Brotherhood ready to battle Badgers
For the fourth straight series, the Miami University men's hockey team will be on the road, as it prepares to face the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison.
Wisconsin (8-7-5) may not have the best record compared to other big-name programs, but the win/loss column is misleading in this case. Debilitated by early-season injuries, the Badgers had an abysmal start to the year, struggling to a 1-5-2 record as of Nov. 24. But since a loss to Minnesota State in November, Wisconsin has gone ten straight games without being beaten, and has won their last six contests.
"They're 7-0-3 in their last 10 [games]," Miami Head Coach Enrico Blasi said. "They had some guys missing early in the year, so I wouldn't necessarily look at their record. I think their last ten games are more indicative of what their team is supposed to be like."
Indeed, Badgers such as redshirt senior forward Ryan Little and sophomore defenseman Jake McCabe were sidelined with injuries early on. With the Wisconsin lineup back at full health, they pose perhaps the greatest threat to the RedHawks thus far.
"They present a lot of problems for other teams," Blasi said of his team's upcoming opponent. "They're well coached, they play well defensively, they're a patient team, and they've got a lot of skill ... and we're going into a hostile environment. We're talking 13,000 knowledgeable hockey fans. They support their Badgers through thick and thin. So if you're not excited for that, you need to check to see if you've got a heartbeat."
The RedHawks (12-5-5), who slipped two spots in the USCHO.com national poll to No. 8 after registering a loss and a shootout win this past weekend against Northern Michigan, appear to be hitting a minor, mid-season skid. They have only recorded two regulation wins in their last seven games, and are 0-2-1 in their past three games.
Offensive production has been down recently for the RedHawks as well, with the Red and White only netting nine goals (not counting shootouts) in their past seven contests. With goal scoring stalled, support players have begun to rise to the occasion. Two of those nine goals were from the stick of freshman defenseman Matthew Caito, who recorded his first multi-goal game as a RedHawk in Saturday's shootout win versus NMU. The young blueliner acknowledges that Miami must regroup and refocus as they look forward, and start putting a few more pucks in the net.
"They've got a great fan base so they're going to be rowdy," Caito said. "But we've just got to keep things simple, and stick together as a team. We just need to get a little better at the little things. We get a lot of shots [on goal], but we just need to get a little hungrier around the net."
Freshman forward Riley Barber, who helped team USA to a surprising gold medal victory just two weeks ago in the World Junior Championships, also knows that Wisconsin will be a great test for this young RedHawk squad.
"They have probably the best two forward lines of anything we're going to see this year," Barber said. "We've got to notice when they're on the ice and them play in their own end so they can't do anything offensively."
As the second half of the season comes into focus for the RedHawks, the coaching staff knows that each game is crucial, as top teams prepare to jostle for playoff seeding. According to Coach Blasi, the make-it-or-break-it stretch of the season starts right now.
"We don't have a choice," Blasi said. "You've got to get up for every game. This is crunch time now. It's the dog days of January, and these games are really important."
The RedHawks take the ice against the Badgers in a two-game series at the Kohl Center this Friday and Saturday, Jan. 18-19. The puck drops 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. CT, respectively.
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