Miami's Curtis McKenzie stares down Ohio State's Craig Dalrymple. The RedHawks will face the Buckeyes again on Friday at the Consol Energy Center in the first round of the Three Rivers Classic (Cathy Lachmann/WCPO.com)
By John Lachmann
WHO: No. 5 Miami RedHawks (11-3-4) vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (7-6-5) and Robert Morris Colonials (7-4-2) or Penn State Nittany Lions (7-8).
WHERE: Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh, Pa.
WHEN: Friday—7:35 p.m.; Saturday—7:35 if Miami wins Friday, 4:35 p.m. if Miami loses.
TV: Friday—None. Saturday—None (Root Sports Pittsburgh claims it will show the championship game on tape delay, but it is nowhere to be found on its schedule the next few days. Apparently bumping a 2010 Penguins replay from that time slot was not an option).
MIAMI RADIO: Friday—None. Saturday—WMOH-AM (1450) with Washington Capitals play-by-play announcer and Miami graduate John Walton.
NOTES: For some un-God-known reason, Miami plays Ohio State for the third straight time on Friday while Penn State and Robert Morris face off for the second consecutive game after RMU won, 3-2 in the Nittany Lions’ home rink on Dec. 15.
Even without freshmen forwards Sean Kuraly and Riley Barber, Miami has to be considered the favorite to win this tournament, being the only ranked team in the field.
Miami went 1-0-1 in Columbus vs. the Buckeyes on Dec. 14-15, holding OSU to just two goals on the weekend.
Ohio State had no answer for the RedHawks’ speed, which does take a major hit with Barber in Russia playing for the U.S. World Juniors team.
The ice in Pittsburgh should be much better than that at Columbus’ Value City Arena, which should cater to Miami’s superior skill.
The Buckeyes are currently 10th in the CCHA in offense, averaging just 1.94 goals per game. Sophomore Ryan Dzingel, an Ottawa Senators draftee, is Ohio State’s best offensive threat and top overall forward with six goals and eight assists for 14 points.
Through 18 games, only two other Buckeyes have 10 or more points – sophomore forward Tanner Fritz (3-10-13) and another Sens draft pick, sophomore forward Max McCormick, who has six goals and four assists.
Partly thanks to Miami, Ohio State’s offensive woes have been more substantial recently, as the Buckeyes have scored just 12 times in their last seven games (1.71 GPG), and OSU has not found the net three times just once in that stretch.
Fortunately for Ohio State, senior goalie Brady Hjelle has been excellent this season. Hjelle has a 1.46 goals-against average and a .951 save percentage in 782 minutes.
Robert Morris enters this tournament with a 3-0-2 record in its last five games, including a 3-2 win over Penn State in its last game and a 1-0-1 record vs. Ohio State in a home-and-home series.
The Colonials are 1-2 against ranked opponents this season. They split a road series at No. 9 Quinnipiac to open the season and were blanked, 3-0 at No. 17 Niagara on Nov. 17.
Senior forwards Zach Hervato and Adam Brace are tied for Robert Morris’ scoring lead with 12 points each, and junior forward Colin South and sophomore forward Jeff Jones both have 11 points.
Senior Eric Levine has been outstanding in net, posting a 6-2-2 record, a 2.17 GAA and .942 save percentage in 608 minutes this season.
The RMU power play has been atrocious, converting at just an 8.9 percent rate and allowing two shorthanded goals.
If Miami faces Penn State on Saturday it would have the distinction of being the highest-ranked team the Nittany Lions have played.
The first-year program was swept at Union on Nov. 24-25, and was outscored in that two-game series, 6-1.
Penn State has lost its last five games vs. Division I teams, and has not beaten a D-I team since Nov. 10.
Freshman forward David Glen has come out of nowhere to rack up eight goals and eight assists in the Nittany Lions’ first 15 games, and the Alberta native also leads the team in penalty minutes with 28.
Freshman forward Casey Bailey is the only other Penn State player with more than four goals – he has six markers and five assists.
The goaltending duo of freshman Matthew Skoff and sophomore P.J. Musico has fared very well for Penn State. They have combined for a 2.41 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage.
Like Robert Morris, the Nittany Lions’ power play has been abysmal. PSU is 8.3 percent on the man advantage, having converted on just 5-of-60 opportunities.
Miami will likely continue its goaltending rotation, meaning freshman Jay Williams should get the nod on Friday and fellow frosh Ryan McKay will probably mind the net on Saturday.