Final CCHA title within RedHawks' grasp
FEB 27, 2013 4:07p ET
Riley Barber admits he’s probably been a little spoiled when it comes to hockey. The Miami (Ohio) University freshman, who just recently turned 19 years old, has known nothing but success in his youth, winning championships at every level he’s played.
“I’ve been fortunate enough where basically every team I’ve played with I’ve been lucky enough to play with great players,” Barber said.
This year’s RedHawks are no exception, but when Barber and fellow freshman Sean Kuraly left the team for a few weeks in December and January to join the United States team for the World Junior Hockey Championship in Ufa, Russia, the two brought back with them more than gold medals. They hope their experience in helping the United States win its second World Juniors title in four years will prove beneficial as Miami seeks to wrap up the final Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season title this weekend and looks forward to an eighth straight NCAA tournament berth.
The RedHawks (21-8-5) are ranked third in the nation by both USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine and head into this weekend’s home series at Goggin Ice Center against Ohio State needing just one point to clinch a share of the program’s fourth CCHA title. A win in either game would give Miami the championship all to itself.
No one doubted the talent on this Miami team, but with 11 freshmen, including goalies Jay Williams and Ryan McKay, and seven sophomores among its 26-man roster there were questions regarding how quickly that talent could come together.
Miami has won nine of its past 11 games. Its 56 points in league play are five better than second-place Western Michigan and six ahead of Notre Dame. Ohio State is tied with Ferris State for fourth place with 42 points.
Miami’s sweep at Lake Superior State last weekend ensured the eighth straight season coach Enrico Blasi’s teams have reached the 20-win mark.
“Sometimes the young guys just don’t know what they don’t know and they just play because they love to play the game,” Blasi said. “They’ve bought into our program, our coaching and our philosophy.”
Barber leads Miami with 14 goals and 34 points, a point total that also leads the CCHA. His 15 points on the power play are also No. 1 in the conference. Kuraly is Miami’s top player in the faceoff circle, having won 191 of 248 faceoffs (56.5 percent), and anchors the second line from the center position.
“Rico will put him out there in those big times, in an important part of the game,” Miami radio play-by-play broadcaster Greg Waddell said. “We’ve got defensive-zone faceoffs in a one-goal game when you’re 15 feet away from your own goaltender and possibly a game-tying goal against you. Kuraly, more times than not, is going to be the guy that’s out there taking the faceoffs.”
Barber and Kuraly missed just two games for Miami while they were at the World Juniors. The USA went 2-2 in pool play, beating Germany and Slovakia handily but dropping 2-1 contests to Russia and Canada. The Americans rolled through the medal round, beating the Czech Republic 7-0 in the quarterfinals, Canada 5-1 in the semifinals and Sweden 3-1 in the gold-medal game.
Barber and Kuraly played on the same line in the tournament. Barber finished with three goals and three assists in seven games, while Kuraly added one goal and two assists and won 52 percent of his faceoffs.
“It kind of hit home when coach Phil Housley came on the bus after one of our games and before our gold-medal game and told us ‘Guys, I’ve been involved in one gold-medal game in my life,' ” Kuraly said. “For a guy as storied as him being involved in something like that just once in his life kind of put it into perspective that playing for a gold medal doesn’t happen every day. It was just an unbelievable experience with a bunch of guys that came together as a team quickly with a coach that brought us so much confidence with us.”
Their short time away from the Miami team was more than offset by the experience.
“The positive impact is that they’ve been able to play at a big stage, and that helps in their preparation here,” Blasi said. “Hopefully they’re stepping up their game, because if they are then everybody else has to. It’s all a positive.”
The path Kuraly and Barber took to Miami was similar to most college players; they grew up in one place — for Kuraly it was in Dublin, Ohio, outside of Columbus, and for Barber it was Pittsburgh — but moved elsewhere to play junior hockey. Kuraly played two seasons with the Indiana Ice out of Indianapolis, while Barber played one season for the Dubuque (Iowa) Fighting Saints, helping them win a league title, and one season in the US National Team developmental program.
Both of their fathers were successful players.
Rick Kuraly is still the all-time leading goal scorer for Miami with 101 goals from 1979-83 and is third on the school’s all-time scoring list with 179 points.
Don Barber played at Bowling Green from 1984-88 and went on to play six seasons in the NHL.
“He’s been with me since I was younger teaching me how to play the game, teaching me the fundamentals,” Riley Barber said. “He’s always the first one to tell me if I’m doing well and the first one if I’m not playing well. He’s a huge influence. I couldn’t be here without him.”
As the final season of the CCHA wraps up — the conference is disbanding after 42 years with Miami moving to the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference next season — there isn’t a lot of nostalgia from the players. Wrapping up the regular-season title and getting ready for the CCHA tournament and the NCAA tournament are foremost on their minds.
“We don’t really talk about it as being the last CCHA championship,” Kuraly said. “This just happens to be the year that we’ve put ourselves in position to win a championship.”