Struggling RedHawks host Western Michigan
Every point matters. It's a pretty generic phrase; five syllables of coach-speak that mean the boys are showing up for every game, all year long.
For the Miami University men's hockey team, this saying isn't just a few trite words brandished in a post-game presser - it is a stark reality. It is the wretched beeping that constitutes a wakeup call from a hotel room phone, and the NCAA Tournament selection committee is the concierge.
The RedHawks are 4-8-1 dating back to a Nov. 16 loss to the University of Wisconsin - a skid the likes of which hasn't been seen in the better part of a decade. If the season were to end right now, Miami wouldn't even be close to making the national tournament, a feat they've accomplished in the previous eight campaigns. They've also dropped out of the Top 20 in the USCHO Poll, which is a rarity for these RedHawks.
Points are at a premium, and head coach Enrico Blasi's squad knows it. The Brotherhood (10-11-3) boasts just 14 points in National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) play, only good enough for second to last. All that remains of the regular season is 10 games. That gives them five opponents from whom they can hope to swipe a possible 30 points, four of which currently reside in the Top 20. This weekend's two-game war is with the only team that is not ranked: Western Michigan University.
"They're very, very good," sophomore defenseman Matthew Caito said. "They've got a lot of speed on offense, defensive corps is very good and they have a solid goaltender. They really like physical play. It's going to be a tough battle, and we're going to engage them."
Caito would know too, his RedHawks tangled with the Broncos Jan. 10-11, the last series in which the Red and White were ranked. Western stole two one-goal games from Miami, leaving a bad taste in Caito and company's mouths. Blasi's squads aren't the kind to get nostalgic, but seeing their old Central Collegiate Hockey Association rival one last time in league play does open up an opportunity for a taste of revenge, especially after a weekend off to think it over.
"Obviously they took care of us pretty good when we were up there," Blasi said. "Unfortunately we're not at 100 percent, but I thought the week off was good. The guys worked hard and we've had a pretty good couple of days here this week."
Despite their recent slump, the 'Hawks haven't played terribly. Five of those games were decided by a single goal, and even though they've cooled off recently, junior forward captain Austin Czarnik and sophomore linemate Riley Barber are both still among the top 20 scorers nationally, with 31 and 35, respectively.
Miami also comes into the weekend winners of its game, topping Colorado College 6-1 on the road while simultaneously sparking a stagnant power play. They potted four goals on five man advantages, a mark that hadn't been reached since Dec. 11, 2009 versus Ohio State University.
For the RedHawks, it's now or never. Momentum is the name of the game, and it starts with a weekend home stand.
"This is it," Blasi said. "This is the stretch run. I think the guys know how hard they have to play and how intense the games will be, and hopefully we'll be ready to go."
The opening puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7. Saturday's game will commence at 7:05 p.m. Both games will take place at the Goggin Ice Center.
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