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Weekend Preview: #4 Miami at #19 Ferris State

Miami travels to Big Rapids to battle the Bulldogs

Another week, another road test against a ranked opponent.

It doesn’t get any easier for the youthful Miami RedHawks (4-1-1, 1-1 CCHA) this weekend as they travel to Big Rapids, Mich. to take on the national runners-up from a season ago, the #19 Ferris State Bulldogs (2-2-2, 1-1 CCHA).

Last weekend, the Bulldogs split a home series with Alaska winning 6-3 on Friday, but dropped Saturday’s finale 3-2. Sophomore goaltender C.J. Motte stopped 76 shots on the weekend, the most for a Ferris goaltender in a two game weekend set since 1992. The shots on goal is significant because Ferris is notorious for clogging the neutral zone and passing lanes. Historically, the Bulldogs have simply collapsed down low to protect their goal – a tactic that has frustrated even the best Miami squads. In doing so, Miami has struggled against FSU despite holding a slim 44-42-16 advantage all-time against the Bulldogs. In fact, dating back to the 2007-08 season, Miami is just 3-6-4 against Ferris including one win at Joe Louis Arena in the CCHA consolation game at the conclusion of the 2009-10 season. Under head coach Enrico Blasi, Miami is 16-11-6 against the Bulldogs but was swept last year in Big Rapids and are winless in four straight at FSU, last winning January 16, 2010 (source: MURedHawks.com).

Offensively, the Bulldogs saw a large chunk of scoring leave campus with the loss of Jordie Johnston and his 20 goals to graduation. Looking to pick up the scoring slack, FSU is led by senior captain Kyle Bonis (4-3-7) who netted 19 goals last year, super pest and senior Travis Ouelette (1-3-4) and junior center Cory Kane (2-4-6). Bonis, who has seen his share of battles in this rivalry, netted two goals in Friday’s 6-3 win over Alaska and has generally performed well against the RedHawks throughout his stellar career in Big Rapids.

The Bulldogs blueline also lost quite a bit from last year’s Frozen Four squad. Gone are last year’s team captain, Chad Billins, Brett Wysopal and Aaron Schmit who accounted for 53 points between them. And, Billins was an instrumental cog in front of departed senior goaltender Taylor Nelson as they led Ferris to the national title game a year ago. Accordingly, the Bulldogs are breaking in or expanding the role of three young defensemen, Simon Denis, Jason Binkley and Travis White. Denis has provided an immediate spark as he has already surpassed last year’s goal total (1 in 30 GP) with two goals in his first six games this year.

In net, you can feel pretty good about seeing sophomore C.J. Motte both nights. Last year, Motte was one of the best freshmen goaltenders in America posting a 5-5-2 record with 1.98 GAA and .925 save percentage backing up senior Taylor Nelson. Motte, who was highly regarding entering college, has started this year strong. His numbers show a 2-2-2 record, 2.57 GAA and .908 save percentage. He will provide a stiff challenge for Miami, but at least initially, it appears the Bulldog defense is still adjusting to new names in new places meaning the RedHawks should be able to get plenty of rubber on the St. Clair, Mich. native.

For Miami, the RedHawks enter the weekend with a 4-1-1 record after splitting a pair at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Offensively, the squad continues to be led by super sophomore Austin Czarnik (3-5-8), who was named the CCHA’s Player of the Month for October and freshman linemate Riley Barber (4-4-8), who was the recipient of the CCHA’s Rookie of the Month award for October. Sophomores Blake Coleman (4 goals) and Cody Murhpy (1-3-4) have also contributed as Miami appears deep and talented, but young, in the early stages of the season.

Senior captain Steven Spinell has done a tremendous job leading the very young Miami blueline and I have been particularly impressed with the play of freshmen defenders Chris Joyaux and Matthew Caito. Both have jumped in and provided shutdown minutes immediately. If Miami verbal commit Matt Joyaux is supposed to be the “better” of the two brothers, the blueline is set for the next few years with the USNDTP’s Trevor Hamilton also scheduled to come to campus soon.

The unsung hero thus far in the season has been freshman goaltender Jay Williams who was called upon on short notice last week with the injury to fellow freshman Ryan McKay who started Friday’s game, but left after just 4:59 making one stop on one shot against. Williams stopped 30 shots while allowing four goals on Friday night as he kept his team in the game. And, on Saturday, he stopped 37 of 40 Wolverine shots earning his first collegiate road victory as the RedHawks won 4-3. It will be interesting to see if McKay plays this weekend or if the coaching staff will be cautious with him so early in the season. Williams has been very good so far registering a 3-1 record with a 2.77 GAA and .909 save percentage. If McKay can’t go, Miami should be in good hands with Williams on both nights.

Like last week, these will be Miami’s final games with Ferris at Ewigleben Ice Arena as conference mates as the CCHA completes its final season of existence. Next year, Ferris State will join the WCHA along with four other CCHA schools while Miami moves to the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Both games are scheduled to start at 7:05pm EST and can be heard (hopefully) on 1490-AM and Miami All-Access via MURedHawks.com.

Final thoughts

To win this weekend, Miami will have to use their speed to counter Ferris’ trapping system. Dumping the puck at the blueline and making it do the work will be key to beating the Bulldogs defense. Miami should have a speed advantage, but mustn’t stay so true to its puck possession game to allow FSU to overwhelm the puck carrier resulting in neutral zone turnovers and odd-man rushes the other way. And, making Motte move around with crisp passes while causing havoc in front of him will enable Miami to get good looks at the sophomore.

This Miami team seems oblivious to some of the falls of prior teams. Some of that comes with youth, but the RedHawks speed and overall offensive talent, including the ability to roll three truly offensive lines, gives them an edge. Still, Ferris has been very good at home and Ewigleben has been a very difficult place for Miami to play. I would be happy with a weekend split.

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Deja Vu All over Again, Hawks fall 2-0

I guess I really don’t have to write a recap of last night’s 2-0 loss to Ferris State in Big Rapids, Mich.

The script was nearly identical to Friday’s game. Ferris gets two powerplay goals in eight attempts, Miami can’t convert in just three man-advantage situations and the RedHawks fall to 2-4 overall and 0-2 in the CCHA on the season.

Connor Knapp made 20 saves and Bulldog freshman goaltender, C.J. Motte earned his second collegiate shutout by stopping all 27 Miami chances.

Miami was whistled for 59 penalty minutes including three game misconducts as they continue to lead the nation in PIM.

Something’s gotta change fast because this appears to be a young, undisciplined team. Senior co-captains Alden Hirschfeld and Will Weber need to grab control of this team quickly to solve the penalty-fests that Miami games have become. If the RedHawks aren’t going to get the calls, then they need to find a way to avoid getting called or it’s going to be a long season.

Here are Miami’s penalty numbers through six games:

vs. Bemidji – 3 penalties for 6 minutes

vs. Bemidji – 4 for 8

vs. Colgate – 11 for 22

vs. Colgate – 9 for 18

vs. Ferris State – 7 for 14

vs. Ferris State – 13 for 59

Additionally, Miami has scored just 14 goals in six games and has scored more than three goals just once. Last season, Andy Miele would have 14 points in a weekend.

Remember, it’s a young, new team and a long season, but it’s certainly not off to a great start.

Penalty kill fails as RedHawks drop CCHA Opener

The undefeated and 14th ranked Ferris State Bulldogs used two powerplay goal and an empty-netter to hand 10th ranked Miami a 4-2 loss in the CCHA opener for both squads.

Special teams were again suspect as the RedHawks were 0-5 on the powerplay and surrendered two Bulldog powerplay goals in five shorthanded situations. That’s not going get it done over the course of a season.

Austin Czarnik and Trent Vogelhuber had the goals for Miami, while senior netminder Cody Reichard made 21 saves, several of them of the spectacular variety.

On the season, Miami is converting powerplay chances at a 20% clip and killing penalties at a lackluster 76% rate. Both numbers need to improve for Miami to begin to play more consistently.

The good news is this young Miami team has been in every game this year. Last weekend, they blew a one-goal lead in dropping a 3-2 decision to nationally ranked Colgate, and last night, entered the third period tied at 2 but were unable to grab the lead as Ferris scored 6 minutes into the period and held on for the win despite being outshot 12-5 in the period and 28-25 for the game.

Tonight, Miami attempts to earn the split and even its record at 3-3 on the year as they take on the Bulldogs again at 7pm EST from Big Rapids, Mich.

Miami Faces Tough Test at #14 Ferris State

Fans around the CCHA had to be rejoicing when Pat Nagle finally exited the campus of Ferris State University after last season. Nagle, who finished in the top 5 in the nation last year in both goals against average (2.02) and save percentage (.923), capped his career in Big Rapids as one of the most dominating goaltenders in recent league history by earning first team All-CCHA and All-America honors.

Before fans could celebrate too much however, enter C.J. Motte, the nation’s top ranked college goaltending recruit who just happens to suit up between the same pipes as did Nagle at Ewigleben Ice Arena.

All Motte has done through his first two collegiate starts is go 2-0 with a microscopic 0.50 goals against average and ridiculous .977 save percentage. In addition, the “other” goaltender, senior Taylor Nelson, is no slouch. Nelson ranks third all-time at Ferris State in save percentage (.911) and goals-against average (2.55) in 39 career starts. He’s off to an equally impressive start as he sports a 1.01 GAA, .952 save percentage and is also a perfect 2-0.

In all, the Bulldogs have scored 15 goals in their first four games and allowed just three in sweeping ECAC opponents St. Lawrence and RPI.

Returning names of note familiar to Miami fans are junior super pest Travis Ouelette (5-0-5), who is also the team’s leading returning scorer (2010-11 numbers: 10-11-21), junior Kyle Bonis (5-1-6) and senior defensemen Chad Billins and Brett Wysopal.

Needless to say, Ferris State has been tough on Miami in recent years. The RedHawks have had a difficult time breaking longtime Bulldog head coach Bob Daniels trapping system that emphasizes defense first. However, with this year’s Miami squad being a little more offensively challenged than in past seasons, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. It’s no secret Miami is loaded with talent, especially speed up front, but how will the young forwards fare against a system designed to clog the neutral zone and slow the game down? Perhaps a more moderate pace could even help Miami and literally slow the game down a bit for them. Regardless, the RedHawks face a stiff challenge traveling for the second consecutive weekend to open league play against a top 15 opponent who always gets up for the red and white.

Overall, the RedHawks are 44-40-16 against the Bulldogs, including 20-20-9 in Big Rapids. Under head coach Rico Blasi, Miami is 16-9-6 against Ferris State. Last season Ferris beat Miami 3-2 on Friday while Miami salvaged a 1-1 tie on Saturday with the Bulldogs winning the ridiculous CCHA mandated shootout. Miami swept the Bulldogs in Big Rapids in 2009-10, however en route to a dominating conference regular season title.

Weekend Prediction – Let’s light the lantern at least once this weekend.

Friday – Ferris 2-1

Saturday – Miami 2-1