By Harrison Schwarz, Staff Writer
Home-ice advantage for the conference post-season is on the line as the Miami University hockey team (15-14-3, 9-11-2-2 National Collegiate Hockey Conference) travels to University of Minnesota-Duluth (13-14-5, 9-10-3-1 NCHC) this weekend.
The 'Hawks are tied with the Bulldogs at fourth place in the NCHC standings at 31 points. If Miami wins both games this weekend, it will claim the last home ice spot for the playoffs. If the two-game series is split, Miami loses the tiebreaker because Duluth would have the better head-to-head win percentage.
The two teams faced off earlier in the season in Oxford. They tied 1-1 on Jan. 8, and Duluth won 5-2 on Jan. 9. UMD holds a 5-3-1 lead in the all-time series.
"We know Duluth is very good hockey team," head coach Rico Blasi said. "Our focus is on our preparation and making sure we're ready to go and that we go into Friday's game playing well. We know we have to play our best to give ourselves an opportunity and that's what we're going to do."
The RedHawk offense has become more adept at finding the back of the net in the second half of the season. From Oct. 3 through Dec. 5, the team averaged 2.29 goals per game. Since Jan. 2, the team is averaging 2.94 goals per game - a .65 goals increase. Since Jan. 23, the team is averaging 3.3 goals per game.
"I think there's a lot of factors to explain why we're scoring more goals," Blasi said. "Our game is a little more determined. We're making better decisions away from the puck. We're making better decisions with the puck. At the end of the day, I think our team is just in a much better place and has a better mindset. All those things combined allow you to get good looks at the net and good second effort looks."
Senior forward and captain Sean Kuraly has 16 points and is +12 in the last 16 games, after recording just six points and a -5 rating in his first 16 games. After earning just two points in his first eleven games, freshman forward Keifer Sherwood has 14 points in his last 19 games with seven goals.
Senior goaltender Jay Williams has been just as instrumental to MU's success. Williams has allowed two goals or fewer in 10 of his 14 starts since Jan. 3, going 10-3-1 in that span with a 1.87 goals against average and a .929 save percentage. He also has not allowed a goal in his last 142:30 in the crease.
Senior forwards Tony Cameranesi (9 goals, 20 assists) and Austin Farley (13 goals, 13 assists) are the Bulldogs' top two scorers. Sophomore goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo holds a 1.94 goals against average and a .924 save percentage with a 13-13-5 record. UMD has allowed two goals or less in its last six contests.
The puck drops at 8:07 p.m. Friday and at 8:07 p.m. Saturday in Duluth, Minn.