By John Lachmann
WHO: Miami RedHawks (14-19-3) at No. 11 North Dakota ?????? (22-12-3).
WHERE: Target Center, Minneapolis, Minn.
WHEN: Friday—8:38 p.m.; IF MIAMI WINS, Saturday—8:38 p.m. vs. Denver or Western Michigan; IF MIAMI LOSES, Saturday—5:08 p.m.
TV: Friday’s semifinals and Saturday's championship game will be on CBS College Sports (DirecTV Ch. 221; Dish Network Ch. 158).
MIAMI RADIO: Internet only.
NORTH DAKOTA RADIO: Friday—KQHT-FM (96.1), Grand Forks, N.D.
NOTES: After shocking then-No. 4 St. Cloud State twice last weekend, Miami is now in the same position as college basketball teams starting their tournament: The RedHawks need to win the next six to take home an NCAA title.
Still five games under .500, Miami’s PairWise ranking would not be high enough for an at-large berth regardless of this weekend’s outcomes, so the RedHawks have to win both games this weekend to get in.
Eight days ago that might have seemed like an impossibility, but the rejuvenated Miami has won its last three games – all on the road.
And at least on Friday, it will seem like a road game, as rabid North Dakota fans will flock Minneapolis by the thousands. Also, unlike last week vs. St. Cloud which nearly a lock for the NCAAs regardless of its NCHC Tournament results, the former Fighting Sioux are fighting for their tournament lives.
A loss against Miami would drop North Dakota out of range for an at-large bid and could end its season.
The former Fighting Sioux looked to be hitting their stride in February, when they went 6-1, but when the calendar flipped to March, the dominance stopped. Despite playing five of its six games this month in Grand Forks, North Dakota is 3-3.
UND nearly lost in the first round of the NCHC Tournament last week, escaping with a one-goal win in the rubber game on Sunday vs. Colorado College, a team that won seven games this season.
These teams have already met four times this season, with the former Fighting Sioux winning three times. The teams split in Oxford and North Dakota won, 3-2 and then 9-2 in Grand Forks in the Valentine’s weekend massacre last month.
Miami played well against UND the first three games but was absolutely dreadful in the seven-goal loss.
North Dakota has numerous good forwards but no standout.
Sophomore Rocco Grimaldi leads the team in points with 35, as the Florida Panthers’ second-round pick has 13 goals and 22 assists. Junior Michael Parks has killed Miami this season with two goals and six assists, and he is second on the team in points (11-17-28).
Junior Brendan O’Donnell only has 15 points this season, but he has three goals and two assists vs. the RedHawks.
Sophomore Drake Caggiula is the hottest North Dakota player, as he led his team with four points in the Colorado College series last weekend including two goals.
Sophomore defenseman Jordan Schmaltz is a St. Louis Blues first-round pick and leads all UND blueliners with 22 points, with five of them coming on goals.
Sophomore Zane Gothberg was in net for all three games last weekend and will almost certainly start on Friday. He stopped 73 of 81 shots (.901) vs. Colorado College and is 17-8-3 with a 2.08 goals-against average and .922 save percentage for the season.
Miami junior center Austin Czarnik leads the conference in points with 45, including an NCHC-best 33 assists. Sophomore forward Riley Barber is tied for second with 43 points, with 19 goals and 24 helpers.
Czarnik has recorded at least one point in all of the RedHawks’ last 14 non-shutouts, and Barber had a goal and four assists vs. St. Cloud State last weekend.
As hot as junior forward Blake Coleman has been, with eight goals in eight games since returning with an upper-body injury, he was held to one assist last weekend.
The defense, which due to lack of size, injuries and youth, have been a weakness for Miami this season, did a better job of shutting the slot area last Saturday against one of the best scoring teams in the NCAA.
And sophomore goalie Ryan McKay, whose numbers were unexceptional that night (25-for-28, .893) looked more confident between the pipes that has most of the season.
There is no doubt the RedHawks remember the beating they took in Grand Forks last month, so that should provide extra motivation to dethrone the No. 2 seed in this tournament.
Miami’s only win against UND was at Cady Arena earlier this season. The RedHawks are 1-5-1 all-time vs. the former Fighting Sioux.
Miami will face either Denver or Western Michigan on Saturday in either the championship game or the third-place game. The RedHawks are 2-2 vs. the Pioneers but 0-4 against the Broncos this season.