By John Lachmann
MINNEAPOLIS – Miami is now one win away from extending its streak of NCAA Tournament berths, a task that would have been seemingly impossible a few weeks ago.
If the RedHawks complete this most unlikely journey, culminating in an NCHC championship, it would be one of if not the top story in college hockey this season.
“I was thinking on the bench that sometimes you’ve got to have a little bit of faith in your team,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. “About a month ago I don’t think any of you would’ve picked us to be in this position.”
Watching Miami in action the past two weekends has been what most of us were expecting team that saw this team in October that was ranked No. 2 in the country entering the season.
Miami’s forechecking on Friday was amazing and created numerous scoring chances. Freshman forward Anthony Louis and sophomore center Sean Kuraly in particular have created havoc in the offensive zone.
Junior forward Blake Coleman’s return to the lineup has rejuvenated this team was seemed dead in the water. The RedHawks were 2-8-1 while he was out with his upper-body injury, and they’re 5-4 since including four straight wins.
The defense, at times the Achilles’ heel of this team, has done a much better job of keeping opponents away from the front of Miami’s net, although North Dakota did miss a couple of point-blank chances that could’ve swung the game the other way.
And sophomore Ryan McKay looks like his cool, composed self once again after a regular season that saw him face far more high-percentage shots than his freshman campaign and seemingly rattled him for much of the year.
But as great as this storybook run has been for the RedHawks, a loss vs. Denver would end Miami’s season. The motivation and the confidence is clearly there for the RedHawks, but if they don’t play as well on Saturday as they did in this game then this late run will be for naught.
FORWARDS: B+. As mentioned, the forechecking was as strong as at any point this season. Junior Cody Murphy did not have a point but he was another heckler in the offensive zone and has played the last few games as if his life depends on it.
Coach Enrico Blasi had to roll his four lines more last weekend because of the possibility of playing three games in three nights, and he did that again on Friday. Junior Austin Czarnik and sophomore Riley Barber were on the ice too much especially early in the season and the team is functioning better with the ice time more balanced.
DEFENSEMAN: B. North Dakota had a couple of point-blank chances but missed the net. However, for the most part Miami’s bluelines forced UND’s shots to come from the outside for easy saves.
Sophomore Matthew Caito had a strong game, and sophomore Michael Mooney deserves credit for improving every game after being forced onto the ice because of injuries to sophomore Taylor Richart and freshman Johnny Wingels.
GOALTENDING: A+. The plus goes to McKay because of what he’s overcome this season. He didn’t look his confident self a lot of this season, but that swagger is clearly back.
He made one huge save in the second period on a centering feed to a wide-open forward in the slot, and most of the other shots were low percentage. But he snagged them all cleanly and did not allow any significant rebounds.
LINEUP CHANGES: None. In all three tournament games, Blasi has gone with the same 18 skaters and McKay, and there will likely be no derivation on his lineup card on Saturday or beyond if Miami advances to the NCAA Tournament, barring injury.