November 15, 2013 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Game of the Week: Miami-Wisconsin

by Dave Starman/Columnist

Miami and Wisconsin played a close-to-the-vest pair of games last season and this weekend should be no different. The pieces are red and white and the surface is a rink not chess board, but the game will be one where every move will be calculated.

College Hockey News and the CBS Sports Network take a closer look at the game based on the observations and insights of the broadcast crew featuring veterans Ben Holden on play-by-play, Shireen Saski our rinkside reporter/host, and myself.

The Badgers are renowned for systematic hockey and in that manner they are very much like Notre Dame. Regardless of the way the game is going, they stick to what works for them and don’t panic or force things that create overt mistakes. Miami is a lot more like a BC or Colorado College, they love to let the offense flow without many restrictions and have game breakers in the lineup that can facilitate a consistent threat on a shift by shift basis.

On that note, Miami coach Enrico Blasi made a great point earlier week when we chatted by phone. Blasi discussed systems and the importance of playing to the way your team is built. He also made this great point: “You really have to play the game by what the game gives you.“

Miami has done that all season with the various teams it has played. It grinded with North Dakota, traded chances with St. Cloud and went end to end with the high-flying Friars in Providence, and had good results along the way. The RedHawks also showed good patience with Canisus in a Friday game where the Griffs gave them very little space and made Miami earn its ice.

The Badgers come off byes in two of the last three weekends. With a veteran team, Wisconsin is one that can overcome the lack of game time. Coach Mike Eaves (who I’ve known 25 years now dating back to the intense Baltimore-Hershey AHL rivalry of the early 1990s) discussed how, despite the amount of vets he has and what they went through last season, this is a new season and last year doesn’t count. Eaves feels the identity of his team is shaping slowly but there are still a lot of feeling-out moments to be had and games are the only way for that to happen. It is what makes this weekend so important as they face a good skating team in Miami.

Wisconsin had a tough weekend in Boston earlier this season, but there are many that feel the Badgers were good enough to win the BU game. Losing mainstay goalie Joel Rumpel is never a good way to start a weekend against two elites in BC and BU. Goalie Landon Peterson got better as the weekend went on and might have had his season’s defining moment in the Friday game against Lake Superior State.

Wisco was down 3-0 in 4 minutes at home on three crazy goals that Ken Dryden might not have stopped. Deflections, bounces and tips ruled the early going and it looked like Peterson was done.

Then, just after the 3-0 goal, another play to the net produced a shot that deflected off the stick of Kevin Schulze. Petersen challenges shooters well, was out on top of the crease and got the redirected shot with his left foot. That save turned the game around and did wonders for his confidence. He was lights out the rest of the weekend and so was his team.

Miami comes in after a split at St. Cloud State, which, though low-scoring games, produced a lot of offensive chances. The dynamic duo of Riley Barber and Austin Czarnik looked like they were having a ball out there with all of the extra room a big sheet affords, but defensively Miami struggled early. The team’s first period at St. Cloud looked like it was scared of the extra room. The RedHawks settled down and did what many coaches I talked to feel Miami does really well; defend with intensity.

So what to watch for this Friday?

The Miami power play against the Wisconsin penalty kill. Miami has one unit of five forwards that sees Czarnik up top flanked by Alex Wideman on the right and Riley Barber on the left. The trio up top in the umbrella will be a challenge to the Bucky PK, which my pre-scout analysis shows to be one that doesn’t press the blue line puck possession too hard. They use a more passive box that protects the prime scoring areas. Wideman can distribute pucks with the best of them (much like his brother did on the Miami PP). Czarnik is a double-edged sword with his shot and his passing, and Barber has as good a shot from long distance as anyone in the nation. Blake Coleman is a dangerous slot guy who can score and Cody Murphy has a bomb of a shot and the work ethic to match it.

Against Lake Superior, the Badgers were effective on the PK and used three main units with Jefferson Dahl and Mike Mersch as one, Nik Kerdiles and Mark Zengerle a second, and Keegan Meuer with Sean Little a third. Wisconsin used a 2-2 through the neutral zone and protected the inside lanes well. LSSU tried to expose the top of the slot which Wisconsin defended will. Kirdiles and Zengerle have a ton of speed, and Meuer and Little showed good positional discipline. Dahl and Mersch bring energy and tenacity.

Can Miami get lanes open with its movement up top and how well can it recoup pucks off shots? That is something to keep an eye on.

The left side of the Wisconsin defense. Watching the LSSU series I saw the D’s involved in the play and it was predominantly the LDs. Jake McCabe, Eddie Wittchow, and Kevin Schulze patrol the left side and all three have an offensive upside. McCabe is a star who can play in both ends and control a game and loves to be part of the offense. Schulze has a nice habit of putting pucks on sticks in good spots and isn’t shy about being below the dots for opportunities to create offense. Wittchow has a good one timer and generally gets shots through. He has a knack for good offensive participation. For Miami, heads on swivels are a key component to their D-zone coverage. While Providence can engage its defense in the attack, this might be the most consistent threat from a D corps looking to play in the offensive as they have seen so far.

The compete level. I have always felt that when Wisconsin is on its game and playing the way Mike Eaves wants them to, it can be as tough to play against as anyone. Like his teams have been back to his days with the Hershey Bears (where he coached Miami alum Craig Fisher), the Badgers are systematic, stay within their limits, and challenge you for every inch. The Badgers are better at taking away space than they are taking away time, but they don’t allow you much of an opportunity to get your style going for consistent stretches. Wisconsin is like Notre Dame in this respect, no matter the score, it stays with what it is.

Miami can be very versatile, as its history has shown. Look back at its CCHA days and you will see it trade chances with Michigan, buckle down against Ferris State, go hit for hit with Western Michigan. Miami has a philosophy that it will build teams that can play the way you want to play if that is the case.

The Badgers are still looking for their identity. Miami is still looking for consistency. They are two teams loaded with stars and have a nice complement of players from the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, as well as NHL draft picks who will play at that level. This is a game for the true hockey fan.

College Hockey broadcasting veterans are all over these two games; Ben Holden, Dave Starman and Shireen Saski call the game at Miami. They turn it over to colleagues Eric Frede and Jim Paradise for the call of Michigan-UNO. Combined, these five bring over 50 years of college hockey on air experience.

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