Joe Gieringer, Senior Staff Writer

For any hockey player beginning a new year in October, the end of the season seems impossibly far away. Yet here it is, and what seemed like a juggernaut year for the Miami University hockey team quickly became a nightmare as it crawled to an 11-18-3 record.

Luckily for the RedHawks, it’s a bad dream they can wake up from if they can turn it around in the next few weeks.

After dropping two closely contested games this past weekend to the University of Minnesota-Duluth in its final homestand, the Red and White realized the gravity of their situation. These close games give hope, but the RedHawks have to start capitalizing if they wish to survive the playoffs.

“That’s 10 one-goal losses,” junior forward captain Austin Czarnik said. “We’re starting to do the right things, we needed to score but that’s something, obviously, we didn’t do … but we’re starting to go in the right direction.”

Improvement has been noted the past few weeks, but the fact of the matter is Miami has dropped eight of 11 games decided by one goal this season, and these don’t include the one-score games that were extended to two by an empty-net goal. That’s the ‘Hawks biggest hurdle heading into the National Collegiate Hockey Conference tournament.

Miami has locked up at least a share of last place in the NCHC, but Denver’s fate is yet to be determined. The top three teams are jockeying for first place, and the University of North Dakota, St. Cloud State University or the University of Nebraska-Omaha will be the first-round draw for the RedHawks, making how they fare against the Pioneers all that more important.

“Denver is fighting for home ice,” head coach Enrico Blasi said. “I hate to sound like a broken record … They’re a good hockey team and well coached. Their goaltender is top-notch and they’ve got some dynamic forwards.”

Denver (15-13-6, 9-10-3-2 NCHC) sports three individuals with 20 plus points this season, including a dynamic duo in freshman forward Trevor Moore and sophomore forward Quentin Shore with 28 and 25, respectively. While the offense might be a little less potent than some of Miami’s more recent competitors, Denver’s goaltending certainly isn’t. Senior Sam Britain has been superb between the pipes this year and boasts a .931 save percentage, good for seventh-best in the country. He also qualifies with the eleventh-best goals-against average, coming in at 2.09.

“They’re no different than any other team in our league,” Blasi said. “We’ve got to continue to get better every day and that will be the goal for us this weekend, to get everybody going and playing our best hockey, hopefully, moving into the playoffs.”

For the RedHawks, this weekend is the springboard into the NCHC quarterfinals, and what will surely be the toughest test of the season. The final regular season series begins 9:37 p.m. Friday.