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Top ranking only the first step for Miami

by James Murphy
“Now we just want to keep positioning ourselves to have a chance at repeating as CCHA regular-season champions, winning the tournament and then making a run in the NCAAs.” - Miami head coach Enrico Blasi
The Miami RedHawks are in the midst of a two-week break in the schedule, but for the fifth-straight week they find themselves atop the college hockey polls. But unlike two seasons ago, this team is not satisfied with the lofty status of being ranked No. 1 during the season. Miami has bigger goals in mind, namely winning the CCHA Tournament and a national championship.

The 2005-06 RedHawks not only were the first in the hockey program’s history to achieve a top ranking, but also the first sports team to do so at Miami University. The players admittedly struggled with the hype and attention the top ranking brought them, but now their poll position and the accolades they’re receiving every week don’t seem to faze them as much.

With nine juniors and seven seniors on the roster, the RedHawks are finding it easier to remain focused on the goals they set at the beginning of the season because they have been in this position before.

“We have a team based around the juniors and seniors that were here when we first got ranked No. 1 and I think that experience has helped them this time around,” coach Enrico Blasi said. “I really think what we’ve built here over the last two seasons has helped us grow as a team and (we’ve) learned to not let our position in the rankings distract us. We came into this season knowing we could achieve big things and be a top team.”

Junior goaltender Jeff Zatkoff, who was a highly touted freshman on that 2005-06 squad, agreed with his coach’s observations.

“I think when we got that first top ranking my freshman season, there was more of an excitement surrounding it and we were almost satisfied or just appreciative to reach that point,” said Zatkoff, 10-1-0 with a 1.37 goals-against average and .940 save percentage.

“I think we were more prepared this time around and we just use it as motivation to improve and accomplish even more than just getting ranked No. 1.”

Miami roared to an 8-0-0 start this season and did so without preseason Hobey Baker Award candidate Nathan Davis. In the senior alternate captain’s first game back, the RedHawks relinquished the top spot with a 2-1 loss to Notre Dame. But Miami regained the top ranking the following week, and hasn’t fallen since, going 5-0-0.

“I think that just shows you the resilience this team has,” Blasi said. “We’ve been there already. Now we just want to keep positioning ourselves to have a chance at repeating as CCHA regular-season champions, winning the tournament and then making a run in the NCAAs.”

Blasi and Zatkoff also cited the big-game experience of the junior and senior contingent.

“Making the NCAA’s the last two seasons, and winning a tournament game last season, has definitely been a great experience for the juniors and seniors because they know they can not only get there now, but they can also win those big games,” Blasi said.

“We really came into this season believing we could do something bigger and that we were one of the more talented and experienced teams; so we’re just approaching it game by game and not getting ahead of ourselves.”

Zatkoff concurred.
“I think when we got that first top ranking my freshman season, there was more of an excitement surrounding it and we were almost satisfied or just appreciative to reach that point.” - junior goaltender Jeff Zatkoff

“I think as a player those are the games you always want to play in and now we know we can win them,” he said. “We just have to keep improving and preparing for the next time around.”

Blasi also pointed to the leadership skills that players like Jones, Zatkoff, junior forward Justin Mercier and senior alternate captain Kevin Roeder have brought to the program. The RedHawks also are getting some scoring punch from their younger players, specifically forwards Carter Camper (14 points), and Pat Cannone (12 points). Blasi believes those players feed off the example set by the upperclassmen.

“I think they set a great example every game and practice and the younger players are feeding off that,” he said. “They make it easier for those kids to fit in and find their roles and we’ve gotten some much-needed help from them.”

So, as the RedHawks take a break this weekend, they will not be sitting back fulfilled, believing they have reached their goals. There still is plenty to accomplish.

“We’ve set a bar and we’re not there yet,” Zatkoff said. “We just need to keep playing hard and do our best to play in those big games again.”

On Campus Clips -- Air Force senior center Eric Ehn was named AHA Player of the Week after scoring five points in a two-game series with Holy Cross, Nov. 23-24. Ehn had a season-high three points in Friday’s 3-1 win against Holy Cross with a goal and two assists. He then had a goal and an assist in a 5-5 tie with the Crusaders on Saturday. Ehn’s five points during the weekend moved him into 15th on the career scoring list at Air Force, with 136 points in 120 games. He has 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) this season. …Colorado College center Chad Rau, who led all conference players during the Thanksgiving weekend with four points, has been named the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week for Nov. 27-Dec. 3. This marks the second-straight week Rau has earned the offensive honor. …Clarkson forward Nick Dodge was named ECAC Player of the Week after scoring two goals, including the game-winner, Saturday night against St. Cloud. The senior captain also won 16 of 24 faceoffs in the Knights' 3-2 win. … Following their sweep of Minnesota and Wisconsin, Michigan’s Kevin Porter and Billy Sauer were named CCHA Offensive Player and Goalie of the Week, respectively. Porter, a senior captain, scored three goals and added three assists against the Gophers and Badgers, while Sauer posted a .943 save percentage in the two wins. …Northeastern junior forward Joe Vitale was named Hockey East Player of the Week after he led the first-place Huskies to a 4-3 overtime victory against Boston College. Vitale scored a goal and added three assists in the win and helped the surprising Huskies stay atop the Hockey East standings. … The “Red Hot Hockey” game held between Boston University and Cornell last Saturday – a 6-3 Terriers win – was held before a sellout crowd of 18,200 at Madison Square Garden. Top 10

Miami 13-1-0
Michigan 13-1-0
Denver 9-3-0
Colorado College 8-4-0
Michigan St. 8-3-2
New Hampshire 7-2-1
Notre Dame 12-4-0
North Dakota 6-4-1
Clarkson 10-4-0
St. Cloud St. 7-3-2

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