Brotherhood prepares for Bulldogs
In the 2009 NCAA Regional Finals, Miami University and the University of Minnesota-Duluth played for the first and only time. Backed by a 25-save effort from goalie Cody Reichard, the Red and White advanced to their first ever Frozen Four. This weekend, the two will renew their struggle in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
After a slow start, the Bulldogs (13-13-4) enjoyed a moderate resurgence this season and were ranked as high as No. 16 in early February. Since then, they've dropped four straight to conference opponents St. Cloud State University and the University of North Dakota, ousting them from the Top 20, but the RedHawks know better than to overlook their opponent.
"They're as good as anyone in our league," head coach Enrico Blasi said. "They're really good at transitioning, so it's kind of the same speech I've been giving the last month or so. We're going to have to play well defensively, manage the puck well and be ready for a battle - that's kind of the norm in our league."
Miami (11-16-3) is coming off a split with No. 5 St. Cloud State, a huge accomplishment in the face of dwindling hopes and an abysmal 2014 record for the RedHawks. With a bit of confidence regained, the Brotherhood begins the final push in what is their last home series of the season.
"The biggest thing is to try to stay consistent," senior forward Max Cook said. "Just keep playing hard and keep pushing forward. I don't think ... that working hard [is the problem]. We need to focus on the little detailed stuff."
Not only is it the final homestand for the 'Hawks this year, but it will be the final showing for seniors Cook and forward Bryon Paulazzo.
"It's kind of a weird feeling," Cook said. "It felt like it would never come, to be honest, because you'd always be like 'Oh, there's next year.' Now that it's here it's a weird feeling, but to be honest I'm not focused on that. I'm focused on playing well, getting the team to play well, and obviously that's the biggest thing for us."
The RedHawks will need that complete game mentality to jump on the faltering Bulldogs. Junior forward and captain Austin Czarnik and sophomore forward Riley Barber are still the clear impact players on the roster, garnering 39 and 38 points, respectively. The return of junior Blake Coleman was a big boost in Miami's home win last Friday versus the Huskies, and his .171 shooting percentage is the highest of anyone on the roster playing more than 10 games. Despite missing two months of play from December until last weekend, he still remains fourth in scoring for the RedHawks with 18 points (12 goals, 6 assists) in 19 games.
The Bulldogs are a remarkably versatile team, with eight players recording at least 15 points. Goaltending has been a bit weak, however, as senior goalie Aaron Crandall has only managed a 2.77 goals against average and a .903 save percentage. Minnesota-Duluth has also allowed 18 goals in its past four contests, which gives the RedHawks an open door to take two more. For Blasi and the Brotherhood, that means giving that much more effort in practice to improve with each session.
"We're just trying to get better every day and trying to get ready for good, solid hockey down the stretch here and be ready for the playoffs," Blasi said. "There's nothing else we need to do except try to motivate our guys to get better every day and stay in the present so we can get better ... we'll just keep working until we can play a couple games in a row of good hockey."
The series starts Friday, Feb. 28 at the Goggin Ice Center. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:35 p.m.
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