Miami hockey will play its first National Collegiate Hockey Conference series this weekend at home against Colorado College. The RedHawks enter the two games with two huge wins over UConn last weekend, and with a detail-oriented mindset.
"When you add all those little things up, usually at the end of the night, they translate to big plays," head coach Enrico Blasi said at his weekly press conference on Monday. "If we can continue to focus on that on a daily basis and be the best version of ourselves, then we're going to get better and ultimately, that's the goal."
The 'Hawks (3-3, 0-0 NCHC) will look to be offensively dominant and defensively sound against the Tigers (5-3, 1-1 NCHC), as they were against the UConn Huskies -- Miami won 3-0 and 7-1 to win the series.
Last season, MU tied CC 1-1 on Friday and won 3-2 in overtime on Saturday. This season, the Tigers play a similar game to the RedHawks and the score will likely be close in a fast-paced, back-and-forth battle. The 'Hawks prepared for this throughout the week -- practicing preventing turnovers, taking away shooting lanes and winning puck battles.
"Conference play is always tough and watching Colorado College on video, they're fast, they're tenacious, they play pretty good hockey," Blasi said.
Miami looks to play better hockey and finds strength in its ability to adapt. A shift from a passing, more wide-open game to a grittier, more physical game did not prove to be a problem against UConn. The 'Hawks want to maintain this against a team fast in transition, such as Colorado.
"Anytime you're playing teams that have multiple lines that can hurt you, you really have to make sure that you're focused on the details and adjusting as you go," Blasi said. "That's all part of the staying focused on the game plan and making sure you understand what the game is giving you -- that's going to be a real key this weekend."
Another key to this weekend is Miami's ability to stick to its process. A short-handed goal late in the second period last Saturday, tested the 'Hawks' dedication to the process, and the Red and White answered with a five-goal third period.
"I thought our guys took a really good step on Saturday night in terms of refocusing themselves and not allowing that to affect their mindset," Blasi said. "When they came out in the third period their mindset was on one thing and that was playing our game and playing the right way."
The dedication to the process and the details in last Saturday's third period needs to be consistent throughout tonight and tomorrow. Though something the team is still working on, the UConn games showed a step towards consistency.
These steps have come from repeated goal-scoring from all four lines. Eleven RedHawks have scored Miami's 23 goals and six 'Hawks have at least a +1 rating. If not scoring, the RedHawks are outshooting their opponents, as they have in five of their six games.
Junior defenseman Grant Hutton leads Miami with five goals, all coming on the powerplay. This puts him no. 1 in the nation for powerplay goals and his eight points on the season ranks him seventh among defenseman. Fellow defenseman senior Louie Belpedio had two goals and an assist last Saturday and is the reigning NCHC defenseman of the week.
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If scoring doesn't come from the blue line, it might come from sophomore forward Gordie Green who enters this weekend on a four-game point streak. Green leads the team with 11 points (4g, 7a) -- tied for fifth nationally.
Though offense will be critical, the Red and White defense aims to shut down Colorado's offense as effectively as they did against UConn. Sophomore Ryan Larkin will likely start in net after only allowing one goal last weekend, and shutting out UConn for almost 100 minutes of play. Necessities not specific to CC, effective defense will come from Miami's improved puck management and play without the puck.
"If you turn the puck over, then you're probably going to get burned by it," Blasi said. "If you don't play good team defense, if you don't play hard away from the puck then you're probably not going to be able to get the puck back."
The energy from last weekend and the team game will be crucial if Miami wants to start conference play on the right foot. The 'Hawks are 2-6 on opening weekend of NCHC play ever since the conference was formed in 2013-14.
"Our conference, top to bottom, is extremely tough and you have to come to play and you have to come to play the right way," Blasi said.
Puck drop is at 7:35 p.m. tonight and 7:05 p.m. tomorrow night. NCHC.TV will broadcast both games.