Miami hockey looks to be consistent against No. 14/15 Minnesota Duluth tonight and tomorrow night, as they host the Bulldogs for only the second time in three years. After losing 4-1 and tying 3-3 to No. 2/4 North Dakota last weekend, the RedHawks look to their process to put them in a position to bounce back in National Collegiate Hockey Conference play.
“I don’t know if we’ve played a 60-minute game yet,” head coach Enrico Blasi said at his press conference on Tuesday. “We’ve had really good stretches where we’ve played really, really well and then for some reason we let off the gas a little bit. Just staying focused on the process and loving the process that we’re embarking on, and making sure we stay in the moment and focused on what we need to do.”
The RedHawks (4-5-1, 1-2-1 NCHC) are currently sixth in the nine-team NCHC, whereas the Bulldogs (5-5-2, 1-3-0 NCHC) are last. Both programs have struggled to adjust their teams to conference play, as UMD most recently split last weekend’s series against Western Michigan and MU hasn’t won both games of a conference series this season.
In practice, the ’Hawks have focused on creating time and space in front of the net and winning physical battles that will lead to scoring chances in the offensive zone and will prevent opponent’s scoring chances in their defensive zone. Miami also looks to improve their faceoff percentages to establish puck possession and improve the subsequent process play with and without the puck.
“You really have to battle,” Blasi said. “In those situations when you’re playing teams good in the face-off circle, everyone’s involved and everyone has to battle and be intense. Everybody has to do their part to gain possession because it is a big part of the game.”
The RedHawks not only want to play consistent 5-on-5 hockey, but also want to take advantage of the man-advantage. The ’Hawks went 11-for-21 (52.4 percent) on the power play in its final four non-conference games and scored 20 goals. However, most recently Miami is 0-for-15 on the man-advantage in its last four games.
The RedHawks and Bulldogs have similar special team statistics — the ’Hawks have a 24 percent success rate on the power play and 82 percent on the kill and the Bulldogs are 20 percent on the man-advantage and 74.5 percent on the kill — so the power play will telling.
Only scoring 11 goals in the past six games, the RedHawk power play will look to rejuvenate their offense. Lineup and line changes provided a spark between last Friday and Saturday’s games, as the ’Hawks bounced back from their 4-1 loss to North Dakota to tie the Fighting Hawks 3-3 on Saturday.
“Everybody knows now that you have a responsibility to play a certain way and a certain standard, in terms of how we play,” Blais said. “If you’re not getting the job done, we’re going to go to somebody else, the next man up.”
Though the offense has been generally lacking, the RedHawks have scored when it counts — Miami has managed to score twice with an empty net and extra-attacker to send games to overtime. Junior forward Josh Melnick had the tying goal in the clutch against North Dakota and is second on the team with 10 points (3g, 7a). Sophomore forward Gordie Green leads the RedHawks with 14 points (5g, 9a).
In the defensive end, the ’Hawks’ three of their last four games have been decided by one goal or less. The low scoring differential is due in large part to sophomore goaltender Ryan Larkin who has allowed two goals or fewer in four of his last six games.
Miami has gone 0-8-2 in the past two seasons against Minnesota Duluth, but only two of those games have been played at home. The Bulldogs lead the all-time series 12-3-2.
“I know [Minnesota Duluth] lost some key players from a year ago, but they have some high skill coming back and some really good forwards,” Blasi said. “Maybe some young defensemen, but highly skilled defenseman and they’ve played really well at times. I know they’re going to be ready to go this weekend, so we have to match that.”
The highest scoring Bulldog player only has eight points on the season, but 10 Bulldogs have four or more points — all four RedHawk lines will have to manage the well-rounded conference opponent.
“I think they’re highly skilled and their compete level is at a high level, so we have to be ready to go,” Blasi said.
Puck drop is tonight at 7:35 p.m. at Steve ‘Coach’ Cady Arena and tomorrow at 7:05 p.m. Both games will be broadcast on NCHC.TV.