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Thank you Seniors! — #1 North Dakota vs. #5 Miami

By the end of the weekend, Miami hopes to once again pose with hardware. This time as NCHC champions.

As Miami returns home for the final two games of the regular season, could there be more drama in the air than what’s flying around in Oxford, Ohio?

Consider.

Fifth ranked Miami (20-11-1, 13-8-1-1 2nd NCHC) will close out the season against #1 North Dakota (24-6-3, 15-5-2-0 1st NCHC) in a battle of two teams that have spent the majority of the year ranked in the top 10. Should the RedHawks sweep, they will claim a share of the NCHC regular season title and the #1 seed in the NCHC playoffs. Though the teams will be tied atop the standings, Miami would claim the top seed by virtue of its 3-1 record against UND.

And, consider.

Saturday is senior night and six RedHawks (Austin Czarnik, Blake Coleman, Anthony Jacaruso, Cody Murphy, Alex Wideman and Ben Paulides) will skate in their final regular

Alex Wideman is one of six Miami seniors who will play the final regular season games of their career this weekend against North Dakota.

season games at Steve Cady Arena with a chance to earn their second regular season championship of their remarkable careers.

No Miami class has won more than one regular season championship in program history.

Yep, you read that right.

No Miami class has EVER won two regular season championships in any four year period in the history of the university, which of course, dates back to 1809. Probably overly dramatic since the hockey program has only existed since 1978 — pure semantics. This class could become the first to do so after capturing the CCHA’s final regular season title at the conclusion of the 2012-13 season.

North Dakota is a storied program that’s won seven national championships and fifteen, now sixteen, regular season titles. Getting a share of the NCHC title in our second year in the conference would be fantastic. It took Miami 15 years of program existence and 13 CCHA seasons to win a regular season title in that now defunct league.

And, to do it against North Dakota would be even sweeter.

Last Time We Met

Like most of the top teams in the NCHC when pitted against one another, and certainly Miami has seen this, the squads split a series in Grand Forks back in November with Miami winning 3-2 on Friday before dropping the finale 4-1. In the Miami win, Jay Williams had to make just 21 saves and Sean Kuraly had two goals to lead the RedHawks. Ryan McKay struggled in the Miami net in the loss as North Dakota started junior Zane McIntyre both nights.

Certainly Miami would like to replicate the Friday victory as they limited UND to just 23 SOG and controlled the green and white with tight checking defense.

North Dakota

UND comes to Oxford on a roll having won four in a row. Their last non shootout loss was a 3-2 OT setback to Omaha way back on January 30. And, their last regulation loss? January 9 to UMD.

However, UND suffered a loss in a sweep last weekend (yeah, I see what I did there). The loss to which I am referring was that of senior assistant captain and leading goal scorer Mark MacMillan (16-9-25) to a lower body injury which required surgery earlier this week. MacMillan, a fourth-round draft pick of the Montreal Canadians (one of 14 NHL picks — I think — I lost count at 10) had already set a career high in goals before being injured Saturday night while blocking a shot off the stick of SCSU’s Jonny Brodzinski. Presumably, MacMillan

The loss of senior assistant captain Mark MacMillan will be difficult for North Dakota to overcome.

fractured his foot and I’m assuming surgery was required to fix what was likely an ugly injury. But, I’m speculating. Regardless, MacMillan won’t play this weekend, and I’d find it hard to see him returning for the remainder of his college career, but never say never.

UND is led by its d-corps which boasts numerous NHL draft picks and junior netminder Zane McIntyre who shared the USHL’s goaltender of the year award with Miami’s Ryan McKay just over three years ago.

Up front, speedy Drake Caggiula (15-16-31) leads an attacking set of forwards including Michael Parks (12-19-31) that are a handful but perhaps not as talented as Miami’s crew led by Czarnik, Coleman, Murphy, Kuraly, Anthony Louis and Riley Barber. That said, UND will want to slow things down. Miami, on the other hand, should look to run the green and white out of the building. Forty shots on net each night should be the goal.

Miami

Well, here we are. The end of another solid regular season and the end of a bounce-back year for the program. While it’s too early to hand out accolades, the team has played hard and well enough to have earned the chance to win a regular season title on home ice.

Last weekend in Denver, Miami split its series with the Pioneers, but one thing that really stood out? The rejuvenated play of junior forward Riley Barber who had three goals on the

Miami fans are crossing their fingers that Captain America has returned.

weekend playing hard, inspired hockey. If Barber is ready to roll, look out this weekend and for the rest of the year.

However, questions abound in net as neither Ryan McKay, and most certainly Jay Williams, looked overly strong. McKay allowed three goals in Friday’s win, but Williams was ineffective surrendering four goals in less than one period of play. McKay steadied the ship when he came into the game, but still gave up two goals after Miami attempted to crawl back into the contest at 4-2. Whomever Blasi goes with (I’ll bet it’s McKay on Friday) has to give this team a chance to win by scoring three goals because getting more than that against UND just isn’t realistic. Miami has to be prepared to win two slugfests.

The Prediction

These two teams are very evenly matched with the defensive and goaltending edge belonging to UND. That said, I’d probably give the RedHawks an advantage up front with, in my opinion, more top-end guys, more game-breakers than UND which really has a grinding offensive mentality. Miami could earn a significant size advantage this weekend, especially if head coach Enrico Blasi chooses to dress both Crash Cousins. Even with one or the other in the lineup, and Miami’s size on the blueline, they match up quite well in both the size and speed categories.

But, with UND missing one of their best players, the excitement around the weekend, senior night, and what it means to Miami (home ice, #1 seed in the NCHC, Penrose Cup, redemption for last year, NCAA seeding on the line, etc., etc.), I’m going to call a MIAMI SWEEP and watch the RedHawks skate off Saturday night with the Penrose Cup.

How to Listen/Watch

The Voice of the RedHawks, Greg Waddell, will be back on the radio this weekend as both games will be available at MURedHawks.com and over the air at 1450-AM (Saturday only) and 1490-AM. Friday’s game will be nationally televised on CBS Sports Network which unfortunately means no NCHC.tv for Friday. Saturday’s regular season finale will be streamed through the league’s package and also available on Time Warner Cable (Chan. 311 & 1311) and on Fox College Sports Pacific (DirecTV Chan. 608, Time Warner Chan. 321).

From the League Office

  • This weekend marks the final weekend of the NCHC regular season before beginning NCHC Tournament play next weekend. No. 1/1 North Dakota has already clinched a share of the Penrose Cup, awarded to the NCHC regular-season champion. UND needs just one point at No. 5/5 MIAMI this weekend to win the title outright. The RedHawks need to sweep UND to also get a share of the title, which would then give MIAMI the No. 1 seed in the NCHC Tournament and make UND the No. 2 seed.
  • North Dakota enters the top-five series with MIAMI riding a four-game win streak and seven-game unbeaten streak (6-0-1), which is the longest active unbeaten streak in the NCAA. With its share of the Penrose Cup, UND has secured its 16th conference championship in program history, the most of any NCAA Division I men’s program.
  • Four teams (MIAMI, Omaha, Denver and Minnesota Duluth) are separated by just five points with two games to play, while only three of those teams will get home ice for the NCHC Quarterfinals. UMD currently sits in fifth place on the outside looking in, but can make that up with at least three points and some help this weekend. UND has already secured home ice. Tiebreakers for seeding, should they be needed, are listed on page 8 of the release. More information on possible place finishes for these teams are listed below.
  •  According to the KRACH Ratings, the eight NCHC teams have played the eight toughest schedules in the country this season, led by Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State at No. 1 and 2, respectively. Omaha, Denver, MIAMI, CC, WMU and UND round out the top eight, respectively.

Possible place finishes for each team entering this weekend:

  •         North Dakota – 1,2 (needs just 1 point at Miami to clinch 1 seed/outright title, already has share of regular season title)
  •         MIAMI – 1,2,3,4,5 (needs 2 points to secure home for sure, needs sweep of UND to share regular season title and get 1 seed)
  •         Omaha – 2,3,4,5 (needs 4 points to secure home ice for sure)
  •         Denver – 2,3,4,5 (needs 5 points to secure home ice for sure)
  •         Minnesota Duluth – 2,3,4,5,6 (needs just 1 point to secure 5 seed, needs at least one team ahead of them to lose/tie to have a chance to get home ice)
  •         St. Cloud State – 5,6 (SCSU has to sweep DU and UMD has to get swept by WMU for SCSU to move up to 5 seed)
  •         Western Michigan – locked in to 7
  •         Colorado College – locked in to 8

 

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Miami drops series finale vs UND

There’s a lot to talk about regarding Miami’s 4-1 loss to UND in Grand Forks last night. Suffice it to say, we’ll be watching these over the coming days and weeks.

Consider:

– Goaltending: Ryan McKay was again average at best in net for Miami. His season line now looks like this – 0-3, 3.59 GAA and .897 save percentage. Simply not good enough to be considered a top flight goaltender in the NCHC and certainly not good enough for a team that has national title aspirations. While that’s a relatively small sample size, to the eye, McKay hasn’t looked like what we’ve come to expect out of a Miami goaltender in over a year.

– Officiating: We don’t complain about the officials because it’s pointless and comes off as whining, BUT, how the heck did they determine that Cody Murphy’s goal that would have put Miami up 1-0 in the 2nd period should be overturned? To me, the puck was over the line before the contact and it looked as if UND’s McIntyre kicked it in of his own accord. There were certainly some other questionable calls that went against Miami last night, but again, it’s pointless to whine about it. It’s the same for each team over the course of the season.

– Coaching: Starting Ryan McKay in a HUGE road series as hot as Jay Williams has been, has to be questioned. I know what Blasi was thinking (you have to give McKay another chance if he’s healthy) but it was a costly decision because McKay did little to further the cause outside of a good 1st period. UND started their best on both nights.

– The stars: Senior captain Austin Czarnik and sniper Riley Barber returned to campus for a reason. Their play thus far has me confused as to what that reason is. Both players were shutout, read – didn’t record a point, this weekend. That can’t happen. The two of them have to carry this team especially against top competition. Czarnik was absolutely invisible all weekend and Barber looks lost. They must be Miami’s best players — along with junior Sean Kuraly who certainly did his part on Friday night and senior Blake Coleman who while held off the scoresheet was his usual disruptive self at times returning after a week off due to illness.

– Defensive zone turnovers/losing puck battles: Yep, those reared their ugly heads last night as Miami was losing puck battles and turning the puck over in their own zone. Sooner or later, we need to be taking the body rather than allowing players like Drake Caggiula to embarrass the team over and over. Caggiula is a player that had 19 goals in his first two seasons at UND. This isn’t Johnny Hockey and we continually make him look like he’s a top flight prospect.

All is not lost. But, Miami must begin to pick it up as we get closer to the new year. Thankfully, they’re in a good spot at 8-4 overall and 4-2 in the NCHC. But, as you may recall, it was at about this point last season that things went awry and the wheels fell off big time. Will they avoid some of the same mistakes that plagued last year’s team, or was last night a predictor of things to come?

Miami defeats North Dakota 3-2

In a battle of top 10 teams, the seventh ranked Miami RedHawks outlasted second ranked North Dakota in Grand Forks by a 3-2 score.

The RedHawks (8-3, 4-1 NCHC, t1st) were once again led by the tandem of junior forward Sean Kuraly (2-1-3) and junior net minder Jay Williams (21 saves) as Miami has now won three in a row for the second time this season. For Kuraly, it was his sixth game-winning goal. Miami has eight wins on the season. That’s a pretty amazing stat this early in the year. And, for Williams, it was his eighth win of the season as he pushed his record to 8-1 as Miami’s primary keeper of the crease so far this season. Michael Parks and Drake Caggiula scored for North Dakota (7-2-1, 2-1 NCHC, t4th).

This game featured a total of 20 penalties (12 by Miami) including game misconducts to UND’s Colten St. Clair and Miami’s Matthew Caito each for grasping the facemask during a first period scrum that was essentially started when Miami senior forward Blake Coleman was called for goaltender interference at 16:45.

The teams settled down after that and played hard throughout the remainder of the night.

Miami opened the scoring in the first period by striking quickly for two goals to take a 2-0 lead. Junior forward Alex Gacek scored at 3:09 after an offensive zone

UND’s Drake Caggiula (9) attempts to skate past Miami’s Taylor Richard (2). (photo: UND Sports)

face-off when he pounced on a puck in the corner and beat UND junior Zane McIntyre inside the post. Kuraly and Anthony Louis assisted on Gacek’s first goal of the season.

Sean Kuraly was involved again scoring his 8th goal of the season when he and Gacek executed a 2-on-1 to perfection while shorthanded. Gacek brough the puck up the left wing and moved the puck to Kuraly who easily beat McIntyre to give the RedHawks a 2-0 lead with 15:45 left in the first period.

North Dakota would get on the board late in the period, but Miami carried a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.

Striking quickly, UND’s Drake Caggiula tied the game shorthanded just 1:22 into the second period. But Kuraly would strike again for Miami on the power play at 6:50 when he was the recipient of a perfect bounce of the back wall following a point blast by freshman defenseman Scott Dornbrock and he quickly beat McIntyre who was recovering from the point shot.

In the third, Miami simply packed it in. I might say they packed it in a little early as the ice was tilted in UND’s favor. However, Miami blocked several good UND shots and though Jay Williams was credited with only five saves, it seemed that he was busier than that as North Dakota pushed for an equalizer they would not find.

In his postgame press conference, Miami head coach Enrico Blasi was pleased with his team’s overall effort on the night.

“We came to play tonight,” he said. “I thought we got a pretty good team effort from everyone. This was one of those games we knew would come down to the wire and our guys sacrificed their bodies all night, especially at the end, to get the job done.”

Miami was close to putting the game away late in the third.

With UND’s Zane McIntyre to the bench for the extra attacker, Miami did a good job of moving the puck quickly and getting clears. Junior Riley Barber and senior Austin Czarnik both had looks at the open net, but somehow UND got bodies in front of the net and kept the puck out.

UND’s Connor Gaarder (13) looks to make a play in front of Miami’s Ben Paulides (28), Jay Williams (1), Austin Czarnik (7) and Louie Belpedio (58) in Miami’s 3-2 win over North Dakota. (photo: Logan Werlinger/Grand Forks Herald)

“Our penalty kill did a good job of blocking shots tonight,” Blasi said. “Jay also made saves when we needed him to. Sean’s line got the bounces and took advantage, but this was a good team win from top to bottom. We had good performances from everyone tonight, but we know they are going to come out hard again tomorrow and we’ll have to be ready.”

The RedHawks will go for their first-ever sweep of North Dakota tonight at 8:07 PM. The game might be on Fox College Sports and will definitely be available via NCHC.tv. Greg Waddell will have the Miami call at Miami All-Access, 1490-AM WKBV and via the Tune In app on your smartphone.

Notes:

– UND saw the return of both sophomore defenseman Paul LaDue and senior Mark MacMillan to the lineup after playing games about their availability all week.

– Miami once again hit the 30 SOG mark firing away, especially during the first and second periods when they rang up 15 and 11, respectively. But, the four shots in the third period was an indicator of just how much control of the game UND seized as Miami held on for the victory.

– The RedHawks held UND to just 23 SOG after blocking a whopping 19 North Dakota shots. Can anyone say “hot tub?”

– With the win, Miami snapped UND’s 8-game unbeaten streak since dropping their opener 5-1 to Bemidji State.

– Miami snipers Austin Czarnik and Riley Barber were held off the scoresheet last night seeing a rare goose egg thrown at them by the UND defense. However, Barber led Miami with 5 SOG.

– Miami announced before Friday’s game that sophomore Trevor Hamilton has elected to leave the team and return to junior hockey. Not sure if that means USHL or if he’s going to try the CHL, but based on his play at Miami, I can’t believe the CHL would be interested. If the early lines were any indicator, he wasn’t likely to play much this season, but shortsightedness (e.g., get your damn education — unless there are other college aspirations) appears to have claimed another one.

#7 Miami at #2 North Dakota

After a week off due to #lifeandstuff, we’re back with a preview of this weekend’s huge NCHC series against North Dakota in Grand Forks.

In what is shaping up as one of the biggest series of the season thus far, #7 Miami (7-3, 3-1 NCHC) visits second ranked North Dakota (7-1-1 , 2-0 NCHC) hoping to avenge last season’s dismal sweep at the hands of Gang Green. As you may recall, that series in February featured a 9-2 UND romp a night after Miami dropped a close 3-2 decision at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

The Series

Miami trails the all-time series against North Dakota by a 2-5-1 margin and has never won at “the Ralph.” However, Miami did pick up the program’s first two wins over UND by beating them once in Oxford and also in Minneapolis in the league tournament semifinal 3-0 last season going 2-3 against the green and white.

The Coach

In his 11th season behind the bench of his alma mater, UND head coach Dave Hakstol (260-133-40) has compiled

UND head coach Dave Hakstol has taken his program to six Frozen Four’s in his ten seasons at the helm of the 7-time national champions. (photo: UND Sports)

a resume that almost anyone would dream of. Hakstol has led UND to six Frozen Fours, has captured four WCHA Final Five playoff titles, two WCHA regular season championships and has taken UND to the NCAA tournament in each of his 10 previous seasons as head coach.

But…

When you’re the head coach of the 7-time national champions with the largest and most vocal fan base in the nation, and that program hasn’t won a national title since 2000, the natives can be a little harsh on you. Hakstol has endured cat calls demanding his firing in seemingly every season that I can remember simply because he hasn’t won the big one…yet. As a Miami fan, I think we can all relate having been so close to a national title in 2009 and then returning to the Frozen Four a year later only to experience even more disappointment. As successful as Enrico Blasi has been at Miami, he like Hakstol, has yet been unable to get his program over the hump. With that sort of success, however, I think Hak deserves a break even if he can be one of the most childish fellas you’ll see behind the bench of a collegiate sports program.

Interestingly, Blasi will be speaking alongside Hakstol at UND’s Fan Luncheon tomorrow at noon CST. I’ve always sensed good competitive tidings between the two men and I think anything each can do to further the growth of college hockey and the NCHC can only be a good thing. Plus, they’re two Canadian boys so there’s that.

The Team

After dropping its first game of the season at home to Bemidji State, North Dakota has run off an eight game unbeaten streak including a sweep of Wisconsin (0-6) last weekend in Madison. In addition to the Badgers, who are awful (as is the Big 6), UND has beaten the likes of Bemidji State, Air Force (who just lost to UAH) and Colorado College (twice – sweeping them just like Miami did last weekend). The only quality win UND has to date is a 6-1 thrashing of Providence in Grand Forks. Interestingly, the Friars came back the next night to tie UND so their schedule has been light at best so far in the season.

And for Miami, if there ever was a weekend to face UND, it might be this one as the injury bug has really struck Gang Green.

Already without standout sophomore blueliner Paul LaDue (3-5-8) who injured a leg last Friday and did not suit up for Saturday’s game against Wisconsin, UND will also be without the services of uber freshman Nick Schmaltz (1-7-8) who was named the NCHC rookie of the month for October.

UND will be without the services of highly touted freshman forward Nick Schmaltz indefinitely. (photo: UND Sports)

Adding to UND’s injury woes, Miami killer senior Mark MacMillan has been out of the lineup for the past four games but yesterday, UND beat reporter Brad Schlossman hinted that maybe MacMillian (5-2-7, 5 games) might be ready for Friday night’s game — and just in time if you’re a UND fan.

Aside from MacMillan and Schmaltz who were off to great starts, UND is led by elusive forwards, junior Drake Caggiula and senior Michael Parks, both 3-8-11 in 9 games. Gone are both Rocco Grimaldi and captain Dillon Simpson from last year’s Frozen Four squad while junior Jordan Schmaltz (1-4-5) leads the blueline taking over a leadership role for the green and white.

Overall, it’s a very deep and talented roster that Dave Hakstol has assembled. A glance at the roster shows this is not an overly big UND lineup, but most of the skaters hover around 6′ tall which will still be challenging for some of Miami’s smaller forwards like Anthony Louis, Alex Wideman and Cody Murphy. But, I think Miami matches up much better than last year with the additions of Andrew Schmit, Conor Lemirande and Scott Dornbrock. With those three plus Kevin Morris patrolling the ice, Miami should not go into the Ralph feeling intimidated one bit.

In net, UND returns junior Zane McIntyre (formerly Zane Gothberg) who has started right where he left off last year sporting a sterling 7-1-1 record with 1.94 GAA and .927 save percentage. But, Miami has gotten to McIntyre beating him in Oxford and also at the Frozen Faceoff in Minneapolis. In fact, McIntyre’s GAA against the RedHawks is around 3.33 and he was rocked by the RedHawks early last year and again in the NCHC semifinals in March. That said, McIntyre is an outstanding goaltender and to beat him, Miami will have to continue to generate shots and quality chances from throughout the lineup as they have versus nearly every opponent so far this season.

The Prediction

These are two good teams. With UND’s injury situation, it’s hard to see them sweeping Miami, but if any team can dig deep and get it done on home ice, it would be the green and white. On the other hand, because of the injuries I really want to pick a Miami sweep. All that said, I’ll take a split with Miami picking up another NCHC road win.

Both games can be seen on NCHC.tv and Saturday’s game will be carried nationally on Fox College Sports. Greg Waddell will have the Miami audio call at Miami All-Access and he can also be heard via the Tune-in app on your smartphone. Twitter, smartphones and the interwebs have been godsends to college hockey.

Clash of the Titans: Miami Plays North Dakota for Weekend Set

This week, I teamed up with another member of The Hockey Writers, Eric Burton (found on twitter as @goon48) to preview the upcoming series with North Dakota. This originally appeared on The Hockey Writers, so click here to see the full preview over at THW: http://thehockeywriters.com/clash-titans-miami-plays-north-dakota-weekend-set/ Here are a couple highlights of of the full version.

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