Friday, February 08, 2008

Know Your Opponent: Miami

For the biggest college hockey weekend of the season, we're bringing back the "Interview a fan of the opposing team" feature. The interviewee this weekend is a 2003 graduate of Miami, who currently lives in Cleveland. However, he grew up in Ann Arbor, and has followed both Michigan and Miami closely since he started college.

1) First off, how geeked are you for this weekend? 1 vs. 2. The two highest-scoring and best defensive teams in the nation. The top 2 goal-scorers in the country, 4 of the top 6. The two top goalies in the country. And very possibly a CCHA title on the line. You gonna get down there for the games or do you prefer to keep your right arm and your first born?

For some reason I always get really nervous for Miami vs. Michigan games. In any sport. This is a huge weekend for the Miami program. I don't think it'll make a huge difference THIS season, but that's because I think they'll spilt. The CCHA tournament will be just as big for NCAA seeding. It's huge for the program because it's got so much national exposure. It's important for Miami to show that they're for real as a program. It would be pretty disappointing to get all this hype and to get swept or only 1 point. (Signed, Nebraska-Omaha -ed.) It will be interesting to see how much their success, or lack thereof, this weekend will affect the program in the future. I don't think Michigan is as likely to notice a peak or valley in their program's trajectory based on this series. They've been around too long for that.

I'm not going to the games but I'm hoping to watch as much of them as I can. They're on tv in Cleveland (for most home games) and some bars will have it on. Like I said, I get really nervous and part of me doesn't want to watch the games, because I'll be really tense. If they're great games, I may try to get a copy of them.

2) So who has impressed you the most thusfar this season? Obviously you've got a lot of players to pick from. Biggest surprise? Any disappointments, beyond Davis being out so long?

I think the freshmen have surprised me the most and probably Justin Mercier. None of the freshmen were VERY highly thought of. Just going by the INCH recruiting rankings, not many Miami players made their lists, but a few of the freshmen show up among the nation's scoring leaders. I think that's a product of how well the team is playing and not necessarily the freshmen. There are freshmen sprinkled in with the veterans and all the lines are contributing.

Miami doesn't get a lot of big time scorers (besides Miele I guess), but all the guys they bring in can score. I kinda wonder sometimes how they score so much if they don't have many great individual scorers, but they are because they are playing as a team. All their goals come from hard work, teamwork and skill. The coaching staff seem to be bringing in the right guys for the system.

The scorers that Miami has brought in are all small, like Camper and Miele. Those guys aren't likely to bolt for the pros, so it's a good recruiting strategy. I think it's similar to what Boston College does.

It's almost impossible to pick a disappointment on a team doing this well. If I had to pick one, it would be Justin Vaive, but it's probably because I expected more because he came from the USTNDP. I think he'll turn out to be a great player, but I guess I expected more this season. I hope Miami continues to get NTDP guys. It seemed like they were getting one a year. They don't have anyone coming in next year. All the guys have had success.

One guy I like to watch is defenseman Alec Martinez. He's got a great wrist shot and he makes it look so easy. Also, defenseman Kevin Roeder is a big hitter who's only 5'9". Two years ago in the NCAA tournament he knocked BC's Brian Boyle (a very large man) on his butt early on in the game and sent a message. Of course, Cory Schneider had a message of his own and that was, "Your team will never score on me."

3) Speaking of Davis, I've heard he's coming back this weekend. Is that the general school of thought? Is he supposed to be 100% apart from the rust, or is this just a series that he refuses to miss?

I've heard he's playing. I just hope it's not too early.

I'm guessing that they were playing it cautiously. With the team doing so well, there's no need to bring him back early. I think he's gotta be right at 100% besides the rust. He probably won't be on the top line, but I really don't know. Miami runs all lines close to the same. I'm curious how much he'll show up on special teams. Maybe he can play on a line that matches up with Michigan's top line. He's a great defensive player, so it's possible.

4) As if Miami wasn't scoring enough goals already, they get Davis back in the near future (or possibly this weekend), and add a guy who was on pace to break the USHL goal record in Andy Miele. Not a bad time to get the needed test scores! How is he fitting in? Have you seen him play--is there a scouting report on this guy?

Yeah, this move kind of says that the coaches are really serious about a national championship run this season. Maybe it also says something about Davis' condition. Fans were kind of concerned about giving up a half year of eligibility and messing with the team chemistry, but I trust the coaches to do what's right.

Miele plays around the net and likes to mix it up. A good comparison might be Brett Sterling, formerly of Colorado College, in that they're small and like to be around the net and score. Miele racked up some penalty minutes as well in the USHL.

5) Are you at all surprised that it's pretty much been Zatkoff all the way this year? I know Effinger struggled some last year, but he was really strong the season before. Is this just a case of a guy playing too well for the other, obviously qualified goalie to see minutes?

There's gotta be a pretty discernible difference for Zatkoff to play this much more than Effinger. But, I wonder if the coaches want to go into the playoffs with a hot number 1 goalie and not a 2-goalie system.

Miami's had some odd goaltending situations in the past. David Burleigh who came in 1999-2000 started all 4 yours pretty much. But, I think his save percentage was barely .900. They also had a guy named David Bowen who played for the NTDP but never started regularly. After him they brought in Steve Hartley (who had been drafted! by the Avs I think) and Brandon Crawford-West. BCW was pretty old and raw but had some success. Hartley didn't. Here's what Hartley's doing now. (Hartley may not have done well, but I bet he made damn sure to have a legal stick every night! -ed.) The Miami Hawk Talk boards also mentioned BCW was back in school but not playing hockey. Then Zatkoff and Effinger split time in 2005-06 and each had great records and stats. I really don't know how good they are, because Miami stresses team defense so much. We'll have to wait till they get to the pros.

If Zatkoff leaves after this season, Miami will have 2 freshmen fighting for playing time next season. One's from the EJHL and the other from the NAHL. They're probably among the top 2 goalies in their respective leagues. One's old and one's in his draft year currently. I think they'll do well in college. You can follow their seasons here.

6) Not so much a question as a comment: I was a huge fan of Justin Mercier's when he played for USA. Then he had to go to Miami and get drafted by the Avs. Regardless, I'm happy to see him having a breakout season. To turn this into a question: Anything you can share about his progress as a player? Do you think we'll see him for the Avs someday?

I'm curious to see how well Miami players do in the pros. Andy Greene seemed to step right in. There aren't many that seemed to have the talent, besides him and maybe Marty Guerin. I think there are a lot of guys on the current team who could make an impact. Mercier is certainly one of them. He's got good size, he plays defense, he can score. One thing you gotta like about the Avs is that they draft a lot of college players. (Absolutely...I've been saying for the past couple years that they understand the new NHL and will reap the benefits of picking those college kids. Hopefully the Wings come around on that. College is the new Europe. -ed.) I know nothing about the Minnesota Wild, but I gotta think they'll want Ryan Jones playing for them soon. Nate Davis would've seemed like a sure thing before the injury. None of these guys are real flight risks, except maybe Zatkoff.

7) With Miami having last change, what will Blasi do when Michigan throws Porter/Kolarik out there? Are we going to see strength vs. strength or do they have a checking line they'll throw out there? Or will they simply look to get the right d-pairing against them--and who would that be?

That's a great question. All the forwards play good defense so I would guess that the top 3 lines will match up on UM's top line. I can't imagine Miami's 4th line being matched up with UM's top line.

Miami's defense lines are pretty well balanced too. Ganzak and LoVerde balance experience and youth and offense skills and a stay at home defenseman. Martinez and Roeder are both really solid.

8) I know you've followed Michigan in the past. Have you gotten to see us play much this year? If so, do you feel there's any area where Michigan might be able to attack Miami with some success--and vice-versa, where do you think the RedHawks have the advantage? What are the keys to beating Miami--not too many teams have managed it?

I watched a fair amount of the Notre Dame/Miami game where ND won. When Miami shot pucks on net from outside, they didn't have anyone screening. Miami's forwards were trying to get in front of the net, but couldn't get there before the shot came and the defensemen were getting pressured and had to get rid of the puck. A lot of Miami's goals seem to come when there's traffic in front. When they didn't have traffic, they couldn't score. I think teams have to have the size and speed to do that to Miami. Notre Dame could and Michigan can too. I don't know what MSU's problem was.

Miami seemed to give up a ton of one on none opportunities last season, but not so many this season. I know Michigan loves the long passes. Miami forechecks well so I don't know if those will come as easy.

Miami goes through an occasional scoring drought. If UM plays good D and gets some odd man rushes, they can easily win.

9) I have to ask, simply because I can't let this weekend go by without joking about this article: Miami hockey dynasty. Your thoughts?

What is a college hockey "dynasty" anyways? Does North Dakota have one? What about Denver or BC? I think if we could ranked the programs based on their success in the past 10 years, Miami isn't in the top 10. But I think Miami is a consistent top 15 program right now. I think next year, they will still be a good team and challenge for a NCAA berth. That's all you can really ask for because of the movement of players to the NHL and because of the single elimination tournament.

One thing about the article I agree with is that a top program needs a good long term coach. Miami has that now.

If Miami stays among the top 4 in the CCHA and in the top 10-15 in college hockey for the next few years, I think you have to put them among the best programs. They haven't won a NCAA championship, but a bunch of teams haven't won one for a long time. Maine, UNH, BU, CC, Cornell. Michigan is going on 10 years. It's been awhile for North Dakota. Before last season, MSU hadn't won one in ages. Miami doesn't have the history that these teams do, but they are making history, BABY! I was there when they swept #1 MSU at home in 1999-2000! (then tanked the rest of the season) I started the "overrated" chants!

Dynasty is just the wrong word for college hockey. There is no program that I would currently call a dynasty (Michigan might be the closest), but there are powerhouses, and Miami is building a powerhouse. If they continue what they're doing, they will be a powerhouse. By powerhouse I mean consistent top 15 teams and in the tournament every year. If they win a national championship, then I'd say they're there among the other powerhouses, just without all the history.

The readers are probably all sick of hearing about Miami and its TEAM concept. But, Blasi has everyone drinking the kool-aid. Miami doesn't get a single high draft pick, yet they are one of the best teams of the past few years. I think they recruit a great mix of players. Some of the guys are older which definitely helps, but a lot come before their 20th birthday. This year's freshmen all have great playing experience either for the NTDP or in the USHL where they were all big contributors on their team. Their young scorers are too small to be NHL prospects. But, there are some great finds in these classes. Brian Kaufman practically came out of nowhere. The NAHL goalie they have coming in next year sounds like a good pick up. They've found their main recruiting bases in Detroit, Ohio and Chicago, but have expanded east to get some good players. They have a couple Minnesotans too. They're getting less Canadians than they used to, but I think they'll always get some Canadians.

I'm a little worried that Miami is recruiting higher end players for the future and that they may go pro early or just mess up recruiting when they decide to play in major junior or something. I see Miami being considered by a lot of the young guys listed on the WCH blog. It's a double edged sword that Michigan has been cut with a lot recently. I like my team with 4 year players that develop. Otherwise it's just like watching a junior team where there's so much turnover every year. I hope Miami avoids that.

For a Michigan vs Miami perspective, when I used to go to Michigan/Miami games, Michigan played with more of an attitude than Miami. One reason is because they were better than Miami, but that's a good attribute for a team to have and I think Miami's got an attitude now. They're not going to be pushed around. I don't think they'll be an easy victory for many teams in the future.

But Dynasty? No, Miami hockey is not a dynasty, but they are building a powerhouse.

Great answer. I'd be inclined to agree that no one really has a dynasty in college hockey right now. Mainly I just laugh at the word choice there--your choice would probably have been better. There's no denying that Miami has a great program right now, but they haven't had any success in the tournament (which I fully expect to change this year). It'd be great for the conference if Miami has the staying power to be a threat in the CCHA year in and year out. We've seen a lot of teams rise toward the top for a year or two (Ferris, OSU, Western) and then fall hard. The first goal should be to be consistently in the battle for a first-round bye, and to keep making the tournament, sometimes winning some games. Then we can talk about dynasties or whatever. With Blasi locked up long-term, a new arena, and some really good young players, they should have the opportunity to remain at the top of the conference for awhile. And winning breeds winning. The better they do, the more they'll be able to sell themselves to guys in the future. -ed.

10) Finally, any last thoughts on the RedHawks or the matchup this weekend? I'm usually fairly anti-prediction, but if you'd like to offer them up for the weekend, you're more than welcome!

I'm predicting a split, and would be happy with it. If Miami took 3 or 4 points, I'd be pretty pumped. I'm keeping an even head like Blasi would want me to. This weekend is not the ultimate goal of the team. This weekend is a big weekend for the regular season championship and seeding if they took 3 or 4 points, so it would behoove Miami to play well. If Miami got swept and went on to win a National Championship, I wouldn't care about the sweep obviously. It's a long season. You might call it a marathon, not a sprint.

I really enjoyed that. Thanks again to my interviewee! This should be a great, great weekend of hockey. I'm looking forward to it.

Also, I just received an email from the same person who was interviewed above. He said that he's heard that Carter Camper, Miami's second-leading scorer (13-20--33 in 27 games) will miss tonight's contest. Nathan Davis will be back and will play on Ryan Jones's line in Camper's stead.

Other links to look at today:
Peabody from Michigan Against the World previews this weekend's games. I'm not nearly as confident as he is. And, uh, no offense, but based on track record (the whole 2007 National Champs shirt thing), I wish he wasn't so confident.

M-Victors on last Friday's game. I really suck at putting saved blog links into my media roundup.

Varsity Blue has highlights of Saturday's game from WOLV-TV.

The Wolverine preview.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

4-0 first period?! What is going on?
-G MVictors