The regular season ends this weekend, and Miami University’s hockey team wants to go out with some serious fireworks.
The third-ranked RedHawks will host Ohio State on Friday and Saturday at Steve Cady Arena, with MU trying to clinch its final Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season championship while honoring its six-member senior class.
“It’s a big deal,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said of the regular-season crown, which his program has won just three times (1992-93, 2005-06 and 2009-10). “It’s a pretty meaningful championship if you’re able to win it.”
With the CCHA disbanding after this year, the RedHawks are atop the standings with 56 points. Western Michigan (51) and Notre Dame (50) are next in line.
WMU visits Michigan State and the Fighting Irish host Bowling Green this weekend. MU needs two points to secure the outright championship.
“It’s probably the hardest thing to win,” Blasi said. “You’ve got to be consistent over six months against different teams and different buildings. It’s not just getting hot one weekend and winning a playoff title.
“In our league, there’s not too many teams that have done it. It’s always been the Michigans or Michigan States over the years, and sprinkle some other teams in there. I don’t think (the media) picked us to finish first, so here we are. We’ve got an opportunity to do that, and we’re going to try to make the most of it.”
Saturday is Senior Night. Curtis McKenzie, Steve Mason, Garrett Kennedy, Joe Hartman, Marc Hagel and Steven Spinell will be honored in a pregame ceremony.
“It’s a special weekend when you honor the seniors,” Blasi said. “They’ve been through a lot. They’ve won one regular-season championship. They’ve won a playoff championship. They’ve been to a Frozen Four. They’ve been in the national tournament all three years, and who knows this year. But that’s a pretty good resume.”
Miami is 21-8-5 overall and 16-6-4 in the CCHA. Ohio State is 13-14-7, 12-9-5, and tied for fourth place in the league with Ferris State.
The RedHawks and Buckeyes know quite a bit about each other. They’ve already played three times this season, with Miami going 2-0-1 (plus a shootout win) in Columbus and Pittsburgh.
“We know how good Ohio State can be,” Blasi said.
OSU is coming off a tough weekend. It got swept at home by Michigan (6-3 and 5-3).
“That weekend was not the way we’ve played,” Ohio State coach Mark Osiecki said. “I think a lot of that had to do with how Michigan is. Their talent level is tremendously high. I think they were a very hungry hockey club.
“On the other end of it, we’re tremendously thin on the back end. I think some of our injuries on the blue line affected us.”
Osiecki pointed specifically to Curtis Gedig and Al McLean. Gedig is questionable for this weekend — McLean is out.
The CCHA’s top four scorers will be in Oxford this weekend: Miami’s Riley Barber (14 goals, 20 assists) and Austin Czarnik (11 goals, 21 assists), and the Buckeyes’ Ryan Dzingel (14 goals, 18 assists) and Tanner Fritz (10 goals, 22 assists).
MU-OSU matchups tend to be gritty, hard-nosed affairs. Both coaches are expecting more of the same this weekend.
“That’s how we have to play,” Osiecki said. “We have to be physical. We have to block shots. Until we upgrade our talent level — and I think we have — we have to have that mentality going into games.”
Brady Hjelle (.934 save percentage, 2.00 goals-allowed average) is Ohio State’s goaltender. Blasi wouldn’t say if Ryan McKay (.962, 1.06) or Jay Williams (.926, 1.89) will start Friday for the RedHawks, but McKay is statistically the No. 1 goalie in the country.
Miami is 11-1-3 at Steve Cady Arena this season.
Ohio State at Miami, 7:35 p.m. Friday and 7:05 p.m. Saturday, Time Warner Cable SportsChannel and 1490 both days, SportsTime Ohio on Friday