The college hockey season finally got fully underway this past weekend, and it couldn't have started better for Miami. In addition to sweeping the Buckeyes, the only team ahead of them in the rankings (UMass-Lowell) suffered a shocking defeat on Friday night to Sacred Heart, a team that won two games all of last season.
On Friday night in Columbus, an early parade of Buckeyes to the penalty box gave Miami the early advantage, as Austin Czarnik (last year's CCHA Player of the Year, and this year's team captain) and Alex Wideman each scored 5-on-3 goals just over one minute apart in the first period. Miami would carry their 2-0 lead into the third, but Ohio State got on the board just 20 seconds into the period, and added another less than three minutes later to tie the game. Ohio State appeared to have all the momentum and had gotten the home crowd back into the game, but Cody Murphy scored for the RedHawks 30 seconds later to retake the lead. Later goals from Blake Coleman, Anthony Louis, and Ben Paulides gave Miami a 6-2 win.
The real star of the game was Miami's power play - in eight opportunities, they generated 14 shots and three goals. Jay Williams also had a strong night in net for the RedHawks, with 26 saves.
Saturday night in Oxford ended up turning into the Riley Barber show. Barber, last year's CCHA Rookie of the Year, picked up two assists on Friday, but finished at a -1. Perhaps this motivated him, because he came out of the gate and promptly scored 14 seconds into the game, the second-fastest goal in school history (Tim Huettl scored 12 seconds into a game against Michigan-Dearborn in 1986). He added another goal four minutes later, with both goals set up by linemates Czarnik and Max Cook.
Miami gave up a power play goal shortly before the first ended, and after Miami's Sean Kuraly and Ohio State's Alex Szczechura traded goals in the second, Barber completed his hat trick with a power play goal on a great wrist shot shortly before the period ended. It was the first RedHawk hat trick since Reilly Smith's against Western Michigan in January of 2012. Czarnik would get a goal of his own in the third (with an assist from Barber), and Barber added an empty-netter late in the game to give him four on the night. Ohio State would add a late consolation goal to avoid repeating Friday night's scoreline, but the 6-3 win in Oxford felt just as dominant for the RedHawks. Ryan McKay made 38 saves in the win. Highlights from Saturday's game via Miami All-Access can be seen here.
Two RedHawks also picked up conference honors for their play: Barber's seven points on the weekend (4G, 3A) were enough to get him the first-ever NCHC Player of the Week Award, and freshman defenseman Trevor Hamilton (0G, 3A) won the NCHC Rookie of the Week award, helped by his three blocked shots and +4 rating for the weekend. A strong start for the freshman defenseman is a good sign for Miami, as they rely so much on shot blocking and team defense under Enrico Blasi's system.
So it was all very hunky-dory for Miami this weekend, but how much can we read into it? Only Penn State was picked to finish below the Buckeyes in the new six-team Big Ten conference. And for Miami, as the new #1 team in the nation, they'll have a target on their back, but let's see, who do they play next weekend, another mid-level non-conference foe?
Oh. North Dakota, perennial powerhouse, #6 in the nation, and the only school with a longer active NCAA tournament streak than the RedHawks, rolls into the Goggin for the first-ever NCHC conference games. A conference that built itself on the idea of collecting the cream of the crop of college hockey will certainly get to showcase that right away.
This should also be a great measuring stick for Miami, who so often in the past has been accused of playing a "soft" schedule by virtue of being in the CCHA. Friday's game will be nationally broadcast on CBS Sports Network, and these games could very well be the biggest regular-season Miami home games since Michigan came to town in 2008 for a pair of #1-vs.-#2 games, which ended in a loss and tie for Miami.
North Dakota is coming off a home series with Vermont, where they posted a 5-3 win and a 2-2 tie. With the eight-team NCHC expected to be incredibly tight, both schools will be looking to start conference play on the right foot.
Friday: North Dakota @ Miami, 7:00 pm ET (CBS Sports Network)
Saturday: North Dakota @ Miami, 8:00 ET