Miami hockey will play the University of Connecticut tonight for the first time ever as the RedHawks’ last series in their season-opening stretch. The ’Hawks look to beat the Huskies at home with improved special teams and determined play with and without the puck.
“UConn is a well coached team,” Miami Head Coach Enrico Blasi said at his Monday press conference. “Mike Cavanaugh has won a bunch of National Championships with Boston College and is doing a great job building a UConn program. They’ve got talented forwards, they’ve got a talented D-core and solid goaltending.”
The RedHawks (1-3) split last weekend’s series against the University of Maine, winning 7-5 on Friday night and losing 6-3 on Saturday. The Huskies (2-3-1) tied 2-2 and lost 6-3 to Boston University last weekend. They take a break from conference play to take on the ’Hawks at home.
The only time Miami has scored first this season has resulted in a Miami victory. The Red and White will look to get on the board early, as they have been outscored 8-4 in their first periods and tied 9-9 in the second and the third.
“For us, the most important lesson to learn is to play the same game no matter what the score is,” Blasi said. “Play consistent, be focused on the game plan and on the team game and not really vary from shift to shift because things will happen in games.”
Blasi has noted that special team development takes time, especially with a freshman class of six, though he expects his power play and penalty kill to move towards consistency. Last weekend against UMaine, the power play went 7-for-10 after an opening weekend 1-for-14 stat. In practice, the ’Hawks practiced 5-on-3 drills in an effort to be more effective on the penalty kill.
“It is now getting to that time of the year when you need your special teams clicking on all cylinders,” Blasi said.
With high scoring games on both sides of the scoresheet against UMaine, Miami’s offensive lines want to generate a similar amount of scoring chances. Notably, the RedHawks have a 56.4 percentage of even-strength total shots attempted, ranking seventh in the country even when being outscored 12-5. Look for the ’Hawks to take shots that generate rebounds and second chances.
Defense will attempt to be better positioned on plays up and down the ice. Big bodies such as sophomore goaltender Ryan Larkin and junior defenseman Grant Hutton will have to shut down UConn sophomore forward Alexander Payusov and senior defenseman Johnny Austin. Austin has nine points on the season (1g, 8a) and Payusov has eight (6g, 2a).
For Miami, watch Hutton blast pucks from the blue line — he has three straight multi-point games. And keep an eye on the speedy sophomore forward Gordie Green who can outskate defensemen and find loose pucks. Both RedHawks have seven points on the season.
“For us, again it’s a quality opponent that you have to play your best and prepare for during the week to be at your best on Friday,” Blasi said.
Puck drop is tonight at 7:35 p.m. and tomorrow at 7:05 p.m. at the Steve ‘Coach’ Cady Arena. The games will be televised on NCHC.TV.