November 20, 2007 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Team of the Week: Miami

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

It's hard to complain much about Miami's great start this season. And though some wondered if the team had been tested enough early in the season, the wins against lesser teams were routs, and wins in the last three games have come against Notre Dame and Michigan State, including the last two on the road.

The result is first place in the CCHA, a No. 1 ranking, and ... the CHN Team of the Week honor.

"Outside of outcomes, our team and the way the team's prepared every day, we hoped this would be the case," said Miami coach Enrico Blasi. "It's a good leadership group. We're not too veteran a team, but it has been there before. It knows what's expected, knows how to prepare, has won a championship ... we've been very pleased with the way this team has prepared, really dating back to last April."

Obviously, nothing is perfect, and coaches, especially, know that. There's also been many a team that's been flying high in November only to be shot down in March.

"Every week is a new challenge, because you're playing someone different," Blasi said. "Each team brings different tendencies to the table. One week, UNO likes to go after it, and then Notre Dame, which is so sound in their systems, you have to fight for everything."

It's been of note that Miami did all of this without Nate Davis in the lineup. Davis was a Hobey finalist a year ago, and one of the best two-way players in the country. The senior was injured on his third shift of the season, and returned last week.

Among those who stepped up in his absence have been Justin Mercier (10-3—13) and Nino Musitelli (5-4—9). And so with Davis back in the lineup now, it has only made the team stronger overall.

"(Davis' return) didn't have any kind of effect other than Nate scoring two goals," Blasi said. "It was the preparation. Nate was skating for two weeks, so it wasn't like we were shocked. He worked hard to get back, so we knew he was coming back at some point.

"This is a really close team. As close as two years ago's was, this is even closer. They seem to know when to have fun and not to have fun. It makes for us as coaches, fun to be around them."

There are other factors, like the fact that 16 skaters have played all 12 games. There's also a team that is comprised of a strong mix from all four classes, thanks to there being very few players over the years that left school early.

"Nate and Ryan (Jones) set the stage by staying," Blasi said. "I see them every day and know the kind of player that they are, and it's a credit to them and the way they think. (Former All-American) Andy Greene could've left any year. Those are things you learn from the older guys. Pro hockey's not going anywhere."

There's also the defense, like Mitch Ganzak, who has picked up where Greene left off, with nine assists and a team-best plus-12 rating.

But you talk with Blasi for a while, and it takes a while to even get to the goaltending. Which is a good thing, because it means there's nothing to worry about.

This season, Jeff Zatkoff, now a junior, has emerged as the clear-cut No. 1, where in the past he'd alternated more with senior Charlie Effinger.

"Jeff and Charlie, as good a goalies they are, they're great people," Blasi said. "If you had a conversation with those guys, it's never about individual stuff unless you ask them. It's always about team."

This weekend, Miami will get two games against Canisius. Then there's a week off before games with Alaska, and then non-league games with Rensselaer. Admittedly, Miami's non-league schedule is not the toughest, and it will only play Michigan twice, both at home, later in the season. That's why no one is resting comfortably in Oxford.

"There's daily reminders every day," Blasi said. "We haven't sensed from this team that they're at all satisifed. It's a long season. We've been there. We're one of those teams that went off 13-2 and won a (regular-season) championship and coasted the rest of the way. Last year we had to fight to get in (the NCAAs). So the guys understand that."

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