One of the most endearing things about sixth-year Miami head coach Enrico Blasi is his belief in the CCHA. “This is a tough league,” says Blasi. “We got five teams in the NCAA tournament last year because of the strength of our league, night in and night out.”
Blasi and the RedHawks found out just how tough the league was when they skated to a second-place regular-season finish in a way that’s bound to motivate Miami for the entire 2004-05 year. In the final period of the last regular-season contest of the year, tied 4-4 with archrival Ohio State in Columbus after Greg Hogeboom scored twice in the third stanza, the RedHawks learned that Michigan had lost its final game of the season 1-0 against Michigan State in Joe Louis Arena.
All Miami had to do was put one more in the net, keep OSU from scoring, and the title would have belonged to the RedHawks, but 18:49, a puck got past Miami netminder Brandon Crawford-West, off the skate of a RedHawk defenseman, and the Wolverines had once again emerged victorious.
“My initial thought is disappointment,” said Blasi at the time. The disappointment continued at the CCHA Super Six and in a 3-2 loss to Denver in the NCAA West Regional.
Fortunately for Miami, Blasi isn’t one to dwell.
“We return a core of good players,” says Blasi. In spite of losing three of the league’s top scorers in Derek Edwardson, Greg Hogeboom, and Mike Kompon, the RedHawks have offensive firepower.
Sophomores Matt Christie (21-14-35) and Marty Guerin (14-19-33), and senior Todd Grant (15-11-26) are more than capable of leading any attack. All three are fast and nimble — especially the sophomores — and Christie was a monster on Miami’s league-leading power play last year.
Miami also has an excellent rookie class that includes Forwards Nathan Davis, Ryan Jones, and Nino Musitelli. Davis is the younger brother of junior defenseman Matt Davis, and Jones is a fourth-round pick of the Minnesota Wild in this year’s NHL Entry Draft.
Just under the radar — and certainly capable of having a breakout season — is junior Tyler Hustead (4-7-11).
Guerin (11-13-24) may be the best guy on this team, and one of the best in the league. Sure, classmate Christie (12-10-22) had 21 overall goals to Guerin’s 14, but Guerin makes things happen when Miami plays even strength. And he’s tremendous fun to watch.
“Up front, we have some holes to fill but we feel good about Marty Guerin,” says the understated Blasi.
Red or Blue?
Miami returns good defenders in junior Andy Greene (6-14-20) and the elder Davis, but this is a defensive corps that works as a committee, without one solid superstar.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the RedHawk defense must improve over its performance of a year ago if Miami is to contend for a league title and another invitation to the big dance.
Fifth in the conference in team defense and eighth in the penalty kill, the RedHawks must shore up in front of their sometimes inconsistent sophomore goaltender, Brandon Crawford-West (2.63 GAA, .903 SV%). Crawford-West won 21 games for Miami last season and Blasi has every confidence in his netminder, but his goals against average was last among the top 10 goaltenders in the league in conference play, something that could be a liability with a young team.
The RedHawks have drawn an unpredictable cluster, with Ferris State and Western Michigan along with perennial rival Ohio State. The schedule can certainly work to Miami’s advantage, although the games with OSU will likely be a wash.
As always, Blasi relies on good leadership to cement his squad. “We feel that Andy Greene and Chris Busby will lead the way in the locker room,” says Blasi.
Green and Busby, both defenders, had better lead the way at the blueline as well.