Monthly Archives: March 2014
Frozen Faceoff — We have questions…
As the song “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons goes, “Welcome to the new age.”
As the inaugural season of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference comes to a close, we are left with the inevitability of a new gathering of college hockey fans at new venues in new cities. It it officially the blending of the old — the WCHA’s Final Five as represented by North Dakota and Denver with the CCHA’s “Hockey in the D” being repped by Miami and Western Michigan. And, with both the WCHA having been relegated to second tier status playing their tournament in Grand Rapids, Mich. and the Joe being empty of college hockey this weekend, it does seem that we are certainly moving on.
But, what have we learned this year? And, was it better? Will it be?
Did fans fawn over new and existing rivalries? Was the action so riveting in the NCHC (and the Big 6) that all of this was really necessary?
Sadly, I believe the answer is “not quite yet.”
While the on-ice product during the regular was at best a “meh,” the playoff action in the NCHC has thus far been fascinating with three “lower seeds” moving on to compete in the Frozen Faceoff this weekend in Minneapolis. Of course, those lower seeds included 7-time national champions Denver, 2012 Mason Cup champions Western Michigan and 2012 CCHA regular season champions Miami.
Not exactly “lower seed material.” But, this season has certainly proved that someone has to finish last in a highly competitive league. This year it was Miami, but they of course promptly dispatched the first ever Penrose Cup champions, St. Cloud State, in two games.
But, it’s certainly clear the NCHC has much riding on this weekend.
First, the venue. The Target Center is a facility with one full-time tenant, the Minnesota Timberwolves of the NBA. Yep, it’s a basketball facility first and foremost. The last time the WCHA held a Final Five tournament there, in 2000, there were catcalls from many who attended saying it’s not a good venue to host the sport. I can’t speak to the hockey games (if any) that have been held there since, but some are saying improvements to the facility bode well for the weekend. It would be a nice-to-have if the NCHC doesn’t have to endure heat over the selection of Target Center, but the location in downtown Minneapolis, is superb.
Second, attendance. You know former Miami man and NCHC commish Josh Fenton has to be breathing a huge sigh of relief that North Dakota was able to overcome the challenge from Colorado College to earn a trip to the Frozen Faceoff. As it is, the three dance partners add very little in terms of a traveling fan base. Denver is simply too far away and they don’t even draw 50 students to their regular season games at Magness Arena. As for Miami and Western Michigan, it remains to be seen. Western had traveled well to the Joe the past few years, but that’s all of a two-hour drive from Kalamazoo. I might ordinarily suggest that they would have more fans than Miami this weekend, but with the basketball Broncos earning a berth (and being blown out by Syracuse right now) in the NCAA tournament, that might have picked off some of their fans.
Speaking of the red and white, we all know we have a fan base that’s reluctant to travel, and in a year that saw Miami finish dead last in the regular season, and with the NCAA tournament regional being hosted by Miami in Cincinnati, I have to believe most fans will simply wait it out. If Miami wins the weekend, they’ll attend next weekend in our backyard. If not, well, at least they got to watch the games on CBS Sports Network.
Assuming North Dakota brings 5,000-7,000 fans and you get 1,000-2,000 from DU, MU and WMU, plus another 3,000 or so who are fans of other Minnesota NCHC schools or just college hockey fans, maybe, maybe we could see 10,000 in the building. Anything more than that would be fantastic but unrealistic, especially considering the Big 10 tournament is being held in nearby St. Paul and features the home squad, Minnesota.
But, that brings about another thought. The old WCHA would jam the Xcel Energy Center to see Minnesota, North Dakota, SCSU, UMD and Wisconsin go toe to toe. Now, the WCHA will draw, maybe, 5,000 for their games at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids for Anchorage, Minnesota State, Bowling Green and Ferris State from nearby Big Rapids who you’d think will have by far the most fans in attendance. And, as I write this, I’m watching Michigan and Penn State play in front what appears to be a crowd of three people at Xcel right now. When the CCHA would hold its tournament weekend in Detroit, you always knew Michigan would bring between 10,000-15,000 fans for their games, regardless of the time. And, when Michigan and Michigan State would play, the building would be full.
What to make of all this?
Well, it seems we had it pretty good, and I’m hopeful Xcel will be full when Minnesota and Wisconsin come calling. One thing is certain, Hockey East is making out like a bandit as their league changed the least and only strengthened itself with the addition of Notre Dame who has also had to adjust to a quite a bit more travel — and it showed with their eighth place finish in the regular season but it advanced by knocking off the #1 seed — sound familiar? And, the ECAC has not yet been touched by realignment so things were as they always had been. Consistency has its advantages.
Lastly, the quality of the hockey. I’m beginning to formulate a theory that Miami, despite its defensive shortcomings might just be a tired bunch. I have no way to know for sure, but I wonder if the impact of all the extra travel the team has had to do this year, and not just the travel from Oxford to Denver as an example, but I wonder if all the extra bus rides, transfers and equipment hauling has taken a toll? I wonder if any of this
has affected any of the other schools? Denver and Colorado College are obviously exempt because they have had to fly everywhere for years. But for the other programs, were all the extra flights, bus rides and shuttles as draining as they appear to have been on the RedHawks? Bus rides from St. Cloud to Madison were replaced by flights to Kalamazoo. And, that speaks nothing for travel costs which were obviously much higher for Miami and Western Michigan, especially, than they had ever been. So, will Miami have anything left after back to back trips to Denver and St. Cloud? We understand they stayed in Minnesota all week, but that has to take a toll on bodies at this point in a hockey season nutritionally, sleep-wise, workouts and recovery, everything. Will they be able to muster the energy required to take on North Dakota and its fans?
So, the real question…is all of this sustainable?
We are already beginning to hear whispers that another round of realignment is forthcoming. Perhaps inevitable. And, how does Alabama-Huntsville really continue to field a Division I program? Will college hockey continue in Alaska now that they are kind of “isolated together?” Is the Big 6 plan sustainable? Will they have to add other Big 10 schools to make this interesting? Will they pressure the Illinois’ and Indiana’s of the world to step up? And, will the schools of the “like-minded” NCHC decide that maybe this whole thing wasn’t so great after all? Will the WCHA have the last laugh should the NCHC dissolve?
Whatever happens, it might not be good for college hockey. If this year is any predictor of the future, the game really didn’t seem to advance all that much. Well, at least not quite yet.
NCHC Frozen Faceoff – Miami v. North Dakota
It’s truly is the most wonderful time of the year!
With the NCAA basketball tournament starting in earnest today and NCAA hockey’s conference tournaments hitting full stride, this weekend is one of my most favorite sports weekends of the year.
And, in case you haven’t been paying attention, Miami is once again in the thick of it. But this time, the tables have been turned on the RedHawks. After a sub-par regular season that most certainly did not meet expectations, Miami decided to come together last weekend in St. Cloud upending
the Penrose Cup champions in a two-game weekend series sweep. Yet, Miami will not earn a berth to its ninth consecutive NCAA tournament without winning two more games this weekend.
First up? North Dakota.
A team that as recently as February 14-15 defeated Miami 3-2 in a game UND led 3-0 and then handed the RedHawks a 9-2 whipping the likes of which this program hadn’t seen since the 1990s. The teams split their series in Oxford way back in October with North Dakota winning 4-2 and then Miami dishing out a 6-2 whipping of their own a night later.
However, the lost weekend in Grand Forks perhaps began to ignite a little spark in the RedHawks.
Buoyed by the return of Blake Coleman, Miami would begin to play a little better. Splits in two of the next three series marked by incrementally better play defensively and in net, set Miami up with a chance to go into St. Cloud and knock off the Huskies. Miami had split both regular season series with SCSU so last weekend’s outcome wasn’t all that surprising.
Miami is still not there yet.
If they have any dreams of winning the NCHC conference tournament and advancing to the NCAA tournament, they will have to find a way to shore up defensive lapses that have plagued the team all season. Dennis Green’s famous quote, “they are what we thought they were” most definitely applies here. As much as we’d like to think this team is better than it really is, the fact is they have played as poor defensively as a club as any Miami team in recent memory, and despite having all kinds of offensive talent, it still might not be enough. What’s clear is they are not going to win too many 2-1 games. But, if the offense can get to four, Miami will have a real chance to win two games this weekend and carry the dream forward.
That said, Miami will have to get past a team that has rounded into arguably the best team in the NCHC and one with a significant home-ice advantage tomorrow night in North Dakota. Gang Green (I don’t know what to call them) has one of the best traveling fan bases in all of college sports and you can figure they will have an overwhelming number of supporters all weekend long. But, rooting for the underdog, and against North Dakota, is always chic. I expect those in attendance from UMD, UMTC, SCSU and others to pull for the RedHawks and maybe just give them a little boost. The crowd will most certainly get behind Miami should they take the lead or keep it close.
And, I do believe this will be a close game.
Coleman’s return gives Miami four complete lines and gives head coach Enrico Blasi the abilty to split up snipers Riley Barber and Austin Czarnik pairing either Coleman or Sean Kuraly with them. Then with Alex Gacek, Alex Wideman and Cody Murphy set to offer scoring ability throughout the lineup, it does make Miami more difficult to defend. There is an awful lot of offensive talent on this team which simply makes this season that more perplexing. One theory I have, and that I’ll get into in another piece, is that Miami was unprepared for the toll that the new travel schedule would take on the team.
Anyway, this weekend rests on the shoulders of the offense. But, if Miami can get decent contributions from the blueline (in terms of clearing rebounds, playing without turnovers and making smart plays up the ice) and if Ryan McKay can be in top form, there’s reason to believe Miami can win two games this weekend and move on.
At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
Miami Cruises through Pool Play, will Play for All the Marbles
The Miami University Women’s Club Hockey team headed to Delaware this weekend with hopes of wrangling a National Championship. Tonight, they sit on the verge of a title. After a thrilling 1-0 victory over Liberty today, the RedHawks will take on UMass in the National Championship game Sunday afternoon.
What a trip has been. Just 3 years ago, Miami’s women’s club team started their program. The first year didn’t see much success, but Head Coach Scott Hicks grew the program from nothing – you couldn’t expect success in year one. Last year, the team played a whole lot better and nearly made the national tournament, garnering their first ever national ranking and making great strides.
But the 2013-14 season has seen unprecedented success. The RedHawks have been the #1 ranked team in the country for the entire season. They entered the CCWHA tournament with the top seed and demolished the competition, allowing just 2 goals across 5 games. Next up: the National Championship tournament.
It has been a great trip so far. According to Head coach Scott Hicks, “the girls have been playing well. As the tournament has gone on our level of play has picked up. Having played Michigan and Michigan State prior this year we knew what we were getting. We didn’t play our best, but against Rhode Island, it was ratcheted up a notch.”
Even through the third game of pool play, Miami kept it together in the face of adversity. They were down to the University of Rhode Island 1-0 for almost 2 periods. “Rhode Island is just a great hockey team. It was a back and forth game and when you play good teams they will cause you to make mistakes,” Coach Hicks said. “The message down 1-0 was all it takes is one shot. Keep plugging away, keep moving our feet and get shots towards the net. We got a lucky bounce to keep a puck alive in the zone and Kaley Mooney buried it.”
One shot indeed. Miami scored just 58 seconds into the third period and held on to the tie to take the top seed in the championship round by way of goal differential against Rhode Island. “The big point of emphasis between the 2nd and 3rd against URI and again against Liberty was not to over coach. The message was keep it simple. Don’t try and do too much, take the simple play they give you and move your feet.”
In the semi-finals, Miami made life extremely difficult for Liberty.
It was a tight game the entire night, but Dana Lovin stood tall in net. Despite a shot that rang off the post with under a minute to go, Miami prevailed 1-0. The Lady RedHawks will now head to their first ever National Championship game, just 3 years after the inception of the program.
Hicks is ready for the challenge Sunday. “We get UMass tomorrow. It’s a battle of the top two teams in the country. We know they are skilled, physical, and have great goaltending. The message is similar, keep it simple, move your feet and make them have to go 200 feet to score.”
Today’s National Championship game starts at 2:00 pm Eastern time. You can catch the game on http://www.fasthockey.com for a nominal fee. Don’t miss it!!
ON TO MINNEAPOLIS!
On the strength of two one-goal victories, the cellar dwellers of the regular season, the Miami RedHawks have rediscovered their mojo and are moving on to compete in the first NCHC Frozen Faceoff in Minneapolis next weekend.
We’ll have more later, but what you need to know is Miami will be joined by former CCHA and MAC mate Western Michigan and Jim Montgomery’s Pioneers of the University of Denver. Each of those schools was the underdog going into the weekend. With North Dakota and Colorado College heading to a decisive third game tomorrow night, it is conceivable that all four lower seeds could advance.
If North Dakota wins, Miami will face the team formerly called the Fighting Sioux. If CC pulls it out, Miami will face Western Michigan in one semifinal.
More to come.
Go Hawks go!
The Penalty Box: 2 Minutes with Scott Hicks
About 2 years ago, we sat down with Miami Women’s Club Hockey Head Coach Scott Hicks to discuss the newly formed Women’s team on campus. Over the last 2 years, a lot has happened with his team and today, the Lady RedHawks are on fire.
Miami finished atop the CCWHA Women’s Division 1 standings, earned their first ever #1 national ranking and headed into conference tournament play with a record of 21-2-2. Five games later, the Lady RedHawks had allowed just 2 goals and had 4 shutouts in their utter annihilation of the competition in the CCWHA postseason tournament. They finished the season with a 26-2-2 record and are headed to Newark, Delaware for the National tournament for their shot at a national title, which starts today.
Blog of Brotherhood (BoB): Last time we interviewed you we wanted to know how you got your start. This time, you’re an established team and headed to nationals this week as a likely favorite to take home the whole thing. Give us an update on how the team looks 2 years later.
Scott Hicks (SH): The make up of our program is completely different than it was just two short years ago. We are heavily involved in the recruiting process and have made some changes to how we operate to give these kids the best experience we can and something that they deserve. We are finally starting to get kids who are not only great hockey players, but great people and great students. These kids are coming to Miami to play hockey. Without it they wouldn’t be here, and that makes a big difference on the mindset of your program.
BoB: Despite being a club hockey program, you are now recruiting a good number of young women to the team and the quality of play is climbing quickly. How are you growing the program so well?
SH: The one thing we always tell people is we won’t be out-worked. This is the #1 reason why we have gotten to where we are. We put a lot of time in traveling to showcases to watch players, and recruit. We make ourselves as visible as possible. This has made a lot of people more aware of us for one thing but has also given us credibility.
Our biggest asset is the University itself. The academics make us extremely appealing to several high end players. There really isn’t anything for Women after college, so academics is extremely important to these kids – as it should be. They are starting to realize that there are very few differences between us and any NCAA D-III program.
Some of the biggest differences are that the NCAA level is several hours each day, where we put a program in place to go just an hour a day. Along with that, the fact that a majority of the D-III schools don’t have the academic prestige of a Miami or the campus life of a Miami, it gives us a big edge in the recruiting and is the big reason why we have been able to get some of the players that we have. More kids are starting to realize that we are a better option and other programs like us around the country are better options. That only helps increase the level of play and makes the game much better.
The other big plus is our facility. It’s better than any other option you could get at the D-III level.
BoB: Rachael Booth and Katie Augustine are your leading scorers. Talk to us about their success this season.
SH: Both girls are just tremendous people. They work hard on and off the ice and they are extremely talented. These are two that fit the mold of what I just talked about in your previous question. Both had looks from D-I NCAA schools but wouldn’t have gotten a lot of playing time. Both could have gone to any D-III school they wanted to, but the saw the value in a Miami education and fell in love with the campus when they visited.
Both continued their tremendous success and are our top two scorers. Rachael is a point shy of the 50 point plateau and Katie has been just as consistent. We leaned heavily on both of these two during the conference tournament, that’s for sure!
BoB: In addition, your group of 10 freshmen has been pretty incredible as well. How much have they made an impact on the team already this year?
SH: Every single freshman we have brought in has made a tremendous impact on our program. Every single one of them has contributed. Our defense has been given a big upgrade with the additions of Lily Christensen and Catie Karpinski. Our forward group got a big shot in the arm with the addition of those 6 up front.
Besides Augustine and Booth, Kaley Mooney has been on a tear in the second half. She is a kid who was injured early in the year and missed a lot of time in the first half. She benefited from having the holiday break and came back lighting the league on fire. She was named freshman of the month for January and has added some big jump to our offense.
Cassidy Guthrie has also been a huge addition, she has a tremendous motor and has really fit in well with fellow freshman Jordan Hanson and Sophomore Izzy Smith who is continuing to add to her great freshman year with a solid start.
I can’t talk about the freshman class without talking about Emalee Wills. She has been better than advertised. She has been sensational this year. Just to give you an idea of how good she has been, she let in one goal one weekend and her goals against average went UP.
With Mooney getting healthy it has really allowed us some options up front to mix things up and has really been able to give us balanced scoring. We are no longer a one line team or a team where you can shut down one or two players and stop us.
BoB: Speaking of Emalee, your goaltending has also been outstanding this season.
SH: We have a great situation in net. We have a Senior in Dana Lovin who has been our horse the last 3 years and she will most likely see more time than Emalee. But Emalee is making that decision harder and harder each week with her play.
Those are things we want, tough decisions. She knows the situation and has embraced it. The best thing is the two of them get along so well, and Dana has sort of taken Emalee under her wing and that will be big for us in the future.
Dana has continued to be a rock for us and as the season has wound down she has elevated her play. Picking up 3 shutouts out of 4 games played at our conference tournament and lowering her GAA more than a half a goal in the second half.
BoB: What do you think about being the #1 ranked team? You’ve held that spot all season, so is it something you forget about and just play?
SH: Its something that we have decided to embrace. We know the target is on us and to the girls credit, they have constantly risen to the challenge, taken the best our opponents have and answered the bell. We are extremely proud to have carried the #1 ranking throughout the season and to have the top seed at the National tournament.
BoB: Morgan McGrath and Katie Augustine were named to and played on Team USA for the World University Games in December. Rachael Booth was named as an alternate. This has to be a great recruiting tool for you and your coaching staff?
SH: We talked about Katie a little before and she earned this spot. For a freshman to be named to this team is an unbelievable accomplishment and one I know she is extremely proud of and very deserving of.
Morgan has been a staple for us in her first year and half on campus. She is our shut down defenseman who we really try to match up against the opponent’s top player. She sees about 40 minutes of ice a night and her condition level is tremendous. She is coming off a First team all-conference selection as a freshman. She was a unanimous selection to Team USA and it couldn’t of happened to a better person.
Rachael got on the radar late and it is tough for freshman to get on the roster but it was hard to ignore her performance to start the year and she earned the alternate position. The great thing for her is she has a tremendous opportunity to make the roster in 2015 because of her performance.
BoB: In 2011 we interviewed you in November and on the eve of your game against Michigan State – then the defending national champions. This year, I spoke with you just before you took on Minnesota – another powerhouse program. What kind of example have teams like this been to your program?
SH: This is a great question. We have tried to model our program after Michigan St. and Grand Valley St. They have done things the right way in recruiting and how the operate. 2 years ago I got a little inside look at that. You get to know the coaches and I was fortunate to form a relationship with former Grand Valley St. head coach Corey Whitaker (who is now an assistant at Lindenwood University – an NCAA Division I program). He was a tremendous help in educating me on how things operate at his level and what it takes to compete at this level.
Most of it? I had no clue. It was an eye opening conversation and something I am extremely grateful for. I owe a lot to Corey and his insight but it helped us from our program and put things in place that we feel has made us better and a much more desirable place to come.
BoB: You’ve beaten Minnesota, Adrian College and Grand Valley State – several times each, I might add. How are you going to finish it out this year?
SH: Ha! I guess we will find out. I know one thing – we set 3 goals this season. We have accomplished two of them by winning the regular season title and the CCWHA conference title. Adding a National tournament title to that would just be a spectacular ending to what has only been a magical season. We know we can compete, we have gone up against the cream of the crop and knocked them off going 10-1-2 against the teams that will be at Nationals. Our mission now is to make sure we are well rested and prepared to face what will be our toughest challenge of the year!
Well there you have it. 2 minutes (okay maybe 3-4) with Scott Hicks.
In the National Tournament, Miami will face off against Michigan St. on March 13th at 11:00 am. Later that night, they take on Michigan at 8:30 pm.
We’ll keep you updated as much as we can on @MiamiHockeyBlog, but give a follow to @MiamiWHockey for live updates this weekend.
Staggering Stats from a Season to Forget
2013-14 may go down as one of the largest disappointments in the history of the Miami hockey program. As crushing as the 2009 Frozen Four turned out, it was the turning point for the program, and created our new “all or nothing” mindset and expectations for the Miami University Hockey team. Since then, if Miami doesn’t win a regular season championship, tournament championship or even an NCAA Regional championship, it seems that the season is a loss. Well…we’re not going to get any of the three this year unless the team goes on an unbelievable run in the next 2 weeks.
So how bad has it been this season? Consider these facts:
Miami’s last losing season was 9 years ago. In the 2004-05 campaign, Miami went 15-18-5.
Miami has made the NCAA tournament 8 consecutive years and 9 of the last 10. The streak ends this year unless Miami wins 2 of 3 vs St. Cloud and then wins the Frozen Faceoff – the NCHC’s post season tournament. Michigan’s 22-year NCAA tournament appearance streak was the longest in history (lasted every year since 1990!) and North Dakota looks poised to continue its streak this season, making it 12 years in a row – now the longest in the NCAA.
In those last 8 years with NCAA tournament appearances, Miami has 3 CCHA regular season championships, 1 CCHA tournament championship, played in 2 frozen fours, had their first-ever Hobey Baker winner and compiled the best record in the NCAA with a total of 207 wins – an average over 25 wins a season. Before this run started in 2005, Miami had just 2 seasons of 25+ wins – 1996-97 and 1992-93.
Miami’s winning percentage heading into conference tournament play is just .397. The last time it was that low as Coach Blasi’s 3rd year in Oxford – the 2001-02 season saw Miami go 12-22-2 – a .361 win %.
In order to make the post season, Miami must win 4 games in a row – something they haven’t done this season. In the last 8 years, Miami has had 21 4-game winning streaks without ties or shootout wins including 5 times in 2007-08, twice in 2012-13 and a 13-game unbeaten streak (3 ties) in 2010-11.
Miami won just 6 conference games in the NCHC this year. To find the last time they won that few conference games we have to go back to the 1990-91 season when Miami won just 5 games all year, 3 of them coming in CCHA play. In fact they have only won that few conference games twice, with 1985-86 being the other time (also 3 CCHA wins). Accoring to the College Hockey Historical Archives, the last time Miami finished last in a conference was the 1990-91 season as well.
It doesn’t get much worse for Miami. But all is not lost. Yet.
Miami won 2 of their 6 conference games against St Cloud State, and the Huskies are a team that they are becoming very familiar with. The two teams played 3 times in the 2010-11 season and met in the NCAA regional final last season, with St Cloud taking a 4-1 victory, making their first-ever Frozen Four appearance.
Miami faces off against SCSU on Friday and Saturday night this week in St. Cloud. If the teams split the first two, the rubber match is on Sunday for a chance to play in the Frozen Faceoff in Minneapolis next week.