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RedHawks to head to ‘Somewhere in Middle America’

With apologies to Adam Duritz and “Counting Crows,” Miami hits the road for Omaha to take on old CCHA foe Nebraska Omaha in a weekend NCHC series.

The Mavericks, you may recall, were conference mates with Miami from 1999 until leaving the CCHA in favor of the WCHA in 2010. That, of course, was an ill-fated and perhaps short-sighted move, as college hockey underwent enormous realignment after the announcement that the Big Ten would field its own hockey conference in spring 2011. And, after all was said and done, UNO and Miami, along with charter schools Colorado College, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota would announce the formation of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference in summer 2011.

After two more seasons in the CCHA and WCHA respectively, Miami and UNO once again find themselves facing off as conference rivals. This weekend marks the first time the programs have met since February 20, 2010 in Oxford when UNO knocked off then #1 Miami 4-2 in head coach Dean Blais’ first trip to Steve Cady Arena.

The ‘Dean’ of the NCHC

Speaking of Dean Blais, his resume speaks for itself. But, Miami head coach Enrico Blasi summed it up nicely during his weekly press conference.

“The one thing I know about Dean Blais’ teams is they’re going to play hard and they’re going to be in your face and you’re going to have to be ready to compete for 60 minutes.”

UNO’s Dean Blais is in his fifth season behind the Mavericks’ bench. (BleacherReport.com)

One of the most decorated American amateur coaches in recent history, Blais spent 10 seasons behind the bench at North Dakota, where he compiled a record of 262-115-34 and won two national titles (1997, 2000) before leaving to take an associate head coaching job with the Columbus Blue Jackets. After spending four years in Cowtown, also serving as director of player development, Blais went back to his amateur roots where he was hired by the Fargo Force of the USHL to be their head coach, and was eventually lured back to school in 2009 by new Omaha AD Trev Alberts. In going to Omaha, he took over the reins of the program from long time head man Mike Kemp, who is largely regarded as the Father of UNO hockey. Blais has also long been involved with USA Hockey winning a gold medal in 2010 with the U-20 World Junior team. The two-time Spencer Penrose winner (1997, 2001) has an all-time record of 342-189-49 over nearly 15 seasons in college hockey.

Whom to Watch

On the ice, the Mavericks (6-6, 3-1 T2nd NCHC) are led by 2013 Hobey Baker finalist, senior Ryan Walters, who finished last season with 52 points (which tied for 2nd in program history for a single season) after scoring 22 goals. Listed at 6-0/190, Walters has started strong and is tied for the team lead in points (13) on three goals and has helped the Mavs rebound from a 2-4 start to win four of their past six including last weekend’s split with then #2 Michigan in Omaha. Along with Walters, Miami much watch

Senior Ryan Walters leads a dangerous UNO offense. (Colorado Springs Gazette)

junior forward Josh Archibald who leads the team in goals (9) and is tied with Walters atop the team’s scoring list. Archibald’s name should be familiar to some as he skated on Team USA’s 2012 U-20 team which failed to medal a year after earning bronze in Buffalo. Others to make note of include junior forward Dominic Zombo (5-5-10) and senior Brock Monpetit (6-3-9) who rank third and fourth in team scoring for UNO.

Overall, the Mavericks are second in the NCHC in scoring averaging 3.08 goals per game. Miami at 3.42 goals per game leads the way in the league with 41 goals though St. Cloud is averaging just a shade more at 3.50 goals per game in two fewer contests played.

Who’s in Net?

Defensively, the Mavericks are allowing 3.25 goals per game as they have struggled to find consistency in net. Lately however, UNO has gotten better goaltending from junior Ryan Massa and freshman Kirk Thompson having allowed more than three goals just once over their past six games. Massa and Thompson are very similar goaltenders. Both are around six feet tall and possess nearly identical numbers. For instance, both goaltenders are 3-2 with goals against averages north of 3 and save percentages below .900. In contrast, Miami allows just 2.08 goals per game and sophomore Ryan McKay leads the nation with three shutouts and has posted sterling 1.74/.943 numbers. However, because McKay has played the last four games for Miami, I would not be at all surprised to see McKay in net Friday night and fellow sophomore Jay Williams (2-2/2.75/.905) between the pipes on Saturday.

The RedHawks

For Miami (7-4-1, 2-2 T5th NCHC), the eighth ranked RedHawks enter the weekend having faced two top 15 teams in a row after splitting series with NCHC foe St. Cloud State and Big Ten opponent Wisconsin just last weekend in Oxford. That stretch has catapulted Miami’s strength of schedule to the top of the heap. This week’s KRACH ratings show Miami’s SOS sitting at #1 having played the most challenging schedule in the land.

Overall, the offense is simply not delivering against top teams as they have managed just 13 goals in their last six games against ranked opponents including just seven goals total over the past two weekends.

Junior Blake Coleman has picked up his game this year. (MURedHawks.com)

As teams focus on shutting down the top line of Riley Barber, Austin Czarnik and Jimmy Mullin, Miami must have secondary scoring from throughout the lineup. To this point, most of that scoring has come from junior Blake Coleman as he has netted seven goals which ties him with Czarnik for second on the team. Last season, Coleman scored nine goals so he’s well on his way to surpassing that total as his game continues to improve. But, outside of Coleman’s efforts, only two other RedHawks have scored at many as four goals (Alex Wideman and Anthony Louis).

And, as head coach Enrico Blasi said earlier this week, Miami needs to have all four lines contributing in order to play their game and be successful. Said Blasi,

“We need everybody in our lineup doing the same thing. Everybody’s got to be on the same page. This is not a team that’s going to rely solely on one or two players.”

Prediction

All-time, Miami is 17-7-3 against Omaha including a 7-4-1 mark in the self-proclaimed, “Gateway to the West.”

Tired of splitting, I think Miami gets a much-needed league sweep this weekend in Omaha. And, we’ll be live tweeting from the press box of the Century Link Center @miamihockeyblog and will have updates and recaps immediately following Friday night’s game. Miami All-Access has the call both nights along with local radio coverage at 1450-AM (Friday only) and 1490-AM (both nights).

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Welcome to the NCHC, Part 2

NCHC

Today, we finish up our team capsules with the remaining 4 teams in the NCHC. We introduced you to Western Michigan, St. Cloud State and North Dakota in Part 1 of our team capsules. Let’s just jump right in and meet the remaining 4 teams.

Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks

UNO is another familiar foe of the RedHawks, having played in the CCHA with Miami from the 1999-2000 through 2009-10 seasons. In 2010, they joined the WCHA for a few seasons, and will make the jump to The National this season as a charter member.

The Mavericks lost 10 letterwinners last season, one of which came to Miami: Forward Andrew Schmit, who played in 20 games for the Mavs last season. They have plans for building a new multi-purpose, 7,500-seat arena on campus, rather than playing in the CenturyLink Center, but the school insists on not using taxpayer money (a great move), and is working on raising the estimated $65-80 million needed for the new building.

Overall record: 268-291-73 (16 seasons)
NCAA Appearances: 2 (2 first round losses)
Arena: CenturyLink Center Omaha (Capacity: 15,959)
Current Head Coach: Dean Blais (74-68-16, 4 seasons)
Record vs. Miami: Miami leads 17-7-3

Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs

Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's ice hockey athletic logo

The 2011 NCAA Champions boast 5 Hobey Baker winners, 11 Regular Season Championships and 3 Conference Tournament Championships, having played in the WCHA since 1965-66.

The Dogs moved into the new AMSOIL arena in 2010, and later won the NCAA Championship in 2011 in a dramatic, overtime thriller against Michigan. I had a pretty good view of that one:

Overall record:
NCAA Appearances: 8 (4 Frozen Fours, 1 National Championship)
Arena: AMSOIL Arena (Capacity: 6,600)
Current Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (231-229-93, 14 seasons, 1 National Championship)
Record vs. Miami: Miami has the only win in this series, their 2-1 victory in the 2009 Regional Final.

Denver Pioneers

Denver Pioneers men's ice hockey athletic logoAfter a tumultuous offseason, Denver will be entering the 2013-14 season in a rather unfamiliar place. Former Miami Head Coach George Gwozdecky was ousted after compiling a stellar record and 2 National Championships. It was a classic “what have you done for me lately?” type of situation, and apparently 5 tournament appearances in the last 6 seasons wasn’t enough “lately” for the Denver higher-ups.

Jim Montgomery will take over as the head coach in Denver, a team that had been in the WCHA since the 1958-59 season, and only trails Michigan (9) in total NCAA Ice Hockey Championships.

Overall record: 1323-878-132
NCAA Appearances: 23 (14 Frozen Fours, 7 National Championships)
Arena: Magness Arena (Capacity: 6,026)
Current Head Coach: Jim Montgomery (0-0-0, 1st season as a head coach)

Colorado College Tigers

Colorado College is by far the smallest school in terms of enrollment in the NCHC. They have just 2,034 students compared to 11,800 for the next closest (both UMD and Denver) and over 16,500 for Miami. However, they have been playing Division I Ice Hockey since 1939-40 and have a bit of history in Colorado Springs.

Playing in Colorado Springs World Arena has been quite a home ice advantage for the Tigers. They have a 230-99-18 record at home, which is just a shade under a .700 win percentage. Playing there, on their Olympic-sized ice sheet will never be an easy win.

Overall record: 1136-1128-119
NCAA Appearances: 20 (Most recent in 2008, 10 Frozen Fours, 2 National Championships)
Arena: Colorado Springs World Arena (Capacity: 7,380)
Current Head Coach: Scott Owens (317-204-68, 14 seasons)
Record vs. Miami: Colorado College has won the only 2 meetings between the schools

So there you have it, Now that you’ve met the teams of the NCHC, we’ll continue our preseason coverage this week with additional previews and predictions for the upcoming 2013-14 season.