After traveling 2,367 miles on the road in the first three weekends of its season, the No. 6 ranked Miami University men’s ice hockey team will finally play a full series in Steve Cady Arena this weekend against Alaska-Fairbanks.
Alaska boasts a recent history of knocking off Miami on its home ice.
In 2005-06, the Red and White was ranked No. 1 for one magical week – the first time in school history that any Miami sports team had achieved such a ranking. The following weekend, however, the unranked Nanooks swept in and deftly beat the ‘Hawks 4-3 at home in game one of the weekend series. Miami rallied to clinch a 2-1 victory the following night, but the title was gone.
The 2007-08 season brought a hauntingly similar scenario on Dec. 8, 2007, as unranked Alaska shut out the No. 1 Red and White 3-0 in front of a sold out crowd at the Goggin, snapping a six-game RedHawk winning streak and temporarily dethroning Miami once again.
Miami is the forerunner in the all-time series against the Nanooks with a 30-12-4 overall record, 16-5-2 in Oxford. Miami outscored Alaska 12-6 in 2007-08, and this will be the earliest in the season the two teams have clashed since 1997.
A major point of contention during this weekend’s match-up will be each team’s marked proficiency on the penalty kill. Alaska currently ranks fourth nationally on the penalty kill, going 32-33 on the season thus far, while the RedHawks follow closely with a sixth place ranking, 37-39 on the season. Both teams are coming off of perfect penalty killing weekends – the Nanooks went 12-12 against Bowling Green State University and Miami went 16-16 against the University of Notre Dame.
While penalty kills may stand as a point of strength for both teams, Miami’s combined special teams far outrank the Blue and Gold, standing at seventh overall nationally. Blasi’s boys are nearly as deadly on the power play as on the penalty kill, and this expertise may assist in propelling the ‘Hawks past the Nanooks this weekend for the win.
The Red and White ranks fifth nationally on the power play, with sophomore Carter Camper tied for fourth nationally and leading the CCHA on power play goals. The RedHawks have depth on the power play as well, with three players tallying four plus points on the man-advantage. Sophomore Pat Cannone and senior Justin Mercier round out this staggering statistic and the brotherhood sits alone atop the conference, the only team possessing even one player with four or more points on the power play.
Prior to last weekend’s split with BGSU, Alaska’s goalie, senior Chad Johnson, had gone 0-13-1 in 19 games, failing to tally a W since a 3-1 victory over Lake Superior State on November 25, 2006. Additionally, Alaska found itself in an offensive skid at the beginning of the 2008-09 season, held scoreless for a period of 128 minutes, 2 seconds that spanned three games in two weekends.
After splitting a weekend series against BGSU and clinching a decisive 3-0 shut-out victory Saturday, the Nanooks may be turning things around and picking up some momentum coming into this weekend’s contest at Miami. This weekend’s series against Alaska-Fairbanks is nothing to be taken lightly, as the Nanooks have proven time and time again that rank is not necessarily a decisive factor in predicting who will triumph in a weekend series.
“I know they (Alaska) are a good team though and they have some forwards they are really solid up front,” freshman goalie Cody Reichard said.
Miami has the proper tools to work with-home ice advantage, a powerful No. 10 ranked scoring offense, talented special teams, a young but dependable defense, and two freshman goaltenders who unarguably have risen to the challenge of their positions and are coming off of back-to-back wins over Notre Dame.
Now the brotherhood just needs to capitalize on its strengths and carry the momentum of last weekend’s sweep into this series against Alaska.
“Our main goal as a team has been to get better every day and you can really see that in this team,” head coach Enrico Blasi said. “They are continuing to grow and they are making some solid adjustment and they are really starting to gain some confidence.”
The puck is set to drop at 7:05 p.m. Friday and Saturday night at Steve Cady Arena. Both games will be televised on the Ohio News Network, and coverage will also be provided by WMSR at www.redhawkradio.com.