#9 Miami at Western Michigan
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
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?