#3 Miami at #6 Western Michigan
First place Miami clashes with second place Western Michigan in the nation’s premiere weekend series
It’s a #MACAttack weekend as long-time MAC rivals Miami (17-6-5, 12-4-4-4 1st CCHA) and Western Michigan (17-6-5, 13-4-3-1 2nd CCHA) renew their hockey rivalry that’s heated up over the past two years. The schools have met twice at Joe Louis Arena in the CCHA tournament over the past two seasons.
Two years ago, Miami defeated the upstart Broncos in the CCHA title game to capture the program’s only Mason Cup, while last year, the Broncos returned the favor in the semifinals en route to their first Mason Cup championship. However, during the regular season, Miami swept Western in Oxford.
It has to be especially heartening to new NCHC commissioner Jim Scherr to see the two CCHA squads at the top of the league just 8 months from the inaugural puck drop for the new league.
But, to the weekend at hand…
10 goals last weekend? And, 15 over their past four games? Could it be that Miami’s offense is finally waking up at precisely the right time? With just 8 regular season games left, the time is now for this team to find its offensive game, keep playing stout defense and come together down the stretch.
Well, the stretch starts tonight in Kalamazoo where Miami will face it’s most difficult road series of the year at Western Michigan and the Lawson Lunatics, whom, to put it mildly, comprise the
most vulgar “rowdiest” student section in all of college hockey. And, we poke fun because it’s true in both good ways and bad.
Leading the charge for the Broncos is a familiar cast of characters led by senior Dane Walters who leads WMU with 21 points (12-9-21) and junior Chase Balisy with 20 (8-12-20). Western’s power play is best in the league at 22.9 percent but it will be without junior powerplay specialist Dennis Brown (1-13-14) who was suspended for tonight’s game following Saturday night’s shootout loss against Ferris State. Additionally, the Broncos will be without two other players including injured sophomore defenseman Garrett Haar (3-3-6), who scored a goal in the CCHA semifinal win over the RedHawks, and sophomore forward Justin Kovacs (1-5-6) who was also suspended following the Ferris State game.
In net for Western will be “The Big Slubowski,” sophomore Frank Slubowski who has started every game this season for the Broncos. Slubowski, a finalist for last season’s CCHA Rookie of the Year, has returned with a vengence notching 16 wins, a 1.78 GAA and .922 save percentage so far. It goes without saying that beating Slubowski will be challenging for Miami, a team that has struggled to score this year.
For the RedHawks, well, expect more of the same.
The top line has to continue to execute and carry the team offensively. In moving sophomore forward Alex Wideman alongside sophomore center Austin Czarnik and freshman forward Riley Barber, head coach Enrico Blasi has gone for speed and creativity out of his top three. This has enabled players like Blake Coleman, Curtis McKenzie and Sean Kuraly to use their blend of speed and size to give Miami a more balanced and dynamic top six look.
Defensively, the RedHawks lead the nation in total defense and freshmen goaltenders Jay Williams and Ryan McKay will be tested, not so much by Western’s offensive prowess, but rather to keep their composure on the road in a rink that is difficult to play in. This will be an excellent test for Miami and if they are fortunate to split this weekend’s series, that would be huge as we move toward the playoffs.
– Miami is coming off its second straight CCHA sweep as the RedHawks downed then No. 20 Alaska, 4-1 last Friday before completing the sweep, 6-2, on Saturday and have won 5 straight overall. (source: MURedHawks.com)
– Western enters the series on a five-game unbeaten streak going 4-0-1 during that stretch including a sweep of 8th place Michigan (it ain’t what it used to be). Last weekend the Broncos won at Ferris State, 3-1 on Friday before dropping a shootout to Ferris on Saturday. (source: MURedHawks.com)