WHO: Maine Black Bears (3-1) at Miami RedHawks (1-1-1).
WHERE: Cady Arena, Oxford, Ohio.
WHEN: Friday–7:35 p.m. Saturday–7:05 p.m.
NOTES: Believe it or not, this is Maine’s first-ever trip to Oxford.
These teams have met six times, with the Black Bears winning the first five and Miami earning a 4-1 victory in a neutral-site tournament in Florida six years ago.
Once a college hockey power, Maine has been a Hockey East doormat for several years, although the Black Bears are off to a 3-1 start this season with a pair of wins over RPI and a split vs. Quinnipiac.
Maine has played in some high-scoring games, finding the net 15 times while allowing nine goals.
Mitchell Fossier has already scored five times – including all three of the Black Bears’ game winners – while picking up three assists, and Nolan Vesey has two goals and a team-best four helpers for six points.
Rob McGovern has logged every minute in net for Maine, posting a 2.22 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage.
The Black Bears have gone to the power play 28 times – seven chances a game – and allowed 26 opportunities to their opponents. Maine has 62 penalty minutes in its four games.
The #2 RedHawks start the season against in-state rival Ohio State
Ah, that unmistakable scent that can only be caused by the expulsion of gaseous by product waste from the inefficient internal combustion engine of a Zamboni machine is in the air! And, that means the Miami RedHawks are back on the ice for real beginning tonight in Columbus as #2 Miami faces Ohio State at Cheap Furniture Arena where fans dress as empty seats except when the Miami faithful show up in droves.
So, let’s get to it.
Though the coach is new (former associate head coach Steve Rohlik takes over for the departed Mark Osiecki), the Buckeyes return their top eight scorers from a year ago including junior forwards Ryan Dzingel (16-22-38), Tanner Fritz (11-26-37) and Max McCormick (15-16-31). On defense, duhOSU by sophomore Craig Dalrymple (3-14-17) and senior captain Curtis Gedig (3-12-15).
Speaking of Rohlik, at his weekly press conference, he mentioned that his team will be tested right off the bat by Miami but referenced their confidence level and depth as two big assets entering the season. He believes that by rolling lines they’ll be able to wear down teams and rely on their returning scoring talent to separate them from opponents. Only time will tell.
The biggest question mark coming into the season, however, is how the Buckeyes will replace their graduated All-America goaltender, Brady Hjelle, who had a career year for the Red and Silver by going 14-14-6 with an outstanding 2.00 GAA and .935 save percentage.
My guess? I think we’ll see highly regarded sophomore Collin Olson take over for duhOSU. Last season, Olson saw action in nine games posting a record of 2-3-1 with a 3.09 GAA and .901 save percentage. He’ll have huge skates to fill and while this Buckeye team seems deep on paper, this is a team that scored only 95 goals last year (they allowed 96) good for an average of just 2.37 per game. The Buckeyes finished below .500 last year with an all-world goaltender. They’ll have to prove they can score more to pick up the slack in net after the departure of Hjelle unless Olson can come close to matching those numbers from a year ago.
For Miami, the RedHawks opened their season last Saturday night in an exhibition match at Steve Cady Arena where they dominated the Lancers from the University of Windsor by an 8-2 count. Sophomore Riley Barber and freshman Justin Greenberg both netted two goals while sophomore goaltenders Jay Williams and Ryan McKay both saw action in net. Overall, the RedHawks played a decent game though they benefitted from outclassing and outskating the Lancers on pure speed and talent alone leading to several breakaway situations for Miami. Rest assured, the Hawks will not see such lax play anytime soon and will have to prove they can set up goals the old fashioned way if they are to beat the NCHC’s best.
At his weekly press conference, head coach Enrico Blasi made mention that the team would have to play better than they did against Windsor to compete at a high level. Specifically, he mentioned his defense corps looked a little jittery at times and will have to catch up to the speed of the game. Frankly, that will be true for the freshmen especially as Miami jumps right into some tough games out of the gate.
Blasi was excited about opening the season against duhOSU saying that he couldn’t think of a better way to get the season started than to play your in-state rival. He feels that both sides understand the importance of playing each other every year and that it makes both teams better. He said he’s looking forward to the weekend and expects a fun atmosphere in both buildings. There’s nothing better than a rivalry to get the season going.
With Miami returning twenty players from last season’s NCAA regional finalist squad including both goaltenders, CCHA Rookie of the Year Riley Barber, junior All-American and this year’s captain, Austin Czarnik, the RedHawks look primed for a huge season. And, with the additions of highly regarded freshmen (F) Anthony Louis and (D) Trevor Hamilton along with (F) Justin Greenberg, (D) Johnny Wingels – yes, that Wingels – and Matt Joyaux (D), this freshman class has an opportunity to make an immediate impact and help Miami live up to its lofty #2 preseason ranking.
So, expect to see Miami lean on Czarnik and Barber but I also expect bounce-back seasons from both Jimmy Mullin and Blake Coleman who were inconsistent at times last year. Assuming we get quality play on defense in front of McKay and Williams, and I think we will, we have a chance to have a special year.
At a glance, you look at this roster and you don’t see a lot of size. What I do see, however, is a ton of speed. Mullin, Barber, Murphy, Gacek, Greenberg, Louis, Czarnik, Kuraly, Wideman…they all have outstanding legs. The defense, led by sophomore Matt Caito, is smooth, mobile and can join the play. But, are they physical enough to withstand the pounding they’ll receive from the likes of North Dakota, Denver and UNO? This team will be defined by its speed and skill. I just hope there is enough grit to go around. They’ll have a nice test this weekend as Ohio State has always favored the body and I do not see that changing over the course of one weekend.
Anyway, in summary, I think we’ll see Miami come out looking to prove a point but will likely settle for a split with each team winning in its own building.
#2 Miami (2012-13: 25-12-5, 1st CCHA) vs. Ohio State (2012-13: 16-17-7, 4th CCHA)
Where and when?
Tonight at Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio 7:05 PM EST
Saturday at Steve Cady Arena, Oxford, Ohio, 7:05 PM EST