This evening at 6:30 PM EDT the Miami RedHawks, champions of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, are set to mark their return to the NCAA tournament after a one-year absence.
The top seed in the East Region, the RedHawks (4th overall seed) will face fourth seeded Providence College (15th) of Hockey East in their hometown.
The Friars last played two weekends ago when they were ousted by New Hampshire in the quarterfinals of the Hockey East conference tournament. The two squads went the distance in the best-of-three weekend series in Providence playing three low-scoring 2-1 games.
We could end this post right here, because a low-scoring game is precisely what Miami should expect this weekend.
The Friars rank in the top 5 nationally in many defensive categories including goals allowed (3rd) and save percentage (4th) led by junior goaltender Jon Gillies, who’s .931 save percentage and 1.95 GAA each rank 6th best nationally. That said, Miami will run out junior Jay Williams, who’s numbers aren’t too shabby either. Williams actually has a better GAA (1.89, 5th nationally)) than Gillies and his .922 save percentage (29th nationally) ranks just a few spots lower.
Meanwhile, Miami is much more offensively inclined boasting three players with 18 or more goals (Blake Coleman and Riley Barber (20 each) and Sean Kuraly 18) but they will be without Coleman, and likely, Barber for the game against the Friars. In fact, the Friars leading goal scorers, Nick Saracino and Trevor Mingoia have just 13 goals each, but Providence does run out five players with 11 or more goals. Maybe not as dynamic as Miami’s top end forwards, but they certainly have depth. That could be a problem for a Miami team suddenly without a lot of it.
This is not the first time Miami has seen Gillies. The two schools have met four times over the last three seasons playing, amazingly, four consecutive overtime games. Last year, Miami traveled to Providence and put up a four-spot against Gillies on Saturday night scoring six goals on the weekend. Miami should have some confidence against one of the nation’s best.
With both Coleman and Barber likely missing this game, obviously the Crash Cousins, and their size, can play a larger than usual role. Like most Hockey East squads, Providence is relatively small. Miami should use their blend of size and speed to jump on the Friars right away. I’d love to see Rico have the guys throw the body around, but they’ll have to mindful of east coast refs. The NCHC is a big, physical league and the RedHawks are one of the most physical teams in the country. If the refs don’t let the boys play, Miami could find themselves killing far too many penalties despite the Friars woeful powerplay which is converting at a paltry 14.7% clip this year.
Ultimately, this game is Jay Williams’ to win. He has to step up and hold Miami in the game. The RedHawks should expect to have to win a 2-1 style game because, 1) we’re missing 40 goals from the lineup, and 2) it’s how the Friars play.
Despite missing huge parts of the lineup, this is not your father’s Miami. This is not the team from the CCHA that was hardly challenged over the past decade and then, at times, unprepared for the rigors of the NCAA tournament. But, these RedHawks are the champions of the NCHC, a conference that sent six of its eight teams to the Dance. A conference that is currently 3-0 in the 2015 tournament. After last year’s adjustment to life in the National and life on the road, Miami has figured out how to win in the most dominant college hockey conference in the land. That has to account for a lot.
The RedHawks, though missing some big-time talent, have guys that can step up. Miami’s depth will certainly be challenged.
As much as I want to pick Miami, overcoming the losses of Coleman and Barber, along with the need to win a tight 2-1 game just doesn’t seem to fit Miami’s run, gun and bang style.
But, there is just something different about this team. They’re more battle tested. They’re deep. I think Miami finds a way to get it done but the goal scoring will surprise you. Look for a Kevin Morris or Crash Cousin dirty goal to be the difference. Miami wins.
– Williams and the RedHawks’ defense will have to be big tonight because Miami cannot afford to fall behind the Friars and expect to be able to come-from-behind facing such an intensely defensive team.
– Unless Miami wins, we MAY have seen the last of Coleman and Barber in the red and white which would be an unbelievable shame considering how their Miami careers could end. Barber is just a junior, but could decide to sign with Washington. However, if his knee injury is severe, the Capitals could be inclined to see how he does in a comeback situation with Miami meaning, perhaps, Barber could also come back to finish his degree. Something I’d assume his family would be quite happy with given his father, Don Barber, collected his degree from Bowling Green before embarking on a successful pro career. When Miami’s season is finished, I’d expect the New Jersey Devils to sign Coleman (a senior) as quickly as possible.
– Gillies, Kuraly and Barber know each other well having played together on the US U20 team that won gold in 2013 and then again Barber and Gillies returned for the 2014 team when Barber was captain. Gillies was the main netminder that year for Team USA.
– Despite playing at “home,” the Friars have not played a game at the Dunkin Donuts Center since 2004. And, with Providence having a fairly small fan base, the advantage Providence will have shouldn’t really affect the RedHawks. Certainly, this team is road tested playing in hostile environments like the Ralph (UND), Amsoil (UMD) and Lawson (WMU) to say nothing of having made long road trips all year, twice in fact, to Colorado to play at altitude. In other words, Miami has seen and heard it all.