Friday, October 31, 2014

Rivalry With Miami Only Getting Started

UMD and Miami.

These are two programs with plenty of history, yet only three meetings in history.

The teams met at the 2009 NCAA Regional in Minneapolis, a game "won" by Miami 2-1 on its way to the Frozen Four for the first time in the recorded history of history.

(Yeah, still bitter. The disallowed power play goal, the cheapshot on Jack Connolly, the general nature of that game just sucked, and is probably my most negative memory in my years covering this program. Either that or the goalless drought in 2007-2008 that darn near killed me.)

Last year, the NCHC rivals met late in the season in Oxford, Ohio. UMD won by scores of 5-4 and 1-0, riding a four-goal second period to a rally from 2-0 down Friday and getting a shutout from Aaron Crandall Saturday.

The end of Saturday's game featured a pretty big skirmish, with Derik Johnson and Blake Coleman getting into it at the horn. Players from both teams were sent to their respective penalty boxes as officials broke up the fracas.

(We rip officials a lot around here, but I thought the crew in that game did a great job. While they probably didn't assess enough penalties, it was 20:00 of the third period, and those penalties do nothing but pad statistics anyway. What they did right was separate players and get them off the ice where nothing else was going to start.)

Does that mean anything heading into this weekend?

"Oh, absolutely it does," Johnson, a senior defenseman, said this week. "Nothing against Blake Coleman or anyone over there, it's an emotional game. Stuff happened, but it's part of playing an emotional game."

"They were very good games, tight games," UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. "To go into their building, they were healthier team when we played them, I'm sure they remember that, too."

You can only assume Coleman, captain Austin Czarnik, Riley Barber, and others remember the way UMD ruined their Senior Night festivities last year, and they'll be looking to get six points this weekend in Duluth.

The RedHawks are a very aggressive team. They are plenty physical, led by Coleman, and they have high-end skill with players like Czarnik and Barber. Miami is very aggressive defensively, with guys jumping up in the play all the time. It almost looks reckless at times, but Enrico Blasi isn't a dummy. There's a method to it, and while I think UMD can take advantage of this -- St. Lawrence sure did last weekend -- it also has to be careful. The Bulldogs can't get too aggressive and risk giving up numbers in transition. Pick spots wisely and it could be a good weekend.

Miami's goaltending has been spotty so far, allowing six goals on 27 shots last weekend (five on 16 Friday), but it's not all goaltending. Part of it is giving up odd-man rushes after turnovers in the 75 feet or so between the red line and the top of the offensive zone faceoff circles. Even the best goalies aren't going to help when they're looking at wrong-colored jerseys constantly coming at them with speed.


Despite last year's hijinks at the horn, Blasi says his team has a lot of respect for UMD.

"This is a really good hockey team from what I see on film," Blasi said this week. "The level of skill, and the way they come up the ice, is very dangerous. We're going to have to play really good team defense."

Blasi calls this a "good test" for his group, and he feels he'll have a better idea where the RedHawks are at after playing "a real good (UMD) team."

Sandelin echoes that respect.

"They pressure on the forecheck. They finish checks."

He says the Miami defensemen -- a group led by Matthew Caito, Ben Paulides, freshman and Wild draft pick Louie Belpedio, and the brothers Joyaux -- are "a big part of rushes, a big part of their play in the offensive zone."

It should be a fast-paced, entertaining series. These are two teams that like to get up and down the rink and play very aggressive styles. If Johnson is right and the Miami players have carried memories of last year into this weekend, it'll be physical and possibly testy, too.

And if Kasimir Kaskisuo and his defense play well, this could be a very good weekend for the home team.

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