2015-16 Miami season preview
Miami lost 10 players from its NCHC Tournament championship team in 2014-15, including its top three points producers, but six regulars on defense plus both goalies return this fall as the RedHawks chase their 10th NCAA Tournament berth in 11 years.
So with the loss of Austin Czarnik, Blake Coleman and Riley Barber plus others up front, Miami will need more offensive production out of its returning forwards and its newbies.
The RedHawks entering the NCAA Tournament as the top seed in the Northeast Region last season but lost in the opening round, 7-5 to Providence. Miami hosts the Friars this weekend to open 2015-16.
The Blog of Brotherhood takes a look at this season’s RedHawks by position.
Czarnik, Barber and Coleman netted 49 of the team’s 130 goals and finished with 45, 40 and 37 points, respectively, and are all in the pros this fall.
Senior Sean Kuraly is the returning leading goal scorer with 19 goals and 10 assists last season. He was also named team captain this off-season, taking over the reins from Czarnik, who had held that post for two years.
“Huge honor,” Kuraly said. “It’s not just given away, I think it’s something that’s earned, and obviously it’s a great honor for me to wear that (‘C’), it’s not something that I take lightly, I know it comes with a lot of responsibility.”
Kuraly is the first son a former player, as his father, Rick Kuraly, is the team’s all-time leading scorer with 101 career goals. Sean Kuraly has 37 in three seasons and needs 65 to top his dad.
“I’m going for 70,” Sean Kuraly said.
Junior Anthony Louis finished with 36 points last season, fourth on the team and tops among all RedHawks back this fall. His 27 assists were second on the team.
After that, the dropoff is substantial, as seniors Alex Gacek and Kevin Morris both went 5-9-14 in 2014-15.
However, Gacek played the best hockey of his RedHawks career the second half of last season and has become a strong defensive forward. Morris also plays good defense and scored all of his goals on the power play, finishing plus-6.
Junior Justin Greenberg, senior Andrew Schmit and sophomore Conor Lemirande also logged significant minutes last season, but Devin Loe and Michael Mooney – who combined to play 21 games – are the only other returning forwards that saw the ice last season.
Jack Roslovic is the team’s top incoming forward. The former U.S. National Development standout, who played on that team’s top line last season, was drafted in the first round, 25th overall by Winnipeg in this summer’s NHL draft. He has two assists in the exhibition last weekend.
Ryan Siroky, Zach LaValle, Josh Melnick and Kiefer Sherwood are the other freshmen forwards. Melnick found the net vs. Western Ontario on Saturday.
“I think every so often we go through a transition where we lose some real good guys, and you have to allow the young guys that you’ve brought in, to trust them and to allow them to grow into those roles, and we feel like we’ve done that,” Blasi said. “Those guys have to step up and play their role, and it might take a little time, but this isn’t anything that we haven’t been through before. Everyone wanted to question when Ryan Jones and Nate Davis left, and Andy Greene, and then everyone wanted to question when (Andy) Miele and (Carter) Camper and (Pat) Cannone) and Reilly Smith left, and I get it. But that’s what we’re paid to do is bring in guys that can play.”
With only nine returning forwards from last season and Roslovic a near lock to dress every night, the new forwards should have plenty of opportunity to his the ice.
“Obviously I think we have a lot coming in, but Czarnik, Barber, Coleman, (Cody Murphy, Alex Wideman), it’s a lot to replace, so we’re going to have to prove that we can score some goals, step up,” Sean Kuraly said. “I think we’re going to be relying a lot on our senior goalies and basically senior defensemen. It’s going to be a learning curve for sure, but I think the guys have what it takes, and we always replenish what we lose.”
Miami only lost Ben Paulides from last season’s team on defense, returning six regulars.
“That means we’re going a lot of faith in our defensemen to step up in big situations, and guys are progressing, so with the experience, (this group) should be very good,” senior Matthew Caito said.
The top pairing of Caito and sophomore Louie Belpedio lead this group after ending last season plus-19 and plus-15, respectively.
Caito had a career-best 24 points, including 20 assists, and will move into the top 10 all-time in Miami defensemen scoring this season. His 64 blocks led the team, and he has missed just one game in three years.
Belpedio, the Minnesota Wild’s third-round selection in 2014, posted a team blueliner-high six goals as a freshman, and also added 13 helpers.
Senior Taylor Richart earned most improved player honors, going 1-5-6. Sophomore Scott Dornbrock scored in last week’s exhibition and went 2-6-8 in 2014-15.
Senior Chris Joyaux ended last season with six assists in 38 games, and junior Colin Sullivan was limited to nine games because of an injury and the RedHawks’ team depth, but the former Montréal Canadiens draftee played well when he was in the lineup.
“Really, all year, (the defensemen) were unbelievable in front of me, blocking shots and limiting second and third opportunities, getting pucks out of dangerous areas,” senior goalie Jay Williams said. “We really started firing on all cylinders from a systems standpoint and executing last year, so that was a huge help.
“You’ve all the trust in the world and all the confidence in the world in them. They’re experienced and they know what to do. I would think (goalie) Ryan (McKay) would saw the exact same thing – knowing that they’re going to be there and they’ve got our back.”
The only freshman on the team is Grant Hutton, who is 6-feet-3 and went plus-26 for NAHL champion Janesville in 2014-15.
“That’s the great thing about it, is every day is a competition and guys are always battling for spots, and it helps them get better, which is great,” Caito said. “That’s what we have on D – we’ve got the depth that will make practice very competitive and very fun.”
With only 24 players on the roster this year, Mooney has experience on defense and could jump in there if Miami has injury issues.
“The luxury of having our veteran ‘D’ and goaltenders is nice, and we can focus on the younger guys up front,” Blasi said.
The blueline corps, which found the net just 16 times all of last season, scored three of the team’s six goals in the exhibition.
“It’s the effort to get more pucks on net, and we’re going be moving up in the play a lot more and helping our forwards out on the rush, so that’s how you get three goals, when you’re doing that stuff,” Caito said.
Like the defense corps, Miami has an all-veteran starting corps here.
Williams had his best season as a RedHawk in 2014-15, going 19-8-0 with a 2.04 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. His 38 career wins rank him fifth all-time in Miami history.
Williams also tied a school record with five shutouts.
“Jay has been able to grow as a goaltender and as an individual off the ice, and I think all of those things came to fruition for him a year ago,” Blasi said. “He looks great right now, and it’s a tough decision again (who to play), but that’s also something that we want, we want that competition. It brings out the best in all of them.”
McKay, also a senior, went 6-6-1, 3.09 and .898 last season. While his numbers weren’t great, he posted a .946 save percentage as a freshman and has the second-leading save percentage on the school’s all-time leaderboard (.920). He is also fourth in career shutouts with eight.
“Goaltending is difficult, let’s face it,” Blasi said. “You’re under a lot of pressure and sometimes it doesn’t go your way. I thought Ryan, as a young man, matured a great deal for us and obviously for himself. I think he understands what might have gone wrong for him last year, and he’s had a great attitude and he’s worked really hard to get himself back into a spot where he can compete for to be the starter and contribute on our team.”
Williams ended up logging the majority of minutes last season, but both should play a significant amount this year.
“It’s awesome, the two-headed monster has always been key for us, and I know both guys are going to step up for us and have great years,” Caito said.
Those two should eat up all of the minutes in net for the RedHawks, and freshman Evan McCarthy will serve as the team’s third goalie. McCarthy, who is expected to compete for playing time next season, went 9-8-3.05 for NAHL Kenai Valley in 2014-15.
“Obviously it was a good year – I think the most important thing is our success as a team,” Williams said. “It was pretty exciting to be able to win the NCHC. Things obviously didn’t work out in the end, but looking at the whole body of work and the guys we have coming back, I think we have a lot to be excited about to build on to get this year started right away.”