’Hawks prepare for final CCHA Championship
Published: Friday, March 22, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 22, 2013 00:03
For the No. 3 Miami University hockey team, a fourth-straight Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) semifinal appearance offers a chance at immortality. Just three weeks ago, Miami locked up the regular season title against in-state rival Ohio State in the last game of the season. Now, in the final year of the CCHA, it has a chance to hoist the Mason Cup as well. Senior captain Steven Spinell is just fine with having his team’s name be the last in a long list of CCHA champions.
“It would be the double whammy,” Spinell said. “It would be awesome. I think everyone is gunning for that, but we’ve just got to take it one day at a time. Michigan’s a great team, and we’ve got to be ready to go.”
“A great team” might even be an understatement in light of how the Maize and Blue have played lately. Though they harbor a 17-18-3 record, the Wolverines are 7-0-1 in their last eight games, and have broken into the top 20 in the USCHO.com poll. If it wants to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament, Michigan will most likely have to win the CCHA tournament in style, and Miami Head Coach Enrico Blasi knows what his team is up against on Saturday.
“They’re a really good team,” Blasi said. “They’ve got talented defensemen, they’ve got forwards that are good in transition and are as skilled as anyone in the country and their goalies are playing really well, so it’s going to be a good challenge.”
In addition to recent on-ice success, history is on Miami’s side. Michigan has come out on top of the CCHA post-season a total of nine times, all within the last 19 years. The Wolverines also have a stranglehold on the all-time record against Miami with a 72-27-4 series lead and they are 4-1-0 when playing the RedHawks on neutral ice.
A 24-10-5 record and a series split in Ann Arbor back in October gives Miami the advantage though, as does stellar play by several of its younger members. Freshman goaltender Ryan McKay has posted an NCAA-best 1.20 goals-against average (GAA) and a .954 save percentage and has started the last six games for the Red and White. Freshman forward Riley Barber finished first in the CCHA scoring race with 38 points, and his linemate, sophomore Austin Czarnik, finished third with 36. Both were recently named to the First Team All-CCHA and freshman defenseman Matthew Caito garnered Honorable Mention All-CCHA.
For the elder Miami players, this trip is a culmination of their hard work on and off the ice, as they’ve made it to Detroit all four years. Senior defenseman Joe Hartman is ecstatic to be playing at Joe Louis Arena for one final time.
“It adds an element of excitement that it’s the last year, and you have a chance to leave your mark on a dissolving league,” Hartman said. “We’ve been to the Joe four times now, and this just adds a little bit more to that.”
Though the RedHawks are all business heading into their final weekend before what many believe will be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, the Brotherhood is in high spirits as always. It is hockey tradition to grow a playoff beard for the duration of the post-season, and the unanimous decision on “best beard” as voted on by his peers is senior defenseman Garrett Kennedy.
“Who has the best playoff beard? Kennedy … he always does,” Hartman said of his classmate and fellow defenseman. “He’s a little fur ball, and we always make fun of him for it.”
As a week of practice comes to a close, the RedHawks will travel to Detroit on Thursday to battle it out in the final CCHA Tournament. They face the No. 20 Michigan Wolverines in the semifinals at 4:35 p.m. Saturday, March 23, and if victorious, will go on to play the winner of Notre Dame and Ohio State at 2:05 p.m. Sunday, March 24.