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December 7, 2005 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Team of the Week: Miami

RedHawks Sweep Michigan, Open Big CCHA Lead

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

As the big boys like Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan continue to wield more power — recruiting, television, facilities ... repeat — it's a testament to ingenuity when a team like Miami surges as it has. And coming off a two-game sweep of Michigan at the soon-obsolete, yet raucous, Goggin Arena to give the RedHawks an eight-point lead in the CCHA, that makes them worthy of the College Hockey News Team of the Week honors.

Miami consequently was ranked No. 2 in the national polls, a feat not accomplished since 1993, when current coach Enrico Blasi was a junior on the team, and the team was coached by George Gwozdecky, who was one year away from taking a job at a little place known as Denver. That team featured Kevyn Adams and Brian Savage, who went on to the NHL.

Of course, Miami is getting its new arena soon too, so morale is sky high right now.

"We feel we've recruited some quality players at Miami, good kids that maybe some of the big schools thought they weren't skilled, but they are," said Blasi. "Things are happening. We're getting a new rink. ... The commitment from the school and the administration to move the program forward all helps in the way we look at it."

And just to back up the No. 2 ranking, the latest KRACH justifies it.

"As far as our team is concerned, we really have not talked about standings, polls, anything," said Blasi. "The seniors have done a nice job keeping our team focused. I know it's a cliche, but the guys are believing it and have been doing it all year."

The current team has some superstars in the making as well. The only thing is, there is a vast majority out there who are not familiar with them.

It starts with Andy Greene, who was, admittedly, an All-American last season, but someone who still seems to get overlooked. Greene is a legitimate Hobey candidate, a senior captain from Michigan, who had the pleasure of scoring the game winner against the Wolverines on Saturday. (See separate story.)

The leading scorer is Nathan Davis, who is a national team player and a fourth-round NHL pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, so it's hard to say he's overlooked. But in all of this year's talk of Kessel and Skille and Jack Johnson and Oshie and Sauer, here's someone doing it all. Fellow sophomore Ryan Jones is right there with him.

Then there's talented juniors Matt Christie and Marty Guerin, and two more defensemen up there in team scoring — sophomore Mitch Ganzak, and senior Matt Davis, who only leads the team with seven goals.

There are no eye-popping stats — no one has even a point per game average — but there are seven players with between 10 and 13 points in 14 games. And this doesn't include sophomore Nino Musitelli, overlooked coming out of junior, but a player Blasi calls as skilled as anyone in the league.

And this brings us to the goaltending. Brandon Crawford-West had a great sophomore season, but skipped out for the pros. That left unproven Charlie Effinger, and newcomer Jeff Zatkoff to fill the void. Consider it filled. Effinger hasn't lost, and has a 94.5 save percentage. Zatkoff's is at 93.1 with a 1.76 goals against average and two shutouts.

Against Michigan, it all came together.

"I thought if we played our game, we'd have a pretty good chance of being in the game," said Blasi. "Then it was a matter of executing and getting the right bounce. I thought we skated and competed for 60 minutes, and team defense was really good too.

"If it's one line one night, it's another line the next. We're getting good play from the third and fourth lines. If teams want to match lines against us, go ahead. Our team has confidence in its ability."

Miami won Friday on two shorthanded goals during the same penalty kill — by Matt Davis and Justin Mercier. Then Effinger stopped all 16 Michigan shots in the third period.

Saturday, Brandon Kaleniecki scored a bizarre goal to take a 3-2 lead for Michigan. The puck bounced in the air off a block, and no one knew where it went, before it eventually landed behind Zatkoff and in the net clean. But Nathan Davis tied it up, and in the third, Greene intercepted a Wolverine breakout pass, came down the wall, made a move, and scored the game winner.

Miami passed 40 shots on both nights.

"We got in a groove with four lines, and I kept going with that. I figured I'd keep them fresh for the weekend," Blasi said.

The only downside, Michigan phenom defenseman Jack Johnson nailed Nathan Davis after his tying goal, and Davis has been out with what seems to be a minor concussion. He may return this weekend. Johnson was given a game misconduct.

"Nate scored his goal on a breakaway ... (and) Johnson hit him in vulnerable position," said Blasi. "Nate's been out a couple days with minor headaches."

Of course, the season is long from over. And last year, beset by injuries and a loss of morale, the RedHawks slipped hard and fast in the second half of the season.

This weekend provides quite a test, too, and one Miami better not take likely if it wants to keep lofty NCAA prospects alive. St. Lawrence and Clarkson are coming to town, and the games cannot be overlooked just because they are not CCHA opponents. Both are very talented, and St. Lawrence, in case anyone hasn't noticed, is the only team in America to defeat Wisconsin this season.

"This is (not) a time to let last weekend get in our heads," said Greene. "These are two quality teams. And non-conference games are such a huge factor for the NCAAs. It has a lot of implications."

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