Yes, that’s Miami (Ohio) sitting at the bottom of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings.
It’s the same RedHawks team that was picked to win the power-packed new league.
No, UNO coach Dean Blais said, even with the parity projected for the NCHC, that’s not what many would have predicted.
“But,” he said, “there’s a lot of games left.”
Blais and the Mavericks (8-11-1 overall, 5-4-1-1 and tied for third in the NCHC with 17 points) are in Oxford, Ohio, this weekend for a two-game series with Miami, with games at Steve Cady Arena at 6:37 p.m. Friday and 6:07 p.m. Saturday.
Miami (9-9-2, 3-7-0 for nine points) just dropped out of the national rankings this week, though its downward spiral has been going on for a while. The RedHawks, swept last weekend at Western Michigan, have lost six of their past seven league games, a stretch that includes being swept by the Mavericks in Omaha in November. They are 2-7-1 overall since mid-November.
And the RedHawks will skate this weekend without talented forward Blake Coleman, and possibly without one of their Hobey Baker Award candidates, center Austin Czarnik, who suffered a mild concussion last weekend and didn’t play Saturday.
But the RedHawks, coached by Enrico Blasi, don’t sound like a team with the weight of the world resting upon them.
“Everybody focuses on the outcomes, and obviously they weren’t where they need to be,” Blasi said of last weekend. “But I thought at times our process was really good. The thing that’s happening right now is that it’s forcing our young team to not only compete at a high level, but to have to make plays at a high level.
“I like that. I don’t like the fact that we’re not winning games, but we did a lot of good things the last two periods Saturday night — probably as good of two periods as we’ve played all year, but unfortunately the puck wasn’t going in the net.”
UNO had problems putting the puck in the net last weekend, too, managing just three goals as Minnesota-Duluth goalie Aaron Crandall made 90 saves to lead the Bulldogs to a sweep in Omaha. That dropped the Mavs from second in the NCHC into a third-place tie.
UNO is winless in its last six games (0-5-1-1), but — as Blais said — there are plenty of games (14) left.
“We have to get back to our game, playing desperate, and having a better Friday night,” Blais said. “We didn’t play well on Friday at Colorado College, at New Hampshire or against Duluth. We played OK, but OK isn’t going to win in this league. We’ve got to play good hockey and have our goaltenders win a game for us here and there.
“We’ve got to play 120 minutes on the weekend, not just 60 on Saturday.”
UNO swept Miami during what appeared to be a season-defining November, when the Mavs went 6-2 against high-level competition. But with the exception of a shootout win at Colorado College (the game is officially a tie), they haven’t won since.
“I think we’re two teams that are both desperate for two wins,” UNO defenseman Nick Seeler said. “It’s going to be a big weekend for us. We swept them, but we can’t go in there expecting another sweep.”
The Mavs rolled to wins of 6-3 and 3-1 in November, though visions of Czarnik skating toward the goal on breakaways — both stopped by goalie Ryan Massa — still dance in their heads.
“We can’t have that again,” Blais said.
It may not be an issue: Blasi said Czarnik has been limited in practice this week, and wouldn’t skate unless he’s 100 percent.
But just because the RedHawks are a couple of men down and down in the standings, UNO isn’t expecting anything other than another top-flight opponent.
“I’ve heard Miami’s rink has a pretty good atmosphere,” senior forward Ryan Walters said. “Fans get into the games pretty well. Even though their record doesn’t show it right now, they’ve got some skilled players. We’ve got to utilize our skill and shut them down. If we do, I think we’ll be all right.”