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Preview: Miami to face off against No.2 North Dakota as two teams compete in ultimate game of ‘Hawkey’

<p>Miami has struggled against North Dakota in recent years.</p>

Miami has struggled against North Dakota in recent years.

After a disappointing weekend that resulted in a sweep at home against a National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) opponent in the Colorado College Tigers, the Miami University RedHawks hockey team heads to Grand Forks, North Dakota, to face off against the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks on Friday, Nov. 17, and Saturday, Nov. 18.

The Fighting Hawks are currently ranked second among all NCAA men’s hockey programs, holding a conference record of 2-0-0 thanks to two wins against the University of Minnesota Duluth and an overall record of 7-2-1. The record includes two regulation losses from the University of Minnesota Gophers and Boston University and a shootout loss to Minnesota State University. 

In all the series where the Fighting Hawks lost, they won the other game of the two-game set.

North Dakota’s roster includes 11 drafted players, with three of their top five scorers belonging to NHL teams. 

The leader of the group is Jackson Blake, a 2021 fourth-round selection by the Carolina Hurricanes, whose style revolves around using his skating ability to create lanes for himself and his teammates, bobbing and weaving through defenses and slipping passes through open channels.

Blake has registered 11 points in 10 games thus far in the 2023-24 season. 

However, the most notable name within the confines of the Fighting Hawks’ lineup sheet isn’t any of their forwards or defensemen. Instead, it’s former RedHawks goaltender Ludvig Persson, who, in 10 games played, has posted a 1.90 goals-against average (GAA) and .925 save percentage.

Despite getting most of the playing time at Miami, Persson wasn’t achieving the desired results. 

Along with some other names like Red Savage (Michigan State), Chase Pletzke (the University of Michigan) and Joe Cassetti (Western Michigan University), Persson decided to move on from Miami after playing three seasons with the RedHawks from 2020-21 to 2022-23.

The RedHawks are coming into this matchup with a conference record of 0-4-0 and are under .500 for the first time since their first game of the season — a loss to Ferris State University — with a record of 4-5-1.

Some good news for the RedHawks is that junior forward Raimonds Vitolins, who was out for the series against Colorado College and played in one of the two games against St. Cloud State University, will return, according to head coach Chris Bergeron.

“We will get Rai back for this weekend,” Bergeron said during his mid-week press conference. “At least, that’s what it looks like right now. Outside of that, we won’t be any more full strength than we were.” 

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Another part of the game that Bergeron pointed out was the special teams. He noted that not having Vitolins on that first power-play unit as of late has made a difference, given what he can bring to the game from a creativity standpoint. 

Bergeron also noted that the power-play and the penalty kill have to be ready to go for this upcoming matchup because of how good North Dakota is in both departments.

“The special teams will be a difference,” Bergeron said. “On the road, we need help. Scoring goals hasn’t been easy for us, at least since we’ve started league play, and the 5-on-4 offense is definitely something we could use.”

North Dakota will be the toughest test for Miami all season. With some new names on the backend for North Dakota, familiar foes in the forward core and a familiar face in the blue paint, the RedHawks will have their work cut out for them.

“It’s a really good team playing in a very difficult place to play,” Bergeron said of the upcoming game. “And again, it’s life in the NCHC.” 

Puck drop between these two NCHC teams is at 8:07 p.m. ET on Friday and 7:07 p.m. ET on Saturday.