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Smith, Knapp and Czarnik Named CCHA Players of the Week

                

Reilly Smith               Connor Knapp             Austin Czarnik

Miami seniors Reilly Smith and Connor Knapp were named the CCHA Offensive Player and Goaltender of the Week respectively, while freshman Austin Czarnik was named the CCHA Rookie of the Week for their collective efforts in Miami’s sweep of then #8 Western Michigan.

Smith scored Miami’s first four goals of the weekend including a hat trick in Friday’s 3-1 victory while Knapp stopped 48 of 49 shots on the weekend notching his second shutout of the season. And, not to be overlooked, Miami freshman phenom Austin Czarnik tallied four assists on the weekend including helpers on all three Smith goals on Friday night.

Smith and Czarnik have now won a CCHA weekly award three times each this season and Knapp earned his second — both over the past three weeks.

MURedHawks.com has more on each player’s success.

Congratulations!

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 completes sweep of Western Michigan 4-0

Connor Knapp made 22 saves in notching his second shutout of the season and added an assist on Miami’s second goal as the RedHawks received goals from four different players and completed the sweep of #8 Western Michigan by a final score of 4-0.

With the victory, Miami moved into a tie for second place in the tightly packed CCHA and are now just two points behind league leading, duhOSU.

Junior co-captain Reilly Smith opened the scoring in the first period for Miami with his fourth goal of the weekend, and his team leading 18th on the season, while freshman Jimmy Mullin (8th) and senior co-captain Alden Hirschfeld (8th) added breakaway goals to blow open a close game in the third period. Freshman Tyler Biggs (5th) added the fourth and final Miami goal just 24 seconds after Hirschfeld’s to send the Broncos back to Kalamazoo empty handed.

Evening Observations

Miami received solid efforts from several players tonight including an “under the weather” Curtis McKenzie who fought through a bug with hustle and hard work that helped contain the Broncos and make life miserable for them.

And, in addition to scoring a goal, Miami’s Reilly Smith was all over the ice killing penalties and even blocking shots for the RedHawks. Adding the captain’s ‘C’ to Reilly’s sweater seems to have brought even more out of him.

Freshman Ben Paulides has been earning head coach Enrico Blasi’s trust lately and his game has been mentioned by several folks as having greatly improved since the start of the season. And, again tonight. Paulides was solid in his own zone and was credited with an assist on Mullin’s goal early in the third period. It bodes well for next year if Paulides can lock down one of the top six defense positions with the impending losses of seniors Will Weber, Cameron Schilling and Chris Wideman.

As much as Miami dominated the Broncos tonight by limiting their time and space, they also exposed Western as maybe not yet ready to play “big boy hockey” as their alums and fans have been shouting for the past year. With multiple breakaway chances, Miami’s speed and size were simply too much for Western to handle as they’ve proven they do not possess the kind of elite talent to match a group of forwards as skilled as Miami’s. But, they play a great team game and will be a difficult out for anyone at full strength.

For the RedHawks, it was business as usual. And, Miami needs to continue to play well and make up ground in the national standings. If they continue to ride the superior goaltending of Connor Knapp and if the second and third lines continue to contribute scoring, the RedHawks will be fine as the year begins to wind down. It goes without saying that Miami has dialed up the team defense and is becoming very difficult to play against. Expected to be a strength at the start of the year, the RedHawks are now flexing their defensive muscles as they have absolutely shut teams down since a 2-6 start to the season. And, unbelievably, there are just ten regular season contests remaining in the 2011-12 season.

With tonight’s victory, Miami has moved into a tie for second in the CCHA and has moved into a tie for 14th in the Pairwise and 10th in KRACH.

Next weekend, Miami continues a four-game homestand as they welcome Northern Michigan to the Goggin for another important CCHA series.

Notes

– Connor Knapp has now won six consecutive starts and for the second time in three weeks, played both games. He again allowed just one goal on the weekend equaling his effort at Michigan State January 6-7.

– Knapp lowered his goals against average this weekend to a ridiculous 1.77 and improved his save percentage to an inhuman .932 after stopping 48 of 49 shots in the two wins

– The Broncos again played without leading scorers Dane Walters and Shane Berschbach

– Tampa Bay Lightning GM and former Detroit Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman was in the house tonight, presumably to check in on his fourth round selection from 2010, Miami’s Jimmy Mullin (nice time to score a goal, Jimmy).

– By playing Connor Knapp in both games this weekend, head coach Enrico Blasi redeemed himself after going against his gut last weekend. Knapp has to play until he proves he can’t handle the workload.

– Here’s the MURedHawks.com recap

– An interesting, if not whiny take, from MLive.com with whiny quotes from Bronco head coach Andy Murray. I have to admit, I didn’t expect this from him.

Miami finishes sweep of #15 Michigan State 4-0

Connor Knapp made 20 saves and Miami received goals from four different players as they completed the weekend sweep at #15 Michigan State winning 4-0 on Saturday night.

Junior forward Reilly Smith opened the scoring by tallying the eventual game-winning goal on a 5×3 powerplay midway through the second period and the RedHawks exploded for three goals to break open the game in the third as they peppered Spartan netminder Will Yanakeff with 44 shots.

Reilly Smith rings a shot off the post as Will Yanakeff attempts to make a save.

With the weekend sweep, Miami moved all the way to fifth place in the tightly packed CCHA standings, and if the season ended today, Miami would earn a first round bye in the CCHA tournament. Additionally Miami has moved solidly into NCAA tournament consideration as both their KRACH, and more importantly, Pairwise numbers are favorable. Miami is now ranked 10th in KRACH having faced the fourth most difficult schedule in the country and tied for 11th in the Pairwise meaning the RedHawks would be a #3 seed if the season ended today. But, it’s still early January.

One troubling note coming out of this game was that Miami found itself shorthanded eight times and took eleven penalties in the game. Hopefully, it was simply the presence of former CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos on the Spartan bench that led to many questionable calls against the RedHawks and not the start of another trend. It is true that Miami is a physically imposing, strong team and at times it does seem as though the RedHawks receive the short end of the stick for “being too strong.” To his credit, Anastos said of the Friday game, “I thought that we got what we expected – a tough, physical game from an opponent that has some pretty good size across the board. They made things tough for us, but we generated some shots and did a good job getting in front of the net.” (source: Lansing State Journal) So, at least the Spartan head man acknowledged the size and strength of the RedHawks and certainly did not go on the record complaining about calls because he got plenty of them Saturday night. On the results of the weekend, Anastos said, “When someone comes into your rink and beats you in every phase of the game, that’s unacceptable.” (source: Lansing State Journal) It’s always great hearing an opposing coach talk about how his team was dominated — especially in their barn.

So, 2012 has gotten off to a nice start for the RedHawks. But, with plenty of hockey to still be played, Miami has to string together the kind of second half that can propel them up the national rankings and into the CCHA, and hopefully, NCAA tournaments come March.

Miami is back in action next week as they travel to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. to take on Lake Superior. The Lakers swept Miami in Oxford on October 27-28 so the RedHawks will be looking for payback as well as yet another chance to face someone ahead of them in the CCHA and national standings.

Notes

– Miami’s 44 shots on goal was a season’s high mark and they dominated the Spartans with a 20-5 SOG advantage in the final period.

– Tyler Biggs, Alden Hirschfeld and Blake Coleman had Miami’s three goals in the third period.

– Miami’s last sweep over MSU also came on the road November 14-15, 2008.

– Connor Knapp earned both weekend wins allowing just one goal on 54 shots (.981). The shutout was the ninth of Knapp’s outstanding Miami career.

– Miami’s penalty kill was 13-for-13 on the weekend.

– It seems as if Miami has been on the road the entire season, as they have played just one home game since November 19. But, after next weekend’s series at Lake Superior, Miami plays nine of its remaining twelve games at Steve Cady Arena.

– Here’s Michigan State head coach Tom Anastos on the differences between his Spartans and Miami. Courtesy USCHO.com

Smith, Czarnik Earn CCHA Weekly Honors

       

                                                                           Smith                           Czarnik

 

Miami forwards Reilly Smith and Austin Czarnik were named the CCHA Offensive Player and Rookie of the Week, respectively.

Smith, a junior from Mimico, Ontario had a big weekend in Denver as he tallied three times in two games against Providence and Denver and was named the MVP of the 20th annual Denver Cup Classic as Miami claimed its second Denver Cup title in school history. This was Smith’s second weekly offensive honor this season. He leads Miami with 11 goals.

Czarnik, a freshman from Washington, Mich. had 1-3-4 on the weekend and was named to the all-tournament team with Smith and Miami teammates Cameron Schilling and Cody Reichard. For Czarnik, it was his second rookie honor this season.

As an aside, I guess it pays to play for the former commissioner of the CCHA because despite allowing seven goals in a win and tie against Minnesota, Michigan State senior goaltender Drew Palmisano was named the league’s goaltender of the week while all Alaska’s Scott Greenham did was shut out the Bowling Green Falcons…for the weekend. Greenham made 39 saves in total, but I find it difficult to believe that a double-shutout wouldn’t garner goaltender of the week honors regardless of how many shots you see.

RedHawks Claim Second Denver Cup

Tournament MVP Reilly Smith scored three goals in two games and All-Denver Cup goaltender Cody Reichard made 32 saves Saturday night as the RedHawks swept Providence and host Denver at the 20th annual Denver Cup Classic at Magness Arena.

Joining Reichard and Smith on the all-tournament team were freshman forward Austin Czarnik who registered 1-3-4 and senior defenseman Cameron Schilling, who was initially credited with Miami’s third goal on Saturday before it was awarded to Smith, but chipped in with two assists in the tournament.

With the weekend’s two wins, Miami has now stretched its seasons-best unbeaten streak to eight games and has moved two games above .500 for the first time this year. At 8-6-2, the RedHawks are beginning to find their stride as all facets of their game were on display over the weekend, including the power play, which finished 3-for-9, and the defense that seemed to play with renewed intensity finishing checks and reverting to Miami’s notoriously aggressive style that overwhelmed the Friars and certainly surprised the Pioneers early last night.

Against Providence, Miami skated and passed demonstrating superior speed and skill. While the Friars netted two goals, they were never really a serious threat to win the game as both goals were scored off Miami mistakes. The first a terrible defensive zone turnover, and in perhaps showing a little rust in his return to the net, senior goaltender Connor Knapp appeared to be too deep in his crease when the Friars scored their second goal of the night in the second period.

Other thoughts from Friday as I saw this team live for the first time this season:

– The top 6 forwards were all over the Friars with three tallies from the freshmen which is incredibly encouraging.

– Having speed is something that will really set this team apart as they grow over the next few years. And, we finally have it.

– Jimmy Mullin is very strong on the puck and knows how to find his way between the circles with it.

– Blake Coleman is feisty and will be a point-scoring machine.

– “Awesome” Alden Hirschfeld looked like the captain on Friday night. Workmanlike and efficient. He led by example.

– It was good to see Connor Knapp back in net. He looked a little rusty on the second goal, but was otherwise strong making the saves he needed to enabling Miami to coast to the 6-2 victory.

In last night’s championship game against Denver, Miami got off to a slow start as they tried to dictate terms to the Pioneers. Will Weber was caught up in a scuffle during the first stoppage as he was sent off along with Denver’s Dusty Jackson. The ensuing faceoff was in the Miami zone and won cleanly by the Pioneers leading to Chris Knowlton’s blistering slapshot off the draw that put DU on top 1-0 at the :11 mark of the game.

But, as this team begins to play with the sort of confidence we’ve come to expect over the years, it felt as if it didn’t really matter. Miami struck back shortly thereafter as junior Reilly Smith notched his third goal on the weekend at 4:41 of the first off a wrister from between the circles that appeared to be slowed by Denver freshman goaltender Juho Olkinuora but not stopped.

Miami struck again in the period when at 12:09, freshman center Austin Czarnik stole the puck at the Denver blueline and walked in on Olkinuora sending a nifty backhand through the five-hole that found the back of the net giving the RedHawks a 2-1 lead. Once again, the Pioneers’ third-string goalie who shut out the Princeton Tigers one night before, appeared to get a piece of Czarnik’s shot, but not enough. Miami would not trail again.

In the second, Miami would score their third consecutive goal as senior defenseman Cameron Schilling sent a hard wrister on goal that was ultimately deflected by Smith giving Miami a 3-1 lead. For Smith, it was his team-leading 11th goal of the season.

Later in the second, the Pioneers were the benefactors of yet another poor Miami defensive zone turnover as the RedHawks lost a battle along the boards and the puck squeaked away and onto the stick of Drew Shore who made an easy centering pass to a wide open Ty Loney who beat Reichard glove-side to bring the Pioneers within a goal.

But, while Denver dominated play during the third period, Cody Reichard turned in one of his signature big game performances as he turned aside all 10 shots including three saves on Denver’s Jason Zucker, a second-round draft pick of the Minnesota Wild.

Zucker attacked the goal on a mini-break when he came in with Will Weber trailing and attempted to go from his left to right. But, Reichard stood tall and made the save while Weber was whistled for a slashing penalty. Rather than accept the two minute power play, Denver head coach George Gwozdecky elected for a penalty shot thinking a one-on-one encounter with his best player would be a better way to beat Reichard. But, Reichard came up big waiting out Zucker who attempted a backhand that was stopped by Miami’s senior goaltender.

Reichard would stone Zucker again late in the third period from close range and senior Trent Vogelhuber scored an empty net goal as Miami defeated Denver for the third consecutive time by a 4-2 score.

Notes:

– Former Miami and current Denver head coach George Gwozdecky coached in his 1,000th career game.

– Enrico Blasi is now 3-1 against the Pioneers, and his former mentor, in his coaching career.

– Miami is now 3-3 all-time against Providence and 4-4 all-time against Denver.

– The RedHawks are now tied for 13th in the Pairwise and 11th in KRACH having played the 8th most difficult schedule in the country.

– Miami returns to CCHA play next weekend as they travel to face Northern Michigan in Marquette, Mich.

– This was Miami’s second win ever in Denver, the first coming in 1997 when the RedHawks captured their first Denver Cup title. Miami is now 2-3 all-time at Denver.

Miami and Michigan Skate to 3-3 Tie

Reilly Smith scored a pair of goals and Cody Reichard made 25 saves as Miami settled for a 3-3 tie with Michigan on Saturday night.

After spotting then #4 Michigan (7-3-2, 3-3-2-1 CCHA) a 2-0 first period lead, Miami (5-6-1, 3-4-1-1 CCHA) stormed back to salvage a 3-3 tie earning the extra point in the league standings with a 1-0 shootout win. More on that in a moment.

Overall, Miami dominated the Wolverines for a second consecutive night winning the battles along the boards and controlling play while outshooting Michigan 41-28. The 41 shots marked a season’s best number for the Red and White. Further, Miami was so dominant, they erased the 2-0 deficit when junior Reilly Smith scored his second goal of the night on the power play with just over 12 left in regulation to take a 3-2 lead. Arguably, this should have been a regulation win for Miami if not for two disallowed goals, one of which was incredibly controversial, and a fluke goal from Michigan freshman Zach Hyman that tied the game at 3 late in the third period.

Perhaps this game should be our 2010 West Regional Final since Michigan fans can’t seem to let that one go and Miami had one stolen away last night. One thing’s certain, Miami looked nothing like the team we’d seen through the season’s first ten games this weekend as Miami had all facets of their game working. The only really negative thing I took away from the weekend is the RedHawks are still guilty of being too aggressive at times. Last night we saw several overplays from nearly every group on the squad that led to Michigan goals. Nothing wrong with working hard, but Miami needs to find that line of aggressiveness that doesn’t result in pucks in their net.

The real highlight of the night might not have been the nice redirection by Reilly Smith that gave Miami a brief lead, but rather, the winning shootout goal from sophomore Bryon Paulazzo.

Paulazzo, shooting fourth for Miami, started to his right and skated toward the Baby Goalie. Knowing that BG had just poke-checked Reilly Smith from close range, Paulazzo kept his distance and at the last moment spun with the puck on his backhand and roofed a shot above the fallen Baby. Here’s video courtesy of Miami All-Access and ONN.

After Paulazzo’s goal, Miami senior netminder Cody Reichard stopped Michigan’s leading scorer, Lindsay Sparks, to give the RedHawks the additional point in CCHA play. Reichard stopped all four Michigan shooters while Baby Goalie stopped three of four RedHawks including Smith, Austin Czarnik and Jimmy Mullin before surrendering Paulazzo’s highlight reel goal.

Next weekend, the RedHawks look to extend their four-game unbeaten streak (3-0-1) as they remain home to face Chris Bergeron’s Bowling Green Falcons in a two-game CCHA series.

Notes

– Miami is now 8-3-1 against the Wolverines in their last 12 meetings and is unbeaten in the last five (4-0-1).

– Cody Reichard has been in net for the previous four Miami games as Connor Knapp recovers from injury. Reichard is 3-0-1 in those four games.

– Reilly Smith now has seven goals on the year in just 10 games as he picked up his second multi-goal game of the year. He had 28 goals last year for Miami.

– The two teams will meet again in the regular season in Ann Arbor on February 3-4.

– Miami freshman Austin Czarnik set a career high with 3 points on the evening (1G, 2A).

– Miami has moved to 19th in the Pairwise and 16th in KRACH. They have played the 5th most difficult schedule in the nation thus far.

Biggs, Smith Top NHL Prospect List

NHL Scouting has released its list of top collegiate prospects for the 2011-12 season and two RedHawks rank among the top 13 in the nation. Freshman Tyler Biggs (Loveland, Ohio) and junior Reilly Smith (Mimico, Ont.) were ranked the 5th and 10th best collegiate prospects, respectively, in the nation.

Biggs, the son of longtime Cincinnati Cyclone great Don Biggs, will be joining the RedHawks for his first season of play after being selected in the first round of June’s NHL Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Smith, who was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2009 Entry Draft by the Dallas Stars, is Miami’s leading returning goal scorer after notching 28 in a breakout sophomore season helping Miami claim it’s first ever Mason Cup as CCHA tournament champions and a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Here’s a link to the story at Bleacher Report.