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Hockey RedHawks welcome the River Hawks

Ric Kruszynski - Mercyhurst Athletic Communications, Erie Sports Commission
Ric Kruszynski - Mercyhurst Athletic Communications, Erie Sports Commission

Miami hockey hopes to gain momentum and improve its power play as it kicks off a two-weekend, four-game home stand tonight when they face the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

"We've got a lot of opportunity to pull away a few wins," junior forward Karch Bachman said. "If we get two sweeps, that'd be huge. That's our mindset right now: trying to pull away as many points as we can."

The RedHawks (3-1) are coming off a split in the Ice Breaker Tournament, losing 4-0 to Providence College last Friday and beating Mercyhurst University 3-0 on Saturday.

The River Hawks (1-1) arrive in Oxford with a series less of experience. They've only played their home-opening series, splitting it with the Rochester Institute of Technology last weekend.

Though the RedHawks are off to their best start since the 2013-14 season, when they also opened the season 3-1, the 4-0 loss to Providence proved the team has room for improvement. This weekend against UMass-Lowell gives Miami an opportunity to polish it's play through all three zones before kicking off conference play on Nov. 2.

"[UMass-Lowell] are very similar to Providence: well-structured, well-coached, physical," head coach Enrico Blasi said. "We're going to have to earn every inch of space on the ice. We have to be equally structured, high compete level. As always, you have to make sure you're good on special teams."

Miami has been good on the penalty kill, as its gone an almost perfect 13-for-14 for a 92.9 percent success rate. Against a UMass-Lowell team with a power play success rate of 30.8 percent, albeit after only one weekend of play, the RedHawks' PK will be crucial to the games' outcomes.

Also important for the RedHawks' success this weekend will be the other half of the special teams. Last weekend, the Miami powerplay went 0-for-11 and is only 2-for-22 on the year.

Blasi doesn't think the unsuccessful man-advantage comes from a personnel problem, but a fundamental breakdown.

"We've got to get pucks to the net," Blasi said. "We did a pretty good job possessing it [last weekend], we did a pretty good job getting opportunities, but we're shooting pucks 10 feet in the air, over the net. We weren't getting traffic in front of the net. We weren't getting second opportunities."

A mix of veterans and newcomers have been generating Miami's scoring opportunities. In its first weekend of play, five newcomers recorded points, including graduate transfer defenseman River Rymsha (1 goal, 2 assists) and freshman forward Brian Hawkinson (3a).

Last weekend, the newcomers were silent and veteran Miami players scored and assisted on all three goals in the 3-0 win over Mercyhurst. Bachman scored his third goal of the season and leads the RedHawks in goals and points.

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And, a mix of veterans and newcomers have been limiting opponents' scoring opportunities.

Junior goaltender Ryan Larkin has two shutouts through three games and has help in front from Rymsha and senior defenseman Grant Hutton. Miami's defense has helped the RedHawks limit their opponents to only 20.75 shots per game (sixth in the NCAA).

The RedHawks will try to limit UMass-Lowell's senior forward Ryan Dmowski who led the River Hawks in scoring last season with 11 goals and last weekend with a goal and two assists. Senior forward Connor Wilson also recorded a goal and two assists last weekend.

At the other end, goaltenders Tyler Wall and Christoffer Hernberg both saw the ice last weekend. Junior Wall stopped 25 of the 26 shots he saw and senior Hernberg stopped 25 of the 30 he faced.

UMass-Lowell went 17-19 last season, missing the NCAA Tournament for just the second time since the 2011-12 season.

This is only the third meeting between the two teams. The last time these two teams faced off was during the 2012 NCAA Tournament, when the River Hawks beat the RedHawks 4-3 in overtime.

Playing an unfamiliar team allows the RedHawks to focus on their style of play, instead of playing reactionary hockey against their opponents.

"We focus more on what we can do and less of what the other team is about," Bachman said. "For us, it's about playing our game. We know what we have to do. If we play our 'A-Game' we can hopefully come out with a win - that's our focus."

The puck drops tonight at 7:35 p.m.