The last time Miami hockey played in the Ice Breaker Tournament, it was 2006 when it opened the Steve ‘Coach’ Cady Arena. The RedHawks went 1-1 at the tournament, but finished that season 25-14-4 to make it to the NCAA regional tournament.
Miami hockey hopes this weekend’s Ice Breaker in Erie, Pa. will set them up for similar success.
“It’s great for us to play the type of level that we need to get to, and why not play the best?” head coach Enrico Blasi said. “That’s something we’re looking forward to.”
The RedHawks (2-0) play a familiar opponent in the the No. 4/5 Providence College Friars (1-0) this afternoon to kick off the tournament.
This will be the 17th time the two teams have met, with Providence leading the all-time series 9-5-2. Miami is behind in the count and 1-6-2 in its last nine meetings with PC, and lost both games in last season’s series.
“We’re playing a team we know very well,” Blasi said. “A team that’s, the last five years, been one of the top five teams, in my opinion, in the country. It’s going to be a huge test for us. We’re going to find out where we’re at.”
Nine of the 10 new RedHawks took the ice on Saturday and Sunday, and five of them collectively recorded 11 of the team’s 27 points. Graduate transfer defenseman River Rymsha and freshman defenseman Derek Daschke scored their first goals as RedHawks to help their team to two wins.
This weekend, Miami will balance its new players with its old.
Staples like senior co-captains Grant Hutton and Josh Melnick, and junior forwards Karch Bachman and Gordie Green will lead the way through a tough series.
Defenseman Hutton, forward Melnick and Green already have one goal on the season, while Bachman scored two. All four will be instrumental in generating offense against a Providence team that limited its opponents to an average of 2.2 goals and 25.3 shots per game last season.
“I think just getting traffic in front of the net, getting shots there,” freshman forward Jonathan Gruden said about the key to scoring goals. “Make sure we have traffic – creating chaos in front of the net.”
It will have to be chaos that beats Providence goaltender Hayden Hawkey. The now senior played all 40 of Providence’s games last year and finished with a 2.04 goals against average and a .919 save percentage.
“Our guys know what they need to do,” Blasi said. “They’re being well-schooled in terms of the things we need to improve on and the things that Providence will challenge us with: their speed, their structure.”
Providence will challenge either junior Ryan Larkin or Jordan Uhelski, Miami’s other graduate transfer, in net. Blasi calls the pair a “two-head monster” after Uhelski stopped 17 of the 18 shots he faced last Saturday and Larkin stopped 11 shots for a shutout on Sunday.
The monster will have to keep an eye on 17 Providence returners including leading goal-scorer junior forward Kasper Björkqvist (16 goals) and junior forward Brandon Duhaime (6g, 19 assists), as well as nine Friars who have been drafted by NHL teams.
The Friars will undoubtedly be a tough test to start the weekend, but the RedHawks are up for the non-conference challenge.
“It’ll be nice to go somewhere else and play for a championship,” Blasi said. “This is really an opportunity for us to play for a championship.”
MU finishes the tournament tomorrow against either No. 2/4 Notre Dame (0-1) or tournament-host Mercyhurst University (0-1).
“Obviously, playing that first game, worry about that and, after that, just worry about the next game,” Gruden said. “We’re going to have a tough test against Providence, and after that we’ll look forward to the next game.”
Puck drop is at 4 p.m today.