Though the Red and White struggled against Robert Morris, the hockey team swept Ferris State Jan. 15 and 16 and looks to continue its winning ways. (Michael Griggs / The Miami Student)
Continuing its four game road swing, the No. 2 Miami University men’s ice hockey team (12-1-3-1 CCHA, 15-4-5 overall) journeys to the Last Frontier this weekend to battle the Alaska Nanooks (7-7-4-4 CCHA, 10-7-5 overall). The RedHawks obtained a five-point lead in the CCHA standings with their road sweep of Ferris State University last weekend, while Alaska ranks fifth with 29 points.
“(In our game against FSU), wexecuted the way we wanted to and we got some opportunistic bounces because we were working hard and in our systems” Miami Head Coach Enrico Blasi said. “That’s key going down the stretch here – we’ve just got to continue to play our game and focus on what we can control. There’ll be some adversity in games and we’re just going to have to have short memories and focus on our next shift.”
Miami leads the all-time series with the Blue and Gold 31-13-4 and holds a ledger of 14-7-2 in Fairbanks. In the past five years, the Red and White has only swept the Nanooks once – Jan. 25 to 26, 2008 in Fairbanks – and has had to settle for splits during nearly all other meetings. When the RedHawks obtained the No. 1 spot in the national polls for the first time Jan. 30, 2006, it was Alaska who dethroned them the following weekend with a series split.
“They’re a good team,” junior captain Tommy Wingels said. “They play hard both nights, which is important in college hockey – you can’t just show up on one night and let the next night go. Their coaching staff stresses bringing it both nights, as does ours, and if (a split) is the result then hopefully we can change that this weekend. I expect both nights to be a battle and whoever works harder is going to come out with the win.”
This season, Blasi’s squad is arguably one of the most talented and dynamic ever to skate at Miami, and the Brotherhood is undefeated in CCHA road games this season with a record of 8-0-1.
Eight RedHawk frontliners have tallied 10-plus points this season, and four of those eight – juniors Carter Camper, Andy Miele and Wingels, as well as senior Jarod Palmer – have posted more than 20 points apiece. Wingels is tied with Alaska senior Dion Knelsen for 10th place on overall scoring in conference play, while Miele and Palmer are tied with Alaska freshman Nik Yaremchuk for 14th. Wingels is also tied for first in the NCAA in game-winning goals with five to his name.
Alaska’s squad boasts seven forwards in the 10-plus point category, led by freshman Andy Taranto and D. Knelsen – whose brother, Brandon, also plays for the Nanooks – with 24 and 20 points, respectively. Taranto averages 1.09 points per game, ranking second among rookie players nationally. Additionally, the right winger from Woodbridge, Ill., is second among all CCHA players in overall scoring.
“They play a good team game,” Blasi said. “They’re very disciplined, they don’t take a lot of penalties, they’re well coached, and they’ve got some skill.”
Miami’s scoring offense averages a cool 3.08 goals per game, while the Blue and Gold average 2.77. Additionally, the Brotherhood boasts the top scoring defense in the nation, limiting opponents to just 1.79 goals per game. The Nanooks’ D-line ranks 17th and has averaged 2.59 goals-against this season.
“(Alaska has) a mixture of both (styles of play) – they have a great defensive style but at the same time they have a lot of skilled forwards up front who can bury the puck,” Wingels said. “Their top six are pretty skilled – they can score goals and get chances of breaking down one-on-one. Their goaltending is pretty good. We’re going to have to play a pretty good weekend up there to come out with the results that we want.”
The Brotherhood is almost as good with the man-disadvantage as with a full line: Miami’s PK unit has an 88.1 percent kill rate – good for fifth in the country. In the converse situation, the Red and White find the back of the net 18.6 percent of the time on the power play. Alaska’s penalty kill is successful 83.0 percent of the time, and the Nanooks manage to capitalize on the man-advantage 20.9 percent of the time.
Finally, when plays break down and pucks do find their way to the net, Miami has two of the nation’s best goaltenders to fall back on.
Sophomores Cody Reichard (.932 save percentage, 1.54 goals-against average) and Connor Knapp (.910 SP, 2.17 GAA) have backstopped the brotherhood all the way to a NCAA-best .729 winning percentage. Reichard tops both the CCHA and the country in overall goaltending and save percentage. Additionally, Reichard and Knapp are among the nation’s best in shutouts, having recorded four and two, respectively. The pair’s six combined shutouts shattered Miami’s old school record for shutouts in a season, which previously stood at four.
Sophomore Scott Greenham has been the last line of defense for the Blue and Gold since the departure of former net minder Chad Johnson at the conclusion of 2008-09. Greenham’s overall performance (.911 SP, 2.43 GAA) ranks 24th in the NCAA and 11th in the CCHA.
The RedHawks traveled more than 3,700 miles to compete in this weekend’s series, but for a squad that calls itself “the Brotherhood,” the extra time on the road is just another opportunity to grow closer as a team.
“It’s a good experience,” Wingels said. “You travel a lot, but at the same time it’s with your team – it’s with the 22 guys that travel so it’s a lot of bonding with them, we get closer as a team, and it’s something that every team has to do. They have a good place – it’s an Olympic-sized sheet – and they have some good fans. It’s going to be a battle both nights.”
Puck drop is slated for 11:05 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights – 7:05 p.m. local time.