No. 13/13 Miami RedHawks (9-7-2; 3-5-0-0 NCHC) at Western Michigan Broncos (9-8-3; 3-5-0-0 NCHC)

THE GAME
The Miami University RedHawks resume their regular season with a road conference series at long time rival Western Michigan this weekend (Friday and Saturday). Both games begin at 7:05 p.m.

WAYS TO LISTEN/WATCH
Miami hockey can be heard live all weekend at MURedHawks.com. An All-Access broadcast will also be available for both contests. Friday’s game can be heard live on WKBV (1490-AM) and Saturday’s contest airs live on WMOH (1450-AM)

LAST TIME OUT
The RedHawks ended a 23-day layoff on Dec. 31 when they hosted the USA U-18 Team for an exhibition at Steve Cady Arena. Max Cook and Johnny Wingels tallied tying goals in the second and third periods, respectively, to leave the score at 2-2 early in the third period. The U-18 team scored with 50 seconds remaining and put the game away with an empty net goal to send MU to a 4-2 setback. Austin Czarnik assisted on both Red and White goals.

THE COACHES
Enrico Blasi (Miami ’94) is in his 15th season behind the RedHawk bench. He is a five-time CCHA Coach of the Year and was named National Coach of the Year in 2005-06. He stands 320-203-55 in 14-plus seasons at his alma mater, where he has led Miami to nine NCAA Tournaments, including two Frozen Four berths, a National Championship game appearance, a trio of CCHA regular-season titles and the school’s first ever Mason Cup in 2011. Blasi is the winningest coach in school history.

Andy Murray is in the middle of his third year at Western Michigan, sporting a 49-33-17 record. He guided the Broncos to the NCAA Tournament by way of winning the CCHA Tournament in 2012.The Broncos have finished with a winning record in his first two seasons at the helm, making him only the second WMU coach to start his career with two-straight seasons above .500.

IN THE POLLS
Miami enters this weekend ranked 13th nationally in both major polls while Western Michigan is not ranked in either the USCHO.com or the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls.

THE SERIES: The RedHawks and Broncos have been fierce rivals as long time members of the former Central Collegiate Hockey Association. The programs have met 119 times and Miami holds a 57-52-10 lead in the all-time series. These teams split a conference series in Kalamazoo last year. WMU opened with a 2-0 victory before MU blanked the Broncos 4-0 in the finale.

ABOUT WESTERN MICHIGAN: The Broncos ended the 2013 calendar year on a high note, claiming the Great Lakes Invitational with a pair of overtime victories outdoors at Comerica Park. WMU topped No. 3 Michigan 3-2 and shut out Michigan Tech with a 1-0 overtime win to take the title. The Broncos have won three of their last four games to move over .500 on the season. WMU’s calling card is its stout defense, which ranks just outside the nation’s top 10 (12th) in allowing 2.25 goals per game. Shane Bersbech leads the Broncos with 23 points (8g, 15a) while Justin Kovacs also has 20 (9g, 11a) and was just named MVP of the Great Lakes Invitational and NCHC Player of the Month. Frank Slukowski has started 15 of WMU’s 20 games in goal and boasts a 2.53 goals against average and a .913 save percentage. Lukas Hafner has an impressive 1.26 GAA and .947 save percentage in his eight appearances (five starts).

REDHAWKS TO OPEN FIRST SEASON IN NCHC: Miami hockey embarks on a new era as the RedHawks open the inaugural season of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, of which Miami is a founding member. The NCHC is an eight-team hockey-only league consisting of Colorado College, Denver, Minnesota Duluth, Nebraska Omaha, North Dakota, St. Cloud State and Western Michigan, along with Miami. The conference boasts a combined 17 NCAA Championships, 50 Frozen Four berths, 12 Hobey Baker Award winners, including SCSU’s Drew LeBlanc this past year and 266 All-Americans. The teams have also produced 295 players that went on to play in the NHL. The new league will reward fans every weekend with fast, exciting, action-packed hockey that pits several of the top teams in the country against each other. The NCHC also has agreed to a television deal with CBS Sports Network, assuring at least 18 league games will be broadcast to a national audience this coming season.

REDHAWKS PICKED TO FINISH FIRST IN NCHC POLL: In the inaugural National Collegiate Hockey Conference preseason poll, Miami University was picked to win the conference. The poll was voted on by a total of 16 media members who regularly cover NCHC teams, two from each institution’s market. The RedHawks finished the preseason poll with 115 points, followed by North Dakota (109), St. Cloud State (99), Denver (66), Western Michigan (61), Minnesota-Duluth (43), Colorado College (42) and Nebraska-Omaha (41). Miami also led the preseason poll with seven first-place votes.

DYNAMIC DUO: Miami’s Riley Barber and Austin Czarnik continue to rack up points together. The duo has combined for 56 points this year (28 apiece), making them the highest scoring pair in the nation.
1. Johnny Gaudreau and Kevin Hayes (Boston College) 65 points
2. Greg Carey and Matt Carey (St. Lawrence) 62 points
3. Matthew Zay and Daniel O’Donoghue 60 points
4. Riley Barber and Austin Czarnik (Miami) 56 points
5. Sam Anas and Kellen Jones (Quinnipiac) 54 points

TOP PLAYER IMPORTANCE: Record wise, Miami’s success has depended on how its top scorers Riley Barber and Austin Czarnik have performed. The RedHawks are 8-4-2 when at least one of those two records at least one point, but sit 1-3 when they are held off the scoreboard. Barber having a big game has proved to be particularly important as MU is 5-1-1 when the sophomore has two points or more in a game, but it’s only 3-6-2 when he is held to one point or none at all.

INTERNATIONAL STANDOUT: Sophomore forward Riley Barber spent the winter break getting his final taste of international junior competition. Barber served as captain for Team USA at the World Junior Championships. He proved himself one of the team’s most consistent players, notching a point in every game and finishing the tournament with six points (4g, 2a) in USA’s five-game stint.

ANOTHER CENTURY MARK: Junior forward Austin Czarnik’s 100th-career game was a memorable one on Dec. 7. The Washington, Mich., native tallied three points on two goals and an assist in the RedHawks’ 4-2 win over Denver. Over his career, Czarnik has 105 career points, reaching the 100-point plateau at Bemidji State on Nov. 30. His point total ranks 44th on Miami’s all-time scoring list, one behind Randy Robitaille and Greg Dornbach.

THAT WAS FAST: A late Denver goal on Dec. 7 gave the Pioneers a small opening for a comeback. DU scored a power play goal with five seconds remaining to pull to within 3-2. Austin Czarnik put that thought to bed by slapping the center ice faceoff down the ice and into the empty net two seconds later to cap a 4-2 win. While the NCAA record book does not keep a record of fastest two goals by different teams, that time frame matches the national record for fastest consecutive goals by one team, set by Michigan Tech’s Tony Frasca and Omer Brandt on Feb. 1, 1952.

WELCOME BACK: Miami’s Dec. 7 win over Denver saw Jay Williams back in net for just his second start in 10 games. The sophomore was steady with 19 saves for his first win since Nov. 2 against Canisius.

FOUR SCORES: Scoring four goals has been Miami’s good luck charm this season. The RedHawks are an unbeaten 6-0-2 in the seven contests that they have scored at least four times, but sit just 3-6 when they score less than that. That mark includes a 2-6 record when Miami scores less than three goals in a contest.

SO CLOSE: Running away with games hasn’t been a problem for Miami, as six of its nine victories are by three goals or more. The RedHawks are looking to improve their results in closely contested games. Miami holds a 3-6 record in contests that are decided by two goals or fewer, including an 0-3 mark in one-goal games. MU is also 0-1-2 in overtime games.

STARTING ON TIME: Fast starts have typically led to positive results for Miami this season. The RedHawks are 9-3-1 when striking first, 7-2-1 when leading after 20 minutes of play and 8-1-1 when leading after two periods. When things haven’t started in favor of MU, the results have followed suit. The Red and White are winless when allowing the first goal (0-4-1) and when trailing after one (0-4-1) or two periods (0-5-1) of play.