On Valentine’s Day, the Miami RedHawks clinched the regular-season CCHA title and gave Ryan Jones something to do.
“At this time last year, I was back with my friends at home. As much as I like them, it’s so much better to be on my way to the Joe. Going to the rink Monday and Thursday and being excited to go there was great. Last year, we only had 10 guys at any given practice.”
Although the RedHawks made their second trip to the CCHA championship tournament in three years, this is the first time Jones, a sophomore forward from Chatham, Ont., is playing for the Mason Cup.
He’s not alone. Sixteen players on Miami’s 27-man roster are sophomores or freshmen, including Jones’ linemates, fellow sophomores Nathan Davis and Nino Musitelli, and that youthful enthusiasm has helped buoy the RedHawk recovery following a 2004-05 season mired in injury and illness.
In fact, the Jones-Davis-Musitelli trio is a big part of Miami’s offensive spark, having produced 44 of Miami’s 116 goals coming into the weekend; Musitelli had a goal and an assist in Miami’s 5-2 semifinal win over Northern Michigan yesterday, and Jones had a goal of his own.
“We all bring something else to the game,” said Jones. “Nino is a finesse skater and a great shot. Nathan can just score. Me, I’m just a power forward. I’m an all-around player. I’ve been told that I’m an entertaining. If I don’t have the puck, I’m trying to make something happen. I take a beating, because I’m always in front of the net. I realized over my years of hockey where you need to be to score goals, and that’s in the slot.”
“I think all three of us complement each other real well,” said Davis, whose older brother, Matt, is a senior forward. The brothers are from Rocky River, Ohio. “Ryan’s big, strong, and likes to play in the corners and goes to the net really well. Nino’s quick and skilled and sees the ice really well. I’m just a blend of both of them in the middle.
“We can play any type of game that anyone can throw us against.”
Jones and Davis are used to each other, but Musitelli is new to the trio, having spent most of last season nursing an injury. “Ryan and I played together most of the year last year, so we got the chance to gel,” said Davis, who said of Musitelli, “I think he does get overlooked a lot. He’s a great player.”
Davis lives with his older brother, and both he and Jones say that the seniors have done their best to prepare the RedHawks, unaccustomed to media hype and the type of success their enjoying, focused on the task at hand.
“I’ve had a couple talks with them when the playoffs started. When we found out when we were going to play Western … they did a good job,” said Davis. “The playoffs are a whole different story. No matter what a team’s done, anything can happen.”
Both players also credit the Miami coaching staff for preaching the philosophy of taking things one day at a time.
“A lot of that steadiness comes from them. They bring a pretty even-keeled attitude to the rink every practice. It helps in big games, come playoff times. They don’t get too high, they don’t get too low.”
And that attitude helps the RedHawks deal with being considered something of an underdog in Spartan and Wolverine territory this weekend, in spite of being the No. 1 seed.
Jones said that the team “isn’t about fancy things,” like public recognition. “We’re about the 30 guys in the program.”
If it seems that the CCHA championship tournament is all about Michigan State and Michigan, said Davis, “There’s a reason every year they’re as good as they are. I think you’ve got to give them respect. They do it every year. As a school, we’ve never won a playoff championship. We’re looking to change that.”
And the RedHawks would love to provide the regular-season trophy with some company, specifically the Mason Cup. As it is, Jones — articulate, funny — gave the nameless regular-season hardware a moniker: “Frank.”
“I don’t know,” said Jones. “It just needed a name.”