At the beginning of last 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.
Inconsistent goaltending and a string of injuries took their toll on Enrico Blasi’s squad. Furthermore, Miami went 4-10 in one-goal games last year and sputtered to a 15-20-3 record. It was the first time in ten seasons that the RedHawks failed to win at least twenty games.
Despite the disappointing regular season results, Miami traveled to St. Cloud for the first round of the NCHC playoffs and dispatched #4 St. Cloud State in a pair of tight games. At the inaugural Frozen Faceoff, the RedHawks blanked #11 North Dakota 3-0 before dropping a heartbreaker to Denver in the league championship game, ending their improbable run one game short of the NCAA tournament.
This season, netminder Jay Williams has taken over the starting spot, and he’s been spectacular. Aside from one rough outing against St. Lawrence, the junior from McLean, Virginia has given up just eight goals in seven games, making 140 of 148 saves (.946) and picking up seven victories.
Miami only graduated two players from last year’s squad: forwards Max Cook (23 points in 111 career games) and Bryon Paulazzo (33 points in 105 games). To the cynic, bringing back almost the entire roster from a 15 win season might not be all that exciting, but this year looks to be markedly different for the boys from Oxford, Ohio. After allowing over three goals per game a year ago, Miami has brought that number down to 2.00 goals allowed/game, the exact same scoring defense as North Dakota. And the RedHawks will definitely be able to score with anyone, notching three or more goals in seven of ten games this year (and potting two goals in each of the other three).
North Dakota’s scoring depth will be tested this weekend. Already without the services of senior forward Mark MacMillan (5-2-7 in five games this season), UND freshman phenom Nick Schmaltz (1-7-8 in nine games) sustained an upper body injury against Wisconsin and is not expected to play.
The Green and White will miss MacMillan’s scoring touch and Schmaltz’s playmaking ability over the next month or so, as North Dakota’s first half schedule concludes with tough league opponents St. Cloud State, Nebraska-Omaha, and Denver (along with non-conference foe Lake Superior) over the next four weeks.
Also, sophomore defenseman Paul LaDue (3-5-8 in eight games) will be out of the lineup this weekend. After leading the nation in scoring by defensemen last year, UND is second in the country on the young season. Through nine games, North Dakota blueliners have scored nine goals and added twenty assists for 29 points, or 3.22 points per game. Only Massachusetts-Lowell has scored at a higher rate (7-26-33 in nine games, 3.67/game).
Another key to North Dakota’s early success has been special teams play. With a roughly equal number of power play and shorthanded situations (48 and 47, respectively), UND has scored eleven power play goals while only allowing six. Furthermore, Dave Hakstol’s crew has scored six shorthanded goals in the first nine games of the season, best in the country.
This weekend’s games mark the conference home opener for North Dakota. The National Collegiate Hockey Conference has a stellar record against other leagues so far this season, a far cry from the struggles last year. Currently, six conference schools are ranked in the top 15 in the country (only Western Michigan and Colorado College are unranked). If these numbers hold, the NCHC could easily place four or even five teams in the NCAA tournament in March after sending just three (Denver, North Dakota, and St. Cloud State) a year ago.
NCHC overall record vs. other conferences: 25-14-2 (.634, best in the country)
NCHC record vs. Atlantic Hockey: 2-1-0
NCHC record vs. Big Ten: 7-2-0
NCHC record vs. ECAC: 6-3-1
NCHC record vs. Hockey East: 3-3-1
NCHC record vs. WCHA: 7-5-0
The six teams in the Big Ten (Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin) are a combined 19-23-3 (.456) in non-league play, the second-worst winning percentage in college hockey (Atlantic Hockey, 8-26-2, .250). Not including a 5-0-1 mark against Atlantic Hockey, the Big Ten sports an embarrassing 14-23-2 (.385) record against the other four major hockey conferences.
Miami Team Profile
Head Coach: Enrico Blasi (16th season at Miami, 333-219-56, .594)
National Ranking: #7/#7
This Season: 7-3-0 overall, 3-1-0-0 NCHC (2nd)
Last Season: 15-20-3 overall, 6-17-1-1 NCHC (8th)
Team Offense: 3.20 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.00 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.8% (10 of 48)
Penalty Kill: 78.7% (37 of 47)
Key players: Junior F Riley Barber (5-6-11), Senior F Austin Czarnik (0-10-10), Sophomore F Sean Kuraly (7-4-11), Senior F Blake Coleman (6-5-11), Sophomore D Matthew Caito (0-6-6), Freshman D Louie Belpedio (3-1-4), Junior G Jay Williams (7-1-0, 1.64 GAA, .921 SV%, 1 SO)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (11th season at UND, 267-134-41, .650)
National Ranking: #2/#2
This Season: 7-1-1 overall, 2-0-0-0 NCHC (t-3rd)
Last Season: 25-14-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 15-9-0-0 NCHC (2nd)
Team Offense: 3.67 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.00 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 22.9% (11 of 48)
Penalty Kill: 87.2% (41 of 47)
Key Players: Senior F Michael Parks (3-8-11), Junior F Drake Caggiula (3-8-11), Sophomore F Luke Johnson (3-3-6), Junior F Bryn Chyzyk (2-2-4), Junior D Jordan Schmaltz (1-4-5), Sophomore D Troy Stecher (1-7-8), Junior G Zane McIntyre (7-1-1, 1.94 GAA, .927 SV%)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: March 21, 2014 (Minneapolis, MN). UND outshot the RedHawks 32-28 but could not solve sophomore netminder Ryan McKay as Miami advanced to the NCHC title game with a 3-0 victory. North Dakota went 0-5 with the man advantage and allowed a first period power play goal. Miami ‘s Blake Coleman, Austin Czarnik, and Riley Barber all figured in the scoring. Of the announced attendance of 9113, well over nine thousand were wearing green and white.
Last Meeting in Grand Forks: February 15, 2014. One night after a 3-2 Valentine’s Day victory, North Dakota showed the visiting RedHawks no love in a 9-2 beatdown. UND chased not one but two goaltenders in the contest as the Green and White scored four goals in each of the first two periods before coasting to the series sweep. North Dakota’s Rocco Grimaldi collected four points, and netminder Zane Gothberg made 27 saves for the victory. Remarkably, UND also had two disallowed goals in the first period.
Most Important Meeting: Last season’s loss to Miami at the Frozen Faceoff could have ended North Dakota’s season, but UND rebounded with a 5-0 victory over Western Michigan. After Wisconsin did their part across the river in St. Paul, the Green and White used their second chance as fuel for a Frozen Four run. The four games these two teams will play this season are also important for NCHC home ice and NCAA tournament hopes.
All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series 5-2-1 (.688), including a 2-0-1 (.833) mark in games played in Grand Forks. Five of the eight all-time meetings between the schools came during the 2013-14 season. The teams first played in 1999 (Badger Showdown, Milwaukee, WI).
Game News and Notes
North Dakota will travel to Miami in early March to play a conference series, the last games of the regular season for both teams. Five of the players on the ice this weekend are leading the NCHC in scoring. Miami’s Blake Coleman, Sean Kuraly and Riley Barber all have eleven points this season, the same total as UND’s Drake Caggiula and Michael Parks. Parks has eight points in five career games against the RedHawks. A victory on Friday would give UND its best ten-game start to a season since 2002-03.
Both of these games could go either way, but I’m giving Miami the edge on Friday night since North Dakota is shuffling lines and readjusting after injuries rocked the lineup. UND will rebound for a victory on Saturday, and a split this weekend would not be a disappointing result. Miami 3-2, UND 4-2.