Miami faces Minn. St. in NCAA opener

Teams to play in Toledo on Saturday

By John Lachmann

   WHO: No. 5 Miami RedHawks (24-11-5) vs. No. 11 Minnesota State (24-13-3).

   NOTE: If Miami wins, it would face the winner of the St. Cloud St.-Notre Dame semifinal in the championship game on Sunday.

   WHAT: NCAA regional semifinal.

   WHERE: Huntington Center, Toledo, Ohio.

   WHEN: 5 p.m. (The final will be at 4 p.m. on Sunday, if necessary).

   TV: FSN North (DirecTV Ch. 668, Dish Network Ch. 436). For Time Warner subscribers in Ohio the game will be on Time Warner Sports Channel (Ch. 1311 or 311 SD). Sunday's regional final will be on ESPNU (DirecTV Ch. 208, Dish Network Ch. 141).

   MIAMI RADIO: WMOH-AM (1450), Hamilton, Ohio; WKBV-AM (1490), Richmond, Ind. (both days, if necessary).

   NOTES:  Miami's season has ended in this round each of the past two seasons.

   The RedHawks went from feast to famine, qualifying for consecutive Frozen Fours in 2008-09 and 2009-10 but not winning an NCAA Tournament game in 2010-11 or 2011-12.

   But this is a completely different team than last season, having upgraded its speed at the expense of size, trading in veteran leadership for youth.

   With Michigan's string of tournament berths over, Miami moves into second in the NCAA for the longest consecutive tournament berths streak behind only North Dakota at eight straight seasons.

   Minnesota State's coach, Mike Hastings, earned WCHA coach of the year honors in his first season at the helm. He was previously a USHL head coach for 14 years, winning three Clark Cups in that league, and he was an assistant at Minnesota and Nebraska-Omaha.

   Minnesota State is an offensive-minded team that likes to shoot the puck. The Mavericks (no, not the Screaming Eagles) average 3.18 goals per game and over 33 shots on goal.

   Sophomore Matt Leitner has been Minnesota State's biggest offensive threat all season, and he has played at a higher level lately. Leitner has 17 goals and leads the team in assists (30) and points (47), and he has seven goals and 10 helpers in his last 11 games.

   Fellow forwards senior Eriah Hayes and sophomore Jean-Paul Lafontaine have also reached the 35-point mark this season. Hayes has a team-best 20 tallies and has added 16 assists, and Lafontaine has scored nine times and assisted on 26 others.

   Juniors Zach Lehrke and Johnny McInnis are two of the Mavericks' other key scoring threats among its forwards. Lehrke has eight markers and 17 assists and McInnis has scored 13 goals and picked up nine helpers.

   On its blueline, Minnesota State has two major offensive threats – sophomore Zach Palmquist and junior Josh Nelson. Palmquist leads all defensemen in goals (7), assists (18) and points (25), and Nelson has netted five goals and added nine assists.

   In net, freshman Stephon Williams was named the WCHA's top rookie, and he was named to the conference's first team. Williams is 21-11-2 with a 1.96 goals-against average and a save percentage of .925.

   However, Williams was lifted in the Mavericks' last game, a 7-2 loss in the WCHA Tournament. He surrendered five goals on 19 shots in 32 minutes in that game.

   That is one thing these teams have in common: Both are hoping to atone for dreadful games the last time they hit the ice.

   Miami lost to Michigan, 6-2 last Saturday in a CCHA semifinal, allowing four straight second-period goals and seeing freshman starting goalie Ryan McKay chased from the net for the first time in his career.

   Sophomore forward Austin Czarnik has easily been the hottest RedHawk, having scored three goals and set up two others in his last three games.

   These teams have only met twice, and they have never faced off in the NCAA Tournament. They tied, 3-3 in a holiday tournament in 2004-05, and Miami won, 4-2 in 1996-97, also in a holiday tournament.

   Bearing in mind that every team in this tournament is obviously going to be good, this is an excellent draw for Miami. Both regional games will be played in the RedHawks' home state, three hours from campus.

   Miami split against Notre Dame, with the loss coming in the outdoor game in Chicago, and St. Cloud State is ranked ninth in college hockey.