Denver Hockey Series Preview: Miami

Photo courtesy of local12.com

Whether you saw it coming or not, the Pioneers had their hands full last weekend with Omaha.  The Pioneers tied the Mavericks in both games but they came away with the extra points in the standings to pull within two points of Minnesota Duluth.  Omaha has now given North Dakota and Denver a run for their money in back to back weekends and is earning a reputation of being a hard out.  Come NCHC Tournament time, Omaha will not be a team that anybody wants to run into in the first round. This weekend, the Pioneers bring their nine-game unbeaten streak to Oxford, Ohio to face the Miami RedHawks.

As the Pioneers enter the final six weeks of the regular season, there are a few trends that have been established that are worth pointing out.  First off, Denver has been lights out at home.  At 10-2-1, the only bad loss was against No. 1 North Dakota when the Pioneers fell 4-1 back in November.  Since the Western Michigan series, the Pioneers have won six-straight at Magness Arena.  And with Duluth coming to town next weekend, the stakes will be high as both teams are fighting for that second spot in the NCHC behind North Dakota.

The second trend is that Denver has a couple of minute-munching defensemen who really make a difference.  It’s no secret that Michael Davies may have one of the highest hockey IQ’s on the team.  He makes smart plays look effortless and does a great job moving the puck up the ice.  Griffin Mendel has developed into a shutdown defenseman with some offensive upside. He’s a physical and reliable stay-at-home defenseman that gives Ian Mitchell the opportunity to roam and do his thing offensively.  It’s been noticeable that it isn’t easy for any opposing forward to chip the puck in deep and get around Mendel without paying the price.

And lastly, the young guys are coming into their own.  The word a lot of people use when talking about Pioneers hockey is culture.  It’s so hard to determine if young players will develop but it’s happening right before our eyes.  Bobby Brink, Cole Guttman, Emilio Pettersen, and Brett Stapley are all finding success this year playing David Carle’s “team-first” style which should make everyone excited for the future of the program.  Denver’s depth has also made a huge impact this season, giving identity to all four lines as relentless and hard on the puck.

There have been a lot of good teams at Denver the last handful of years, but this year seems special in their own way.  The one common theme, however, is that every NCHC team knows that you don’t ever want to let the Pioneers hang around because this team has proven they aren’t finished until that final buzzer.  That trait has thankfully been passed down through the program’s culture.

University of Miami RedHawks (6-12-4)

Taking over for a coach who spent 20 years at the helm of a program isn’t easy but Chris Bergeron seems up to the task.  The RedHawks haven’t found much consistency this season but they still have some upperclassmen who aren’t ready to throw in the towel.  Seniors Gordie Green and Karch Bachman lead the team in points and shots, and have been a big reason for the RedHawks red-hot powerplay.  Junior Casey Gilling is another name to remember who is coming off a six-point series against North Dakota.

Senior goaltender Ryan Larkin is seeing his fair share of shots this season.  The RedHawks are usually giving up over 30 shots on goal and Larkin’s goals-against average is at 3.72 per game.  The Pioneers have put up close to 50 shots on goal in games this season so Larkin may be seeing more of the same this weekend.

The Pioneers will have to watch for a few things heading into Oxford this weekend.  The RedHawks like to start fast.  A majority of their goals have been scored in the first period this season, but they also give up just as many to their opponents.  When their opponent scores first, the RedHawks are 0-9-3 so the Pioneers need to get ahead as early as possible.  The main emphasis this weekend has to be staying out of the box.  We saw St. Cloud hang around because they were able to execute on special teams.  We know that Miami is fully capable of doing the same thing.  Denver will have to do a good job of controlling pucks and maintaining possession in a clean game.

Head coach Chris Bergeron met with the media this week to discuss the state of the RedHawks and this weekends series against Denver:

On facing Denver

“…early in the week we don’t really talk a lot about Denver but I think it’s going to be similar to the pressure that they’re going to put on us from their offensive standpoint.  It’s going to be bigtime.  We’re going to have to be ready to counter that with defending properly and taking care of pucks.”

On the RedHawks successful powerplay

“It definitely goes into your opponents mind and puts some pressure on them to be disciplined.  Maybe they’re a little less aggressive at times on the puck or around the puck because they don’t want to put us on the powerplay… I still would like to see our group use that relentless mindset five-on-five to create more powerplay opportunities because our powerplay is executing at such a high level.”

Prediction – Denver sweeps

This one could be interesting because both teams are desperate for wins but I think Denver pulls these games out.  With the UMD series coming next weekend, these points against Miami are crucial for Denver to create some space if they are successful against the Bulldogs.  Miami will try to muck up the play so Denver will need to be careful with their sticks and control their poise.  The Pioneers can’t afford any major penalties against this group or NCHC points will be left on the table.

Twitter Follow – @MiamiOH_Hockey

Where to Watch/Listen

Friday – 5:05pm MT – tv: NCHC.tv radio: 104.3 The Fan

Saturday – 5:05pm MT tv: NCHC.tv radio: ESPN DENVER 1600 

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