Miami Faces Another Challenge in St. Cloud
by Dave Starman/Columnist
The Miami RedHawks have suffered through a season of injuries and oddities that have them at the bottom looking up. The No. 1 team in the NCHC is tonight’s opponent from St. Cloud State, which holds a regulation win 3-point lead over the streaking North Dakota. Is this a mismatch? Hardly. Miami and St. Cloud are separated by 7 wins overall and tonight get physical forward Blake Coleman back from a long injury. Game on from Oxford.
I had a chat with Nic Dowd yesterday and told him that I couldn’t decide who was the best 200-foot player in college hockey; him or BC’s Billy Arnold. He seemed genuinely happy with the compliment and comparison but was quick to point out that the pride he takes in his defensive game is why he has been able to become a more balanced offensive player.
Dowd centers a line with Jim Murray on his left and David Morely on his right. Morely, who might be the comeback player of the decade in college hockey so far has been terrific and Murray has swept away some recent struggles to form a pair of speed demons who can skate and score to flank one of college hockey’s elite players.
Then you have the next three which see Kalle Kossila between left wing Ryan Papa and right wing Jonny Brodzinski. Kossila, a slick playmaking center with speed has the same luxury Dowd does, wingers who can skate and score and in both cases you have players that are both defensively responsible and can get in and get pucks.
St. Cloud is a terrific transition team especially from defense to offense. Pucks move quickly and their defensemen are all mobile and have some jump so they can close gaps and make plays vs the rush. When they do that consistently they are tough to play against because its hard to get offense and you are contantly on your heels to get back defensively.
Where St. Cloud has been streaky is on the power play. Head coach Bob Motzko told us earlier this week that at this point of the season new combos and new looks can help keep a power play fresh. He did it two weekends ago at Denver, tossing a five man unit together late in the game. That unit practiced together last week and got their first chance in the opening minute of their recent series against Minnesota Duluth.
In 1:37 of ice time the unit of Brodzinski-Dowd-Kossila-Prow-Benik made 31 tape to tape passes, took five shots, and never gave the puck up. You would have thought you were watching the 1985 Edmonton Oilers. That power play set the tone for the weekend offensively or St. Cloud as they swept Duluth.
Miami has slowly been getting healthy and last Friday they played well enough to win. Two first period miscues led to two goals against but outside of those two lapses the RedHawks went up and down the rink with North Dakota. There is not a coach in the NCHC that will say on or even off the record that they think Miami is done. Conversely, teams have looked at Miami and felt that if they get it going in the defensive zone they might be the surprise story of the NCHC post season.
Keep an early eye on Miami. They talked yesterday about how vital a good start is. That good start might be 0-0 at the end of 1 but the key for them is no crooked numbers in period one against. Coleman back in the lineup gives Miami another physical presence and keeps the pressure off Cody Murphy to be the big hammer. Miami’s biggest thing is making sure forwards are back checking and they get saves. Miami between the pipes is a huge key tonight.
On the St. Cloud side their ability to clog the NZ is impressive. Whereas North Dakota slashes through lanes in the NZ on the backcheck or even on a set forecheck to cut off lanes St. Cloud tends to lock lanes and take away space. They are excellent in forcing teams into bad ice or making teams give up the puck.
One key guy to watch is Cory Thorson of St. Cloud. Centering the third line with Benik on his left and Brooks Bertsch on his right Thorson is solid two way guy. Where he amazes you is on the pk. He and Dowd are the apparent #1 pk unit and Thorson seems to be on the ice for the entire two minutes even though we know he is not. He plays hard, plays with length, and has a great stick.
Tonight’s tilt is the first of an NCHC double dip on CBSSN. The Gold Pan Trophy is up for grabs later as the Battle of Colorado takes center stage with Colorado College hosting Denver.