No Davis? No Problem
by Theresa Spisak/CHN Reporter
One might think that if a team has a returning Top 10 Hobey Finalist on one's team and that player goes down — especially early in the season — the team might suddenly find itself facing a serious dilemma.
Of course, if said team is Miami and the player is Nathan Davis, one has nothing to worry about.
Davis, a big part of the RedHawk line-up last year, not only in scoring (21-29—50) but in other intangible factors (named CCHA's best defensive forward), suffered what is thought to be a separated shoulder in the first period of the team's season opener against Vermont, a 2-1 victory.
"It was just one of those freak things," said Davis. "It was on a faceoff and my arm, it just got in a weird spot and I tried to put some leverage down and tried to push it in a place I shouldn't have. And I don't know exactly who I was taking the faceoff against, but he was strong and he came up hard and I tweaked my shoulder a little bit."
"Right now he's day-to-day," said RedHawks head coach Enrico Blasi. "We're obviously not going to rush things at this point — it's too early in the season — but I would expect him back within the next month."
Davis's absence, however, hasn't been a problem.
Miami finished the sweep of Vermont, winning the Saturday contest 4-1 and went on to sweep a home-and-home series with Ohio State, winning each game by a 5-1 margin.
Moreover, the RedHawks have been succeeding without any major line-shifting to make up for the loss of Davis' playmaking and scoring abilities.
"We haven't had to make any adjustments," said Blasi. "We have guys that have played a lot of games for us. We basically have just moved guys into that center spot and a guy like Nino Musitelli has done a great job for us."
Other players have also stepped up in Davis' absence. Freshman Tommy Wingels and junior Justin Mercier have each stepped it up with four goals and an assist each.
"It would be nice to say we didn't think about it (Davis' injury), but we did," said senior forward Ryan Jones after the game in the Oxford Press. "The guys did a really good job of taking up the slack."
RedHawk netminder, junior Jeff Zatkoff, shared similar post-game remarks with the Press. "Once we knew Nate was out of the game, we had to put it behind us. We rallied as a team and came out on top."
"They've been playing unbelievable," he said. "The scoring has just been spread out all over the place and they just played really, really inspired team hockey."
As a result, Davis hasn't felt so bad being out of the lineup, all things considered.
"It's obviously tough being out, but it's really helped my mood," he said.
"It's fun for someone on the inside, watching games from the stands, you know I just feel like I can really see it. The will of this team just really seems to be really strong."
Strong play from Zatkoff has also helped the team come out on top in their four regular season contests thus far. The goalie has a 1.00 goals against average and a .960 save percentage so far on this young season.
"Jeff's played the first four games and the team's played very well in front of him and he's played well when he's had to," said Blasi.
"Again, that's part of the team dynamics; part of the team philosophy and no matter who it is, we want our guys to execute our game plan and Jeff's no different."
If you take into account Miami's team philosophy this season, it actually shouldn't be surprising how well the RedHawks are performing without arguably their best player.
"I think going into this season we've been preaching that this is going to be a team effort and that everybody's going to contribute at one point or another, whether it be offensively, defensively," said Blasi.
"I think our leadership led by Ryan Jones and Nate Davis and Brian Kaufman and Kevin Roeder and all the seniors included in that group have all done a real good job to make sure the locker room understands exactly how we're going to play; that type of execution that's needed on a daily basis at this level."
So if Miami, ranked No. 2, is scary now, just imagine the RedHawks when Davis comes back.
"I just hope I don't mess things up," Davis laughed. "The chemistry seems to be just right ... I think they know these guys well enough and I hope I don't throw off any of the good mojo we've got going on."
"I don't think we'll be a different team with me in the lineup," he added. "Game plan stays the same, the way we play stays the same, our identity as a team stays the same and I'm just one more piece to the puzzle."
If the RedHawks can keep up their early-season performance with all puzzle pieces in place an healthy, the team may end up giving North Dakota a run at the top spot in the polls and, more importantly, get a chance at a trip to Denver in April.