Regardless of the NCHC postseason format, Miami was headed to The Ralph to open the conference playoffs.
Due to COVID concerns, all eight teams will play the entire tournament – single elimination – at a single venue.
That facility would be North Dakota’s home rink.
Under the traditional format, the RedHawks, as an eight seed, would have headed to Grand Forks anyway. UND is the top seed, and the higher seed hosts in the opening round of the NCHC Tournament.
Miami is 0-4-1 in its last five games at North Dakota, with the RedHawks’ last win there coming on Jan. 13, 2017.
WHO: Miami RedHawks (5-17-2) at No. 2 North Dakota Fighting Hawks (18-5-1).
WHERE: Ralph Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, N.D.
WHEN: Friday – 8:35 p.m.
NOTES: Admittedly, the odds of Miami beating UND in its own building aren’t great, but the single-elimination format favors the underdogs.
In a best-of-3, there’s a much better chance the favorite wins, since the lesser-rated team has to pull off two upsets.
There’s also the old basketball cliché about the team that has already clinched an NCAA berth vs. a team facing the end of its season, and how an elite team could get caught looking past its lowly first-round opponent.
So there’s hope.
And really, throwing three steamers away, Miami has at least been competitive in most games until the end this season. The goal differential may not accurately reflect that because of all the empty netters, but the RedHawks have hung in there in almost every contest despite their brutal schedule.
Pandemic, schedule overhaul, NCHC postseason tournament falling into its lap, nothing seems to faze North Dakota, which went on a ridiculous 15-2 run heading into its final regular season game last week, which it lost to UNO in overtime.
The league awards were announced this week, and North Dakota pretty much ran the table.
The Fighting Hawks, who boast 12 NHL draft picks, have doubled up their opponents in scoring for the season, 94-47.
Shane Pinto (Ottawa), Jordan Kawaguchi (undrafted) and Collin Adams (NY Islanders) all averaged at least a point a game in 2020-21.
Pinto (15-13-28) tied for fifth in Division I goals and was tops in the conference in points. Kawaguchi tied for second in the NCHC with 27 points and has 117 in 131 career games.
Forwards Jasper Weatherby, Grant Mismash and Riese Gaber all finished with at least 16 points as well.
It’s impressive when three defensemen finish the regular season with double-digit points totals in a 24-game season.
Matt Kierstad (3-16-19) is tied for second in the NCAA in blueliner assists, and he has 74 in his four-year career.
Jacob-Bernard Docker went 2-13-15 and freshman Jake Sanderson was 2-9-11.
In net, Adam Scheel should be ready to go for the conference tournament after posting an incredible 16-3-1 record, a .929 save percentage and a 1.80 goals-against average this regular season.
Offensively, Matthew Barbolini has been Miami’s most productive skater in recent weeks, notching five points in five games. Casey Gilling has scored four times in the RedHawks’ last seven contests.
Barbolini leads the team with five goals, and only four skaters have found the net more than two times this season, and two are defensemen.
Derek Daschke has chipped in five points in the last seven to pace the back end, and he leads all team blueliners in goals (4), assists (8) and points (12).
Freshman D-man Robby Drazner has really progressed as the season has gone on, and he has three goals and four assists for seven points.
Ludvig Persson will make his NCHC Tournament debut after posting a 2.40 GAA and .930 save percentage to earn freshman-of-the-year honors.