At the beginning of the season, Miami was #1 in the national polls and expected to finish first in the inaugural season of the NCHC. The RedHawks returned Ryan McKay between the pipes (1.39 GAA, .946 SV%, 4 SO in 2012-13) and a pair of high-flying forwards in Riley Barber and Austin Czarnik, who tallied 79 points in 82 combined games last season.
Looking at Enrico Blasi’s squad this year, Barber and Czarnik are exceptional once again, with 70 points through their first 51 combined games. And McKay has been good but not great, sporting a 2.69 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage with three shutouts.
That difference in goaltending has been the story. Last season, Miami was 8-5 in one-goal games. This year, the RedHawks are 0-6 in nailbiters, including four conference losses by a single goal.
By contrast, North Dakota is 5-1 in one-goal games, including a 4-1 record in tight NCHC contests.
The other surprise is that Miami is just 6-6-1 at home this season after a sparkling 14-3-3 mark at Steve Cady Arena (Oxford, OH) a year ago. Perhaps the weight of all those preseason expectations has the RedHawks squeezing the stick a bit too tight in front of the home fans.
After posting eight consecutive 20-win seasons (including 33 victories in 2007-08), Blasi is stuck on ten victories with only eight regular season games remaining on the schedule. The RedHawks already have more losses this season (13) than all of last year, when Mami finished with a 25-12-5 record.
To put all of this in perspective, if those one-goal games had gone the other way, Miami would be sitting at 16-7-3 overall and 8-7-1-1 in the NCHC, right in the thick of the race for home ice.
UND is 9-5-1 at Ralph Engelstad Arena this season, with two home sweeps (Northern Michigan and Colorado College) to its credit. As Jim Dahl explains here, anything worse than a sweep this weekend will do more harm to North Dakota’s Pairwise ranking.
But a sweep this weekend will not be easy. Miami is fighting to stay out of the NCHC cellar and is hoping to get on a run that will lead them to the NCHC tournament and back to the NCAAs.
On the injury front, North Dakota may once again be without the services of sophomore goaltender Zane Gothberg (10-5-3, 2.26 GAA, .914 SV%). Gothberg sustained an injury in practice in late January and has not appeared in a game since. In his absence, senior netminder Clarke Saunders (4-4-0, 3.36 GAA, .901 SV% in eleven appearances) will need to be sharp, particularly when Miami is on the power play.
Miami Team Profile
Head Coach: Enrico Blasi (15th season at Miami, 321-209-56, .596)
Pairwise Ranking: t-35th
National Ranking: NR
This Season: 10-13-3 overall, 4-11-1-1 NCHC (t-7th)
Last Season: 25-12-5 overall (NCAA Midwest Regional finalist), 17-7-4-4 CCHA (1st)
Team Offense: 3.08 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.85 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.8% (25 of 126)
Penalty Kill: 81.8% (99 of 121)
Key players: Sophomore F Riley Barber (17-19-36), Junior F Austin Czarnik (10-24-34), Sophomore F Sean Kuraly (6-12-18), Sophomore D Matthew Caito (3-10-13), Sophomore G Ryan McKay (6-8-3, 2.69 GAA, .914 SV%, 3 SO)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (10th season at UND, 249-128-40, .645)
Pairwise Ranking: 18th
National Ranking: #17
This Season: 14-9-3 overall, 9-7-0-0 NCHC (t-3rd)
Last Season: 22-13-7 overall (NCAA West Regional finalist), 14-7-7 WCHA (3rd)
Team Offense: 2.85 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.81 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 16.8% (20 of 119)
Penalty Kill: 81.7% (103 of 126)
Key Players: Sophomore F Rocco Grimaldi (10-12-22), Sophomore F Michael Parks (8-13-21), Sophomore F Drake Caggiula (7-8-15), Senior D Dillon Simpson (5-11-16), Sophomore D Jordan Schmaltz (3-12-15), Sophomore G Zane Gothberg (10-5-3, 2.26 GAA, .914 SV%)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: October 19, 2013 (Oxford, OH). Miami junior forward Blake Coleman netted a hat trick for the homestanding RedHawks, who stormed to a 5-0 lead early in the second period before cruising to a 6-2 victory. Coleman was issued a game misconduct in Friday’s opener, which North Dakota won 4-2.
Last Meeting in Grand Forks: November 28, 2009 (Subway Holiday Classic). In the teams’ first and only meeting at Ralph Engelstad Arena, the two powerhouses skated to a 5-5 draw. Miami came back from a two goal deficit in the third period, with RedHawks forward Reilly Smith (2g, 1a) scoring the equalizer with under three minutes remaining to earn the tie. Freshman forward Danny Kristo scored two goals and added an assist and was named the tournament MVP after a four point weekend. Both teams came in to the contest allowing under two goals per game.
Most Important Meeting: The most important meeting is the one about to be played. If UND doesn’t sweep the RedHawks this weekend, they may have to win the conference tournament to receive a bid to the NCAA’s.
All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series 3-1-1, with UND outscoring the RedHawks 19-15 over that span. One of those victories came at the Badger Showdown (Milwaukee, WI) in December 1999 when Dean Blais was still behind the North Dakota bench.
Game News and Notes
Miami has just one win in its last ten games, a 6-1 rout of Colorado College. The RedHawks also lost an exhibition match against the U.S. Under-18 team during that time. Clarke Saunders started two games for Alabama-Huntsville against Miami in February 2012, stopping 73 of 80 shots in a pair of losses. And back in October 2013, Saunders came on in relief of Zane Gothberg in Saturday’s loss, stopping 23 of 25 shots he faced. UND coach Dave Hakstol’s next victory will be the 250th win of his head coaching career. UND is 9-8-1 all time on Valentine’s Day.
Friday night’s opener will begin at 7:38 p.m. Central due to the CBS Sports Network broadcast of the game. The game tickets for Friday night, which were printed prior to the 2013-14 television scheduled being released, incorrectly indicate a 7 p.m. start time.
Miami is a better team than their record indicates, and Ryan McKay can definitely steal a game for the RedHawks. That being said, look for UND to click on the power play early and often and cruise on Saturday after winning a thriller on Friday night. UND 4-3, 5-2.