Team of the Week: Miami
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
For a program like Miami, a stretch of 3-4-2 constitutes a major slump. That's what Miami was going through during the period just before New Year's until last weekend.
More importantly, thanks to the variations workings of the Pairwise, Miami found itself on the outside looking in to the NCAA picture.
And to be sure, it was a rough stretch — with only two home games in that span. After making the NCAAs the last five years, Miami's bid for this year is still very much in jeopardy.
The chinks in the armor were team-wide, even though the team could still say it was playing well most of the time. But games where the RedHawks allowed 7, 5 and 5 goals during that month, were very un-Miami-like. After a 7-4 loss to Michigan State, Miami coach Enrico Blasi sat down four regulars and played with just three lines. Scratched were sophomore forward Curtis McKenzie, junior forward Alden Hirschfeld, and junior defensemen Cameron Schilling and Will Weber. Garrett Kennedy and Matt Tomassoni were moved back to defense.
"I've been thinking about doing that," Blasi said. "It's tough. Do you want to send a message, or do you give them a second chance? We're pretty close knit. But it's about our program and what we stand for. If you're not playing up to your standards, you have to be held accountable for your actions. It could've gone either way. I don't think our staff slept at all that night. We had to play with only three lines. ... But the four guys came back Monday with a good attitude."
It showed from there, starting with two ties at Notre Dame.
"Against Notre Dame, we played pretty good hockey," Blasi said. "They're one of the most talented teams I've ever seen."
Then came two wins against Michigan, as the team returned home.
After spotting Michigan an early goal last Friday, Miami clamped down, allowing just one the rest of the weekend. In the third period of Friday's game, Miami allowed the Wolverines just six shots, while usurping the lead and going on to a 4-2 win. Saturday, the Hawks completely shut down their opponent, allowing just 23 shots in a 3-0 shutout.
Along the way, the offense continued to churn, and the forward depth was on display. Five players are in double-digit goals now, including seniors Andy Miele (16), Carter Camper (15) and Pat Cannone (13). Miele also has career-high 54 points, which is by far the best in the country if you don't count his teammate; Camper is second with 47 and the next most is Paul Thompson of New Hampshire at 42.
Meanwhile, sophomore Reilly Smith, who was brought in to carry the torch in a growing line of Miami star forwards, has continued to do just that. He had two goals on Saturday, and is up to a team-high 21 now, after getting just eight goals in a promising freshman campaign.
All of this came on a weekend when Miami again honored Brendan Burke, the taem's student manager who was killed in a car accident last year.
Brendan's father, long-time NHL executive Brian Burke, addressed the team Saturday.
"It was pretty emotional," Blasi said. "The video we showed, brings back a lot of memories. But we continue to push his message forward."
The one positive thing to come out of tragedy has been the message of acceptance. Burke was a homosexual who struggled with coming out in the macho hockey world, before finally doing so. It's been nothing but positive. The Chicago Blackhawks marched the Stanley Cup in a gay pride parade, and the idea of acceptance has gained a lot of traction. Recently, NHL forward Steve Avery said that if any young player was afraid to come out to his teammates, he should give Avery a call, and Avery would stand right there with him in the lockerroom to back him up.
"More tolerance is not enough," Blasi said. "We need to accept people. It's everything, not just sexuality, but class and background. We have to stop judging people."
With two home games against Western Michigan, this weekend will have huge NCAA implications, and Miami knows it. WMU has a first-year coach, Jeff Blashill, who was an assistant at Miami before taking a job in the USHL. Blashill has turned things around quickly.
"He had skill there — there were guys in the cupboard," Blasi said.
Jerry Kuhn, a senior who was used sparingly in the past, assumed the No. 1 job after Dan Pisselini got hurt, and has been stellar, losing just one game as WMU has a nation's-best 13-game unbeaten streak.
"Blash's forte is goaltending," Blasi said. "He has (Kuhn) playing controlled. It doesn't surprise me."