As Miami returns home for the final two games of the regular season, could there be more drama in the air than what’s flying around in Oxford, Ohio?
Fifth ranked Miami (20-11-1, 13-8-1-1 2nd NCHC) will close out the season against #1 North Dakota (24-6-3, 15-5-2-0 1st NCHC) in a battle of two teams that have spent the majority of the year ranked in the top 10. Should the RedHawks sweep, they will claim a share of the NCHC regular season title and the #1 seed in the NCHC playoffs. Though the teams will be tied atop the standings, Miami would claim the top seed by virtue of its 3-1 record against UND.
Saturday is senior night and six RedHawks (Austin Czarnik, Blake Coleman, Anthony Jacaruso, Cody Murphy, Alex Wideman and Ben Paulides) will skate in their final regular
season games at Steve Cady Arena with a chance to earn their second regular season championship of their remarkable careers.
No Miami class has won more than one regular season championship in program history.
Yep, you read that right.
No Miami class has EVER won two regular season championships in any four year period in the history of the university, which of course, dates back to 1809. Probably overly dramatic since the hockey program has only existed since 1978 — pure semantics. This class could become the first to do so after capturing the CCHA’s final regular season title at the conclusion of the 2012-13 season.
North Dakota is a storied program that’s won seven national championships and fifteen, now sixteen, regular season titles. Getting a share of the NCHC title in our second year in the conference would be fantastic. It took Miami 15 years of program existence and 13 CCHA seasons to win a regular season title in that now defunct league.
And, to do it against North Dakota would be even sweeter.
Last Time We Met
Like most of the top teams in the NCHC when pitted against one another, and certainly Miami has seen this, the squads split a series in Grand Forks back in November with Miami winning 3-2 on Friday before dropping the finale 4-1. In the Miami win, Jay Williams had to make just 21 saves and Sean Kuraly had two goals to lead the RedHawks. Ryan McKay struggled in the Miami net in the loss as North Dakota started junior Zane McIntyre both nights.
Certainly Miami would like to replicate the Friday victory as they limited UND to just 23 SOG and controlled the green and white with tight checking defense.
UND comes to Oxford on a roll having won four in a row. Their last non shootout loss was a 3-2 OT setback to Omaha way back on January 30. And, their last regulation loss? January 9 to UMD.
However, UND suffered a loss in a sweep last weekend (yeah, I see what I did there). The loss to which I am referring was that of senior assistant captain and leading goal scorer Mark MacMillan (16-9-25) to a lower body injury which required surgery earlier this week. MacMillan, a fourth-round draft pick of the Montreal Canadians (one of 14 NHL picks — I think — I lost count at 10) had already set a career high in goals before being injured Saturday night while blocking a shot off the stick of SCSU’s Jonny Brodzinski. Presumably, MacMillan
fractured his foot and I’m assuming surgery was required to fix what was likely an ugly injury. But, I’m speculating. Regardless, MacMillan won’t play this weekend, and I’d find it hard to see him returning for the remainder of his college career, but never say never.
UND is led by its d-corps which boasts numerous NHL draft picks and junior netminder Zane McIntyre who shared the USHL’s goaltender of the year award with Miami’s Ryan McKay just over three years ago.
Up front, speedy Drake Caggiula (15-16-31) leads an attacking set of forwards including Michael Parks (12-19-31) that are a handful but perhaps not as talented as Miami’s crew led by Czarnik, Coleman, Murphy, Kuraly, Anthony Louis and Riley Barber. That said, UND will want to slow things down. Miami, on the other hand, should look to run the green and white out of the building. Forty shots on net each night should be the goal.
Well, here we are. The end of another solid regular season and the end of a bounce-back year for the program. While it’s too early to hand out accolades, the team has played hard and well enough to have earned the chance to win a regular season title on home ice.
Last weekend in Denver, Miami split its series with the Pioneers, but one thing that really stood out? The rejuvenated play of junior forward Riley Barber who had three goals on the
weekend playing hard, inspired hockey. If Barber is ready to roll, look out this weekend and for the rest of the year.
However, questions abound in net as neither Ryan McKay, and most certainly Jay Williams, looked overly strong. McKay allowed three goals in Friday’s win, but Williams was ineffective surrendering four goals in less than one period of play. McKay steadied the ship when he came into the game, but still gave up two goals after Miami attempted to crawl back into the contest at 4-2. Whomever Blasi goes with (I’ll bet it’s McKay on Friday) has to give this team a chance to win by scoring three goals because getting more than that against UND just isn’t realistic. Miami has to be prepared to win two slugfests.
These two teams are very evenly matched with the defensive and goaltending edge belonging to UND. That said, I’d probably give the RedHawks an advantage up front with, in my opinion, more top-end guys, more game-breakers than UND which really has a grinding offensive mentality. Miami could earn a significant size advantage this weekend, especially if head coach Enrico Blasi chooses to dress both Crash Cousins. Even with one or the other in the lineup, and Miami’s size on the blueline, they match up quite well in both the size and speed categories.
But, with UND missing one of their best players, the excitement around the weekend, senior night, and what it means to Miami (home ice, #1 seed in the NCHC, Penrose Cup, redemption for last year, NCAA seeding on the line, etc., etc.), I’m going to call a MIAMI SWEEP and watch the RedHawks skate off Saturday night with the Penrose Cup.
How to Listen/Watch
The Voice of the RedHawks, Greg Waddell, will be back on the radio this weekend as both games will be available at MURedHawks.com and over the air at 1450-AM (Saturday only) and 1490-AM. Friday’s game will be nationally televised on CBS Sports Network which unfortunately means no NCHC.tv for Friday. Saturday’s regular season finale will be streamed through the league’s package and also available on Time Warner Cable (Chan. 311 & 1311) and on Fox College Sports Pacific (DirecTV Chan. 608, Time Warner Chan. 321).
From the League Office
- This weekend marks the final weekend of the NCHC regular season before beginning NCHC Tournament play next weekend. No. 1/1 North Dakota has already clinched a share of the Penrose Cup, awarded to the NCHC regular-season champion. UND needs just one point at No. 5/5 MIAMI this weekend to win the title outright. The RedHawks need to sweep UND to also get a share of the title, which would then give MIAMI the No. 1 seed in the NCHC Tournament and make UND the No. 2 seed.
- North Dakota enters the top-five series with MIAMI riding a four-game win streak and seven-game unbeaten streak (6-0-1), which is the longest active unbeaten streak in the NCAA. With its share of the Penrose Cup, UND has secured its 16th conference championship in program history, the most of any NCAA Division I men’s program.
- Four teams (MIAMI, Omaha, Denver and Minnesota Duluth) are separated by just five points with two games to play, while only three of those teams will get home ice for the NCHC Quarterfinals. UMD currently sits in fifth place on the outside looking in, but can make that up with at least three points and some help this weekend. UND has already secured home ice. Tiebreakers for seeding, should they be needed, are listed on page 8 of the release. More information on possible place finishes for these teams are listed below.
- According to the KRACH Ratings, the eight NCHC teams have played the eight toughest schedules in the country this season, led by Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State at No. 1 and 2, respectively. Omaha, Denver, MIAMI, CC, WMU and UND round out the top eight, respectively.
Possible place finishes for each team entering this weekend:
- North Dakota – 1,2 (needs just 1 point at Miami to clinch 1 seed/outright title, already has share of regular season title)
- MIAMI – 1,2,3,4,5 (needs 2 points to secure home for sure, needs sweep of UND to share regular season title and get 1 seed)
- Omaha – 2,3,4,5 (needs 4 points to secure home ice for sure)
- Denver – 2,3,4,5 (needs 5 points to secure home ice for sure)
- Minnesota Duluth – 2,3,4,5,6 (needs just 1 point to secure 5 seed, needs at least one team ahead of them to lose/tie to have a chance to get home ice)
- St. Cloud State – 5,6 (SCSU has to sweep DU and UMD has to get swept by WMU for SCSU to move up to 5 seed)
- Western Michigan – locked in to 7
- Colorado College – locked in to 8
Here are a few more looks at the new primary home sweaters courtesy of Tracy Brod Troxel from the Pep Rally Fan Appreciation Night.
Light the Lantern!
On the strength of six goals from six different players, the #2 Miami RedHawks defeated Ohio State 6-2 in a non-conference game in Columbus, Ohio on Friday night.
In a nutshell, this game came down to penalties and special teams.
Ohio State committed four first period penalties and Miami converted those opportunities into a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.
Junior captain Austin Czarnik opened the scoring for the 2013-14 season by converting a Riley Barber rebound off the back boards with a 5×3 advantage for a quick Miami lead at 7:47 of the first. And again, with Miami skating with a two-man advantage, sophomore Alex Wideman took a pass from Barber and notched his first of the year to give the RedHawks a 2-0 lead they would carry into the third period.
Sophomores Sean Kuraly and Riley Barber recorded assists on Miami’s first two goals. Kuraly would end the night with a career high three helpers and leads the squad in the early scoring race.
In the third, Ohio State would score two goals within the first three minutes of action coming off the mat to even the game with goals by Darik Angeli and someone named Chad Niddery. This was interesting because like last Saturday’s exhibition game against Windsor, Miami suffered two quick defensive lapses allowing for two quick scores.
During his weekly press conference, head coach Enrico Blasi said he felt his defensemen looked a little jittery at times and would need to catch up to the speed of the game. I wonder if it’s so much a speed thing and perhaps more of a consistency element. Playing to the whistle and understanding your opponent can hurt you until the game is over. Certainly there is enough returning experience from last year including sophomores Matthew Caito, Chris Joyaux and Taylor Richart to compensate, but really, Miami is incredibly green on the blueline. Last night, the RedHawks started two freshmen defensemen (Matt Joyaux and Trevor Hamilton), a junior (Ben Paulides) who’s played in only 35 career games, the aforementioned three sophomore regulars, and started a sophomore goaltender (Jay Williams) who was making only his 20th career start.
Speaking of Williams, he recorded his 13th career victory in making 26 stops on the night. Overall, he was solid and gave the RedHawks what they needed. And, hey, I’ll take two goals allowed per night all year.
Last thought regarding the defense…all I’m saying is that if there is a part of the game that will take a little time, it’s the defense. And, they only surrendered two goals but duhOSU isn’t exactly a scoring juggernaut averaging only a smidge more than two goals per game last season. I know we’ll see daily improvement here throughout the year as the newbies work their way into the regular grind of college hockey.
Back to the game.
After Ohio State tied the game at two, it was as if a bell sounded for the offense.
Miami would go on to score four unanswered goals in the third including Cody Murphy’s game-winner just 29 seconds after the Buckeyes tied the score. Junior Jimmy Mullin carried the puck into the zone drawing the defense close before dropping a pass to the trailing Murphy who beat Ohio State sophomore goaltender Collin Olson. Following Murphy’s goal, junior Blake Coleman, freshman Anthony Louis and Paulides also found the net as Miami pulled away in style. For Louis and Paulides, it was their first career goals. While Louis’ came in his first collegiate game, it was game 35 for Paulides, the junior defenseman from San Jose, California.
Tonight, Miami and Ohio State will hook up for the final time this season as the RedHawks will open the home schedule at Steve Cady Arena. Faceoff time is 7:05 PM EST and the game can be viewed (hopefully) via Miami All-Access.
- Junior Blake Coleman scored only nine goals last season. Getting him going early is a great sign.
- Miami debuted their new red/away Bauer sweaters (above) adorned with chrome highlights. It’s still early, but I’m not sure I’m loving them. Give me these bad boys any day.
- Miami was 3-for-3 on the penalty kill and 3-for-8 on the powerplay.
- Freshman defenseman, Trevor Hamilton, recorded his first collegiate point, an assist, on Murphy’s game-winner.
Connor Knapp made 22 saves in notching his second shutout of the season and added an assist on Miami’s second goal as the RedHawks received goals from four different players and completed the sweep of #8 Western Michigan by a final score of 4-0.
With the victory, Miami moved into a tie for second place in the tightly packed CCHA and are now just two points behind league leading, duhOSU.
Junior co-captain Reilly Smith opened the scoring in the first period for Miami with his fourth goal of the weekend, and his team leading 18th on the season, while freshman Jimmy Mullin (8th) and senior co-captain Alden Hirschfeld (8th) added breakaway goals to blow open a close game in the third period. Freshman Tyler Biggs (5th) added the fourth and final Miami goal just 24 seconds after Hirschfeld’s to send the Broncos back to Kalamazoo empty handed.
Miami received solid efforts from several players tonight including an “under the weather” Curtis McKenzie who fought through a bug with hustle and hard work that helped contain the Broncos and make life miserable for them.
And, in addition to scoring a goal, Miami’s Reilly Smith was all over the ice killing penalties and even blocking shots for the RedHawks. Adding the captain’s ‘C’ to Reilly’s sweater seems to have brought even more out of him.
Freshman Ben Paulides has been earning head coach Enrico Blasi’s trust lately and his game has been mentioned by several folks as having greatly improved since the start of the season. And, again tonight. Paulides was solid in his own zone and was credited with an assist on Mullin’s goal early in the third period. It bodes well for next year if Paulides can lock down one of the top six defense positions with the impending losses of seniors Will Weber, Cameron Schilling and Chris Wideman.
As much as Miami dominated the Broncos tonight by limiting their time and space, they also exposed Western as maybe not yet ready to play “big boy hockey” as their alums and fans have been shouting for the past year. With multiple breakaway chances, Miami’s speed and size were simply too much for Western to handle as they’ve proven they do not possess the kind of elite talent to match a group of forwards as skilled as Miami’s. But, they play a great team game and will be a difficult out for anyone at full strength.
For the RedHawks, it was business as usual. And, Miami needs to continue to play well and make up ground in the national standings. If they continue to ride the superior goaltending of Connor Knapp and if the second and third lines continue to contribute scoring, the RedHawks will be fine as the year begins to wind down. It goes without saying that Miami has dialed up the team defense and is becoming very difficult to play against. Expected to be a strength at the start of the year, the RedHawks are now flexing their defensive muscles as they have absolutely shut teams down since a 2-6 start to the season. And, unbelievably, there are just ten regular season contests remaining in the 2011-12 season.
Next weekend, Miami continues a four-game homestand as they welcome Northern Michigan to the Goggin for another important CCHA series.
– Connor Knapp has now won six consecutive starts and for the second time in three weeks, played both games. He again allowed just one goal on the weekend equaling his effort at Michigan State January 6-7.
– Knapp lowered his goals against average this weekend to a ridiculous 1.77 and improved his save percentage to an inhuman .932 after stopping 48 of 49 shots in the two wins
– The Broncos again played without leading scorers Dane Walters and Shane Berschbach
– Tampa Bay Lightning GM and former Detroit Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman was in the house tonight, presumably to check in on his fourth round selection from 2010, Miami’s Jimmy Mullin (nice time to score a goal, Jimmy).
– By playing Connor Knapp in both games this weekend, head coach Enrico Blasi redeemed himself after going against his gut last weekend. Knapp has to play until he proves he can’t handle the workload.
– Here’s the MURedHawks.com recap
– An interesting, if not whiny take, from MLive.com with whiny quotes from Bronco head coach Andy Murray. I have to admit, I didn’t expect this from him.
On the weekend of the NHL Draft in St. Paul, Minnesota, the Miami Athletic Department has released the 2011-2012 roster. Here’s a quick look at the newest RedHawks and the jersey number they’ll be wearing. Stay tuned for an NHL Draft recap as well!
Austin Czarnik- 7
Alex Wideman- 10
Cody Murphy- 14
Jimmy Mullin- 20
Tyler Biggs- 22
Blake Coleman- 25
Ben Paulides- 28
Connor Murphy- 55 Um, yeah…