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RedHawks set to face gritty Lakers

If Miami University’s hockey team is flat when it hits the ice Friday night, it might just get flattened.

The RedHawks are coming off an emotional weekend that culminated in the Hockey City Classic at Soldier Field in Chicago and now face a road series against a gritty Lake Superior State crew.

“A pretty good team that plays right in your face,” MU coach Enrico Blasi said. “If our guys have any emotional letdown, it’ll be gone in the first two minutes because they’re going to get hit.”

Miami, 19-8-5 overall and 14-6-4 in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, is the league leader and has already clinched a first-round bye in the CCHA tournament. The Lakers (15-16-1, 10-13-1) are in seventh place and fighting for opening-round home ice.

Playing at home in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., is important to LSSU, which is 12-5 at Taffy Abel Arena this season.

“This is a tough building to play in,” Blasi said. “They’re as hard a working team as we’ve seen all year. Their compete level is really good.”

The teams squared off in Oxford in early December, with MU winning the opener 3-2 and Lake Superior taking the Saturday affair 1-0. The RedHawks had a 91-54 shot advantage in the series.

“Our goaltending was excellent and gave us a chance,” LSSU coach Jim Roque said. “And our power play was good that weekend, so that was huge.”

All three of the Lakers’ goals in that series were power-play tallies. Juniors Kevin Murdock (2.32 goals-allowed average, .934 save percentage) and Kevin Kapalka (2.94, .915) split time in goal, and Roque said he’ll likely use both keepers again this weekend. Blasi pointed out that they’re both left-handers.

Senior forwards Domenic Monardo (16 goals, 11 assists) and Nick McParland (six goals, 14 assists) are the top point men for LSSU. Roque said the team got a boost last weekend when junior forward Colin Campbell (shoulder surgery) notched an assist in his first action of the season.

“Campbell’s a big part of their team,” Blasi said. “They scored 15 seconds into the game against Alaska last Friday, and he was in the middle of it.”

Lake Superior swept the Alaska series 5-1 and 4-2. But the Lakers were 1-6-1 in their previous eight games.

“It’s funny, but we probably played better at Bowling Green two weeks ago,” Roque said. “Alaska looked a little tired. I think we caught them at a good time.”

Miami continues to lead the nation in team defense, giving up 1.50 goals per game. The RedHawks rank fourth nationally on the penalty kill.

“I like the way they play,” Roque said. “They’re in your face. They don’t sit back. They try to play with some tempo and speed. I’d like our team to play more like their team.

“I don’t think we’re as skilled as Miami, obviouisly. We have to play gritty, hard-nosed hockey. We want to forecheck. We want to create some turnovers. We don’t have a lot of great playmakers, but I think we can create some stuff with aggressive play.”

Freshman Riley Barber (12 goals, 19 assists) and sophomore Austin Czarnik (11 goals, 20 assists) pace the MU offense. Freshman Ryan McKay (1.06, .960) and classmate Jay Williams (1.78, .930) were splitting time in goal before McKay played both games last weekend.

Blasi declined to reveal this week’s plan between the pipes.

“Stay tuned,” he said. “We have talked about getting Jay back in there in the next four games. I think it’s important that he plays some to make sure he’s ready to go if something happens down the road.”

The RedHawks are 8-7-2 away from Steve Cady Arena this year, 7-5-2 in road games and 1-2 on neutral ice.

“I think we’ve put ourselves in a pretty good situation in the league,” Blasi said. “I don’t think anybody would’ve thought that we’d be in first place with two weekends left, and here we are. So let’s just go play.”

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