Question: Is there anything better than playoff hockey?
Now that we’ve established that, the fifth ranked and second seeded Miami RedHawks (21-12-1, 14-9-1-1 2nd NCHC) are back at home for the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 season when they needed three games to dispatch Michigan State en route to the final CCHA championship weekend at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. They will face an old CCHA foe and MAC rival in seventh seeded Western Michigan. The Broncos (13-16-5, 6-13-5-4 7th NCHC) trail the tightly contested all-time series 56-60-11 and went 0-3-1 vs the RedHawks with the only non-loss coming in Kalamazoo a weekend before the Hockey City Classic in Chicago. In that game, Miami led 4-0 after two periods before hanging on to post a 4-3 victory at Soldier Field.
In Oxford, it was a more pleasing storyline as the RedHawks swept the Broncos by 1-0 and 5-2 scores and you never really got the feeling that WMU could challenge Miami offensively. Hopefully we’ll see even more offense this weekend after watching Miami put up 44 shots against North Dakota in a 2-1 loss Friday last before putting six goals on the board against likely NCHC Player of the Year, Zane “Five Spot” McIntyre who trolled the Blog of Brotherhood on Twitter.
What did he do?
He “favorited” our tweet predicting a Miami sweep of UND last weekend. The problem was that he did it after UND won game one by the narrowest of margins when a fluke goal decided the outcome.
Of course he then laid an egg on Saturday surrendering a “five spot” to the RedHawks in a 6-3 Miami victory.
If you’re going to troll, at least do it before the game. And, if not, you might consider backing up the trolling with decent play. Either way, not good.
Anyway, back to this weekend.
Miami enters the NCHC playoffs as the second seed nearly pulling off a “worst to first” story. As it is, Miami turned the tables on last year’s 8th place finish on the strength of a 2nd place effort in the regular season. They built upon last season’s successful NCHC playoff run which ended in the inaugural NCHC championship game where they fell to Denver ending up a mere goal short of a ninth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. This year, an NCAA appearance is all but certain as playoffstatus.com shows the RedHawks as having a 99% chance of reaching the tournament even with two losses this weekend.
Last weekend Miami dropped a close one on Friday before Austin Czarnik went off on Senior Night recording four points on the back of his first career hat trick (including two shorthanded goals) to lead the RedHawks to a dominating 6-3 victory over North Dakota. Jay Williams had goaltending duty and played well on Friday save the first goal by UND, which was an ugly, harmless shot from the corner that he inexplicably misplayed. Ryan McKay had the net Saturday and played well enough to win but I think we definitely see Williams tomorrow. Depending on how game one goes, and based on his play, we could see him again on Saturday night.
Western Michigan is led offensively by three players with 10 or more goals. Colton Hargrove (12-13-25, 72 PIM), Sheldon Dries (13-12-25) and Nolan LaPorte (10-12-22, 89 PIM). On
the blueline, Kenny Morrison (5-10-15) is well-regarded and has been mentioned as a possible early departure risk as NHL scouts are circling the would-be free agent.
In net, Lukas Hafner has had a good season including last Saturday’s shutout of #6 Minnesota-Duluth in Kalamazoo. Hafner (11-11-5, 2.35, .916) took the reins from senior Frank “The Big” Slubowski last season and has played the majority of the minutes in the WMU net this year. He has the talent to keep WMU in these games and could even steal one if Miami isn’t getting traffic in front and pucks to the net. Like last weekend, Miami should attempt to make these games up and down affairs and fire more than 40 SOG to wear down the Broncos and their netminder.
Interestingly, the Broncos have four players with 50 or more PIM this year with three of those four having 70 or more. In contrast, Miami has just one, senior Blake Coleman (80 PIM) so this will definitely be a clash of styles. WMU likes to muck it up and play in your face using their size and physicality. That said, they feature uber-goon Mike McKee who is really worse than a goon. He’s a cheap, dirty player. Miami will have to keep their composure because WMU head coach Andy Murray will want his guys in the faces of Miami’s talented and smallish forwards.
Overall, this is a very good matchup for Miami on paper. While I believe Hafner could steal a game for the Broncos, I don’t see it happening. I think Miami will take care of business in two tightly contested games. MIAMI SWEEPS.