Fresh off of its nation-leading 21st win of the season and after spending more than a month on the road, the No. 2 nationally ranked Miami University ice hockey team is returning to its home ice at Steve Cady Arena this weekend to do battle with Lake Superior State University (LSSU).
Friday night will mark the first night that the Red and White has played a game at home since its series split with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Dec. 7-8.
The RedHawks enter this weekend’s series boasting a 13-3-0 record in CCHA play and 21-3-0 overall. Meanwhile, the Lakers are 3-13-4 overall and recently improved their conference record to 1-10-3 after capturing their first CCHA win against Bowling Green State University last weekend.
“We’re not going to take them lightly,” junior goaltender Jeff Zatkoff said. “They’re going to come into the weekend with a little momentum-I mean obviously since they just got their first win (in CCHA conference play).”
Last season, Miami went 3-1-0 against LSSU during the regular season, but later suffered a surprising upset sweep by the eighth-seeded Lakers with back-to-back 2-1 losses during the second round of the CCHA playoffs.
This year, however, the Red and White is more aware than ever of the kind of target that being a top-ranked team puts on its back, and the team is prepared to handle the intensified onslaught that lower-ranked teams are sure to be bringing.
“Basically we have to realize that with the last couple years, having all the success we’ve had, that we’re going to get every team’s best every weekend,” junior forward Brian Kaufman said. “We need to be prepared because no matter who we’re playing, it’s gonna be a game. Even if it’s a lower ranked team, we’re gonna see their best game and we need to be ready because if we’re not at our best we could lose.”
Zatkoff acknowledged that last time the RedHawks were at home they might have overlooked their opponent.
“Last time we took Alaska lightly and they got their first win with us,” Zatkoff said. “Needless to say, we’ll be ready for this weekend.”
Something that has been a double-edged sword for the RedHawks is the video technology that allows teams to analyze and map out every aspect of their opponent’s strategies in preparation for a big game. While the RedHawks themselves watch their opponents, they know that their opponents study Miami’s playing style to better prepare themselves.
“It is an issue that a lot of teams know exactly what we’re doing-but we’re not changing much,” Kaufman said. “We just need to focus on staying on our game plan rather than just taking what the game gives us.”
However, Zatkoff said that nothing really changes during preparation for a weekend series.
“I don’t think we’re really doing anything different to mix it up,” Zatkoff said. “It’s just making sure that we’re playing our game completely.”
Miami has won seven of the eight games it has played since the last time the team had a home game at Steve Cady Arena, with its only downfall coming against BGSU Jan. 4. The ‘Hawks also possess a record of 10-2-0 for the 2007-08 season when playing within the confines of Goggin.
“We love playing at home,” Kaufman said. “There is definitely a home ice advantage. First of all we don’t have to travel, but also the big thing is that the fans and the support we have here is second-to-none and is unbelievable. It’s very cool to see. You know, we come here for a pre-game meal at two o’clock and seeing people in line already is pretty cool and pretty special.”
The team will be led this weekend by senior captain and recent Hobey Baker Award finalist Ryan Jones. Jones currently ranks second nationally in total number of goals scored and leads the country in game-winning goals.
Also receiving Hobey Baker Award finalist nominations were juniors Justin Mercier and Zatkoff. Zatkoff’s 1.63 goals-against average has earned him a No. 3 ranking nationally and No. 1 in the CCHA.
As a team, the RedHawks are averaging a blistering 4.29 goals per game and lead the nation in scoring. When the scoring is broken down a bit more, Miami also has scored a substantial 46 third-period goals, compared to LSSU’s 11.
“We’re a puck-possession team,” Zatkoff said. “If we play our game, there’s really no team in the country that can stay with us.”
For all of the Goggin faithful who have been awaiting the return of the RedHawks, the puck will drop Friday at 7:35 p.m. at Steve Cady Arena and Saturday at 7:05 p.m.