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Miami falls to WMU, faces BG in CCHA consolation

In a performance that was a reminder of their first half struggles, the Miami RedHawks squandered a chance to make school history and dropped their CCHA seminfinal game 6-2 to Western Michigan at Joe Louis Arena.

The RedHawks were outplayed in virtually every facet of the game and the defensive breakdowns that led to several Bronco goals were eerily reminiscent of their struggles in the first half of the season as senior netminder Connor Knapp was routinely left hung out to dry. The most egregious defensive breakdown occurred perhaps on Western’s first goal when Garrett Haar led a 3-on-1 rush up the left wing that was so badly misplayed by freshman defensemen Ben Paulides, it left me wondering if he did more to hurt the cause than help Knapp in that situation. Greg Squires capitalized on an easy pass to beat Knapp top shelf with a redirection after Paulides left his feet, abandoned the slot shooter and simply slid past Haar who centered a perfect pass to Squires for a goal that set the tone.

Frankly, there isn’t much else to talk about.

Miami allowed a shorthanded goal, three powerplay goals and played nothing like the team we’d seen down the stretch. The team looked disinterested and Western took Miami’s physical, on the edge game, and threw it in the RedHawks’ faces. They were clearly more motivated and more aggressive than Miami who simply seemed flat and unmotivated. It was the best I’ve ever seen a Western Michigan team play. Junior forward Reilly Smith was the lone bright spot as his Hobey campaign is hitting its stride. Smith netted both of Miami’s goals and now has a career best 29 (he had 28 last year playing with Hobey Baker Award winner Andy Miele).

The RedHawks will try to salvage something out of this CCHA championship weekend when they take on Chris Bergeron and Bowling Green in today’s consolation game at 3:30pm EDT. Honestly, I can easily see Miami losing this game as they have little to play for, weren’t interested when they did, and I suspect the Falcons will try to send a message that their late season run wasn’t a fluke. BG, despite their double OT loss to Michigan last night, wants to prove they’ll be back and better than ever in the CCHA’s final season.

The good news is that Miami is safely in the NCAA tournament. Get right after yesterday’s disaster and move on. There’s still a national championship out there for the RedHawks to claim…if they want it.

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Weekend Preview: CCHA Semifinals and Finals

This weekend marks the final weekend of conference play in all of college hockey, with the final positioning for the NCAA tournament at stake and conference championships waiting to be won. Your 4th seeded and defending Mason Cup Champion Miami RedHawks take to the ice at 4:35 pm Friday afternoon against the #3 seed Western Michigan Broncos in the first CCHA Semifinal and #2 seed Michigan takes on the #11 seed Bowling Green in the late game.

Semifinal 1: #3 Western Michigan vs. #4 Miami 4:35
TV: Fox Sports – Ohio (DirecTV 660), Fox Sports Detroit Plus (DirecTV 664 SD, 664-1 HD) and Fox College Sports-Atlantic (it’s out there somewhere)

This season, the Broncos and RedHawks faced off twice, and Miami took both games in Oxford by scores of 3-1 and 4-0. Connor Knapp started both games and  made 48 out of 49 saves on the weekend, and Reilly Smith started his torrid second-half streak with a hat trick on Friday night, and added another goal on Saturday night.

On Friday, expect to see a showdown of Knapp, a senior, and Rookie of the year candidate Frank (the big) Slubowski in opposing nets. Knapp, as we know, has been absolutely on fire in 2012. Here’s the low-down on Knapp’s unbelievable season from muredhawks.com:

  • Connor has not allowed an even-strength goal since Feb. 4, 2012 against Michigan, a span of seven starts.
  • In those 7 games: four goals allowed, all on the power play.
  • Knapp has allowed one or fewer goals in 13 of his last 15 games, during which he has a 0.89 goals against average and .964 save percentage (since the start of 2012).
  • Knapp leads the NCAA with a 1.43 GAA and is second in save percentage at .943.
  • His 5 shutouts this year (all since 1/7/12) are a career high, and he broke the school’s career shutouts record with his 13th last Friday.
Slubowski, on the other hand, has been WMU Head Coach Andy Murray’s goaltender of choice this season, compiling a 15-10-4 record, and a stingy 2.03 Goals Against Average. The Big Slubowski, as he is nicknamed by his teammates, joins teammate Garrett Haar (Defense) and Miami’s Austin Czarnik on the CCHA All-Rookie team this season, and is a finalist with Czarnik and Michigan’s Alex Guptill for the conference’s Rookie of the Year Award.

Miami comes in with an 8-game winning streak, second longest in the nation to Boston College who has won 13 straight contests. In those games, Miami has outscored their opponents 32-5. Western Michigan is unbeaten in its last 4 games, including a win and a tie against the previously bounced Ferris State Bulldogs, and last weekend’s sweep of Lake Superior State in round 2.  While the Friday game is the first time Miami and WMU have met in the CCHA Semifinals, it is a rematch of the CCHA Championship game from 2011, a contest won handily by the RedHawks for Miami’s first Mason Cup title.

More notes for the weekend:

  • Reilly Smith is carrying an 8 game point streak into this weekend. He had previously scored goals in 7 straight until Saturday night’s game. He continues to lead the NCAA with 8 game winners and is second in the NCAA with 27 goals scored.
  • Jimmy Mullin has scored in 5 straight games – his career long – and has 11 points in those games.
  • Western Michigan Head Coach Andy Murray will coach in his 22nd game at Joe Louis Arena in Friday’s CCHA Semifinals. As a head coach of the Los Angeles Kings he went 1-9-1 against in Joe Louis Arena, with the lone win coming as a playoff series clinching victory over the Red Wings in 2001. (Source: wmubroncos.com)
  • Miami will want to stay out of the penalty box this weekend. WMU is 3 for 5 on the power play during the CCHA playoffs, and were performing at a 20.1% clip in the regular season. Miami’s penalty kill stands at 6th in the nation at 85.9% of penalties successfully killed, and also ranks 6th with 16.4 penalty minutes per game.
  • As the games go final on the weekend, keep your eye on USCHO’s PairWise rankings. Miami sits tied with Boston University for the #4 spot at this moment, meaning if  the season had ended and today we were watching the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, Miami would be a #1 seed. After every final score of the weekend, these standings are going to jostle ever so slightly, and almost every game is important.
  • Senior Goalie Cody Reichard was named one of 5 finalists for the NCAA’s Wooden Citizenship Cup. The award is  presented annually to two distinguished athletes, one collegiate and one professional, for their character and leadership both on and off the field and their contributions to sport and society. (source: muredhawks.com)
  • For your reading pleasure, check out USCHO blogger Elliot Olshansky’s Hobey Baker picks for 2012, where he picks Reilly Smith as a finalist.
  • And for your viewing pleasure, take a gander at the CCHA’s 20 Questions with Miami Senior Defenseman Chris Wideman, and their CCHA Now feature for 3/14/12.

Semifinal 2: #11 Bowling Green vs. #2 Michigan; approx 8:05PM Eastern
TV: Fox Sports-Detroit Plus, and Fox College Sports-Atlantic

Coming off of a 2-1 series victory over Northern Michigan 2 weekends ago, Bowling Green got 5 more goals from Freshman Dan DeSalvo and took down top-seeded Ferris State in dramatic fashion last weekend. Ferris State led 3-0 after 1 period of play in Sunday’s round 2 finale, but 4 straight goals from the Fighting Chris Bergerons, and they move on to Detroit for the first time since 2001. Consider these facts about BG’s improbable run:

  • BG was the first team to win a playoff series from the last place seed in 2011. They repeated that feat in 2012, and in doing so, knocked off the #6 and #1 seeds in the CCHA tournament in the process
  • BG won 5 CCHA conference games all season, and have now won 4 of their last 6 in the tournament. Throw in a win over Michigan in the last series of the season, and they’re 5-3 in the last 3 weeks of play
  • Freshman Dan DeSalvo scored 4 goals all season in 17 games, and missed the last 4 games of the season with an injury. Against NMU, he had 5 goals in the 3 game series, and he scored another 5 in the three games against Ferris State.
  • DeSalvo scored the first hat trick for BG since Jan. 18, 2008, and DeSalvo’s 10 playoff goals are already a new CCHA Tournament record, with 2 more games to play.
The primetime matchup of Friday night is sure to be a crowd pleaser, and we’d just love it if BG were able to pull of the upset of Michigan. Just 3 weeks ago, BG took down Michigan at the BGSU ice rink in a 4-3 decision, so it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility to think that BG could advance to the CCHA Championship win a win on Friday night.

Third place game: The losers of the semifinal games will meet at 3:35PM Eastern Saturday.

CCHA Championship game: winners of the 2 semifinal games, 7:35PM Saturday; Fox Sports-Detroit, Fox Sports-Ohio (Alternate channel)

If you’re looking for your hockey fix tonight and can’t wait until tomorrow, catch 3 future Miami conference-mates in action from the WCHA’s Final Five tournament (that consists 6 teams). Denver takes on Michigan Tech at 3:07 Eastern today and St. Cloud State takes on North Dakota at 8:07 Eastern. You can catch both with the “sports packages” on Fox Sports-North (DirecTV ch. 668) out of St. Paul, Minnesota’s Xcel Energy Center tonight.

After all the dust settles on the entire weekend, jump over to ESPNU on Sunday at high noon. John Buccigross, Barry Melrose and Aaron Ward will announce the NCAA Tournament Field on the NCAA Hockey Selection Show, and we’ll find out exactly where Miami is heading for its first round NCAA tournament game.

Miami to face Western Michigan in CCHA semifinals

With Bowling Green’s come-from-behind victory over Ferris State earlier this evening, it means the RedHawks will face Western Michigan in a rematch of last year’s Mason Cup Championship game in (likely) the first semifinal game Friday afternoon at 4pm. The Falcon victory means former Miami players and coaches Chris Bergeron and Barry Schutte will take the orange and brown to Joe Louis Arena for the first time since 2001.

Earlier this year, Miami swept the Broncos 3-1 and 4-0 in Oxford. However, Western played the series without two top players — Dane Walters and Shane Berschbach — and presumably the Broncos will be at full strength on Friday afternoon.

Frankly, I don’t think anyone really cared whether Miami drew Ferris State or Western Michigan — at least I didn’t. With the way Miami is playing, they only need worry about themselves and continue to do the things that have propelled the club steadily upward throughout the second half of the season. Miami is playing its best hockey of the year at precisely the right time. Let’s hope they have another good weekend left in them as they prepare for the NCAA tournament.

Friday’s Highlights

Here are the highlights from Friday’s 6-0 victory over Michigan State.

Weekend Preview: Miami tries for first playoff win against Michigan State

Your Miami RedHawks take the ice tonight in search of their first-ever win against Michigan State outside of the regular season. The defending Mason Cup Champions have never beaten Michigan State in the CCHA playoffs (they’ve never met in the NCAA tournament). Miami is 0-9 against MSU, but Michigan State has never visited Oxford in these rounds either, so tonight’s contest looks to be a jumping off point for the RedHawks in the best-of-three series. State has played Miami in the quarterfinal round in 1985 and 2000, having swept both series in East Lansing.

Earlier this season, the ‘Hawks headed to East Lansing to face the Spartans and came out with 2 victories. The first came on a Jimmy Mullin overtime goal to lift the RedHawks to a 2-1 victory on January 6th. On the next night, Connor Knapp got his unbelievable 2012 kicked off, notching his first of 4 shutouts of the calendar year. On that weekend, Bryon Paulazzo, Cameron Schilling, Chris Wideman, Blake Coleman and Alden Hirschfeld all tallied at least 2 points, Miami had 6 different goal scorers in the 2-game sweep, and in total, 12 RedHawks made the scoring sheets.

Oxford is again the host of a second-round CCHA playoff series, as Miami is the only CCHA school that can claim that honor. After a rough trip to face Michigan, the Hawks have swept Alabama-Huntsville, Notre Dame and Ohio State to jump from 9th in the CCHA standings up to their 4th place finish. Since the CCHA changed to the current playoff format, Miami is 4-2 in this round of the playoffs, having faced 6 different teams in that span. Michigan State makes the 7 team in 7 years to play in Oxford in the playoffs, where Miami is 9-5 in those 6 series.

Leading the RedHawks as he has done all season is Junior Reilly Smith, who looks to continue his current scoring streaks of 4 games with a goal and 6 games with at least one point. Smith is coming off of a career-high 4 point game at Ohio State on 2/25/12, leads the CCHA and is second in the country in goals scored with 26, has just been named the CCHA All-Conference First Team, and was named Inside College Hockey (INCH) CCHA Player of the Year. From INCH’s CCHA beat writer James Dowd:

Last year’s [INCH] breakthrough player of the year becomes INCH’s CCHA Player of the Year. Miami’s Reilly Smith carried a young team on his back, notching 26 goals on the season—second nationally behind only fellow Dallas draft pick Austin Smith of Colgate. After a strong 2010-11 season, one had to wonder whether Smith’s success hinged primarily on the playmaking wizardry of 2011 Hobey Baker Award winner Andy Miele, but Smith proved this year he’s a pure goal scorer even without the likes of Miele and Carter Camper surrounding him. The Redhawks looked lost at times this year, but Smith kept putting the puck in the net, buying time for his young teammates to mature.

In addition to the above accolades, for some pre-game reading enjoyment, take a gander at John Lachmann’s article at wcpo.com which chronicles Smith’s outstanding Miami career to date.

We would expect to see Connor Knapp in net tonight, as he is coming off of one of the best statistical seasons by any Miami goaltender in history. Knapp has had 4 shutouts in 2012, and has posted some unbelievable stats this season. His .939 save percentage is second best in the nation (Chris Noonan of Niagara is just ahead at .941), and his 1.53 goals against average is tops in the NCAA (Troy Grosenick from Union is 2nd at 1.64 GAA). The Buffalo Sabres draft pick has also finished first in CCHA conference play with a gnarly .945 save percentage and a 1.41 GAA and he even tallied an assist on the season. He, Cody Reichard and David Burleigh (’03) are all tied at 12 career goose-eggs, and will be looking to break the Miami shutout record this weekend. Despite having those impeccable numbers, Knapp was only voted to Honorable Mention in the CCHA awards, finishing behind First-Teamer Taylor Nelson of Ferris State and the baby goalie Shawn Hunwick of Michigan, who made the Second Team.

As for the Spartans, they will almost certainly deploy Junior Torey Krug when Reilly Smith is on the ice. Krug was also named to the All-CCHA First Team, and is Michigan State’s best defenseman.  Not only is he staunch on the defensive side of the ice, but he also tied for the CCHA lead in scoring with an impressive 11 goals and 18 assists, finishing 1 point ahead of Smith for the CCHA in-conference scoring lead.

In net could be either of Will Yanakeff or Drew Palmisano. Yanakeff has posted a record of 13-7-1 this year, allowing 2.32 goals per game and has a save percentage of .927. He has played in 3 of the last 4 Spartans games, having gone 2-1. Palmisano, a senior is 6-6-3 on the season, with 2.59 GAA and a .919 save percentage.  Head Coach Tom Anastos will try to lead the Spartans to the CCHA Championship weekend in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena for the first time since 2007, Michigan State’s latest National Championship season. Looking back, no current Spartan has been on the winning side of a CCHA playoff series or game.

A few final notes for the weekend:

  • Michigan State is just 6-7-0 on the road this season, but has a commanding 29-12-3 record in Oxford all-time against Miami.
  • The Spartans hold a 6-2-1 record on the season against teams ranked in the top 10 at the time of the game.
  • Miami has outscored their opponents 19-3 in the last 6 games, all wins.
  • 2 victories would push Miami’s current seniors to the 4th most all time. They currently stand at 96 wins in their 4 years, and could make it a magical 100 with a second-consecutive Mason Cup Championship next weekend.
  • Miami sits at 9th in the current Pairwise, and MSU is in a tie for 12th. This is a comparison we don’t want to lose, so wins this weekend are crucial.

The puck drops on this critical series at 7:35pm tonight, 7:05pm Saturday, and 7:05pm on Sunday night, if necessary. The weekend’s games are not televised, but can be viewed on http://www.muredhawks.com using the All-Access subscription service. Just $9.95/month gets you the video feed for all three games, and can be cancelled at any time!

This week went entirely too slow, and it’s going to be a fun weekend in Oxford.

BEAT STATE!!!