It’s only week 2 of the NCAA Hockey season, and already we have one of the most anticipated, most exciting matchups of the entire season on the docket, as the University of North Dakota visits Oxford, Ohio for the very first time to take on the top-ranked Miami RedHawks. We thought it would be nice to get together to get psyched up for the big weekend, so Eric Burton, who covers NCAA Hockey for The Hockey Writers, and also covers North Dakota for Inside Hockey and the popular fan blog Goon’s World and I, writer for the Blog of Brotherhood, did so, and we preview the weekend for you.
Not only does this matchup pit the #1 team in the land against the #6 team, but it’s also a matchup of the 2 favorites to take the inaugural NCHC regular season championship. In it’s first year, the NCHC is the first conference in the NCAA to start up conference play with 2 games scheduled for each night this weekend (Minnesota-Duluth and Colorado College play a weekend set as well).
Burton reminds us that Miami will be looking for it’s first-ever win against North Dakota this weekend: “All-time when Miami plays North Dakota, UND is 2-0-1, but the two teams haven’t played on the ice since November 28, 2009 when UND and Miami skated to a wild 5-5 finish at Ralph Engelstad Arena. There’s a building excitement surrounding the new league and the match-up with the RedHawks.”
I couldn’t agree more. It seems like just yesterday, but this won’t be the first time the two teams meet as top 10 opponents. Back in that 2009 matchup, Miami was again ranked #1 in the nation, a position they eventually held for 12 straight weeks, and North Dakota (back then, they were still the Fighting Sioux) was ranked #4. Miami just assumed the top spot this week, and in this early season, both teams look strong.
More from Burton on UND
Recently, UND head coach Dave Hakstol talked about the upcoming series with the Miami RedHawks:
Out in Miami, that should be a heck of series. We’ll generate an instant rivalry (with them), in my opinion. Miami is currently an unknown to the UND hockey team and their fans. Nobody on the 2013-14 UND hockey team has ever played against the Miami RedHawks. This should be a good matchup: Miami and UND were picked to finished first and second in the NCHC Media Poll.
According to coach Hakstol, UND is a balanced team, and this is one of the more balanced teams that UND has had in his 10 years as head coach:
We got tremendous balance within our team. That’s the one thing that we know. We don’t know a lot of specifics, but we do know that we have a tremendous amount of balance on our hockey team.
North Dakota is 1-0-1 on the season, having beat the Vermont Catamounts 5-3 on opening night and tied 2-2 on Saturday night. North Dakota won the shootout, although the game goes down as a tie officially for both teams.
On Friday night, Dave Starman and the usual crew over at CBS Sports will be covering the action for the first of many NCHC games. Here’s Dave’s take on Dillon Simpson from the University of North Dakota, who will have quite the task handling Miami’s top line this weekend:
One of the first players that comes to mind is Dillon Simpson at North Dakota. Of their top three scoring defensemen from last year, he’s the only one back. There’s good blood lines there with his father having played in the NCAA and NHL, and he gets it. When you grow up with a guy who was a winner, you can make a case that a lot rubs off on the kid (look at Eric Nystrom!). He certainly understands what it means to be a leader and have a pro mentality, a business-first mentality. I also think that he’s gotten to a point where his skating, hand skills and hockey sense can slow a game down and allow him to make a lot of plays. As a senior, he’s younger than some of the freshmen. Without Derek Forbort back there he will have a lot on his shoulders, but he’s the type of player that will respond to that.
Tale of the Tape
UND’s top line consists of Adam Tambellini (1g-1a—2pts), Drake Caggiula (2g-2a—4pts) and Rocco Grimaldi (2g-3a—5pts) and their top defensive pairing is Simpson (0g-0a—0pts) and Jordan Schmaltz (0g-1a—1pts). Expect Zane Gothberg (1-0-1, 1.21 GAA, .955 Sv%) to start both nights in net. UND is coached by Dave Hakstol, who is 235-117-37 and is in his 10th season at North Dakota, with 5 Frozen Four appearances.
My Take on the RedHawks
I can’t imagine what Goggin Ice Center is going to be like on Friday and Saturday. As they have popped up in recent years for the biggest matchups, I wouldn’t be shocked to see students camping out in tents outside of the arena in the recently dubbed “Ricoville” (after head coach Enrico Blasi). Students will be seen waiting for days to be admitted to the 3,200 seat (4,000 capacity) Steve Cady Arena and get the best seats available.
And for good reason. Miami swept Ohio State in a home-and-home series last weekend. Check out what Dave Starman had to say about the RedHawks’ offensive prowess:
Of course, in Miami, there’s the three-headed monster of Austin Czarnik, Riley Barber and Sean Kuraly. They’re going to be fun to watch, like the Harlem Globetrotters On Ice sometimes. It’s not easy to replace Carter Camper, Pat Cannone and Andy Miele, but Miami did it. Rico Blasi went out and replaced all three. That’s some group. When I look at them, I say any of the three can be a leading Hobey candiate. Kuraly has solid size, smarts, and great hands. Riley Barber can shoot as well as anyone and has a pro release. Czarnik’s “stick radar” (I might coin that phrase) is unbelievable. He’s like Cannone; he can put a pass anywhere and probably do it in the dark. I’d probably say Czarnik would be more likely to wind up as a Hobey finalist in the end.
Early on, it’s actually Barber stealing some of the spotlight. Barber won the NCHC’s first Player of the Week award after contributing 3 assists on Friday night and 4 goals on Saturday night, both against the Big Ten’s Ohio State Buckeyes. His 7 points leads the nation, but Czarnik is right behind him, tallying 2 goals and 3 assists in the first 2 games. The top line for Miami is certainly the key, and North Dakota will need to do everything they can to stop the high powered RedHawks.
Tale of the Tape
Miami’s top line is Barber, Czarnik and Max Cook (0g-2a—2pts), but keep an eye on the second line of Anthony Louis (1g-1a—2pts), Sean Kuraly (1g-3a—4pts) and Alex Wideman (1g-0a—1pt) who are just as potent. The top defensive pairing is Chris Joyaux (0g-0a—0pts) and Matthew Caito (0g-2a—2pts) and head coach Enrico Blasi (313-196-53 in his 15th year at Miami, 2 Frozen Fours) will likely alternate goalies Ryan McKay (1-0-0, 3.00 GAA, .927 Sv%) and Jay Williams (1-0-0, 2.01 GAA, .929 Sv%) in the weekend’s games.
Burton: I predict that this series will end in a split. That’s my best guess. But, any result other than that won’t surprise me either.
Cutler: You might call me a homer here, but I think the RedHawks sweep the weekend. Miami has the offensive firepower to beat just about anyone, and they take both games on their home ice, a site with a true advantage:
Miami has lost just 3 of its last 29 home games. And UND has lost just 4 of its last 31 home games.
— Brad Elliott Schlossman (@SchlossmanGF) October 16, 2013
So there you have it. Is it Friday night yet? Give us your predictions in the comments or follow us on twitter (Burton is @goon48 and I can be found at @DougCutlerTHW). Enjoy the clash(es) of the titans!