After a 6-2 record through the month of October and a week filled with accolades for junior forward Gordie Green and junior goaltender Ryan Larkin, the RedHawks are on the road to take on the University of Nebraska-Omaha tonight and tomorrow.
The RedHawks are off to their best start since the 2009-10 season and the nation is taking notice. The ’Hawks are ranked 20th in the USCHO.com’s top-20 poll.
“I think in the small sample we have of October, we’ve worked hard,” head coach Enrico Blasi said. “We’ve worked in our structure.”
Green was named the National Collegiate Hockey Conference’s offensive player of the week and the NCAA’s second star of the week after scoring two goals and logging four assists against Colgate University last weekend.
With an NCAA-leading three shutouts, a 0.83 goals against average and a .966 save percentage, Larkin collected NCHC goaltender of the week honors and is the conference’s goaltender and player of the month. He was also named the Hockey Coaches Association national goaltender of the month.
Green’s honors reflect the RedHawks’ offensive success, as they are generating an average of 34.62 shots per game, the seventh most in the NCAA. The ’Hawks outscored Colgate last weekend 10-1 and average three goals a game. Other than Green, five RedHawks had multi-point games last weekend.
Veterans like co-captains Josh Melnick and Grant Hutton have seven points through eight games. Junior forward Karch Bachman has a team-high 31 shots on net and five points to show for them.
“We have to try and play our game and focus on our ourselves. Do what we do best: use our speed,” sophomore defenseman Alec Mahalak said. “If we play our A-game, then everything will take care of itself.”
Newcomers like freshman defenseman Derek Daschke and freshman forward Brian Hawkinson lead their recruiting class with eight points through eight starts. As conference play starts against Omaha, the new guys are new guys no longer.
“This is it,” Blasi said. “We start conference play, here we go. There’s no more room for, ‘Oh, he’s a freshman’ or, ‘Oh, he’s going to get better here in two months.’ When we play Omaha this weekend, they’re not thinking, ‘Oh, boy, they have freshmen.’ They’re going to want to beat us.”
On the other end of the ice, Miami is tied for first in the nation for the least number of goals allowed per game at 1.25. An improved defense – all but one Miami player has a zero or positive plus-minus rating – and stellar goaltending from Larkin has given the RedHawks an edge they haven’t had for the past couple years.
Miami will look to continue their hot start against a desperate Omaha (0-5-1) team.
“Every game, every weekend you have to be ready to go,” Blasi said. “Whatever’s happened up until this point really doesn’t matter once conference play starts. Everybody’s on equal footing and you have to play your best.”
The Mavericks’ -3.00 scoring margin is second to last in the NCAA, as they have lost five straight by a combined score of 30-14.
But Miami has had a tough go against Omaha. The ’Hawks have the 20-17-6 all-time advantage over the Mavericks, but are only 10-3-3 since the 2013-14 season. The last time Miami beat UNO was in Oxford during the 2014-15 season.
The last time the two teams met was in January. During an offensive-battle for the ages, the RedHawks lost 11-7 on Friday night and 4-3 the following night in Omaha.
“Their forward groups, some of them made us play pretty dearly last year in terms of their game,” Blasi said. “For me, it’s nothing you’ve done up to this point, but it’s what you’re going to do from here on in.”
Senior forward Fredrik Olofsson leads the Mavericks with seven points (1g, 6a) and junior forward Zach Jordan and senior forward Mason Morelli lead UNO with three goals a piece.
The Mavericks’ power play checks in at 22.9 percent (19th), whereas the RedHawks’ have only a 13.9 percent success rate. Miami is ranked 10th on the penalty kill nationally, at 88.5 percent on the man-disadvantage.
Statistics aside, there is a different energy around the RedHawks. One they hope will lead to a strong start in conference play. The last time the ’Hawks swept an NCHC opponent was in January 2016.
“I think the hard work and the commitment-level is still there,” Blasi said. “I sense an emotional attachment to the game and that’s a huge part of who we are right now […] When you’re emotionally invested in something, you’re going out of your way to get the job done.”
NCHC play begins tonight at 8:07 p.m. ET. Tomorrow, Game Two will also start at 8:07 p.m.