting in.

While it doesn’t seem likely as of now that the Irish get into the Tournament, things will change over the next several weeks. As of now, Miami is on pace to get a the #1 seed in Ft. Wayne as long as they are not matched with the Irish. So, while it would be good for the CCHA to get Notre Dame into the dance, I’d probably like the Irish to stay home to ensure that Miami would play in Ft. Wayne, and have a great shot at a big crowd.

The Polls
Miami regained their perch atop all three college hockey polls this week as voters for INCH, USCHO and USA Today all ranked Miami as the #1 team in the nation following their tie and win at Alaska coupled with Denver’s tie and loss at Wisconsin. Speaking of Wisconsin, they are the new #2 team and are playing as well as anyone in the nation. The Badgers check in at #3 in the Pairwise rankings.

Teams Under Consideration (TUC)
As I wrote on Sunday, Miami has played 26 games this year with 18 coming against current TUC’s. The RedHawks are 11-2-5 against current TUC’s, but keep in mind this will ebb and flow as teams move in and out of the Top 25. Here’s a look at the teams that Miami has faced, record against and current Pairwise rank.

Bemidji State – Rank: tied for 3rd – Result: (0-1)
St. Cloud State – Rank: tied for 5th – Result (2-0)
New Hampshire – Rank: 7 – Result (1-0-1)
Ferris State – Rank: tied for 8th – Result (2-0-2)
North Dakota – Rank: tied for 10th – Result (0-0-1)
Michigan State – Rank: 13 – Result (1-1)
Michigan – Rank: tied for 17th – Result (2-0)
Alaska – Rank: 20 – Result: (1-0-1)
Notre Dame – Rank: tied for 22nd – Result: (2-0)

At present, Miami has just one series remaining against current TUC’s and that comes up in two weeks against Lake Superior State in Oxford. To demonstrate how these rankings can change, Norrthern Michigan fell out of the Top 25, a team that Miami is 2-0 against meaning it bodes well for the RedHawks if they can get back in by the end of the season. According to the KRACH rankings, a sophisticated computer model, Miami has played the 8th most difficult schedule in the nation.

Jeff Jackson
Am I the only one that’s tired of Jackson’s whining? The Notre Dame coach has complained incessantly about the injuries, specifically concussions, his team has sustained throughout the normal course of the season. Naturally, these injuries are to no fault of his squad, but rather, completely caused by the opposition. Clearly, a concussion is a serious injury and no one wants to see young men encounter brain injuries that might threaten the rest of their normal lives, but at some point, there is a common denominator.

Jackson first started on the “it’s not fair” warpath following the early December series with Miami when he essentially suggested the RedHawks were head hunting. Jackson said he thought several hits from Miami players were “high, dirty hits” that delivered concussions to both Eric Ringel and Ian Cole. In fact, Jackson said the injuries were “…direct results from high hits that weren’t called.” By the way, Jeff, if you’re going to allow Kyle Palmieri and other Irish players to run Cody Reichard at least three times (Reichard even got so tired of it, he drew a retaliation penalty), then you have to expect some retribution for those actions. No one wants to see someone injured, but Notre Dame has to stand up and take some responsibility for the situation.

Of course suggesting there were illegal hits that “weren’t called” immediately weakens his argument. Looking back at the Friday box score, I recall that Tommy Wingels was given a five-minute major penalty for checking from behind on a hit where the Notre Dame player looked over his shoulder, clearly saw Wingels coming, and turned his back to the Miami captain just before impact. That is, the Irish player could have prevented the hit, but instead chose to place himself in a vulnerable position. This is important to consider because I firmly believe we are teaching many of our young players to use their body to shield the puck from the opponent, but in doing so are, at times, placing the player in jeopardy. Further, there was a Notre Dame player who later checked a RedHawk from behind that was only assessed a two-minute minor, and frankly, that hit looked much more dangerous.

So, now we move in to the realm of judgment. And, that’s really a big part of this. The player about to deliver the big hit, has just microseconds to decide how and where to strike the opponent. The player being hit has to decide whether to turn into, or away from, the attacking player. And, the ref, coaches and fans must debate whether the hit was clean or not. It’s extremely subjective, but I fear Coach Jackson is looking at this issue through “Irish-colored glasses.”

At least Jackson’s rant against Miami was relatively short-lived because while he then complained about losing defensemen and having to play some sort of “torpedo” formation against Michigan, the Irish would lose additional players to injury in the coming weeks.

For instance, in the Ferris State series a couple weekends ago, the Irish lost Billy Maday (concussion, shoulder) and Teddy Ruth to injuries due to what Jackson termed “blatant head blows” and that the hit to Ruth “could have been life-threatening.”

Step away from the ledge, Jeff.

And, in last weekend’s series against Lake Superior State, all hell broke loose with the Lakers losing players to hits and the Irish losing more players to injury. This time Ian Cole was knocked out of the game with, apparently, another concussion leading Jackson to go off yet again.

“That’s the seventh concussion for our team this year, and I’m starting to get really tired of the high hits and checks from behind. It might come across as whining since we’re not having a great season, but it’s having a direct impact on my players’ futures and their lives.”

“We have someone like Eric Ringel, who is still dealing with post-concussion syndrome and I don’t know if he’ll ever play hockey again. If we don’t do something soon about these things in all levels of hockey, something bad is going to happen. But for one team to have seven concussions in a season, it’s outrageous.” USCHO

Again, Jeff, step off the ledge. Unless you’re a doctor, you shouldn’t make giant leaps about a player’s future when you clearly don’t have enough information for such a claim. Frankly, I”m sure that’s the last thing Ringel wants to hear. Jackson has created such a stir that USCHO.com’s CCHA beat writer, Paula Weston, took up the topic in her article prior to last weekend’s games. Her argument doesn’t make much sense, but that’s a typical result of reading her column.

At the end of the day there is a common denominator here – Notre Dame – but this whole thing is so subjective. Is it something that Jackson is teaching or not teaching his guys about playing along the boards? Are they turning away from attacking players (as is my firm belief about the Wingels hit in December) and exposing themselves to injury? Is there something endemic in the make-up of the Irish roster the preconditions them to injury? If it were me, I’d be careful if I were coach Jackson. To make such far-reaching accusations, about roughly half the league now, just sounds like sour grapes. Make your point about the need to address head shots and concussions and move on. Is it about the health of your players or the fact that Notre Dame has, at times, struggled this season?

Defense Wins Championships
Miami leads the nation in team defense allowing just 1.69 goals per game (44 goals in 26 games) which includes two games in which they allowed five goals a piece to New Hampshire and North Dakota. Remove those and the number is just 1.41 goals allowed per game over the other 24 games.

In conference play, Miami has only surrendered 1.17 goals per game (21 goals in 18 games played) and has already set a team record for shutouts in a single season with seven in the first 26 games. CCHA.com

Cody Reichard has four of those shutouts which ties the single-season record held by David Burleigh and Connor Knapp has the other three including Saturday’s 5-0 whitewashing of the Alaska Nanooks in Fairbanks.

While the goaltending has been superb, I would be remiss without mentioning the defense corps solid play. With the size that Miami has on the blueline, they make it tough on opposing forwards that, generally, are in the range of 5’8″ to 6’0″ in college, with exceptions of course. Consider:

– Miami allows just over 23 shots-against per game

– The RedHawks have blocked 327 shots this year or more than 12 per game

– Spinell (6’1″), Schilling (6’2″), Hartman (6’4″) and Weber (6’4″) make quite an intimidating lot back there and LoVerde isn’t afraid to throw the body or block shots (in fact, he leads the team in blocked shots this season)

This unit has been fabulous all season, and if they can stay healthy, will really help keep the pressure off Reichard and Knapp throughout the rest of the year.

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Posted on January 25, 2010, in Carter Camper, Cody Reichard, College Hockey - Analysis, Connor Knapp, Miami RedHawks, Tommy Wingels. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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