Believe it or not (and I almost don’t), the Miami Ice Hockey team is nearing the midpoint of its regular season. Once this weekend’s series against the Western Michigan Broncos is over, Miami will have played 16 of its 34 regular season games, and 14 of its 28 CCHA contests. As these lines will be my last in The Miami Student for this semester, it seems fitting to take a look back at the season so far.
All things considered, Miami fans should be confident in the ability of this team to reach the Frozen Four for the first time in program history than they were at the beginning of October. In fact, the post-season prospects of this year’s model of the RedHawks look better than they have in past years for two reasons: Connor Knapp and Cody Reichard.
The duo of freshman net minders have done twice in the early part of this season what veteran Jeff Zatkoff was unable to do three times last year-beat Michigan. Granted, the Wolverines were not quite as scary last month as they were last season, but the pressure of the games was intense none the less. Seeing the men between the pipes play as well as they have early on, especially in pressure packed situations, should inspire confidence in a program that has the most wins in college hockey over the past three years-but no Frozen Four appearances to show for it. This year’s goaltending crop ought to be able to carry the RedHawks to new heights in 2009.
Although the RedHawks, with a freshman goalie and three freshman defenseman on the ice every night, have been able to reduce their goals allowed per game from 1.86 last year to 1.71 through the first half of this season, it has been on the offensive end that this team has had its biggest setback. Certainly the loss of Ryan Jones and even that of Nathan Davis, who played sporadically with injuries last season, has affected the RedHawks; but considering the firepower that the RedHawks returned to the rink this year, few would have expected a decrease in goals scored per game from 4.02 to 3.
Even so, the RedHawks should be hopeful that their goals per game will rise over the second half of the season. Justin Mercier, who last year tallied nearly a point per game, only has nine through the first fourteen. It is hard to envision Mercier not heating up at some point in the year, which should inflate the scoring of the squad as a whole. If the RedHawks are able to get their scoring anywhere near where it was last season, it will be especially tough for any team to knock them off, given what they have shown at their own end of the ice and in the intangibles department.
In fact, it is the intangibles that should give this team some of its greatest hopes. They have shown a knack for playing as a team, some might even say a brotherhood. No one player is expected to be “the guy” every night. Furthermore, the RedHawks have proven themselves capable of winning big games both at home and on the road-series sweeps of Michigan and Notre Dame give Miami impressive credentials in this department.
Hopefully, the first half of this season has only been a harbinger of good things to come for the RedHawks. Perhaps this year will be the one in which the RedHawks solidify their claim as an elite program with that elusive Frozen Four appearance.