The brotherhood is lacing up its skates for the season opener series this weekend against St. Cloud State University (SCSU). The freshly zambonied ice of Steve Cady Arena lays ahead like the promise of a brand new season, unmarred by the 2008-09 season’s heartwrenching conclusion.
The No. 1/4 Miami University men’s ice hockey team – which has accrued the winningest record in college hockey during the last four seasons – will face off against the No. 13/15 Huskies this weekend on home ice in Oxford.
Miami holds a 5-1-1 edge in the all-time series between the two squads, with the last meeting resulting in a 2-1 RedHawk victory during the 2007 Ohio Hockey Classic in Columbus.
The two teams are very competitively matched. Both were notably young in 2008-09, and both enter this season older and wiser, returning the majority of their players – the Crimson and Black welcome back 22 letterwinners from last season, while the Red and White return 17 players from last year’s Frozen Four team. With so much depth and experience on the ice, the match-up promises to be an exciting challenge for both teams.
“Our schedule’s very tough this year, and even more so for the first half of the year,” junior Carter Camper said. “We’ve got St. Cloud this weekend, and UNH the next weekend – those out-of-conference games are huge.”
The Huskies hail from hockey country, and one of the brotherhood’s biggest challenges this weekend will be keeping SCSU’s energetic, driving offense in check.
“I feel like, in general, Minnesota teams have a lot of swagger, and if they get up on us early, that confidence will really light up their skates and they will fly,” senior Jarod Palmer said. “So, as far as a threat from them, we have to keep them from getting too excited … I guess we’ve got to just make sure that they don’t get up on us early and just make sure they don’t get too excited and keep them in their place, really. Because if they do, they have a tendency to run around and be crazy and play a game that we’re not used to. We’re trying to just keep it simple, keep it in our perspective, in our rink, in our game plan and basically get pucks deep, hit them hard, make them turn pucks over and try not to turn them over ourselves. It’s a simple game, it really is.”
SCSU boasts some formidable forwards. Senior Ryan Lasch, who was recently selected in the Grand Forks Herald preseason poll as the 2009-10 Preseason WCHA Player of the Year, will lead the group offensively. Lasch led the team in both overall and power play goals last season and tallied a point last weekend in an exhibition game versus Lethbridge.
In addition, the Huskies returned eight of their top 10 scorers from the 2008-09 season, including junior forwards Garrett Roe and Brian Volpei. Roe is merely six points away from admission into SCSU’s 100-point club, while Volpei tallied two goals in the contest against Lethbridge, including the game-winner. Newcomer Ben Hanowski jumpstarted his college career by netting the other two goals for the Cardinal and Black during the Oct. 4 game.
“They’re a very talented team, very skilled,” Blasi said. “They love to go in transition. They’ll eat you up offensively if you’re turning the puck over. We’re going to have to play our game. We’re going to have to make sure that we take care of the puck this weekend. They have some weapons – Lasch and Roe are two of the most dynamic players in the country.”
The Red and White boasts just as strong of an offensive lineup, with depth to boot.
“I think the one thing that’s really nice about being a forward on this team is that anybody can score at any time,” Palmer said. “There’s not a lot of pressure on any one guy to produce an extreme amount of goals, so we all have a tendency to share the puck and share the goal scoring because I guess everybody knows that everybody’s a threat to score. Anybody who has a great shot on our team, anybody can walk down the slot.”
The front line possesses a wealth of experience in seniors Gary Steffes and Palmer, along with juniors Andy Miele, Pat Cannone, captain Tommy Wingels and Hobey Baker finalist Camper. Palmer notched two points and an assist in the team’s exhibition game against Windsor last weekend, and a total of 10 RedHawks put their names on the score sheet during the contest, with freshman forward and Dallas Stars draft pick Reilly Smith opening scoring for the season.
“You just go down the list and see the guys that are returning: Camper and Cannone and Miele and Wingels and Palmer,” Blasi said. “We’ve got some weapons and it’s just a matter of executing and getting the job done.”
Senior captain Garrett Raobin, who ranked third in assists, points and power play goals for the Huskies last season, will lead SCSU’s D-corps. Raobin’s 10 goals, 23 assists and 33 points in 2008-09 were career highs.
Miami’s back line lacks seniority but packs plenty of punch all the same, as the RedHawks welcome back sophomores Cameron Schilling, Chris Wideman and Will Weber. Schilling was named to the West Regional All-Tournament team in 2008-09, Wideman led the team in assists with 26, and Weber played the role of the enforcer, logging the most penalties and penalty minutes of anyone on the team last season. All are expected to mature and fill bigger roles this season in the absence of graduated senior Kevin Roeder. With the added contributions of freshmen Garrett Kennedy and Steve Spinell, the RedHawks’ defense should give the Huskies a sizeable challenge.
“We’re still young back there with sophomores and we don’t have a senior back there,” Blasi said. “We have one junior in Vincent LoVerde, so I think they’re still improving. I like where they’re at right now. We’ve added a couple of young defensemen that I think are going to contribute and fight for a spot. Those are all good things when you want them to be at their best.”
Finally, both teams boast highly touted goaltenders. Freshman Mike Lee was named USHL Goaltender of the Year last season, as well as USA Hockey’s Junior Goalie of the Year. Lee has also already been granted the honor of being chosen as the WCHA’s preseason Rookie of the Year for 2008-09.
That being said, the brotherhood is truly fortunate to call sophomores Connor Knapp and Cody Reichard its goaltenders. Reichard backstopped Miami all the way to the national championship game at the conclusion of last season, and Knapp stayed strong and consistent in the net all season for the Red and White, and had his talents recognized by the Buffalo Sabres in this year’s annual NHL Draft.
Although the atmosphere in Steve Cady Arena is sure to be electric, Palmer advised his teammates to keep cool and play their game.
“My goal from my perspective is to try to keep everybody in reality and keep everybody on the same page, don’t let anyone get too excited,” Palmer said. “Even when we win, guys have a tendency when we win or when we win big to get overly excited, and that can’t happen. We have to stay driven by progress and driven by the process and not driven by results.”
Nonetheless, the Goggin faithful will be eagerly awaiting the season’s first results. The puck is slated to drop at 7:35 p.m. Friday and at 7:05 p.m. Saturday in Steve Cady Arena. The series will be televised on Ohio News Network (ONN), and fans can also tune into WMSR’s live broadcast at http://www.redhawkradio.com.