Miami v. Michigan – CCHA Semifinal #2

The RedHawks face streaking Michigan at Joe Louis Arena

On the strength of series’ victories over Michigan State and Western Michigan, respectively, the Miami RedHawks and Michigan Wolverines will meet once again at Joe Louis Arena for the right to advance to tomorrow night’s last-ever CCHA championship game.

Today’s semi-final matchup smells precisely like the one the teams played in 2010 when the regular season champion RedHawks faced seventh seeded Michigan who had gotten hot late in the year needing to win the conference tournament to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament. Of course, Michigan would go on to win the Mason Cup but Miami would have another chance to face the Wolverines in the Midwest regional final in Fort Wayne where the RedHawks would gain revenge by earning their second consecutive trip to the Frozen Four.

This year’s Michigan team (17-18-3) isn’t even at the .500 mark but brings an eight-game unbeaten streak (7-0-1) to the Joe where they will have to, once again, win the Mason Cup to earn a berth in the field of 16. And, like in 2010, Miami has already wrapped up an NCAA tournament berth, but they are playing to retain a #1 seed based on the latest PairWise numbers. The game pairs the league’s top defensive squad, Miami (63 goals allowed) against the league’s top offensive team in Michigan (122 goals for). The defensive numbers are so lopsided, that Michigan (125) has allowed two times the number of goals the RedHawks have while the Hawks have also chipped in 99 goals for on the season. Needless to say, it will be interesting to see how this dynamic plays out today.

Last weekend, Michigan rolled Western Michigan in Kalamazoo 4-3 and 5-1 after sweeping Northern Michigan in Ann Arbor in round one. Recently, the Wolverines have seen a resurgence of sorts from captain Kevin Lynch (10-14-24) and leading scorer Alex Guptill (14-19-33) who were mostly non-factors during the season. In addition, the return of Jon Merrill to the Michigan blueline has solidified them defensively enabling the Wolverines to match lines with the opposition knowing they have a solid top four with CCHA Best Offensive Defenseman, Jacob Trouba, likely leading the other pairing.

In net, freshman Steve Racine has taken the reins and played well recently. Though his season numbers are ordinary (11-5-3, 2.66, .895), the strengthening of the Michigan defense in front of him has helped tremendously. Miami will have to use its team speed, which is equal to or greater than Michigan’s for the first time in a long time, to make the big Michigan blueliners chase the puck. In doing so, the RedHawks should hope to draw them away from the front of the net where Michigan’s defensive size will be an advantage over Miami’s smaller forward corps (e.g., Czarnik, Wideman, Murphy).

For Miami, this season has been another of remarkable consistency. This team has gotten better as the season has progressed and they are playing reasonably well going into today’s game. Offensively, the RedHawks are led by CCHA Player of the Year, sophomore Austin Czarnik (14-22-36) and CCHA Rookie of the Year, Riley Barber (15-23-38). Along with sophomore forward Alex Wideman (5-7-12), the RedHawks first line possesses elite speed and skill.

If Miami can get secondary scoring as they did last weekend from the likes of Sean Kuraly (5-6-11), Curtis McKenzie (9-13-22) and Cody Murphy (10-8-18), it will lessen the load on the top line and make it more difficult for Red Berenson to match lines with CCHA Coach of the Year, Enrico Blasi.

Earlier this season, it was secondary scorers like Alex Gacek, Jimmy Mullin (who has looked outstanding recently) and Murphy who helped Miami split a series at Michigan way back on October 26-27. Ryan McKay started the first game in net but left after just five minutes when he was injured. Jay Williams finished the first game and earned the win on Saturday night as he played the majority of games over the coming weeks. With Williams’ success, it’s plausible, albeit unlikely, that he could face the Wolverines today. If I had to guess, it seems apparent that Rico has selected McKay as his horse in the playoffs. But, I wouldn’t put it past him to throw a curveball. Williams is rested and McKay played three games in three nights last weekend against MSU.

Miami has never beaten Michigan in the CCHA tournament (0-5). With the RedHawks having already claimed the final CCHA regular season title, a berth in the final Mason Cup championship game would be a sweet way to end things in the conference. And, a Miami win would assure the RedHawks of a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament which starts next weekend.

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Posted on March 23, 2013, in 2012-13 News, 2012-13 Weekend Previews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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