Enrico Blasi wants an even-keeled mind-set from his Miami University hockey team at all times, and the upcoming series is no different.
But make no mistake: This is a very big weekend for the third-ranked RedHawks.
MU hosts Notre Dame in a key Central Collegiate Hockey Association contest tonight, then will face the Fighting Irish in another CCHA affair Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago. The Hockey City Classic will be the first outdoor game in Miami history.
“Our focus right now is (today’s) game, then we’ll worry about the outdoor game,” Blasi said. “This team has had a lot of success this year because of the fact they’ve stayed in the present moment and not worried about things that are going to happen in the future or things that have happened in the past.”
The RedHawks are atop the CCHA standings with 47 points, followed by Western Michigan (46), Notre Dame (44), Ferris State (39) and Ohio State (38). WMU visits OSU this weekend, and the Broncos have the Irish at home next weekend.
MU is 18-7-5 overall and 13-5-4 in the CCHA. Notre Dame is 18-11-1, 14-7-1.
“Miami’s playing extremely well. They’ve got every aspect going for them right now,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “We’re coming off a tough month of January and trying to get our game back. I thought we made some progress over the last couple weekends, but I don’t think we’re clicking on all cylinders right now.”
UND swept visiting Michigan 7-4 and 6-4 last weekend. In the previous 10 games, Notre Dame was 2-7-1.
“They had a couple guys out that they kind of feed off of, (Jeff) Costello being one of them,” Blasi said. “But they’ve turned it around. They’re still a top team in the country.”
“We had a long break, then we came back and played six games in 12 days. Combine that with some injuries, and we went into a bit of a funk,” Jackson said. “We were giving up more goals than we had in the early portion of the year. Some of it was goaltending. Some of it was penalty killing. We just lost our edge a little bit, and we’ve been working to get it back.”
Another concern for the Irish is the fact that they’re tied for 12th in the latest PairWise rankings, which determine the 16-team NCAA field. With four games against Miami and Western Michigan straight ahead, playing well will be critical.
“At least we’ll find out where we are,” Jackson said. “We don’t set the objective as winning the league championship as much as we want to finish in the top four in our conference to earn that first-round bye.”
Junior center Anders Lee leads the 12th-ranked Irish with 29 points. His 17 goals are tied for third most in the country.
Juniors Bryan Rust (10 goals, 14 assists), T.J. Tynan (eight goals, 16 assists) and Costello (seven goals, 15 assists) are also among Notre Dame’s top scorers. Junior goalie Steven Summerhays is allowing 2.05 goals per game with a .918 save percentage.
“They play a high-energy game that is very skilled,” Blasi said. “All four lines can score goals, and their D-corps is mobile. They have a few more guys that are a little more experienced at playing at this time of the year.”
Jackson said the outdoor game hasn’t been a huge topic of conversation at Notre Dame. “It’s probably more about our alumni and fans in Chicago,” he continued. “For our kids, it’s just a matter of not getting distracted by all the outside factors.”
Miami is 10-1-3 at Steve Cady Arena this season. Its leading scorers are freshman Riley Barber (12 goals, 18 assists) and sophomore Austin Czarnik (11 goals, 19 assists).
Blasi has been consistently using freshman goalies Jay Williams (.930, 1.78) and Ryan McKay (.964, 0.98) on a Friday-Saturday rotation. McKay’s had a hotter hand of late, and Blasi was asked if he might change his strategy.
“I’m a big believer that you don’t fix what’s not broken,” he said.
The RedHawks rank first in the nation defensively, giving up 1.50 goals per contest. Notre Dame is tied for 11th (2.30).