Miami travels to the Frozen Tundra
Ok, not quite, but after a disastrous weekend in Omaha, Miami is back on the road for their final non-conference weekend of the season as they travel
to Bemidji, Minn. to take on the Beavers of the WCHA.
As we know, Miami turned in one of their worst team performances in recent memory as they were swept out of Omaha last weekend by the Mavericks 6-3 and 3-1.
Nothing seemed to be working for the RedHawks as they suffered from horrific defensive lapses in transition, looked disinterested at times, and the offensive leaders — Austin Czarnik and Riley Barber — were remarkably quiet. In fact, you have to go back to November 8 at St. Cloud to find the last time Barber scored a goal, and Czarnik has only two in that same span.
Needless to say, Miami needs to begin to find their game as they have just one more series (December 6-7 vs. Denver) before the holiday break. The nice thing about this year’s schedule, however, is that Miami has an exhibition game against the US U-18 squad on New Year’s Eve in Oxford that will help them shake off some rust before embarking on play in the season’s second half. Still, after this weekend, Miami will play just three games from December 6 to January 10. And, as an aside, if Miami loses Riley Barber to the US U-20 WJC team again, which is an almost certainty, it doesn’t look likely that he’ll miss any games for the RedHawks while he plays for another gold medal.
Looking at Bemidji State, Miami (7-6-1, 2-4 t5th NCHC) has faced the Beavers (5-7-2, 5-4 2nd WCHA)) six times and has won four of the six matches.
Of course, none of the meetings was more famous than when the RedHawks defeated Bemidji State 4-1 on April 9, 2009 in Washington D.C. That was Miami’s first ever national semifinal appearance and the victory propelled them to their only national title game appearance where they fell to Boston University in overtime.
Offensively, the Beavers are led by a trio of skaters with 10 points starting with sophomore forward Markus Gerbrandt who is tied for the team lead with 8 goals on the season while junior forward Danny Mattson (2-8-10) is second on the team in helpers. Junior captain Matt Prapavessis (good luck with that one this weekend, Greg) anchors the Beavers’ blue line and leads the team with nine assists.
In net for Bemidji State is junior Andrew Walsh who has started all 14 games this season. He brings a line of 2.82/.907 and one shutout into the weekend and has been a workhorse for the Beavers.
Other skaters to watch include sophomore forward Cory Ward who is tied with Gerbrandt in team goal scoring with eight and sophomore defenseman Graeme McCormack who has a season’s line of 1-7-8 from the blue line.
For Miami, finding their game this weekend could provide a huge boost as they move back into conference play next weekend at home against Denver. The RedHawks can ill-afford another listless weekend as they get ready for another conference test. If Miami wants to secure home ice advantage in the first round of the NCHC playoffs, they’ll obviously need to get things turned around over the coming weeks.
But, during his weekly press conference, head coach Enrico Blasi was confident suggesting folks not panic not get bent out of shape at the team’s recent struggles. And, for that, we agree completely. This season is far from lost. And, as the Miami program continues to grow, we’re learning every season that it’s not about how well you play in December. It’s about how well you play in March that counts. Let’s hope this team continues to improve throughout the season and saves its best hockey for when it really matters. Said Blasi,
“(We’re) turning the page (on last weekend). (We will) make sure we’re focused on what we do best and get after it. (There’s) no reason to worry about what happened in the past. There’s nothing we can do about it. Nothing has changed in the game plan (and we have to) make sure we’re all in this thing together and focused on what we need to do.”
Looking back at last weekend, and aside from the all-out play of sophomore forward Sean Kuraly, there were few highlights. The defense looked soft and slow-footed and Miami’s offense was settling for shots from the outside rather than getting to the hard areas of the ice where goals are scored. The RedHawks were without junior forward Jimmy Mullin and his return this weekend (if he returns) could help provide a boost of energy that seems needed. In net, things weren’t much better as Jay Williams, starting his first game since November 2, left Friday’s game with an injury (he may have
taken a skate to the head) and normal Friday starter, Ryan McKay, did not look comfortable in net as he fought the puck all night. And, on Saturday, he wasn’t much better. Though he made 40 saves, McKay appeared to still be fighting the puck.
All in all, let’s chalk last weekend up to a blip that happens to every team during the course of a long season. Hopefully Miami can rediscover its confidence and scoring touch and get back to playing solid team hockey that carried Miami to shutout victories over St. Cloud and Wisconsin earlier this month.
Until Miami shows they’re committed to team defense and two-way hockey, and until the offense starts humming, there’s no way I’m picking a series sweep. That said, I think Miami ends the three-game losing streak, but I’m saying split in Bemidji this weekend.
Greg Waddell will have the call of both games this weekend at Miami All-Access and over the air on AM 1450 and 1490 in the Oxford area.