As everyone who follows college hockey knows, the past two seasons have seen huge upheaval in the sport's landscape. Penn State started a hockey program, triggering the automatic creation of the Big Ten Hockey Conference, which in turn led to the sad demise of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, the re-jiggering of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, Notre Dame's addition to Hockey East, and the creation of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, which features, among others, MAC teams from Miami and Western Michigan.
The puck officially dropped on the NCHC last Friday night, as the first conference contest was played between the RedHawks and the North Dakota [insert nickname here]. Miami had never beaten North Dakota before, with the nameless holding a 2-0-1 all-time edge.
On Friday, North Dakota opened the scoring 7:55 into the first period, with Michael Parks scoring the NCHC's first goal. The RedHawks were completely dominated in the first and early in the second, trailing 3-0 just under 21 minutes into the game thanks to a goal from Brendan O'Donnell and a second strike from Parks. But the RedHawks regrouped, controlling the rest of the second to pull within 3-2 thanks to goals from center Sean Kuraly and forward Anthony Louis. Unfortunately, Miami was unable to sustain that momentum. Although the RedHawks put sustained offensive pressure on the nameless in the beginning of the third, a questionable call against forward Blake Coleman led to a five-minute major against Miami. Although the penalty kill was outstanding, the offensive pressure never really returned, and North Dakota sealed the game with a power play goal from Nick Mattson. Final score: North Dakota 4, Miami 2.
Saturday was a different story. The RedHawks came out like a team possessed. The first period was rough and physical, featuring a combined five power plays, and although the team with no name outshot Miami 17-9, the RedHawks made their chances count, thanks to a quick early score from forward Cody Murphy and a strike from Coleman with just under five minutes left in the period. Shortly into the second period, Riley Barber scored off a North Dakota defensive mishap, as UND tried to clear the puck from its own zone but only succeeded in sending it straight to Miami's Kevin Morris, who tallied an assist on Barber's goal. Just under two minutes later, Coleman took advantage of a traffic jam in front of North Dakota's net to score his second of the game, getting the puck to trickle just past goalie Zane Gothberg. Nameless head coach Dave Hakstol pulled Gothberg, but his replacement, Clarke Saunders, got a rude awakening -- just fourteen seconds later, Coleman scored his third goal of the game, recording his first career hat trick. North Dakota's Colten St. Clair finally got his side on the board a few minutes later, making the score 5-1 after two periods. Although UND's Gage Ausmus scored early in the third to bring the score within three, the outcome was never really in doubt, especially after Miami captain Austin Czarnik scored an insurance goal with about nine minutes left. Final score: Miami 6, North Dakota 2.
It was an exciting first weekend for the RedHawks in NCHC play. Although Miami dropped from #1 to #3 in this week's USCHO rankings, the 'Hawks acquitted themselves quite well against a team that, like Miami, expects to be in the national championship conversation come April.