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No. 1 UND, No. 5 MU battle for conference title

By Grace Remington, Senior Staff Writer

Six points separate No. 5 Miami University from No. 1 University of North Dakota in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

Miami (20-11-1, 13-8-1-1 NCHC) ranks second in the conference at 41 points, while UND sits at first with 47. A sweep of North Dakota in this weekend's season finale would give the RedHawks those six points, enough to secure them a share of the Penrose Cup and the top seed in the NCHC Tournament. North Dakota (24-6-3, 15-5-2-0 NCHC) needs just one point to claim the Penrose Cup outright.

"It's going to be a great atmosphere," junior forward Alex Gacek said. "It's going to be No. 1 versus No. 2. What more can you ask for?"

The RedHawks will honor forwards Blake Coleman, Austin Czarnik, Cody Murphy and Alex Wideman, defensemen Ben Paulides and goaltender Anthony Jacaruso in senior night Saturday.

"It's an important game for them," head coach Enrico Blasi said. "It's their last regular season game at home, so it'll be a little bit emotional, but one I think they'll cherish."

The 2014-2015 senior class has had its fair share of accomplishments: winning 20 games in a regular season three times, competing in two national tournaments and a regional final and winning a Central Collegiate Hockey Association title.

"This senior class ranks right up there," Blasi said. "This group has seen a lot. Hopefully we'll play well here down the stretch and add to those stats … they've certainly helped this team get to where it is today. After a tough season last year, I think the seniors have really taken it upon themselves to lead the way in every aspect."

North Dakota leads Miami in the head-to-head series 6-3-1. The last series between the two teams was a split in November in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Miami took a 3-2 win Friday before suffering a 4-1 loss Saturday.

UND is riding a seven-game unbeaten streak (6-0-1) and is 11-1-1 in its last 13 contests. Junior forward Drake Caggiula and senior forward Michael Parks lead the team in scoring with 31 points apiece. Fifteen UND skaters have reached double-digit points this year. Junior goaltender Zane McIntyre has started all but one game in the net, posting a .933 save percentage and 1.93 goals against average.

"They're the No. 1 team in the country for a reason," Blasi said. "They have depth in every position … it'll be a good test for us. There's a lot on the line."

Senior forward Mark MacMillan will not suit up for North Dakota after having surgery Wednesday to repair a lower body injury. MacMillan leads UND in faceoff percentage (57.2) and goals (16).

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"He's an unbelievable player," Blasi said. "We know that first hand. You don't want to see that happen to anybody, so hopefully he can get back … but they've got so many weapons and so much depth that we have to prepare the same and be ready to play our best hockey. That's the bottom line."

Miami has outshot its opponent in 26 of its last 31 games and is second nationally with a +8.19 average shot margin per game. Junior goaltender Jay Williams ranks seventh in the country with a 1.89 goals against average and .92 save percentage.

The RedHawks are coming off a split series against the University of Denver. Gacek and junior forward Riley Barber helped in Friday's 5-3 win with two goals apiece, but four goals from DU in the first period of Saturday's contest led to a 6-2 loss.

"We want revenge for Saturday," Gacek said. "We can't get caught sleeping in the beginning again, or in the blink of an eye it'll be too late … we want to compete and play a full 60 minutes."

Puck drop is 6:30 p.m. Friday in Steve "Coach" Cady Ice Arena. Senior night's puck drops 7 p.m. Saturday.