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Miami v. Michigan – CCHA Semifinal #2

The RedHawks face streaking Michigan at Joe Louis Arena

On the strength of series’ victories over Michigan State and Western Michigan, respectively, the Miami RedHawks and Michigan Wolverines will meet once again at Joe Louis Arena for the right to advance to tomorrow night’s last-ever CCHA championship game.

Today’s semi-final matchup smells precisely like the one the teams played in 2010 when the regular season champion RedHawks faced seventh seeded Michigan who had gotten hot late in the year needing to win the conference tournament to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament. Of course, Michigan would go on to win the Mason Cup but Miami would have another chance to face the Wolverines in the Midwest regional final in Fort Wayne where the RedHawks would gain revenge by earning their second consecutive trip to the Frozen Four.

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RedHawks start 4-game roadtrip at Michigan

The RedHawks open the final season of CCHA play this weekend
with a 2-game set at Michigan.

Miami will open CCHA play this weekend, and it marks the last time we’ll be able to say those words. We start our “celebration of the legacy” by travelling to Ann Arbor to face Red Berenson and his band of misfits the Michigan Wolverines. (Oops… I did it again.)

Head coach Rico Blasi has had recent success against Michigan, but is still just 12-23-2 in his 14 years in Oxford. Overall, Michigan leads the series 71-26-4, but Miami is making a smidge of progress, as they are 8-5-1 since 2008-09. With a renovated Yost Ice Arena welcoming in their first CCHA opponent, expect the Michigan students to be in full voice this weekend. And let me tell you…it’s not a fun place to be an opposing team.

On the ice, the Wolverines have a similar goalie situation as Miami does, and have yet to finalize who will be their number one guy, if anyone. It may be becoming apparent on who that might be however, as Red Berenson will start Freshman Steve Racine in net on Friday night. Racine is 2-0-0 on the season and has allowed 5 goals in those two games. Another freshman, Jared Rutledge has also seen time in net, but allowed 5 goals in just one game against RIT in Michigan’s 5-4 OT loss to open the season – and he hasn’t been on the ice since. Michigan held a 4-1 advantage in that game, so nothing is outside the realm of possibility this weekend if the Michigan netminders cannot hold their own against Miami’s high-flying attack.

However, in order to get even one tie or win, Miami will get out to a fast start, and they have to be staunch in net and on defense. Michigan has played 4 games so far this season: an exhibition against Windsor, 2 against RIT and one against Bentley last weekend. It’s safe to say they haven’t seen the likes of Miami’s speed and skill and will need to step it up a notch or three to take the series. On the other hand, Michigan has done what they needed to against these teams, and have not scored less than 4 goals in any of the games, including the 4 goals in the OT loss to RIT.

As expected, Senior Captain A.J. Treais leads Michigan on the young season, with 3 goals and 2 assists. Highly touted freshman Jacob Trouba has also started the season strong with 2 goals and 2 assists thus far. The Wolverines’ best defenseman, Jon Merrill has been injured to start the season and likely won’t play. Another D-man Kevin Clare sustained an injury in the win over RIT in the second game of the season, and could return to action this weekend. Both blue-liners are Juniors and are sorely needed for this Michigan team to succeed this season.

On the Miami side of things, Riley Barber (4G-1A—5 Total Points) comes in with a 3 game goal scoring streak, and looks to continue his hot start after earning CCHA Rookie of the week last weekend against Providence. Barber, Blake Coleman (3-2—5) and Austin Czarnik (2-3—5) lead the offensive attack for The Brotherhood. Keep an eye on surprising freshman Taylor Richart on the blue line. Richart has blocked 18 shots in 4 games this season.

Expect Blasi to rotate goalies again this weekend, and I’d expect to see McKay first and Williams second again. So far, the rotation has been magical for Blasi…wait… can we say “so far” any more? For the last 6-8 years, the rotation has worked magically for Blasi. McKay is the big presence we thought he would be in net, and despite only being on the ice for half of Miami’s game time this season, Jay Williams is the firecracker on the bench. The guy never sits still and is quite a presence for the Hawks.

Michigan has 7 freshmen on the squad at the moment, compared to Miami’s 11, and they will look to push the pace as Red Berenson’s teams always do. Miami will need to keep its composure and due to Michigan’s inexperience could skate away with up a bucket of points this weekend. I’ll take Miami 4-2 tonight and Michigan 4-1 on Saturday.

Go RedHawks!!!