Blasi eager for clean playoff slate
In the college hockey postseason, teams that hadn’t previously cut the mustard play away from home in the first round of playoff action. This year, Miami is one of those teams.Winning only five league games and finishing seventh in the NCHC standings prompted the RedHawks into packing their bags for an opening-round playoff series at No. 2 seed Minnesota Duluth.Miami remembers UMD well. The teams only met twice in the regular season, but the memories are very fresh.The RedHawks erased two deficits in the teams’ series opener Feb. 23 in Duluth before UMD eked out a 4-3 win on a late Avery Peterson power-play goal. The following night, Miami escaped Amsoil Arena with two league points after netting a 3-on-3 overtime goal in what officially ended as a 3-3 tie.Miami’s regular season generally could’ve gone better. The 46th-best offense in the country (2.47 goals per game) often struggled along the way, reflected in the RedHawks’ 9-18-7 overall record.Miami has lost seven of its last eight games, including two home defeats last weekend against North Dakota, and hasn’t won in regulation since beating Western Michigan 4-3 at home Jan. 28.That matters less now, however, with the postseason beginning. Prior victories won’t keep teams’ seasons alive now.”This is playoff time,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. “Everybody starts with having to win two games to move on, and we’re looking forward to that.”Over the last couple of months, I feel like we’ve gotten better in certain areas. I feel like we’ve played some good hockey in stretches and some hockey that was not so good, so it is what it is. Hopefully we’ve learned from that and we get ready to play this weekend.”Moreover, while what happened between Miami and UMD recently provides a reference point, it won’t be relied upon too much by either team.”This is a new time now, so whatever you probably saw two weeks ago will be thrown out the window,” Blasi said. “When you play at this time of year, everything is a little bit more intense and a little bit more magnified, so we have to be ready to play our best.”We know Duluth is going to play their best. They’re a really good hockey team. They’ve been No. 1 or 2 in the country all year long, they’re well-coached, they’ve got a great D corps, great group of forwards and their goaltender’s been really, really good.”We’ve got to go and play our game and make sure that we do the things that will allow us to stay in the game,” Blasi continued, “and make sure we’re not making decisions that are going to cost us. You’ve got to play a certain way at playoff time and you’ve got to make sure that you’re doing that to the best of your ability.”As much as anything else, however, Miami will need to be ready for what UMD will throw at the RedHawks. No team is immune to starting games flat, but teams can ill afford to sleepwalk against a UMD squad in position to grab a No. 1 regional seed at the upcoming NCAA tournament.”I’m a big believer that you make your own breaks by how you compete and how you’re ready to go and your preparation leading up to the weekend, so that’s going to be our focus,” Blasi said. “We’re going to prepare hard, we’re going to pay attention to detail and we’re going to compete, and we’ll see what happens.”
This is my final NCHC column of the season. Candace Horgan, my esteemed league writing partner, will guide you through next week before we begin our NCAA tournament coverage.Before all that, however, I’d like to take a moment to thank a handful of colleagues, friends and family for their unbelievable support. First off, I cannot thank enough USCHO managing editor Matt Mackinder and executive editor Todd Milewski, whose guidance and patience go beyond what I could possibly ask from either of them.Thank you to Candace Horgan, who has been fun to work with going back to our days covering the WCHA together. I trust to find her well the traditional undisclosed amount of beer money heading her way for winning our season-long picks contest.Thank you to all the coaches, players and school and NCHC officials I’ve had the pleasure of working with this season, all of whom help keep my role here fun to have.Thank you to Lynn Evenson, my unendingly wonderful boss at the Bottineau Courant, for allowing me to indulge in this passion project I began long before I moved to North Dakota three years ago.Thank you to my parents, Doug and Karen, and brothers Ben and Tim, all of whom I love more than they’ll ever know.Last but not least, thank you to everyone that visits this website. Without you, we wouldn’t be here.
Players of the week
Offensive player of the week — Griffen Molino, Western Michigan: Offensively, nobody in the NCHC fared better last weekend than Molino. The sophomore forward posted a goal and five assists during Western’s home split against UND.Defensive player of the week — Tucker Poolman, North Dakota: Poolman showed his offensive prowess last weekend with five points in a road sweep against Miami while also limiting MU to 27 shots on goal for the series. Two goals and three assists against the RedHawks saw Poolman finish the regular season with 28 points.Rookie of the week — Henrik Borgström, Denver: The Finnish freshman forward scored the game-winning goals in both games of DU’s road sweep last weekend at Omaha. Borgström leads all NCHC rookies this season with 36 points and 21 goals.Goaltender of the week — Evan Cowley, Denver: In his first start since Jan. 7, Cowley made 28 saves Saturday in the Pioneers’ 3-0 shutout victory. UNO went 0-for-4 on the power play that night.