Category Archives: 2013-14 Weekend Previews

Miami splits in Florida, heads to Troy

After blowing a two-goal third period lead and losing 3-2 in overtime to a down Notre Dame team (9-9-2), Miami (12-6-0) rebounded yesterday with a convincing 3-0 win over Cornell in the consolation game of the Florida College Hockey Classic. That Miami did not handily win the Florida tournament is disappointing in that none of the other three teams have a winning record. In fact, Notre Dame has dropped contests to duhOSU (5-9-1), Lake Superior (4-17-1), and Rensselaer (6-13-1), the team Miami will face this weekend in non-conference action.

Now, there has been talk of whether there was or was not video review of the tying goal late in the third period which Miami contested was directed in off a glove. Frankly, it was almost impossible to follow the audio call on Sunday because it was so bad so we aren’t making a claim that Miami was robbed. The fact is, regardless of how it happened, Miami let another late lead evaporate, something that has plagued this team for years.

It has to stop.

Heading to Troy, N.Y. this weekend, Miami will face a two-game road series against ECAC foe, Rensselaer, who I saw in person here in Denver earlier this season.

RPI is not a good team. I said so then and the Engineers have done nothing evidenced by their record to disprove my take from a few months back. Miami should sweep this team, and frankly, can’t afford another loss against a team outside the top 30 of the PWR.

What I recall about RPI was that they had good size, decent speed but are offensively inept and defensively suspect. I guess that’s about what you’d expect from a team that’s 6-13-1.

Miami will once again be without the services of sophomore winger Anthony Louis who has looked good representing Team USA in the WJC this week. The RedHawks need to play their game, get out with two wins and prepare to reenter conference play next week when they travel to St. Cloud, Minn. to face the Huskies on January 9-10.

Notes

– Ryan McKay was in net in the 3-2 OT loss to Notre Dame. His first start since November 15 at North Dakota.

– Jay Williams got the shutout on Monday, his 3rd of the season. He is now 3rd nationally in GAA (1.66) and tied for 6th in shutouts.

– Conor Lemirande and Taylor Richart scored their first collegiate goals in the two games.

– Miami is currently 6th in the PairWise rankings that typically determine the NCAA tournament field.

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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.

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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.

Miami v. Denver for the NCHC Championship

Miami and Denver will battle for this baby.

If at the beginning of the season you said that Miami and Denver would play for the first ever NCHC tournament championship, no one would have been surprised. However, if the same question were posed about a month ago, it would certainly have elicited curious looks.

But, that’s how quickly a season can change.

Eighth seeded Miami will face sixth seeded Denver with the winner earning both a championship trophy and a trip to the NCAA tournament. With St. Cloud firmly in the field and Miami or Denver earning an automatic bid, the NCHC will have at least two teams represented. But, if North Dakota can rebound and defeat Western Michigan in today’s third place game, UND may have a shot to get in if they get help.

If Miami prevails tonight, that would mean playing in the Midwest Regional in Cincinnati where the RedHawks are the host institution. After a regular season that saw Miami finish last in their new conference, the magnitude of their current four-game winning streak was not lost on head coach Enrico Blasi.

“I was thinking on the bench, you know, sometimes you got to have a little bit of faith in your team. About a month ago, I don’t think any of you guys would have picked us to be here in this position. I always say everything happens for a reason. Guys stayed with each other. They played hard. They practiced hard. They stayed positive and we’re going to the championship game tomorrow night.”

Miami has gone 2-2 against Denver this year and has had a pretty good run of success against the Pioneers over recent years. With the way the RedHawks are playing, nothing would surprise me. And, if the Miami team that showed up last night against North Dakota is there tonight, I think it’s reasonable to believe Miami will live to play on next weekend in Cincinnati. If not, at least this late season run breathed some life into an otherwise lackluster season.

Rise and Prevail! Let’s do this!

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.

Miami is unaccustomed to looking up in the standings, but they did this year.

Miami is unaccustomed to looking up in the standings, but they did this 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.

Blake Coleman’s return from injury has given the RedHawks a spark.

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.

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.

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!

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!

Miami travels to the Frozen Tundra

Ok, not quite, but after a disastrous weekend in Omaha, Miami is back on the road for their final non-conference weekend of the season as they travel

Bemidji, Minn. is way "up north."

Bemidji, Minn. is way “up north.” (Google)

to Bemidji, Minn. to take on the Beavers of the WCHA.

As we know, Miami turned in one of their worst team performances in recent memory as they were swept out of Omaha last weekend by the Mavericks 6-3 and 3-1.

Nothing seemed to be working for the RedHawks as they suffered from horrific defensive lapses in transition, looked disinterested at times, and the offensive leaders — Austin Czarnik and Riley Barber — were remarkably quiet. In fact, you have to go back to November 8 at St. Cloud to find the last time Barber scored a goal, and Czarnik has only two in that same span.

Needless to say, Miami needs to begin to find their game as they have just one more series (December 6-7 vs. Denver) before the holiday break. The nice thing about this year’s schedule, however, is that Miami has an exhibition game against the US U-18 squad on New Year’s Eve in Oxford that will help them shake off some rust before embarking on play in the season’s second half. Still, after this weekend, Miami will play just three games from December 6 to January 10. And, as an aside, if Miami loses Riley Barber to the US U-20 WJC team again, which is an almost certainty, it doesn’t look likely that he’ll miss any games for the RedHawks while he plays for another gold medal.

The Beavers

Looking at Bemidji State, Miami (7-6-1, 2-4 t5th NCHC) has faced the Beavers (5-7-2, 5-4 2nd WCHA)) six times and has won four of the six matches.

Miami defeated Bemidji State 4-1 in the 2009 national semifinal. (nickgagalis.com)

Of course, none of the meetings was more famous than when the RedHawks defeated Bemidji State 4-1 on April 9, 2009 in Washington D.C. That was Miami’s first ever national semifinal appearance and the victory propelled them to their only national title game appearance where they fell to Boston University in overtime.

Offensively, the Beavers are led by a trio of skaters with 10 points starting with sophomore forward Markus Gerbrandt who is tied for the team lead with 8 goals on the season while junior forward Danny Mattson (2-8-10) is second on the team in helpers. Junior captain Matt Prapavessis (good luck with that one this weekend, Greg) anchors the Beavers’ blue line and leads the team with nine assists.

In net for Bemidji State is junior Andrew Walsh who has started all 14 games this season. He brings a line of 2.82/.907 and one shutout into the weekend and has been a workhorse for the Beavers.

Other skaters to watch include sophomore forward Cory Ward who is tied with Gerbrandt in team goal scoring with eight and sophomore defenseman Graeme McCormack who has a season’s line of 1-7-8 from the blue line.

The RedHawks

For Miami, finding their game this weekend could provide a huge boost as they move back into conference play next weekend at home against Denver. The RedHawks can ill-afford another listless weekend as they get ready for another conference test. If Miami wants to secure home ice advantage in the first round of the NCHC playoffs, they’ll obviously need to get things turned around over the coming weeks.

But, during his weekly press conference, head coach Enrico Blasi was confident suggesting folks not panic not get bent out of shape at the team’s recent struggles. And, for that, we agree completely. This season is far from lost. And, as the Miami program continues to grow, we’re learning every season that it’s not about how well you play in December. It’s about how well you play in March that counts. Let’s hope this team continues to improve throughout the season and saves its best hockey for when it really matters. Said Blasi,

“(We’re) turning the page (on last weekend). (We will) make sure we’re focused on what we do best and get after it. (There’s) no reason to worry about what happened in the past. There’s nothing we can do about it. Nothing has changed in the game plan (and we have to) make sure we’re all in this thing together and focused on what we need to do.”

Looking back at last weekend, and aside from the all-out play of sophomore forward Sean Kuraly, there were few highlights. The defense looked soft and slow-footed and Miami’s offense was settling for shots from the outside rather than getting to the hard areas of the ice where goals are scored. The RedHawks were without junior forward Jimmy Mullin and his return this weekend (if he returns) could help provide a boost of energy that seems needed. In net, things weren’t much better as Jay Williams, starting his first game since November 2, left Friday’s game with an injury (he may have

Sean Kuraly was the best RedHawk on the ice last weekend in Omaha. (Toledo Blade)

taken a skate to the head) and normal Friday starter, Ryan McKay, did not look comfortable in net as he fought the puck all night. And, on Saturday, he wasn’t much better. Though he made 40 saves, McKay appeared to still be fighting the puck.

All in all, let’s chalk last weekend up to a blip that happens to every team during the course of a long season. Hopefully Miami can rediscover its confidence and scoring touch and get back to playing solid team hockey that carried Miami to shutout victories over St. Cloud and Wisconsin earlier this month.

The Prediction

Until Miami shows they’re committed to team defense and two-way hockey, and until the offense starts humming, there’s no way I’m picking a series sweep. That said, I think Miami ends the three-game losing streak, but I’m saying split in Bemidji this weekend.

Greg Waddell will have the call of both games this weekend at Miami All-Access and over the air on AM 1450 and 1490 in the Oxford area.

RedHawks to head to ‘Somewhere in Middle America’

With apologies to Adam Duritz and “Counting Crows,” Miami hits the road for Omaha to take on old CCHA foe Nebraska Omaha in a weekend NCHC series.

The Mavericks, you may recall, were conference mates with Miami from 1999 until leaving the CCHA in favor of the WCHA in 2010. That, of course, was an ill-fated and perhaps short-sighted move, as college hockey underwent enormous realignment after the announcement that the Big Ten would field its own hockey conference in spring 2011. And, after all was said and done, UNO and Miami, along with charter schools Colorado College, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota would announce the formation of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference in summer 2011.

After two more seasons in the CCHA and WCHA respectively, Miami and UNO once again find themselves facing off as conference rivals. This weekend marks the first time the programs have met since February 20, 2010 in Oxford when UNO knocked off then #1 Miami 4-2 in head coach Dean Blais’ first trip to Steve Cady Arena.

The ‘Dean’ of the NCHC

Speaking of Dean Blais, his resume speaks for itself. But, Miami head coach Enrico Blasi summed it up nicely during his weekly press conference.

“The one thing I know about Dean Blais’ teams is they’re going to play hard and they’re going to be in your face and you’re going to have to be ready to compete for 60 minutes.”

UNO’s Dean Blais is in his fifth season behind the Mavericks’ bench. (BleacherReport.com)

One of the most decorated American amateur coaches in recent history, Blais spent 10 seasons behind the bench at North Dakota, where he compiled a record of 262-115-34 and won two national titles (1997, 2000) before leaving to take an associate head coaching job with the Columbus Blue Jackets. After spending four years in Cowtown, also serving as director of player development, Blais went back to his amateur roots where he was hired by the Fargo Force of the USHL to be their head coach, and was eventually lured back to school in 2009 by new Omaha AD Trev Alberts. In going to Omaha, he took over the reins of the program from long time head man Mike Kemp, who is largely regarded as the Father of UNO hockey. Blais has also long been involved with USA Hockey winning a gold medal in 2010 with the U-20 World Junior team. The two-time Spencer Penrose winner (1997, 2001) has an all-time record of 342-189-49 over nearly 15 seasons in college hockey.

Whom to Watch

On the ice, the Mavericks (6-6, 3-1 T2nd NCHC) are led by 2013 Hobey Baker finalist, senior Ryan Walters, who finished last season with 52 points (which tied for 2nd in program history for a single season) after scoring 22 goals. Listed at 6-0/190, Walters has started strong and is tied for the team lead in points (13) on three goals and has helped the Mavs rebound from a 2-4 start to win four of their past six including last weekend’s split with then #2 Michigan in Omaha. Along with Walters, Miami much watch

Senior Ryan Walters leads a dangerous UNO offense. (Colorado Springs Gazette)

junior forward Josh Archibald who leads the team in goals (9) and is tied with Walters atop the team’s scoring list. Archibald’s name should be familiar to some as he skated on Team USA’s 2012 U-20 team which failed to medal a year after earning bronze in Buffalo. Others to make note of include junior forward Dominic Zombo (5-5-10) and senior Brock Monpetit (6-3-9) who rank third and fourth in team scoring for UNO.

Overall, the Mavericks are second in the NCHC in scoring averaging 3.08 goals per game. Miami at 3.42 goals per game leads the way in the league with 41 goals though St. Cloud is averaging just a shade more at 3.50 goals per game in two fewer contests played.

Who’s in Net?

Defensively, the Mavericks are allowing 3.25 goals per game as they have struggled to find consistency in net. Lately however, UNO has gotten better goaltending from junior Ryan Massa and freshman Kirk Thompson having allowed more than three goals just once over their past six games. Massa and Thompson are very similar goaltenders. Both are around six feet tall and possess nearly identical numbers. For instance, both goaltenders are 3-2 with goals against averages north of 3 and save percentages below .900. In contrast, Miami allows just 2.08 goals per game and sophomore Ryan McKay leads the nation with three shutouts and has posted sterling 1.74/.943 numbers. However, because McKay has played the last four games for Miami, I would not be at all surprised to see McKay in net Friday night and fellow sophomore Jay Williams (2-2/2.75/.905) between the pipes on Saturday.

The RedHawks

For Miami (7-4-1, 2-2 T5th NCHC), the eighth ranked RedHawks enter the weekend having faced two top 15 teams in a row after splitting series with NCHC foe St. Cloud State and Big Ten opponent Wisconsin just last weekend in Oxford. That stretch has catapulted Miami’s strength of schedule to the top of the heap. This week’s KRACH ratings show Miami’s SOS sitting at #1 having played the most challenging schedule in the land.

Overall, the offense is simply not delivering against top teams as they have managed just 13 goals in their last six games against ranked opponents including just seven goals total over the past two weekends.

Junior Blake Coleman has picked up his game this year. (MURedHawks.com)

As teams focus on shutting down the top line of Riley Barber, Austin Czarnik and Jimmy Mullin, Miami must have secondary scoring from throughout the lineup. To this point, most of that scoring has come from junior Blake Coleman as he has netted seven goals which ties him with Czarnik for second on the team. Last season, Coleman scored nine goals so he’s well on his way to surpassing that total as his game continues to improve. But, outside of Coleman’s efforts, only two other RedHawks have scored at many as four goals (Alex Wideman and Anthony Louis).

And, as head coach Enrico Blasi said earlier this week, Miami needs to have all four lines contributing in order to play their game and be successful. Said Blasi,

“We need everybody in our lineup doing the same thing. Everybody’s got to be on the same page. This is not a team that’s going to rely solely on one or two players.”

Prediction

All-time, Miami is 17-7-3 against Omaha including a 7-4-1 mark in the self-proclaimed, “Gateway to the West.”

Tired of splitting, I think Miami gets a much-needed league sweep this weekend in Omaha. And, we’ll be live tweeting from the press box of the Century Link Center @miamihockeyblog and will have updates and recaps immediately following Friday night’s game. Miami All-Access has the call both nights along with local radio coverage at 1450-AM (Friday only) and 1490-AM (both nights).

Miami Hosts Wisconsin for Weekend Set

There are a lot of similarities between Miami and Wisconsin this weekend: Red and White as team colors; “Jump Around” as the unofficial team songs (for Bucky Football, anyway); size, speed and strength as their defining characteristics on the ice. But after that, Miami and Wisconsin are 2 very different teams. This weekend, the two teams face off in non-conference action in Oxford.

Wisconsin comes in as the number 12 team in the nation, just itching to break into the top ten. While the conference schedule hasn’t started yet, the Badgers play in the newly formed Big Ten Conference. Miami comes in having played the 8th toughest schedule in the country this weekend. After last weekend’s games at St. Cloud, the RedHawks have now played against 3 then-top 10 teams (current #3 St. Cloud, #5 Providence and now #13 North Dakota). Head Coach Enrico Blasi had these words of praise for the visiting Badgers:

“Another tough weekend for our team. We’ve grown accustomed to that right now. Wisconsin is very deep up front with some high-end forwards. They are very well coached. We need to focus and continue to get better and be ready on Friday night. I know our team got better last weekend and that’s really our goal every time we step on the ice.”

Riley Barber is tied for 3rd in the NCAA in scoring. (Flickr: Dani Mackenzie)

Riley Barber is tied for 3rd in the NCAA in scoring. (Flickr: Dani Mackenzie)

Blasi will have his hands full as the Badgers come in scoring 3.83 goals per game – just a touch ahead of Miami’s 3.70 goals per game, and 9th in the country in scoring. On the other hand, Wisconsin does allow the same 3.83 goals per game and is currently 52nd in the country in scoring defense, while Miami comes in at number 11, allowing just 2.2 goals per game.

Another point of emphasis will be the special teams this weekend. Miami is currently killing 84.3% of power plays, including killing all 10 chances in St. Cloud last weekend. Wisconsin is 6 for 24 (24%) on their power play, so limiting the man advantage situations will be key for Miami. On the other hand, Miami’s power play, currently 7th in the nation at 27.3% will look to continue it’s torrid streak against Wisconsin’s 40th ranked penalty kill, stopping just 79.3% of their opponents’ power play chances.

Who’s in Net?

Wisconsin’s Goalie situation is one to be wary of. Over the last 2+ seasons, Joel Rumpel is 29-21-6 in net for the Badgers, but was injured during the second game of the season and will not play tonight. Backup Landon Peterson has stepped in nicely and sports a 2-2-1 record. He will likely start in Rumpel’s place for both games this weekend.

On the Miami end of the ice, you can’t say that Ryan McKay has been anything short of fantastic so far this season. When called upon, he has been stellar and sports a 4-1-1 record including a split last weekend at St. Cloud State. We have to guess on the rotation or non-rotation status every week, so we’ll see who Coach Blasi sends out for the weekend series.

Ryan McKay stops a shot by Minnesota State's Matt Leitner in 2013 NCAA Regional action. (Toledo Blade: Andy Morrison)

Ryan McKay stops a shot by Minnesota State’s Matt Leitner in 2013 NCAA Regional action.
(Toledo Blade: Andy Morrison)

“Jay and Ryan play extremely well,” he said at this week’s press conference. “It’s really tough to make a decision who to play in net. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them split again. How do you go against Ryan when he pitches 2 shutouts back to back? Just a gut feeling more than anything, but we’ll re-evalutate from day to day.” Lately, Blasi has been going with McKay on Friday nights, but who plays on Saturday is anyone’s guess. With another solid performance Friday, it very well could be McKay for his 4th start in a row on Saturday.

Shaking Off the Rust

Wisconsin comes in to the series having played just 6 games overall, and has had off weeks every other week it seems. They played October 18-19 at Boston College and at Boston University (2 losses and 16 goals against on the weekend), had a week off, and then hosted Lake Superior State (3-3 tie and 8-1 win). After another week off, they come to Oxford still trying to get on a roll, and will have another off week next weekend before playing their first Big Ten games the last weekend of November.

Head Coach Enrico Blasi likes to get his team moving and keep them rolling. I’m guessing Wisconsin’s Mike Eaves wants to get his team rolling as well. Shaking off the rust over the first 6 weeks of the season isn’t exactly the way to do it, so this weekend, the Badgers will certainly be looking for blood.

Predictions

Coleman has been on fire for the RedHawks. (Miami University Athletics)

Coleman has been on fire for the RedHawks. (Miami University Athletics)

Miami won’t have it easy this weekend, but if the Badgers cannot stay out of the penalty box, they’re going to be in trouble. According to tonight’s play-by-play man Dave Starman, Wisconsin likes to pack it in on the penalty kill and this will leave the 5-forward line including Czarnik, Barber and Wideman wide open on the blueline during power plays. Look for several power play goals on the weekend from the specialty units.

I can’t help myself. Miami 4-1 and 3-1.

Where to Watch

Friday’s game will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network with Dave Starman, Ben Holden and Shireen Saski calling the action. Saturday’s game can be caught on Miami All-Access.

Enjoy the action and GO REDHAWKS!