RedHawks hit road for NCHC tourney
If it seems like the Miami University hockey team abandoned all hope for an at-large bid into the national tournament months ago, it's because it did. The final few weeks of the season have been a formality, really, with Miami locking up last place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. However, none of that matters to them. It's playoff time, and any hockey fan worth his or her salt knows anything can happen.
The RedHawks have drawn a doozy of a first round competitor in the St. Cloud University Huskies. The Huskies are No. 4 in the USCHO poll, regular season NCHC champions and are attempting to reach the Frozen Four in consecutive tournaments. They knocked out the 'Hawks in last year's regional final.
The Huskies (21-8-5) are juggernauts, averaging 3.7 goals per game and converting on just over one-fourth of their man advantage chances. The second-highest scoring team in the country boasts eight players with 20-plus points, including their top forward line of sophomore Jonny Brodzinski, senior Nic Dowd and sophomore Kalle Kossila. Brodzinski leads the pack with 39 points and 20 goals, while the other two have 36 points apiece. Neither junior Ryan Faragher nor freshman Charlie Lindgren has been particularly powerful between the pipes for St. Cloud, but then again they haven't had to be. The former has gone 19-7-4 with a .909 save percentage and a 2.67 goals-against average in 2013-14.
"They really have no weaknesses," head coach Enrico Blasi said in a press conference Tuesday. "Their goaltending is solid, their defense is solid and their forwards top to bottom are really good and their well-coached. We're going to go, try to play our best, and if we have some success, it means we've gone there and played really, really well because that's what it's going to take to beat St. Cloud."
While at first glance, the contest might appear lopsided on paper, these teams split both regular-season series, including a home win that was Miami's lone "W" in a nine-game, six-week stretch. Junior forward Blake Coleman said his team has gained confidence following the last regular season game win over Denver last Saturday.
"Yeah, everybody seemed upbeat about the win," Coleman said. "I think that was something that we needed after our struggles recently."
Coleman has netted a team-high eight goals in the past three weeks since returning from an injury that sidelined him in December. He sits third in the RedHawk scoring race despite missing 11 games this year. The only two players ahead of him are junior forward and captain Austin Czarnik and sophomore forward Riley Barber. Czarnik, who was just announced as a finalist for NCHC Forward of the Year, is tied for conference leader in points with 43. It will take all three of them and then some to go toe-to-toe with the Huskies in this best-of-three series, which kicks off Friday night.
"We've got to go out and play hard, play the right way and not cheat the process," Blasi said. "The team that does it the best will move on."
Friday night's puck drop is set for 8:37 p.m. Saturday's contest will begin at 8:07 p.m., as will Sunday's potential rubber match.
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