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Senior Night, with the CCHA title on the line

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After last night’s disappointing result, Miami takes to the ice tonight in what will certainly be an emotional night no matter what the outcome. Tonight, we say goodbye to 6 seniors who will move on to the pro ranks, possibly even the NHL ranks, and others will become working men like many of us. Let’s take a look back at their time as RedHawks. (photos courtesy of http://www.muredhawks.com)

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Miami Sweeps, Moves Closer to Regular Season Crown

Light the Lantern! Miami sweeps Lake State

On the strength of 44 saves from freshman phenom Ryan McKay and goals from classmates Riley Barber and Matthew Caito, the #3 Miami RedHawks defeated Lake Superior State 2-1 Saturday night in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

In doing so, the RedHawks are now just one point away from clinching a share of the final CCHA regular season title and two points from an outright championship to close the league. Frankly, going into this season with so many new faces and young players, I would not have predicted a regular season title. But this team, coached so well by head man Enrico Blasi and his associates Brent Brekke and Nick Petraglia have molded the 2012-13 RedHawks (21-8-5, 16-6-4-4 1st CCHA) into an intense, system-based and fast squad that is a nightmare to play against. The RedHawks lead the nation in team defense and are sixth in penalty killing despite an offense that has just one point-per-game player (Barber) and no skaters ranked higher than 14th (Barber) in the national scoring race.

Last night, the ‘Hawks were carried by their talented freshmen as they served up a hard-fought victory. Though frankly, you never really felt as if Lake would be able to get past the one-goal barrier with McKay back between the pipes and the Miami defense stinging a bit after allowing four Laker goals the night before. Read the rest of this entry

Tuesday Newsbrief – Election Day Style

The #5 Miami RedHawks completed their four-game Michigan roadie by splitting both series against conference rivals Michigan and Ferris State in what will be Miami’s final regular season trips to those schools as conference mates. In doing so, Miami avoided losing ground to either squad in the standings and returns home this weekend to face #16 Northern Michigan (4-3-1, 1-2-1 CCHA) at Steve Cady Arena.

Last weekend, Miami dropped the Friday opener 3-0 as Ferris State sophomore C.J. Motte blanked the RedHawks by stopping all 25 shots he faced as the Bulldogs outshot the RedHawks 31-25. Saturday was a much different affair as Miami came out flying notching a 4-2 victory on the strength of freshman Sean Kuraly’s first collegiate goal and two goals from sophomore sniper Austin Czarnik. Freshman Jay Williams played both nights in net as Ryan McKay recovers from injury, and picked up his fourth win of the season making 24 saves as Miami outplayed and outshot the Bulldogs 40-26.

On the season, Miami is now just 1-2-1 on Friday nights, but is a perfect 4-0 on Saturday as they ran their overall record to 5-2-1 and 2-2 in the CCHA. Miami is locked in a five-way tie for second in the league.

Looking ahead to the weekend’s opponent, Northern Michigan lost a shootout and defeated Michigan in Marquette blowing a lead on Friday and nearly doing the same on Saturday as Michigan’s senior captain A.J. Treais toyed with the hearts of Wildcat players and fans on both nights.

On Friday, Treais, who has seven goals and ten points on the season, scored with just 0.6 seconds left in regulation as Michigan overcame a 4-1 third-period deficit to send the game into overtime and ultimately to a shootout. In the shootout, Treais notched the only goal giving the Wolverines two league points on the evening and sending the Wildcats home disappointed.

On Saturday, the Wolverines faced the same 4-1 third period deficit and again rallied as Treais and Mac Bennett scored to pull Michigan within one. However, the Wildcats held on to take a 4-3 victory earning three league points and four of six on the weekend.

Notes

Earlier this week, sophomore forward Alex Wideman tweeted that he is “mono free” and hopefully that means we’ll see him this weekend in Oxford.

Sophomore Austin Czarnik (5-5-10) and freshman Riley Barber (4-6-10) share the team lead in points and are tied for second in the CCHA with the aforementioned Treais and trail Northern Michigan’s Matt Thurber (1-10-11) for the league’s top spot. It is interesting to note that both Treais and Thurber are seniors.

Miami is the highest ranked CCHA team (fifth) and seven of the eight NCHC schools are in this week’s top 20 with only Nebraska-Omaha failing to crack the rankings. Only Denver is ranked higher than Miami (third) of teams that Miami will face regularly beginning next season.

Senior defenseman Joe Hartman was again absent from the Miami lineup last weekend. Hopefully big Joe returns soon.

Miami’s victory on Saturday in Big Rapids snapped a five-game losing streak at Ferris’ Ewigleben Ice Arena. The RedHawks last won at Ferris State on Saturday January 16, 2010 when Tommy Wingels netted two goals to lead the RedHawks to a 5-4 victory and a weekend series sweep of the Bulldogs.

The RedHawks are making a concerted effort to take advantage of their speed and defensive lapses by executing stretch passes with Curtis McKenzie and Austin Czarnik hooking up several times already this year. Czarnik is a master with the puck and has extremely good vision while McKenzie is doing a fantastic job getting open by moving his feet up the ice. On Saturday, Czarnik found McKenzie for a breakaway which ultimately resulted in a penalty shot for the RedHawk senior forward that he was unable to convert, but the effort will pay off in time.

Miami’s Shining Stars

When you have a fan, and writer, who is so passionate about hockey, it’s a treat to have an opportunity to get that person to contribute something to the blog. In that light, Redskin Warriors is happy to present our first guest submission from HappyGirl2525. She’s an avid Dallas Stars and Miami fan and you can follow her on Twitter at @happygirl2525. So, thanks to her for contributing our first guest piece to the blog and we hope she’ll do so again. Enjoy!

 

                       
Curtis McKenzie                           Reilly Smith

Walking into Goggin Ice Center, you can’t help but notice the murals and jerseys of former RedHawk greats who played in the NHL, from Brian Savage, Dan Boyle, Kevyn Adams to Ryan Jones. With each new season, it’s fun to watch the progress of the players and wonder who might be the next Miamian to raise the Stanley Cup over his head.

Two possible contenders, Miami’s Reilly Smith and Curtis McKenzie, were drafted by the Dallas Stars in 2009. This represented a significant change in the Stars philosophy, from relying heavily on the free agency and trades, to building more from within and increasing the number of quality prospects in the Stars system. It also mirrored the career path of Stars General Manager, Joe Nieuwendyk, who was a former college standout and Hobey Baker finalist for Cornell University.

With the 69th pick in the third round, the Stars selected Reilly Smith. Three rounds later, with the 159th pick, the Stars selected Curtis McKenzie. To provide some perspective, in 2007, with the 129th pick in the 5th round, the Stars selected Jamie Benn, who is currently second on the team in scoring and was just named to his first NHL All Star team. The key to an organization’s success is being able to identify those late-round diamonds in the rough, especially in the salary cap era.

Some other notable Stars draft picks currently playing in the NCAA are Austin Smith (Colgate), Alex Chiasson (Boston University – boo) Scott Winkler (Colorado College) and Alex Guptill (Michigan).

Being an NHL draft pick provides the players with a bit more opportunities than non-drafted players. Draft picks can attend, at their own expense, the NHL club’s Development Camp in the summer. Here they have a chance to skate with other prospects, most notably from the Junior ranks and minor league teams, and to work with NHL coaches and trainers on different skills, drills and conditioning. Another important aspect is that it gives the players a small taste of what their life could be in the pros, which can be very motivating.

For me personally, as both a Miami RedHawks and Dallas Stars fan, it’s been amazing to watch the development and progress of Smith and McKenzie and to see how they fit into the Stars system. Smith has attended two Stars Development camps (2010 and 2011) in Texas, and McKenzie attended one in 2010.

Watching Smith this year compared to last year, you can see how this experience has helped improve his game.  Besides being bigger this year, Smith is becoming a more complete player. While he’s always had the soft hands and good skating ability, he’s been more aggressive with his stick when he doesn’t have the puck and is playing more of a two-way game. Those are two elements that goal scorers, like Smith, can struggle with as they make the jump from Juniors or NCAA to the professional ranks.

Smith has also overcome losing a great set-up man in Andy Miele. While Smith struggled at the beginning of the year, as the whole team struggled, he’s really started to generate some great chemistry with Austin Czarnik. Scoring four goals in this weekend’s past two games, Smith is continuing to lead this RedHawk team back into contention.

Another challenge for Smith is overcoming the knock on him his freshman year that he is small. While he’s never had a problem playing a physical game or fighting for ice in front of the net, you do have to question if a college player will have the stamina to play an 82-game NHL schedule.  At 6’1”, 183, Smith is one inch taller and six pounds heavier than Dallas Stars center, Mike Ribeiro. Watching him play tonight, I no longer have any doubts if he can withstand the rigors of a full NHL schedule. In some ways I see some similarities between Smith and Stars GM Nieuwendyk, skinny college kids with soft hands, a knack for putting the puck in the net and an amazing wrist shot.

If Smith continues to develop at this pace, I think the only question remaining is if the Stars will let him finish his senior year in Oxford, or whether they bring him down to Austin, TX, to play for Dallas’ American Hockey League team, the Texas Stars. But I do think someday, we will see Smith in an NHL sweater. I just hope it’s a Dallas Stars sweater.

I’m not sure if Curtis McKenzie will ever wear a Dallas Stars sweater. I love McKenzie’s attitude, work ethic and intensity. At 6’2”, 207 pounds, he definitely has the size to play in the NHL, but he doesn’t have the offensive upside that Smith brings.  McKenzie has definitely matured as a player and isn’t taking as many unnecessary penalties as he’s done previously. Also, McKenzie isn’t afraid to use his size and crash the net. I’ve just not seen that ability to change a game that Smith possesses.  To make it to the NHL and more importantly to stay in the NHL, you’ve got to be able to raise your play to that next level and change the outcome of games. For example, Jamie Benn is gritty and intense but he can also dominate teams and make their defensemen look like peewees.

What I think what the Stars scouts saw in McKenzie and what I think could make him a member of the Texas Stars, besides his size, are his energy and passion for the game. McKenzie stands up for his teammates and will do whatever the team needs. Watching McKenzie, I think of him as a poor man’s Adam Burish. He lacks some of Burish’s scoring ability, but his personality reminds me of Burish, who was a standout for the University of Wisconsin Badgers hockey team.

While their paths may take them on separate journeys for the same franchise, I think both will have a roster spot for them in Texas, either in Austin or in Dallas, when their days at Miami are complete. Until then, I’m going to relish every chance I get to see Smith and McKenzie in the red and white.

Miami tops Windsor 4-1

In their only exhibition tune-up before the puck drops for real next weekend, the Miami RedHawks got two goals from “Awesome” Alden Hirschfeld and defeated the Windsor Lancers 4-1 at Steve Cady Arena.

Hirschfeld got his final season in a Miami uniform off to a fast start, and along with classmate Matt Tomassoni and junior Curtis McKenzie, provided all the offense senior goaltenders Cody Reichard and Connor Knapp would need as the RedHawks outshot Windsor 51-13.

Miami went 2 for 5 on the powerplay and surrendered one goal in six shorthanded situations as the game featured 21 penalties for 48 minutes. One night earlier, the Lancers skated to a 6-5 loss in Columbus as their game with the Buckeyes was also a chippy affair for the visitors from Canada who play their hockey in the Ontario University Athletics Conference.

The RedHawks skated without top returning goal scorer, Reilly Smith, but were able to overcome his absence in dominating lesser competition. If Smith is out for an extended period, Hirschfeld and the other upperclassmen will have to shoulder the load until his return.

Next weekend, Miami skates for real against Bemidji State of the WCHA in the first two regular season games of the year. We’ll have a season preview for the RedHawks as well as a weekend preview posted later in the week.

MURedHawks.com has a game recap HERE.