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Red and White ready to host dangerous Nanooks

Senior Staff Writer

Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013

Updated: Friday, February 1, 2013 00:02

For the third straight week, the Miami University men’s hockey team is preparing to face off against one of the hottest squads in the country: The University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

This will be the second Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) opponent for the RedHawks in as many weeks, who will finish out the regular season with four more in-conference foes. The Brotherhood, which is 15-6-5 overall this year and 10-4-4-4 in CCHA play, also jumped up in both national polls this week. They are fourth in the poll and third in the USA Today poll, the latter matching their highest poll positioning this year.

The Nanooks (12-8-4) have yet to be beaten in the new year, as they ride a six game winning streak coming into Oxford. During that streak, the Blue and Gold have recorded two one-goal wins over No. 9 Notre Dame, and have scored 22 goals in the process. Though Miami swept the series in convincing fashion when the two teams met Nov. 30 – Dec. 1, Head Coach Enrico Blasi warned that it is a different program that his RedHawks are going up against this weekend.

“You’ll see a team from Alaska that’s very confident,” Blasi said. “They feel good about every aspect of their game, and rightly so. Watching them on tape they’re playing smart, honest game where they’re not making many mistakes.”

The Nanooks have also capitalized on other team’s mistakes, especially in their offensive zone. They’ve scored 56 goals on the season, just one shy of CCHA leader Notre Dame. Alaska has repositioned itself in the standings over the past few weeks, and now sit just four points back of Miami and five points back of the top spot currently occupied by Western Michigan.

As the Nanooks look to extend their streak, sophomore forward Austin Czarnik says Miami is looking to string together a few wins of their own now that the entire depth chart has rekindled its offensive fire.

“At first we were down a little bit, we couldn’t score at all,” Czarnik, who is the CCHA scoring co-leader along with freshman linemate Riley Barber, said. “Now I think the guys have a lot more confidence because we had lines produce this weekend. All four lines could probably be top two lines at a lot of programs … we’re just trying to have fun out there. Coach said have fun so that’s what everyone’s doing and I think it’s working so far.”

The Nanooks come into the weekend as one of the most aggressive teams Miami has faced. In its previous series against the Red and White, Alaska racked up 43 penalty minutes on 16 infractions, including one major penalty and game misconduct. Though the RedHawks have only scored on 19 of their 115 man advantages this year, they have found the back of the net on four of their last 10 power plays – which is 3.5 percent better than their usual 16.5 percent conversion rate.

With just a month left of regular season hockey, the RedHawks will close out the last season of the CCHA with all in-conference games. Though top ten teams Notre Dame and Western Michigan are looming just over the horizon, Blasi is urging his team to take it one game at a time – and that starts with Friday’s game.

“We’re just worried about Alaska, we’re not focused on anyone else at this point,” Blasi said. “With a young team you can’t focus on anything but the present. The fact that their playing as good as anyone in the country presents a big-time challenge for our team … we’re going to have to manage the puck well, take care of our own end, and hopefully do a good job on special teams.”

The series will take place Feb. 1-2 at the Goggin Ice Center. The puck drops 7:05 p.m. and 7:35 p.m. Friday and Saturday, respectively.

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