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No. 5 Miami meets No. 7 Denver out West

By Grace Remington, For The Miami Student

Two weekends remain in the regular season, and the race for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference title is as close as ever.

The No. 5 Miami University men's hockey team continues its pursuit of the title as it travels to No. 7 University of Denver for a two-game matchup this weekend.

Miami (19-10-1, 12-7-1-1 NCHC) holds a 7-8 overall record against Denver after splitting the last series at home in late January. The 'Hawks captured a 4-1 win Saturday after a 3-1 setback Friday.

"Obviously, Denver won the NCHC last year, so they're as good of a team as anybody we've played all year," head coach Enrico Blasi said. "Most of that team is back and they know how to play … they have lots of weapons, an unbelievable group of defensemen and a talented group of forwards."

The Pioneers (18-10-2, 11-8-1-1 NCHC) have the nation's sixth-best power play, posting a 22.8 percent success rate. The RedHawk penalty kill shut down eight DU man advantages in the last series.

"Denver's power play is lights-out," Blasi said. "They have [senior defenseman Joey] LaLeggia, who might be the greatest player in the country. You have to do everything you can do to disrupt their schemes and passing lanes."

The Pioneers boast six players with at least 20 points this season, including the top three point producers in the NCHC. Freshman forward Danton Heinen leads the way with 35 points, while sophomore forward Trevor Moore and LaLeggia both have 31.

Senior forward Zac Larazza, who has collected 11 goals for Denver, is suspended for Friday's game after an illegal hit to the head of a Colorado College player Saturday.

Miami returns to action after splitting last weekend's series with then-No. 7 University of Minnesota Duluth. After a 3-1 loss Friday, the 'Hawks rallied from a two-goal deficit to an overtime 4-3 win.

"Anytime you pick up a win you feel a little better about where you're at," senior forward Blake Coleman said. "But regardless of the outcome of the game before, we usually put it behind us and believe in ourselves."

The chase for the Penrose Cup resumes 9:37 p.m. EST Friday in Denver, Colorado. The series finale puck drops 9:07 p.m. EST Saturday.

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"This is the best time of the year," Coleman said. "The chance to win a championship - this is what you play for."