Weekend Preview: #13 Notre Dame v. #19 Miami

The Notre Dame Racist Nicknames Fighting Irish travel to Steve Cady Arena this weekend for the teams’ only two regular season clashes this season.

Last season Miami and Notre Dame split a series in Oxford and tied twice later in the season in South Bend, Ind. However, in the one that really counted, Miami (17-13-2, 11-11-2-1 t7th CCHA) dominated the Irish (16-13-3, 11-10-3 t7th CCHA) in the CCHA semifinal in Detroit, Mich. winning 6-2 behind four points from eventual Hobey Baker winner Andy Miele and another three from junior forward Reilly Smith en route to the Mason Cup. Notre Dame is led by head coach Jeff Jackson who brings his brand of whiny hockey back to Oxford where Miami is 18-8-2 all-time against the Irish. The RedHawks lead the all-time series by a substantial 36-16-10 mark and are 8-1-2 against the Irish in the last 11 games.

Despite what appears to be a wealth of offensive talent, the Irish have struggled to score goals this year averaging just 2.8 goals per game while featuring a veteran team coming off a Frozen Four appearance. Up front, the Irish are led by sophomores T.J. Tynan (12-26-38) and Anders Lee (14-16-30), neither of whom have shown signs of a “sophomore slump.” The Irish are also led by junior hack forward Riley Sheahan (9-15-24) who has a knack for running opposing goaltenders and was suspended for one game earlier this season for knocking Western Michigan’s best player, senior Dane Walters, out of their series with a blow to the head. Walters would also miss the subsequent series against Miami when the RedHawks swept the Broncos in Oxford. In what was considered a first in the CCHA, that suspension was appealed by the Irish who have no problem resorting to questionable tactics but absolutely cannot stand it when their opponents are physical with them. I expect Miami to come at the Irish and try to get them off their game this weekend.

Clearly, the RedHawks must slow Tynan and Lee who have combined for 16 points in five career games against Miami. However, the Irish are deep and talented, if not underachieving, as they come into Oxford having won just three of their last ten contests. But, this squad is perhaps as deep as they have been under Jackson with 10 players with 10 or more points including senior forward Billy Maday who has faced the RedHawks more than any other Notre Dame player. Maday has played in nine contests against the Red and White and has notched five points.

Defensively, the Irish have struggled this year allowing a rather lofty 2.8 goals per contest. Goaltending has been problematic as sieve junior Mike Johnson and sophomore Steven Summerhays have been fairly awful this year. This despite playing behind a talented blueline featuring senior captain Sean Lorenz, sophomore Stephen Johns and junior Sam Calabrese – all three of whom were members of the USNTDP. Last season, Lorenz was named the CCHA’s Defensive Defenseman of the Year and he is the lone senior defenseman for the Irish.

Regardless of pedigree, the Irish have been unable to overcome the mediocre play of their goaltenders. Johnson, who Miami has often lit up like a Christmas tree enters the weekend carrying a 9-7-3 record with a 2.59 goals against average and .889 save percentage. Summerhays has actually been worse this season despite, in my opinion, having more talent than Johnson. The sophomore is just 7-6 with a 2.93 goals against average and .887 save percentage. Johnson’s goals against numbers are good enough for 13th in the CCHA while Summerhays’ are dead last at 16th. And, the two Irish goaltenders are 15th and 16th, respectively, in save percentage – second-to-last and dead last if you’re scoring at home.

In contrast, Miami senior netminder Connor Knapp leads the CCHA with a sparkling 1.81 goals against average and is fifth in the league in save percentage at .925. However, Cody Reichard is 11th and 14th, respectively in what most would consider a disappointing season for the Miami senior.

Scoring first could be big this weekend as the teams’ have shown dramatic differences in getting a jump on their opponents.

Notre Dame has allowed the first goal of the game in 18 of the team’s 32 games to date. When they allow the game’s opening goal, the Irish are just 7-10-1. But, when they score first, Notre Dame is 9-3-2 on the season. In contrast, Miami has scored first in 20 of its 32 games this year, going 14-5-1 in those contests. Miami’s only three wins when it didn’t score first were Nov. 26 at Denver, Jan. 13 at Lake Superior and last weekend (Feb. 11) vs. Alabama-Huntsville. Miami has scored within the first 10 minutes of the game 13 times this year and six times within the first five minutes (source: MURedHawks.com and UND.com).

Clearly, if Miami can get off to a good start both nights, they’ll have an opportunity to sweep the series as MU is a terrific team when they have a lead and the Irish do not play well from behind.

This series could very well determine which of these two bubble teams makes the NCAA tournament without likely having to plow through the CCHA tournament and capture the Mason Cup in order to get in. Miami enters the weekend 13th in the PairWise rankings while Notre Dame is currently on the outside looking in at 18th. The six points will be huge in the CCHA standings as the teams enter locked in a tie for seventh place with four games remaining.

Miami has played reasonably well against TUCs this year going 14-13-1 against top competition while Notre Dame has gone 12-12-3 in similar contests. Each team averages 2.8 goals per game but Miami is significantly stouter defensively allowing just 2.2 goals per game which I think could tilt this series toward the RedHawks. And, with the Irish coming in slumping, Miami could be catching them at the right time as the RedHawks attempt to get hot entering the post-season.

If Miami can slow down Notre Dame’s top line and get secondary scoring from the likes of senior captain Alden Hirschfeld, who has his only career hat trick against the Irish and notched seven points against them in five games last season, they’ll have a great opportunity to take at least four points this weekend heading into the regular season’s final weekend.

Notes

– Notre Dame sophomores Stephen Johns and T.J. Tynan played alongside Miami freshman forward Austin Czarnik for Team USA in the World Junior Championship early this year in Alberta.

– Friday’s game will air nationally (7:35pm EST) on the CBS Sports Network as Ben Holden will handle play-by-play duties while Jim Paradise will provide color commentary and Shireen Saski will serve as the rink-side reporter.

– Last season, senior forward Alden Hirschfeld and junior forward Reilly Smith combined for nine goals, seven assists and 16 points in five games against Notre Dame. Smith had four goals and five assists while Hirschfeld tallied five goals and two assists. Hirschfeld recorded his only career hat trick last year against Notre Dame on Dec. 4, 2010 in Oxford. In last year’s CCHA Tournament semifinal, which Miami won, 6-2, Smith handed out three assists and Hirschfeld notched a goal and an assist. (source: MURedHawks.com)

– Miami head coach Enrico Blasi has a career record of 199-122-39 in CCHA games and needs just one more win to become the ninth coach to win 200 CCHA games in a career (source: MURedHawks.com). Since today was his 40th birthday, a sweep this weekend would provide a nice present from the boys. He is 19-9-7 all-time against the Irish.

As a reminder, here’s what Miami did to the Irish the last time the two schools met on the ice. Enjoy the games, folks.

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Posted on February 17, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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