Miami hockey hopes to up its intensity and pace of its game when it hosts Western Michigan this weekend. The RedHawks are playing for their first win in four games, first series win since late October and their first National Collegiate Hockey Conference series win.
“Sometimes when you go through a little bit of a spell like we are, a little bit of adversity, I always tell the team that every year I’ve been in coaching, every team goes through adversity,” head coach Enrico Blasi said in his weekly press conference. “You can’t tiptoe around it.”
Last weekend, the ’Hawks (9-12-3, 4-8-2 NCHC) lost 6-3 at Colorado College on Friday and tied the Tigers 4-4 on Saturday. Saturday’s point in the NCHC standings was Miami’s first since Jan. 5, and leaves Miami ninth in the nine-team NCHC.
On the other end of the ice, the Western Michigan Broncos (13-12-1, 8-8-0 NCHC) have also struggled in their last couple outings. The Broncos arrive in Oxford on a three-game losing streak, though they are tied for third in the NCHC and rank 15th in the country.
“[Western Michigan] knows how to play and they play hard, and they do a good job of getting pucks to the net and their D-core is active,” Blasi said. “You still have to prepare to play a very good hockey team and a dynamic team — they’ve got some guys who can fly and we have to be ready to go.”
Being ready for the RedHawks has meant playing well with and without the puck, playing through all three zones and sticking to the process. That process draws upon Miami’s speed and the RedHawks’ ability to win one-on-one battles if its playing determined hockey.
Though the ’Hawks have struggled as of late, it’s been business as usual — puck protection and transition and turnover drills have punctuated practice for the past several weeks. Consistency has been key to overcoming early deficits and maintaining leads throughout the Red and White’s season.
When these teams met two months ago in early December, Miami decisively beat WMU 5-2 on Friday night then lost 4-3 in overtime on Saturday. The RedHawks have struggled this season with game twos, as they are 7-5 on Friday nights, but only 2-7-3 on Saturday nights.
“The game of hockey is full of mistakes, it’s the teams that make the fewest mistakes and the teams that capitalize on those mistakes that win,” Blasi said. “For us, it’s got to be a focus on playing our best.”
Both Friday and Saturday night could be high-scoring games — the RedHawks and the Broncos both allow 3.42 goals per game. However, WMU edges MU in average goals scored per game with 3.58 compared to Miami’s 3.12.
Look to Miami’s power play to be the difference maker this weekend, as it ranks first in the country with a 27.8 percent success rate. Against Colorado College last weekend, it went 4-for-9 and went 5-of-15 against Omaha the weekend before.
“The process doesn’t change in terms of what the score is. You still have to do those things, the things that we do well, the things that are in our strengths,” Blasi said. “The things that we talk about — the things that we work on day after day after day — are things that you have to come back to.”
Junior forward Kiefer Sherwood has recently found success on the power play and is fifth on the team with 18 points (6g, 12a). After a slower start to his season, Sherwood enters this weekend on a career-best, seven-game point streak.
Often Sherwood’s linemate, freshman forward Phil Knies has scored a goal in four-straight games and leads all Miami freshman with 16 points (9g, 7a). In January’s six games, Knies scored six goals and logged eight points. For his efforts, Knies was named NCHC Rookie of the Month.
Defensively, senior defenseman Louie Belpedio and junior defenseman Grant Hutton man Miami’s blue line. Belpedio has 22 points on the season (8g, 14a) and ranks fifth nationally among defensemen for average points per game with 0.92. Hutton leads all defenseman with nine goals and is Miami’s fourth leading scorer with 19 points.
Though Blasi welcomes the consistency his high-scoring players bring to the lineup, he appreciates his other players’ ability to play in and out of the lineup. Against Colorado, five RedHawks only played one night and the uncertainty forces a higher level of compete at practice and in games.
Western Michigan will be missing its leading scorer in sophomore forward Wade Allison who is out with a lower body injury. The Broncos will look to sophomore forwards Dawson DiPietro who ranks second on the team with 27 points (11g, 16a), and Hugh McGing who is third with 26 points (8g, 18a).
Past the halfway point of the season, Miami hopes to start on time against the talented Western Michigan. The RedHawks will look to its veteran maturity and youthful energy to get back in the win column.
“There’s no magic way of getting out of where we are right now,” Blasi said. “We just have to continue to work and do the things that we do well.”
Puck drop is tonight at 7:35 p.m. at the Steve ‘Coach’ Cady Arena. The game will be broadcast on NCHC.tv. Tomorrow puck drop is 7:05 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on NCHC.tv and Fox College Sports.