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RedHawk hockey is built to win

Linski's List

By Justin Maskulinski, For The Miami Student

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone if Miami comes out on top of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference in a few weeks. The RedHawks sit alone in second place after splitting a weekend series with No. 6 Minnesota-Duluth.

Flashback to last season and you see a Miami team that had enough speed, but not nearly enough strength and physical play to compete with the members of its new conference.

After the 'Hawks got hot in the conference tournament, they fell one game short of an NCAA Tournament berth in their own backyard. The offseason was huge for The Brotherhood.

Head coach Enrico Blasi addressed the issue of size, and brought in some big boys. The additions of Scott Dornbrock (6-foot-3, 224-pounds), Conor Lemirande (6-foot-6, 237-pounds), and Andrew Schmit (6-foot-5, 224-pounds) made Miami a well-rounded team. That being said, one guy who is more than willing to throw his body around, and must have had at least eight hits last weekend, is junior forward Alex Gacek (5-foot-8, 179-pounds).

The RedHawks still have plenty of speed and are able to use it to out-skate the tough teams of the NCHC. In the Saturday game of last weekend's series, the 'Hawks found a way to get around the Duluth defense and gain the zone during even strength play.

Sophomore forward Anthony Louis is catching fire as the 'Hawks head down the stretch. He had an assist Friday and a goal and the game-winning assist Saturday. Louis now has 24 points on the season and has 42 points in his last 48 games dating back to last season.

The defensemen are proving to be very helpful on the offensive side of the ice this year, as the blue-liners have combined for 52 points this season (10 goals, 42 assists). That's seven more points than Miami defensemen had all of last season.

Freshman defenseman Louie Belpedio will be a big part of the RedHawks' success moving forward. As an offensive-defenseman, he is able to deke and dangle his way past the opponent's blue line and help the 'Hawks develop an offensive presence. Senior forward and captain Austin Czarnik is Miami's best defensive forward and he is consistently filling in for the defensemen. It is key for forwards to replace the charging defenseman so the 'Hawks can avoid 2-on-1 breakouts the other way.

If a 2-on-1 breakout happens, the RedHawks can be confident in either one of their goaltenders. Junior Jay Williams has been stellar all year, posting a 1.73 goals against average and a .926 save percentage on the season. Fellow junior netminder Ryan McKay has not seen as much action as Williams due to an early injury and Williams' great play, but McKay is returning to the great goalie he was during his freshman campaign. McKay is allowing 2.81 goals per game and is stopping 90.4 percent of the shots he sees. In McKay's victory Saturday, his positioning was consistent: two of the three goals he allowed were scored while the 'Hawks were a man down.

The only thing missing from this team (before Saturday) was resiliency. Heading in to Saturday's game, the 'Hawks were 0-6-1 when trailing after two periods, and also winless when trailing by two or more goals. The 'Hawks were able to complete the comeback and earn three important points in the NCHC standings.

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Saturday will not be the last time the 'Hawks have to dig deep and find a way to win this season - it's a tough road ahead. The 'Hawks are solid from top to bottom, and have all of the tools necessary to make a run in the NCHC tournament and in the NCAA tournament. It'll be fun to watch.