The No. 1 Miami University men’s ice hockey team is set to wrap up the first half of the 2009-10 season this weekend in a home-and-home series against Ohio State University.
“(The home-and-home format) makes for a fun weekend with both sides,” Miami University Head Coach Enrico Blasi said. “(Our) fans can go up there and watch us play and obviously their fans can come here and watch them play. Too bad we can’t do that with every team in our league. It really adds to the rivalry.”
The Red and White stands 8-1-1 against OSU in the last 10 games and lead the series in Oxford 36-21-4, while the Buckeyes hold a 31-19-6 margin v. Miami in Columbus.
The RedHawks have reigned as the nation’s No. 1 team for nine straight weeks this season according to both the USCHO.com/CBS College Sports and USA Today/USA Hockey polls and currently top the CCHA as well. The Buckeyes – who rank seventh in the league – carry an overall record of 7-10-1 and are 5-6-1-1 in the CCHA. Though OSU’s record is weighted in the loss column, the Scarlet and Gray has notched some impressive wins this season. These include a 4-0 victory v. now No. 2 Denver University Oct. 16, a 2-1 win over Bemidji State Nov. 28 – the night after Miami lost to the Beavers 3-2 in the Subway Holiday Classic – and a 5-3 victory against Michigan this past Friday even after being outshot 45-20 by the visiting Wolverines.
“They’ve got a lot of talent,” junior captain Tommy Wingels said. “They’ve been up and down but they seem to bring it against the top teams – they beat Denver, they beat Michigan, they beat Bemidji and they had a tough game at North Dakota, so we expect them to bring their best game against us. It’s a rivalry game – I think they’ll be ready to go, as will we. As for our strategy for the weekend, (we want to) stick to our game. We’re a puck-possession team – we’ll get it deep, be physical on their defensemen and try to control the game.”
Sophomore Zac Dalpe leads the team in scoring with 18 points (nine goals, nine assists) and is tied with junior Peter Boyd for No. 2 in the league in overall scoring. Dalpe also ranks third in the CCHA in goals with seven, and junior Sergio Somma is fifth with sixth. These three Buckeyes, along with junior John Albert, round out the team’s top scorers and are the only members of OSU’s squad to have more than 10 points in 2009-10. Dalpe, Boyd and Somma also boast impressive plus/minus ratings – plus-13, plus-11 and plus-10, respectively.
Six RedHawks have tallied 10 or more points this season – senior Jarod Palmer, juniors Andy Miele, Carter Camper, Wingels and Pat Cannone and freshman Curtis McKenzie. Camper leads the team in goals with eight, and Palmer and Wingels are tied for second in the NCAA in game-winning goals with three apiece.
“It doesn’t matter what records both teams have,” Blasi said. “This is a rivalry game and so everybody needs to be ready to go. We’re going to get their best and hopefully they’ll get our best. Their forwards are as talented as anybody in the country. Dalpe is one of the best players in the country … they’ve got a lot of weapons up front, their goaltending’s pretty solid, their D-corps is big and strong. Despite their record, they’ve beat some pretty good teams, so I would consider them a team that is probably one or two goals away from having a really good record. We’re preparing, just like we have the last few weekends, to play a physical game and just play our best.”
Strong from top to bottom, Miami has the third best scoring defense in the country, allotting an average of just 1.78 goals per game. Freshman Joe Hartman’s two shorthanded goals this season top the CCHA and rank second in the nation. Hartman’s plus-nine rating is topped only by sophomore Cameron Schilling’s plus-11 in team standings. Even at the man-disadvantage, Miami’s defense dominates the competition; the Brotherhood’s No. 6 penalty kill (PK) held ND scoreless on 15 power plays last weekend.
OSU’s PK ranks 54th out of 58 and has allowed 26 goals this season on 97 chances. However, the Buckeyes do boast a strong D-line five-on-five. Freshman Devon Krogh was named CCMA CCHA Rookie of the Week this week after he went plus-six in last weekend’s split with Michigan, garnering a goal, an assist and two blocked shots.
At the last line of defense, sophomore Cal Heeter has found success in net for the Scarlet and Gray this season. After playing only five games last year, the goaltender from St. Louis, Mo., has backstopped the Buckeyes to six of their seven wins in 2009-10 and has a .914 save percentage (SP) and 2.75 goals against average (GAA). Heeter shares time with junior Dustin Carlson (.908 SP, 2.93 GAA).
Between the pipes, the RedHawks can always rely on the combined talents of standout sophomores Cody Reichard (.934 SP, 1.46 GAA) and Connor Knapp (.911 SP, 2.21 GAA). The two goalies rank No. 1 and 2 overall in the CCHA, respectively. Reichard tops the country as well as the conference, and his SP ranks fourth in the NCAA. Miami’s goaltending duo is tied for third in the nation in shutouts with two apiece; Reichard and Knapp combined for 42 saves in the Brotherhood’s weekend shutout of ND Dec. 4-5.
The two teams will face off at Value City Arena Friday and Steve Cady Arena Saturday in a series that will close out the first half of the season for Miami.
Blasi said he was pleased with how the season has progressed so far.
“I think we’ve answered the bell early, we’ve played well, we’ve won some games that were close games, we’ve battled back in some games to earn some ties and we’ve got a pretty tough schedule,” Blasi said. “We haven’t had many home games and our guys have performed pretty well, so I would say that our first half has been something that we expected in terms of getting better everyday – I think we’ve done that. The outcomes – I don’t think anybody could predict that. It’s just something that is a byproduct of what we do everyday.”
Puck drop is slated for 7:05 p.m. both nights. The Ohio News Network (ONN) will provide television coverage Saturday night, and fans can tune into WMSR’s live coverage of both contests at http://www.redhawkradio.com.