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UND, Miami prepare for NCHC matchup

GRAND FORKS -- A year and a half ago, CBS Sports Network executives began discussing the possible matchups for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference opener.

It didn't take long for them to settle on a premier series.

No. 1 Miami University will host No. 6 University of North Dakota at 5 p.m. tonight in the first-ever NCHC league game. It will be televised nationally by CBS Sports, kicking off the new era of college hockey.

"This game got hand-picked," CBS Sports analyst Dave Starman said. "They asked us what we want as the opening game. I can't think of a better matchup than Miami and North Dakota."

There's good reason for it.

Miami and UND have been two of the country's best and most consistent programs in the last decade.

Since the 2005-06 season, UND and Miami rank second and third nationally in wins with 211 and 209, respectively. Only Boston College (213) has more victories in that same time span.

UND and Miami have the two longest NCAA tournament appearance streaks. UND has gone to the national tournament 11 straight years, Miami eight straight. Denver is third with six consecutive NCAA tournaments. UND and Miami double every other program in that category.

Since Dave Hakstol took over as UND's head coach in 2004-05, his team has finished with a winning percentage better than .600 Only one other program has been over .600 for each of the last eight seasons. Miami.

"It should be a great way to kick off the NCHC inaugural season," Hakstol said. "I think it will be an exciting series all the way through. They are the No. 1 team in the country. We're going into their building. There will be an immediate edge to the series."

Both have been difficult to beat at home, too.

Miami has lost just three of its last 29 games in Steve Cady Arena. UND has lost four of its last 31 in Ralph Engelstad Arena.

And both teams have been able to stay in the national picture despite early signings to the NHL and unexpected losses of top recruits to the Canadian Hockey League.

UND has lost five recruits to Canadian major juniors in the last two-and-a-half years. Miami has lost four. Even so, they've been able to regroup and stay near the top in college hockey.

"I think a lot of that has to do with recruiting," Starman said. "That's the obvious answer, but each program recruits what it wants to be. When you look at pro sports, they go with the "best player available" philosophy. I think when it comes to college recruiting, Miami and North Dakota may pass up a high-end, elite-level player if he doesn't fit their philosophy."

Starman said both coaches recruit certain types of players.

"When it comes to Rico," Starman said of RedHawks coach Enrico Blasi, "he wants a certain kind of player. They've brought in some really good people with talent, character and accountability. He has built that into their culture."

He said the same is true for Hakstol and UND.

"Hak has done a great job bringing in guys who fit his mold," Starman said. "He has a great ability to bring in high-skilled guys that have an edge to them like (T.J.) Oshie and (Jonathan) Toews. It's amazing how his teams take on his personality, but the kids don't lose their identity in the process."

Before the season, Hakstol predicted that Miami would soon transform into one of UND's top rivals in the new league.

Both schools are doing their part to kick it off.

The Miami Bookstore posted a video on YouTube with an employee saying that he's so confident Miami will win this weekend, that if the RedHawks don't, he will wear a RedHawks jersey, paint his face green and let the Miami paintball team shoot paintballs at him.

By mid-afternoon, the Sioux Shop responded with manager Jason Carlson saying he would do the same if UND got swept or lost in Oxford.

Everyone else will sit back and enjoy the series between two top-end teams.

"We're excited," Starman said. "Those programs are first-class programs. It's awesome. North Dakota has a lot of tradition. Miami is still making its tradition. It's a great building and a cool matchup. We're stoked."