Miami hockey will take this holiday weekend to refocus against in-state, non-conference rival Bowling Green State University. The RedHawks look to beat the Falcons with improved situation appraisal and a complete game after splitting last weekend’s series with National Collegiate Hockey Conference opponent Minnesota-Duluth.
“Our preparation doesn’t change in terms of what we need to work on week-to-week,” head coach Enrico Blasi said in his weekly press conference on Monday. “We need to get better in all three zones with and without the puck. Bowling Green is a very good hockey team, well-coached, they work extremely hard and with a purpose and you have to be ready to go.”
The RedHawks (5-6-1, 2-3-1 NCHC) hosted the Falcons (6-4-3, 5-2-3-2 WCHA) last year, winning 2-1 in overtime on Friday night, but falling 4-1 on Saturday night. The two teams used to play regularly in the now disbanded Central Collegiate Hockey Association and BGSU is 60-50-8 all-time against Miami, though Miami holds a 19-2-1 record in the team’s last 22 meetings.
Currently, Miami sits sixth in the nine-team NCHC and Bowling Green sits second in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. The Falcons are 5-1-3 in their last nine and split last weekend on the road with the WCHA No. 1 seeded Minnesota State.
“They’re one of the top teams in the country right now and they’re playing really well,” Blasi said. “You have to be ready on both sides of the puck.”
Besides practicing battling to the front of the net and taking shots through traffic, the RedHawks took time this week to slow their game down and focus on positioning on the ice. Blasi said the refresher course was needed, and the ’Hawks’ coaches involved the team when establishing the process.
“It’s something that is probably a little bit well overdue in terms of making sure the guys understand where we want our guys to be,” Blasi said. “What situations they might face from shift-to-shift and different situations so we’re understanding the game and we’re understanding the situation that might come up and then reacting the right way to it.”
Part of the ability to assess a situation and react correctly is the RedHawks’ response to puck possession — the ability to make well-thought out plays. The ’Hawks have often found themselves caught behind the play through neutral zone transitions when making head down passes and not winning board battles.
“Just understanding that we still have to talk and we still have to communicate with each other so the guy with the puck or without the puck knows exactly what he needs to do and how those situations start out,” Blasi said.
Notably, faceoffs will factor into transitions and the RedHawks’ power play against a quick Bowling Green team. The RedHawks are just over .500 in faceoff wins, but improved from winning 43 percent of faceoffs two weeks ago to a 57 percent stat against Minnesota-Duluth.
Last weekend, the ’Hawks also snapped a streak of 18-straight scoreless power plays and now rank 18th nationally with a 22.4 percentage. The Falcons have a 21.4 percentage on the man-advantage but both teams hold an 82 percent on the penalty kill.
Even with special teams firing on all cylinders, the MU-BGSU matchup will likely be determined by whichever team starts their game on time. Miami still struggles to play consistently, but showed promise when its process clicked throughout the second and third period last Saturday.
“You always want to start the game off the right way and we’ve done that, and there’s times where we don’t start the game the right way and we have to work our way into it,” Blasi said. “There’s no formula for that — it’s the responsibility of the individual to be ready to go and focused on his role in the game plan.”
Recent individuals who have stepped up and focused is sophomore forward Carson Meyer who had two goals is as many games last weekend — his second and third goals of the season. The combination of freshman Ben Lown, sophomore Gordie Green and junior Josh Melnick has 27 points and eight goals, and played together last weekend for a Saturday night goal.
Sophomore goaltender Ryan Larkin has been solid in net, and smartly slowed down the game on Saturday night when his team needed a whistle. Larkin has allowed two goals or fewer in five of his last eight starts.
“As a coach, you’re always looking if you’re getting better in certain things and I think we are getting better and we’re close,” Blasi said. “We’re probably closer than I think. There’s a lot of fight in our locker room. There’s a lot of guys that understand what we need to do, there’s a lot of guys buying in up and down our lineup.”
BGSU freshman forward Cameron Wright leads the Falcons with 14 points (5g, 9a) and three other Falcons boast double-digit point totals. On the other end of the ice, BGSU ranks 11th nationally in scoring defense, and allows only 2.31 goals per game. Sophomore Ryan Bednard and freshman Eric Dop take turns defending the net and have a .928 and .907 save percentage, respectively.
Bowling Green is coached by Chris Bergeron, a Miami hockey graduate (1993) and former assistant coach to Blasi for 10 years.
“We want to get to the point where it doesn’t matter who we play, it doesn’t matter where we’re playing, it doesn’t matter the situation, we’re going to play the same way and we’re going to compete and pay attention to details,” Blasi said. “When that shift is over, we’re going to refocus and go forward with that.”
Puck drop is at 7:37 p.m. on Friday night and 7:07 p.m. on Saturday night in Bowling Green.