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Miami hosts Western Michigan to Start Homestand

After a thrilling split in North Dakota where the RedHawks earned their first ever win in Ralph Englestad Arena, #7 Miami (8-4, 4-2 NCHC) entertains the Western Michigan Broncos (3-6-1, 1-4-1-1 NCHC) tonight and tomorrow. With last year’s disappointment beginning to fade, Miami will look to avoid the winter swoon and continue to avenge some of last season’s heartache.

The Series

Miami and Western Michigan are just about even when it comes to the head to head matchup all-time. We’ll let you decide who is correct on the all-time record between these two teams: Miami says 57-56-10 to their advantage (Miami Record Book, page 47). WMU says 57-55-10 to their own advantage (WMU Record Book, page 46). By my count, since 1999-2000 when Enrico Blasi took over, Miami is 24-12-5 and overall, Miami’s got the edge at 57-56-10.

In any event, we know that last season, Miami was ranked #13 in both major polls as they kicked off the second half of the season in Kalamazoo. 2 1-goal losses to the hands of the Broncos and 2 more defeats just a month later, and Miami’s tailspin was real. Starting with WMU, Miami lost 13 of their last 16 regular season games last season. This year, the teams are currently headed in different directions, and Miami has no doubt forgotten about the 4 losses to WMU last season.

The Coach

Andy Murray isn't nearly as unhappy with his 3-6-1 record as this photo suggests. (Source: AP)

Andy Murray isn’t nearly as unhappy with his 3-6-1 record as this photo suggests. (Source: AP)

Andy Murray is in his 4th season at the helm of Western Michigan and has 20 years of experience as a head or assistant coach in the NHL. Despite being just 3-6-1 on the year, Murray still likes where his team is at. “I like our compete level. I like our leadership. We may be sitting at 3-6-1, but we feel that our best hockey is still in front of us. I’m excited about the remainder of our games.”

And after his first three years at the helm in which he led the Broncos to winning seasons, why not? After a stretch of 8 years in a row with a losing record, Western Michigan earned itself a spot in the new “SEC of College Hockey” with it’s up-and-coming label. Jeff Blashill – a former Miami assistant – had something to do with the rise of WMU as well, but the sustained success is now credited to Murray’s resume.

The Team

Undrafted Junior Nolan LaPorte leads a list of relatively unknowns from WMU in scoring with just 9 points on the year. For reference, Miami has 5 players with 9 or more points already. The 2nd and 3rd highest scorers for WMU are defensemen, so it’s safe to say their scoring is coming from a lot of different places. After several years of well known NHL draft picks and NCAA studs, the Broncos have just 3 Seniors on the roster. All 3 of them (Forwards Will Kessel, Justin Kovacs and Goalie Frank “The Tank” Slubowski) have 100 or more games played in their time in Kalamazoo. But this team is young and promising. Look no further than their Junior Goalie Lukas Hafner, who will likely see the majority of play this weekend. He sports a .916 save percentage and 2.16 goals against average in his 7 appearances, with a 2-3-1 record to show for it.

Lukas Hafner will likely be a little less relaxed this weekend with Miami firing nearly 38 shots per game - second in the nation. (Photo by Tom Turrill/MiHockey)

Lukas Hafner will likely be a little less relaxed this weekend with Miami firing nearly 38 shots per game – second in the nation. (Photo by Tom Turrill/MiHockey)

Western Michigan has 3 NHL draft picks on their roster and each of them are 6’2″ or taller, with Sophomore D-man Mike McKee topping out at a whopping 6’5″ and 250 pounds. Eat a salad, brother. As Miami has done, Western has greatly increased their size with 8 of their 9 current defensemen logging in over 6 feet tall (and the 9th is 5’11”). That size will be on display as Miami and WMU usually play a physical style with lots of penalties. Needless to say, special teams play will be crucial this weekend.

Despite the record, Western is not being outscored by much with a -3 goal differential on the season. They’re in games and have an 0-3 record in 1-goal games. Turn those around and 3-6 becomes 6-3 and they are leading the league instead of Miami.

The Prediction

Jay Williams is making it clear that last season was a departure from the norm and rides an 8-1 record into this weekend’s play. For some reason, Coach Blasi tried to get Ryan McKay back on track in the biggest series of the season with a start on last Saturday night. We don’t exactly agree with that decision, which turned out to be a poor one. I won’t go as far as to say that the 2-headed goalie monster is dead, but I won’t be surprised to see Jay Williams in the remainder of the big games this year. This weekend should be a bit of a “relax” moment and we will likely see the rotation one last time.

Williams3_20121229070145_640_480

Jay Williams has been electric this year. He’s 8-1 with a .920 save percentage and is allowing just 1.68 goals per game. (Cathy Lachmann/WCPO.com)

In any event, Miami stands at a crossroads. Just take a look at last year’s results compared to this year after 12 games. In 2013-14, Miami had a 7-4-1 record allowing 3.4 goals per game. Fast forward to 2014-15: an 8-4-0 record allowing 3.0 goals per game. Miami finished 8-16-2 last year, was last in the NCHC and had its streak of 9 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances snapped. Where do we go from here?

Miami’s 5-1 at home this year and the one loss was due to a bad stretch of about 20 minutes of play against St. Lawrence. Western Michigan is 0-5 on Friday nights. After a sweep of Western Michigan tonight and tomorrow, Miami should be again headed for the NCAA tournament.

Both games can be seen on NCHC.tv (via paid subscription) and heard on 1450 WMOH, 1490 WKBV and on muredhawks.com. Saturday night is Autograph Night, so stick around and get some signatures and selfies with the team.

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Miami vs BG – Week in review

This weekend, Miami split a home and home series with BGSU, with each team winning on their own home ice. Before we head to Columbus to face the Suckeyes, here’s a quick recap of the weekend that was.

Check out the Friday night highlights from BGSU…

…And the NCHC.tv highlights of Miami’s Sunday night win.

http://www.nchc.tv/embed?id=3077569

Here is Coach Blasi’s post-game presser from Sunday as well.

Size

Miami looks huge. Maybe it’s the new uniforms, or perhaps the small size of BG. From what I saw, the new RedHawks add a whole lot of size and they’ll be able to compete physically with everyone this season. We covered the size in our season preview, but the addition of Colin Sullivan (6’1″), Scott Dornbrock (6’3″), Andrew Schmit (6’5″) and Conor Lemirande (6’6″) was evident already. Sullivan and Schmit played in 1 game, while Dornbrock and Lemirande played in both contests this weekend.

Injuries/Games Missed

Matt Caito was out on Friday night. This could be a classic “Blasi benching” for an undisclosed discipline issue or an injury. It was the first game Caito missed in his 3 seasons in the Red and White (81 starts in 82 games). He promptly had 2 assists on Sunday afternoon, so I’m guessing he is healthy and will play the rest of the way.

Ryan McKay started both games on the weekend, but early in the Sunday night game, McKay was slammed into for the third time on the weekend and did not return to action. Jay Williams finished up and got the win on Sunday night. McKay was back on the bench by the start of the third period, so the injury may have been minor. We’ll know quickly how McKay is feeling coming up this weekend.

Miami was also without Jimmy Mullin – a constant for the RedHawks in his first 3 years in Oxford. As we mentioned in the season preview, he will be out for the season with injury and will redshirt so he can play again next season.

NCHC Players of the Week

It didn’t take long for Freshman Louie Bepledio to make some noise. He garnered the first NCHC Rookie of the Week honor. Louie scroed his first collegiate goal on Sunday night. In an eerie spin, Sophomore Trevor Hamilton won the first ever NCHC Rookie of the Week award last season. Let’s hope the season doesn’t end the way it ended last year.

Taking a look at the Bauer NCHC Player of the Week Nominees, Sean Kuraly (2 goals and an assist), Matt Caito (2 assists) and Jay Williams (1 win and 23 saves) all garnered some attention for the weekly honors.

You can also see the top 5 goals of the week from the high-quality NCHC.tv. If you haven’t already subscribed, I highly recommend doing so. You won’t get Friday night’s away game, but every NCHC contest will be broadcast live via NCHC.tv.

Enjoy your hump day and we’ll see you again soon as we will soon preview another Home and Home series with THE Ohio State University this Friday and Saturday.

2014-15 Preview: Returning players

We now stand just 8 days away from the start of the 2014-15 Miami RedHawks hockey season. With much to be desired in the current state of Miami Athletics, we can only hope that last year’s abysmal hockey regular season was just a blip on the radar and Miami will return to prominence this season.

In this, the first of a multi-part preview of the 2014-15 season, we take a look at the returning RedHawks. Having only lost Max Cook (1G, 8A) and Bryon Paulazzo (3G, 2A) to graduation, many of us expected to lose a few more familiar faces to early departures. Instead, Miami returns 96.4% of it’s scoring from last year – a staggering number.

Who’s back?

Really, who isn’t back? As we mentioned above, that list is short. Cook and Paulazzo have graduated. But also missing will be Jimmy Mullin (7 points in 19 games in 2013-14) this season. Mullin is expected to redshirt this season while he recovers from last year’s season-ending injury.

Austin Czarnik will captain the RedHawks once again in 2014-15.

Austin Czarnik will captain the RedHawks once again in 2014-15.

The Captain returns, and so do his 13 goals and 34 assists from last season. Austin Czarnik had a hand in 47 of Miami’s 111 goals in 2013-14, and the senior should have no problem equalling or eclipsing those numbers this season. As the only RedHawk currently over 100 career points, I expect nothing less than a Hobey-Hattrick worthy season from Czarnik.

The other seniors should also be expected to bring everything they have to the table in 2014-15. Blake Coleman was a man possessed last year. He was the catalyst behing Miami’s run through the NCHC playoffs and despite playing in only 27 games (10-11 less than the rest of the leaders), Coleman was the top goal scorer last season with 19 twine-tinglers. Blake has been named an Assistant captain this season.

Along with Czarnik and Coleman, Alex Wideman is the only other RedHawk who has played in over 100 games in the Red and White. Always antagonizing the opponents, Wideman will be asked to pick up his production this season after a 7 goal and 9 assist season a year ago.

It is a surprise for me to say this, but Riley Barber is also back for Head Coach Enrico Blasi. Barber was highly regarded when he was drafted by the Washington Capitals, and the general consensus was that he had one foot out the door last season. In a rather surprising turn of events, Barber and his 83 career points return for another season. With possible linemates such as Assistant Captain Sean Kuraly (12G, 17A), Czarnik and other younger forwards, Barber is going to be hard to contain this season.

Blake Coleman has been a catalyst for MIami, 10 games due to injury last season. (Miami University Athletics)

Blake Coleman has been a catalyst for MIami, 10 games due to injury last season. (Miami University Athletics)

Anthony Louis is a player that I also expect increased productivity from this season. His 25 points as a freshman last season dwindled as Miami went through the NCHC schedule, but I suspect another year of experience will help greatly.

Switching over to the Defensive side of the ice, Miami’s D contained all Freshmen and Sophomores last season. Matthew Caito led all defensemen in scoring with 3 goals and 13 assists and played in all 38 games. He’ll be leaned on heavily this season as the leader of the blueliners. The entire defensive corps is back for another year, and is bolstered by the addition of Colin Sullivan – a Junior transfer from Boston College who was selected by Montreal in the NHL Entry Draft. We’ll have more on Sullivan in our “newcomers” this weekend.

Who’s got to step up?

As I starting thinking about this question, I thought it would be the dynamic duo of Ryan McKay and Jay Williams tending to the Miami nets. However, take a look at their stats from last season.

Ryan McKay will need to be good, but the defense will need to be much improved in 2014-15. (Toledo Blade: Andy Morrison)

Ryan McKay will need to be good, but the defense will need to be much improved in 2014-15.
(Toledo Blade: Andy Morrison)

Ryan McKay played in 26 games, stopped 91.3% of the shots he faced and had a 2.70 goals against average. Not bad for a guy who went 10-13-3. Jay Williams stopped 88.2% of the shots fired in his direction, and went 5-7-0 in 14 starts/16 appearances. Those stats are well down from his freshman year, but nothing to be scared of and a full recovery should be in store for this season.

Both goaltenders are now Juniors and will need to be better, but it’s the Defense that really must step up. Too many times last year, McKay and Williams were left out to dry. Facing 3 on 1, 2 on 1 and 2 on 0 situations were all to common last season. Flat out breakdowns in the defensive zone left players with the puck in prime scoring positions and this is where Miami has to be significantly better. With another year under their belts, Miami’s defense should be able to step up to the challenge.

Who will be the MVP?

We know what Czarnik can do. Barber was the Captin for Team USA at the 2014 World Junior Championships and he’s going to score his points. We know Coleman is a force to be reckoned with when he’s healthy.

But the catalyst and most important cog in the Miami wheel is Junior Sean Kuraly. There’s a bit of history in play this season with his father Rick being inducted to the Miami Hall of Fame, but don’t expect that to derail Kuraly. The 6’2″ Dublin, Ohio native was frequently the hardest working player on the ice as Miami fought to get out of the NCHC cellar. Kuraly was 3rd on the team in points last year and has played in 78 games in his first 2 seasons (only missing 2 games when he was winning Gold with Team USA at the 2013 WJC).

Sean Kuraly - an assistant captain for the RedHawks - must continue to progress this season. (Pic credit: Tim G. Zechar/Icon SMI)

Sean Kuraly – an assistant captain for the RedHawks – must continue to progress this season. (Pic credit: Tim G. Zechar/Icon SMI)

Kuraly is constantly attracting players to his area of the ice and with a big frame and a few more pounds added this year, I fully expect a meaner, hungrier Kuraly. Similar to the way fellow San Jose Sharks draftee Tommy Wingels did in his time at Miami, I’ve seen Kuraly take over games in the middle of the ice in both the offensive AND defensive zones. He’s a force on the power play and penalty kill and his speed may be unmatched on the Miami bench.

So there you have it. 96.4% of the scoring returns. 1431 combined NCAA games played. There aren’t many teams that will have this much scoring and experience return to the ice. After last year’s struggles, let’s hope that this season’s turn around ends with a few trophies. It all starts in just 8 days.

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.

Coach Scott Hicks (dark suit, center) leads the Lady RedHawks.

Tonight, the Miami RedHawks Women’s Hockey Team will try to bring home a National Championship to Oxford.

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!!

GO REDHAWKS!!!

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.

The Miami Women's hockey program has grown into CCWHA Champions in just a few short years.

The Miami Women’s hockey program has grown into CCWHA Champions in just a few short years.

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.

Coach Scott Hicks (center, dark suit) leads the Lady RedHawks.

Coach Scott Hicks (center, dark suit) leads the Lady RedHawks.

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.

The Lady RedHawks take on Michigan State, Michigan and Rhode Island in pool play at the National tournament, where they are the #1 seed.

The Lady RedHawks take on Michigan State, Michigan and Rhode Island in pool play at the National tournament, where they are the #1 seed.

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:

Unfortunately, we're not likely to see many celebrations like this for the RedHawks this Spring. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Unfortunately, we’re not likely to see many celebrations like this one (from the 2009 Frozen Four) this Spring. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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 %.

Miami won't be chasing one of these this year. (Jonathan Biles/www.bloguin.com)

Miami won’t be chasing one of these this year. (Jonathan Biles/www.bloguin.com)

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.

After Rough Road Trip, Miami Returns Home

The Miami RedHawks headed to Kalamazoo last weekend in search of an identity. They were starting off the second half of the season against a familiar foe, with a lot to work on. The defense needed shoring up, the penalty kill needed improvement and most of all, the power play was struggling in the first half, and it was time to figure things out.

Going in, Coach Blasi most certainly wasn’t going to say that the trip to Western Michigan was going to be an easy weekend. In fact, as we said in our weekend preview, he was very complementary to the Broncos. But in the back of his mind, Rico had to be thinking of 6 points. Western Michigan is a team that Miami is very familiar with and has played well against in recent past. The Broncos were expected to have a down year, and were tied at the bottom of the standings with the RedHawks coming into the weekend. Miami was predicted to finish at the top of the conference and started the year as the #2 team in the country.

As we are reminded of time and time again, matchups on paper mean nothing. “That’s why you play the games,” as they say. Miami allowed 3 shorthanded goals against, went just 1 for 13 on the power play (1 PPG on 5 chances on Friday, 0 for 8 on Saturday), and lost 2 heartbreaking 1-goal decisions. 0 points. Last place in the NCHC.

Ouch.

In our time cheering for Miami sports, I know we’ve all drank the Drain-O kool-aid. This was one of those weekends for us here at the Blog of Brotherhood. Having taken our annual guys trip to Kalamazoo for the weekend, I can certainly say the beer and company were better than the hockey. There were many times where we all looked at each other in disbelief as the events transpired on the ice before us.

Jay Williams can't stop Nolan LaPorte of Western Michigan on Saturday night. LaPorte had game winning goals each night last weekend. (GS Photo)

Jay Williams can’t stop Nolan LaPorte of Western Michigan on Saturday night. LaPorte had game winning goals each night last weekend. (GS Photo)

Friday night was just a night of missed opportunities and lackluster play. The shots after 1 period were 19-5 in favor of Western Michigan Friday night and the ice was heavily slanted in their favor. Scoring chances isn’t an NCAA statistic, but Western must have had 6 or 7 grade A chances that they couldn’t put past Miami’s Ryan McKay in net in addition to the one that did find paydirt. They played well the rest of the way, but a soft goal allowed by McKay and a controversial goal with 8.3 seconds left, and Miami was headed to the hotel with a sour taste in their mouths.

I actually think the RedHawks played better on Saturday night, even with several stats showing otherwise. First, they went 0 for 8 on the power play and were behind by 2 goals for a long chunk of the game (the only time that either team was ahead by more than 1 goal, by the way). Criticisms of the power play and lack of effort rained down from various RedHawks fans in attendance at times due to the out-of-character performance by several on the ice.

New Leadership

One thing that I did see this past weekend was excellent leadership and guts by Sean Kuraly. Before the weekend, Kuraly was given an A on the newly minted sweaters for the RedHawks (more on the jerseys to come). I can’t say enough about the hustle, determination and sheer disregard for his body that Sean showed all weekend, and Sean certainly earned his Assistant Captain position last weekend. From our vantage point, it was clear that Sean was the best player on the ice for either team both nights.

On Friday night, Kuraly had 2 goals on 4 shots, went 11 for 24 on faceoffs, and I’m certain would have recorded 5 or more hits on the night if it was a recorded statistic. Saturday’s line would only see Kuraly receive an assist with 5 shots, but he did have a goal that would have been unassisted had the referees not overturned the call on the ice (due to goaltender interference).

Max Cook was also awarded an Assistant Captain’s “A” on his sweater for the weekend. The senior from Frankfort, IL is just 7 games away from playing in 100 in a RedHawks sweater and has 19 hard-earned points over those 93 games, playing mostly on the 2nd and 3rd lines during his time at Miami.

New Attire

As you can see from the recent tweet from The Brotherhood (link), the RedHawks donned new sweaters last weekend. These are a return back to the jerseys of the last several years.

There have been many (unconfirmed) rumors about the jerseys over the course of the first half of the season, and it appears that the bedazzled look of the first half of the year wasn’t cutting it for the RedHawks. In the end, after a color issue for the first weekend of the year (see: jersey sale in the Goggin Pro Shop) and a general dislike for the jerseys from many fans, it seemed that the jerseys were not doing the job and Miami made a switch off of the Nike jerseys to these new Adidas jerseys. This also aligns the hockey team with the rest of the university in terms of their outfitters – a wise choice on all fronts.

The Weekend Ahead – Nebraska-Omaha in Oxford for 2-Game Set

Matthew Caito and the RedHawks look to rebound this weekend as they host Nebraska-Omaha. (Photo: Doug Cutler)

Matthew Caito and the RedHawks look to rebound this weekend as they host Nebraska-Omaha. (Photo: Doug Cutler)

For a while this week, I thought of writing this piece with the thought that the 2 one-goal losses didn’t seem indicative of how the games were played this week. In the end, I really didn’t like how Miami played, with the exceptions of Kuraly and Cody Murphy, who is always hustling, the RedHawks didn’t impress me much last weekend.

This weekend, Miami welcomes the Mavericks of the University of Nebraska-Omaha. These will be the first games in Goggin since December 7th and 8th – a span of 7 weeks. Welcome home, indeed.

If you remember, the weekend before Thanksgiving, Miami traveled to Omaha and got spanked by scores of 6-3 and 3-1. At that point, Miami was starting to realize life in the NCHC was going to be tougher than they thought, and after the 2 wins, UNO found themselves in first place in the new conference.

On Friday night back in November, Miami was up 1-0 after the first, but UNO scored 5 second period goals en route to the 6-3 win and Miami was shell-shocked the rest of the weekend. There was no coming back from that devastating period and Miami’s slide had begun.

At present, Miami sits in the cellar of the NCHC, a conference they were picked to win at the start of the season, and are a whopping 13 points behind first place St. Cloud State. At 3-7-0 in the NCHC, there’s a lot of work to be done over the last 14 games of the season. UNO is in a tie for 3rd in the conference – a position not many expected to this point in the 2013-14 campaign. There are 14 games left for the RedHawks, and this weekend is critical to their success in the conference as well as their hopes to make the NCAA tournament come March.

Injury update

If you remember this past weekend, Austin Czarnik was hit high during the second period of the Friday night game in Kalamazoo. It was a hit that didn’t really look to cause any grief for Miami’s Captain at the time, but Czarnik didn’t play a whole lot in the second and was not on the bench for the third when Miami let the game slip away. Then on Saturday, Czarnik was in his Miami warm-ups and was a spectator in the stands and would disappear into the locker room with the team at each intermission.

Blake Coleman has been a catalyst for MIami, but missed last weekend with an upper body injury. (Miami University Athletics)

Blake Coleman has been a catalyst for MIami, but missed last weekend with an upper body injury. (Miami University Athletics)

We cannot confirm nor deny what happened to Czarnik (because we simply don’t know), but he was out with an undisclosed upper body injury. While a concussion is still a serious injury, I’m hopeful that this is all it was, as this usually means a short turnaround time. With a shoulder, collarbone or other upper body injury, he could miss an extended period of time. We will see tonight whether Czarnik is on the ice or not.

Blake Coleman also didn’t play last weekend, as he is still recovering from a suspected collarbone injury suffered on Friday December 6th against Denver (he was seen in a sling in Goggin also spectating that Saturday’s game before the holiday break). Again, no confirmation if that’s what the injury is/was, but Blake may also make return this weekend against UNO.

Both games will be televised on Miami All-Access, and Friday’s Game is Televised Locally on Time Warner Cable.

Enjoy the games RedHawks. Let’s get a W (or 2?) this weekend!

RedHawks Back in Action with Weekend Set at Western Michigan

KALAMAZOO, MI – After 5 weeks off from NCAA play, Miami gets back at it this weekend, and starts a demanding set of 8 weekends of NCHC play. From here on out, Miami doesn’t play a non-conference game unless they make it to the NCAA tournament. 16 games, 16 NCHC contests, with 1 bye week (1/31-2/1) and the all important conference seeding on the line in the mostly upside-down NCHC.

It’s not going to be an easy for the RedHawks. “It’s nice to have everybody back and healthy again,” Head Coach Enrico Blasi said. “With the exception of Blake Coleman, we’ll have everyone back in our lineup. It’s been a good little mini-camp before we play Western Michigan on Friday. I feel like we’re ready to go now.”

Miami did play the US National Team Development Program (USNTDP) on New Year’s Eve, and dropped that exhibition contest 4-2. Max Cook and Johnny Wingels picked up the goals in the game, Austin Czarnik assisted on each goal, and Jay Williams and Ryan McKay split in net. Williams allowed 2 goals on 15 shots and McKay picked up the loss by allowing the 3rd goal, and the US team scored an empty netter to seal the win. Miami was without Taylor Richart, Riley Barber (playing in the 2014 World Junior Championship in Sweden) and Blake Coleman – three main components of Miami’s roster to this point.

Riley Barber led Team USA as the Captain at the 2014 World Junior Championsihp. (USA Hockey)

Riley Barber led Team USA as the Captain at the 2014 World Junior Championsihp. (USA Hockey)

Heading into the weekend against the Broncos, Blasi had this to say about the team’s break, and was very complementary regarding their upcoming opponent. “At practice it has been great. The guys had a little bit of fun with [Barber] and we’ve had some good days off the ice where we have done some things together as a team and as a program and those things are always important. [The Broncos] are well coached and they play a good systematic game and they play hard. You’ll have to play your best to play with them and it’s been like that for the last 4 years. These guys understand how to play at a high level. Our rivalry over the last 4 years has been unbelievable – intense, physical games. Their building will be jammed. Their students will be there to give them a real high energy boost. Our conference is pretty good and Western poses a lot of issues. We’ve been preparing hard for a big time battle in our conference and we’ll be ready to go.”

As far as the Broncos go, they are led by Senior Shane Berschbach (a former Miami decommit), who has 8 goals and 15 assists on the year. Junior Frank Slubowski was the Broncos mainstay in net, but Sophomore Lukas Hafner was awarded the Jack Tompkins Trophy as the Great Lakes Invitational’s most valuable player over the holiday break. He sports an impressive 4-2 record, .947 save percentage and 1.26 GAA for a stat line, and has started taking playing time away from Slubowski. He has played in (and won) 3 of the last 4 games for Western, and is likely to see at least split time in net this weekend.

Blake Coleman has been a catalyst for MIami, but will miss this weekend's play with an upper body injury. (Miami University Athletics)

Blake Coleman has been a catalyst for MIami, but will miss this weekend’s play with an upper body injury. (Miami University Athletics)

Blasi reiterated the sentiment about the rest of the season. “There are 16 games left and we won’t look at the standings at all right now. There’s so much hockey left to play and so much that can happen. We’re going to have to play well. Are we where we need to be? Probably not, but are we going to work our tails off to get there? Absolutely.”

The second half test starts Friday and Saturday in Kalamazoo. Both games start at 7:05 PM. According to MURedHawks.com, “an All-Access broadcast will also be available for both contests.” Western Michigan also uses Neulion, so we’re hopeful that the feed will be picked up by the Miami All-Access team for the weekend.

If you’re in town for the weekend, hit us up! I’ll be in the house with a group of RedHawks faithful and you can find us on Twitter by heading to @MiamiHockeyBlog. Enjoy the games!

Miami Falls to Denver 3-1: Quick Thoughts

Last night was a typical Miami showing: fast and furious action from the start, but as we have seen numerous times over the last several weeks, Miami couldn’t get the puck past a red hot goaltender and Miami would lose 3-1. Here are a few thoughts from last night’s action.

  •  The first period was the domination we are used to seeing, at least for the first 17 minutes. The likes of Austin Czarnik, Sean Kuraly and Alex Gacek had some great opportunities immediately and it seemed that at any minute, Miami could burst through and it would be 3-0 in the blink of an eye. But at the 17:02 mark, Denver countered with a seemingly harmless break up the ice. Ty Loney was credited with the goal, but replays showed that the puck was loose and as Loney and the Miami defender skated towards the net, the puck hit one of their skates and with Ryan McKay moving to his right, the puck redirected to his left and comically drifted into the net as if in slow motion.
  • Max Cook has a shot attempt blocked by the Denver Defense. (photo: Miami University Athletics)

    Max Cook has a shot attempt blocked by the Denver Defense. (photo: Miami University Athletics)

    After another 53 seconds, it was Denver 2 and Miami nothing after a puck squirted right to Trevor Moore after a Denver faceoff win. The quick shot from the slot was in the back of the net before McKay could do anything about it.

  • Miami’s crowd was non-existant physically because of the storm. Not surprising, and highly frustrating, but we’ll try to contain ourselves on that topic. But after these two quick goals, the crowd was mentally not in it as well. When Miami scored, they came roaring back for an exciting 4+ minutes, but when the energy gets released out of that building, it REALLY gets quiet in there.
  • Devin Loe looked really nice again last night. He was again matched up with the super-duo of Czarnik and Riley Barber for much of the evening again.
  • Denver really plays a tight defensive game. With Sam Brittain standing on his head in net like he did last night, I’m not certain how they allow ANY goals. As it stands, they are 3rd in the country after last night’s games, allowing just 1.80 goals against over their 15 games played.

Last night’s Box Score.

Blake Coleman Status Update

During the second period, Blake Coleman was checked in front of the Miami bench and went down hard. Despite being right next to the door to the bench, Coleman couldn’t get off the ice for some time and never returned to the game. We can speculate all we want, but after seeing the replay a few times, Blake looked to be in a good amount of pain and I’m guessing we’ll get the “day-to-day (upper body injury)” indication on him. The injury had multiple impacts for Miami.

Coleman has been on fire for the RedHawks, but may miss time with some sort of upper body injury sustained last night. (Miami University Athletics)

Coleman has been on fire for the RedHawks, but may miss time with some sort of upper body injury sustained last night. (Miami University Athletics)

On the power play, Miami likes to deploy a 5-forward line as their top power play grouping. Usually, that’s Czarnik, Barber, Kuraly, Coleman and a rotating wheel at the 5th spot, but usually filled by Anthony Louis. Matt Caito (Miami’s best offensive defenseman) took his spot on the top PP line. While it isn’t a crushing blow to be without Coleman on the power play, it is a huge benefit to be able to play 5 forwards and have Czarnik be the quarterback (and the main defensive piece) on the power play.

In addition, Riley Barber was double shifting for about half of the game due to Coleman’s absence. Miami doesn’t keep time on ice (TOI) stats like the NHL does, but I’d be willing to guess he and Czarnik were above 25 minutes in ice time last night.

No matter what the status, it’s not likely that Coleman will miss much time. Again, we’re speculating here, but I’m going to venture a guess he won’t play tonight. On many occasions, Blake has taken a big hit, gone off the ice holding something and returned moments later. In my opinion, he appears to be the toughest guy on the roster. The fact that he didn’t return last night speaks volumes on the status of his injury.

After Saturday night’s game, however, Miami plays just once before January 10th and 11th at Western Michigan, and that game is an exhibition against the USNTDP Under-18 team. If Blake misses more than tonight’s game, I’d be shocked. We wish him and his team high 10 goals and 6 assists stat line a speedy return to the lineup.

Tonight’s puck drops at 7:07 pm and can be found on Miami All-Access.

Miami Returns Home for Weekend Set with Denver

The Miami RedHawks come into this weekend as the Number 12 team in the country, coming off of a 4-game road trip. The Denver Pioneers visit Steve Cady Arena on a 6-game unbeaten streak, and come in as the hotter team. Here comes our week-in-review and preview of the weekend!

Head Coach Rico Blasi was fairly pleased with his team’s play last weekend at Bemidji State: “We played really well in the first period Friday night. We came out and did the things we needed to do. It was a good sign to come off the sweep the week before. I thought we executed really well (outshot 17-5). In the 3rd, the bounces kind of got away from us in a tie game. At least we responded when [Bemidji State] tied it up. They kept coming after us.”

I like that statement. The boys responded when Bemidji tied it up. Sure, the RedHawks held a 4-1 lead into the third period and left with just a tie. But we’ve seen this happen before, and Miami at least responded to salvage a tie. Remember, Miami had been on a 3-game losing streak. This made it 4 in a row without a win, but Saturday night would end that streak and now Miami has turned it around and is on a 2-game unbeaten streak.

“Saturday night we started off great again” Blasi said. “In the third, we really said enough is enough. We played hard and we played within our system and we were rewarded for that. It was a huge win on Saturday night. I could tell with the facial expressions on our team and the way we were playing in the last couple minutes with the lead. A good way to go into our final weekend before break and exams.”

3 Stars of the Week

Devin Loe was a surprise addition to the top line last weekend, and scored his first 2 collegiate goals. (Photo: Bemidji State Beavers)

Devin Loe was a surprise addition to the top line last weekend, and scored his first 2 collegiate goals. (Photo: Bemidji State Beavers)

3. Devin Loe scored his first and second goals of his collegiate career in Saturday night’s game, the first coming just 11 seconds into the contest. Playing with Austin Czarnik (0-5–5 Saturday) and Riley Barber (1-3–4 Saturday) certainly has its advantages. It was another strange pairing from Coach Blasi, but one that certainly paid dividends in Saturday’s 6-3 win.

2. Our number 2 star earns this spot as more of a culmination of the month of November. Ryan McKay has been outstanding in net, and most importantly, he has been alone in net. Early on this season, I wrote that the two-headed goalie monster situation should be revisited, and I preferred that it end. Not that we had much say in the matter, but things have changed in Miami’s net. Ryan McKay has mostly given Coach Enrico Blasi an easier decision lately, and rather than splitting the weekend duties, McKay has gotten the nod in 8 of the last 10 games. Jay Williams started Saturday against Canisius (November 2). In the Friday night game in Omaha, he succumbed to an injury early in the second period, so McKay has played all but 22 minutes in net for the last 4 series.

Including his start Friday night against Canisius on November 1st, McKay was 4-4-1 in those 9 games. He had 2 consecutive shutouts – the aforementioned game against Canisius and then a 2-0 win in St. Cloud – and added a third shutout against Wisconsin. While he did have a rough patch against Omaha, his stats are still rock solid this year: 3 shutouts to lead the NCAA, .927 Save % (17th in the country) and 2.38 Goals Against Average.

1. Guess who? 101 career points (7-17–24 this season), 5 assists on Friday night and the NCHC’s Offensive Player of the Week award (his second of the season). He became the 48th Miami player to eclipse the century mark and was a ridiculous +4 on the night. All of this after being silenced on Friday night with just 1 shot. What a year Czarnik and Barber are having together, and both guys could be headed for Hobey Finalist nods (top 10). But this week belonged to The Captain.

Czarnik, still just a Junior, had this to say about the weekend: “We’ve been dealing with a lot of adversity and Saturday we needed to come out with a mission. I went into the locker room before the third period and said boys, we need to stop this right now and we need to get on the right track. In the third period we just took over and that was huge for us and we got the win. That even helped carry over [to this week] in practice.”

The Weekend Ahead

“Early they lost a couple games,” Coach Blasi said about the Pioneers. “What I see on video is a very good team. They have good special teams. Their D can jump in the play and if you’re not paying attention to things, if you’re not managing the puck well, they’re going to make you pay.”

Austin Czarnik takes a shot in last weekend's series against Bemidji State. (Photo: Bemidji State Beavers)

Austin Czarnik takes a shot in last weekend’s series against Bemidji State. (Photo: Bemidji State Beavers)

After two weeks on the road and a 1-2-1 record to show for it, tonight and tomorrow’s matchups in The Nest will be critical. This is the typical time for Miami to give up a few ghastly losses (don’t call it The Swoon). Blasi echoed the same sentiment: “We had two weekends on the road so it seems like we haven’t been at home for forever. It’s huge. Home ice in any league and especially in our league should make a difference and give you a little extra energy what you might need to go to get a W.” Hopefully the [S-word – redacted] behind this team and we’ll see a nice streak towards the finish.

From here on out, minus a New Year’s Eve exhibition matchup with the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP U-18), Miami plays 100% NCHC games. That streak starts tonight with Denver, a team that is coming in on a bit of a streak of their own. Czarnik knows this weekend’s series is big: “We’ve been dealing with a lot of adversity and Saturday we needed to come out with a mission. Every week is going to be hard. We’re just 2-4 now (in NCHC play), so every game is going to be a battle until the end. We need to stay with our systems and just execute. We have to focus on executing and playing hard as a team.”

Battle. Execute. It’s a simple formula.

Miami will take the ice tonight at 7:30 and the game can be seen on Miami All-Access. Tomorrow night’s contest starts at 7:00. Go RedHawks!