Monthly Archives: January 2015

#9 Miami at Western Michigan

WMU’s Lawson Ice Arena is a great old barn.

In an odd “home” series, Western Michigan (11-10-3, 4-7-3-3 7th NCHC) will host #9 Miami (15-9, 8-6 T4th NCHC) in Kalamazoo tonight and again next Saturday in Chicago as Miami once again will go outside to play at the Hockey City Classic for the second time in three years.

Earlier this season, Miami swept a home NCHC series in Oxford by 1-0 and 5-2 scores while the Broncos were really struggling. But, Andy Murray’s squad has faired much better over the past several weeks going 8-2-2 over its past 12 games including a demolition of defending national champion Union in the Shillelagh Tournament in South Bend, Ind.

For Miami, these are two incredibly important games.

I suppose every game down the stretch for the RedHawks is important as they struggle to maintain a top four league finish and secure home ice in the first round of the playoffs.

What’s clear is Miami has a very difficult schedule down the stretch and they’ll have to perform much better if they want to challenge for a regular season title — or at this point — a top four finish in the very competitive NCHC.

The Broncos are a big, physical team. Most fans, coaches and pundits call WMU an “awful team to play against.” As they have gotten more confident in themselves, and head coach Andy Murray’s system, the wins have come.

Offensively, the Broncos are led by senior forward Justin Kovacs (4-16-20) and junior forwards Colton Hargrove (10-9-19) and Nolan LaPorte (9-10-19). Junior defenseman Kenny Morrison (5-8-13) and junior goaltender Lukas Hafner (10-7-3, 2.13, .922) form the backbone of a Bronco team that has surrendered just 28 goals in the past 12

Junior Lukas Hafner has had an outstanding year for Western Michigan.

games. Of note is that WMU was blown out 7-0 by SCSU a few weeks ago. If you remove that game, it’s just 21 goals in 11 games. Needless to say, the WMU defense has been playing well which is a bad sign given Miami’s almost incredible inability to manufacture goals. Over the past nine games, Miami has netted only 21 goals which is a dismal 46th in the country during that stretch. (source: MURedHawks.com)

As stated, this brutal run to the finish began last weekend. Miami stands 1-1 in the series of games that will largely determine their post-season fate. Miami has had difficulty winning important games and with Western Michigan perhaps in an even more desperate mode, I do not see Miami winning tonight but I do see a bounce-back in Chicago next weekend. Still, Miami really needs a sweep here. Will they have enough to rise to the occasion?

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#11 Denver at #9 Miami

Joey LaLeggia leads a tough Denver team against Miami in Oxford.

After a week spent licking its wounds following an embarrassing sweep at the hands of then seventh place St. Cloud State, 9th ranked Miami (14-8, 7-5 4th NCHC) jumps into the final stretch of the regular season with a challenge from #11 Denver (13-7-1, 6-5 5th NCHC) in Oxford. For Miami, these are the first home games since December 5-6 when they split a league series against Omaha.

After five meetings last year, these are the first of the 2014-15 campaign and first since Miami’s 4-3 loss to Denver in the NCHC championship game in Minneapolis last March. Last season, Miami and the Pioneers split four regular season meetings before Denver prevailed in the title game propelling DU to the NCAA tournament where they were routed by Boston College in the first round of the Dance.

This weekend’s NCHC series against DU is the start of a brutal final month-plus of the regular season as Miami will next face Western Michigan (@Kalamazoo, @Chicago/Hockey City Classic) followed by Colorado College (road), Minnesota-Duluth (home) and Denver again (road) before finishing the regular season with a home series against North Dakota on March 6-7.

The Series

Miami trails the all-time series with the Pioneers 7-6 including a 1-1 mark against Denver in NCAA tournament games.

The Coach

Maine alum Jim Montgomery is in his second season behind the DU bench after replacing legendary head coach George Gwozdecky before the start of last season. Overall, Montgomery is a modest 33-23-7 in his season and a half with the Pioneers and the program is still really looking for the spark I feel they lost in making a mistake by firing Gwozdecky.

The Team

Having seen Denver twice in person, they are a smooth skating, puck-moving team with decent size and goaltending. In a 4-1 victory over outmanned RPI, Denver was dominant. However, in a humbling 3-1 loss to North Dakota, the Pioneers were exposed by speed and stretch passes as UND dominated from start to finish.

Denver was soundly defeated by North Dakota last month. Miami should attempt to replicate UND’s formula for success this weekend.

So, a mixed bag, perhaps. What I will say is that Miami needs to get out in space and challenge the DU forwards to backcheck. It was either an off-night or the Pioneers don’t care much for defensive play so perhaps Miami can use that to its advantage.

Offensively, the Pioneers are led by freshman Danton Heinen (9-16-25) and last year’s leading scorer, sophomore Trevor Moore (9-11-20). On the blueline, junior Joey LaLeggia (8-12-20) leads a stellar group of puck movers and is a player Miami must keep tabs on, particularly on the powerplay.

In net, the Pioneers have split minutes between sophomore Evan Cowley (2.09 GAA, .924 SV, 14 GP) and freshman Tanner Jaillet (2.01 GAA, .920 SV, 12 GP) to almost identical results. Cowley was thought to have been on the short list to make this year’s US WJC team, but was one of the final cuts before the team skidded to a 5th place finish. Frankly, I thought Cowley should have gotten the nod before Brian Halverson who saw little action backing up Boston College’s Thatcher Demko.

Overall, this is a big, fast Pioneer team and Miami will have its hands full. Expect to see both Crash Cousins in the lineup this weekend as Enrico Blasi attempts to get favorable line matchups with the final change.

The Prediction

This is a series Miami needs to sweep. The first two home games in well over a month. Coming off that embarrassing sweep. Despite the fact the students are still on break, I say Miami shows its heart and finds a way to get a tough NCHC series sweep over the Pioneers.

A wasted weekend

In one of the uglier performances in recent memory, #5/6 Miami was swept in St. Cloud by the Huskies this weekend by 3-1 and 3-2 scores.

Offensively, Miami could generate little against a team that came in 7-10-1 and looked listless with the exception of the first period of Friday night’s game when they registered 17 shots on goal and should have buried the Huskies for the weekend. Alas, the RedHawks did not dent the scoreboard and gave SCSU hope and momentum, dangerous living indeed against a desperate team.

In fact, this weekend looked a lot like last year when the travel-weary RedHawks could generate little energy. We said in our preview the weekend would be tough. Miami has now played six consecutive games away from home since December 28. They MUST get back to the winning side of things when they welcome in another road-weary opponent, Denver, who was swept themselves in a road series at Omaha after playing in a holiday tournament in New Hampshire (v. Dartmouth, v. Brown) the weekend prior. Before heading out to play Miami January 23-24 in Oxford, the Pioneers have a home series against SCSU meaning they’ll have flown to New Hampshire, Omaha and back to Denver before again flying to Oxford. Miami should take advantage of that heavy travel schedule and get an important home sweep of a league opponent.

The RedHawks will have a much needed week of rest and need to refocus their game before the Pioneers come to town.

#5/6 Miami at St. Cloud State

St. Cloud won the Penrose Cup, awarded to the NCHC’s regular season champion in 2013-14.

Fresh off a 3-1 holiday road trip that featured two shutouts by junior netminder Jay Williams, Miami is on the road again this weekend in a two-game series at NCHC rival St. Cloud State.

This will be the first and only time the two schools meet this year after playing six times last year culminating in Miami’s two-game NCHC playoff series sweep of the Huskies who finished first in the league’s inaugural regular season.

Though they rode high last year, this year has been very different for the defending Penrose Cup Champions.

The Huskies (7-10-1, 2-5-1 NCHC) find themselves mired in seventh place while Miami (14-6-0, 7-3-0 NCHC) sits in first place in the league standings after finishing a disastrous dead last one year ago.

Both games can be seen via NCHC.tv and heard via Miami All-Access. Tonight’s game will also be shown live on Sports Time Ohio and Fox Sports North Plus (good lord) at 8:37 PM EST and tomorrow the puck drops at 8:07 PM EST.

The Series

Miami has dominated this series though the number of games between the burgeoning rivals is relatively limited. Miami leads the all-time series 12-5-1 including a 4-2 mark last year. After splitting two regular season series on each other’s home ice last season, the RedHawks went to St. Cloud fighting for an opportunity to salvage their season, and salvage they did as they swept the Huskies out of the NCHC playoffs.

The Coach

St. Cloud head coach Bob Motzko is a familiar name to Miami fans as he was an assistant with the program under former Miami head coaches George Gwozdecky and Mark Mazzolini for five seasons. At SCSU, Motzko has taken the program to its only Frozen Four and has gone a respectable 191-146-41 in 10 seasons behind the bench of his alma mater.

The Team

Coming off last season’s first place regular season finish, SCSU was picked to finish third in this year’s preseason poll behind North Dakota and Miami. However, they will have to go on some kind of run in order to fulfill those lofty preseason expectations.

In net, the Huskies run out sophomore Charlie Lindgren who has decent numbers with a 2.63 GAA and .905 save percentage. However, the Huskies simply aren’t scoring like they did a year ago averaging just 2.44 goals

SCSU’s Jonny Brodzinski is a Hobey Baker caliber player.

per game vs. 3.58 a season ago. Leading scorer Jonny Brodzinski paces the Huskies with 11-6-17 after netting 21 goals a year ago. The loss of Hobey Hat Trick Finalist Nic Dowd has been huge because after Brodzinski’s 11 goals, only one player, Joey Benik, has at least 8 goals for SCSU. In fact, the next highest scorers after Benik are Andrew Prochno and David Morley who have just three goals apiece.

The Prediction

Looking at this matchup on paper, Miami should sweep the weekend. SCSU can’t score and when Miami’s right, they can. However, road weariness could take its toll as the RedHawks will be playing their fifth and sixth games away from home since December 28. As much as I want to say Miami will sweep, I think they leave the series with yet another NCHC split.