2016-17 Miami season preview
Miami opens its season on Friday, and when it takes the ice it will feature its first defenseman captain since 2012-13 in junior Louie Belpedio.
Belpedio, an assistant last season who netted four goals and dished for 13 assists to lead all RedHawks blueliners in points with 17 last season, is just the second defenseman to hold that title since Cady Arena opened. Steven Spinell (2012-13) is the other).
Captaincy is a cumbersome role at Miami, and the transition was not easy for the past two captains. Austin Czarnik took over in 2013-14 after having never been in that capacity at any level and it took time for him to learn leadership off the ice, and Sean Kuraly earned the ‘C’ in the summer of 2015 but struggled on the ice the first half of last season.
“I think this year is a little different than in years past, with 14 freshmen,” Belpedio said. “For me, a lot of good examples were set by both Austin and Sean that I can take with me into this year and next year so I’ve got to thank those guys for really leading the way and showing me the ropes and what it takes. Those are probably two of the best guys to learn from. But obviously it’s an honor, and you look at the list of guys that have worn the ‘C’ before me, it’s obviously a pretty exciting list, and a lot of them are playing pro hockey right now and I look to follow in their footsteps. But right now, it’s a good personal accomplishment for me, but it comes with a lot of responsibility and I’m ready to take on that role.”
Belpedio said the high number of freshmen could have made his job even more difficult, but the players came in over the summer to work out rather than when school started, making their transition into their first regular season smoother.
“Honestly it hasn’t been to tough so far,” Belpedio said. “Everyone’s bought in and is abiding by what The Brotherhood stands for, and I think that makes it easier on the coaches, myself and even just the team in general. I’ve got to thank those guys for stepping right in and doing what they’re supposed to, and we’ve got (opening) weekend coming up, so it’ll be a big test for us and we can kind of see where we stand.”
Coach Enrico Blasi said that Belpedio having been an assistant last season had aided in his transition to wearing the ‘C’.
“He’s been in that role with other teams and I think his comfort level is pretty good at this point,” Blasi said. “He’s got a good surrounding cast around him, so I think he’s been adjusting well.”
Also earning assistant captain status are senior forward Anthony Louis as well as junior forward Conor Lemirande and sophomores forward Josh Melnick and defenseman Grant Hutton.
“It’s obviously a huge honor and I’m very fortunate to be in that position,” Melnick said. “I’m really not trying to think about it too much, and I’m really not looking to change up anything in terms of play last year. Like I said about Louie, trying to show everyone the way and model the way on the ice and know when there’s a good time to speak my mind and let everyone know. Obviously there’s always a time to lead and a time to follow, so just focusing on that.”
It’s unusual for a sophomore to earn a letter, much less for a team that will have half its team entering their first season in Oxford.
“It was a little overwhelming at first, I think, but from top to bottom, coaches, staff and all the returning guys, we never had any doubts – and still don’t – that we wouldn’t be able to execute this year and play at a high level,” Melnick said. “I think it was really helpful to get the guys in here this summer and get to know them, and we had to establish early what our program was about, and I think we did a pretty good job of that.”
Melnick called Belpedio a great fit for captaincy.
“Throughout the whole spring last season and the summer this year, he’s been a great leader both on and off the ice, showing the new guys the way and pulling everyone along with him as well as saying the right things, keeping high spirits,” Melnick said.
With 14 freshmen, Blasi said the only way to cope with that is for them to play games and gain experience. Opening night is Friday in Providence, which went 1-0-1 against the RedHawks in Oxford last season and knocked them out of the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
“For us it’s about process, and we’ve got to make sure we navigate that process correctly and we’re teaching and yet we’re holding them accountable to a certain standard,” Blasi said. “I think our culture’s in a good place where our older guys have done a nice job of implementing responsibility and that ownership for who we are.”
Blog of Brotherhood takes a quick glance at each position.
First-round pick Jack Roslovic turned pro this off-season after tying for the team lead in points last season with 26 and standout Sean Kuraly graduated, but two of Miami’s other 25-point producers return this fall in Melnick and Louis.
The RedHawks averaged just 2.39 goals per game last season, and although it was an exhibition, MU took a step forward in that department by lighting the lamp eight times vs. Waterloo on Saturday.
“Last year we struggled in that area a little bit, and obviously losing Jack doesn’t help us, but we got off to a great start the other night, and I think it was great to see every line contributing,” Melnick said. “That confidence is something I think we need, and we carried it into practice (this Monday) as well. We’ve had that confidence for the past couple of weeks, so that was definitely a confidence booster as well, and that should help us the next few weeks.”
Melnick did everything at a high level in 2015-16 and went 9-16-25. Kiefer Sherwood, also a sophomore, had an outstanding second half and finished with 11 markers and seven assists and Miami hopefully has a serious scoring duo for the next three seasons.
Louis finished with 11 goals as well in addition to 15 helpers and needs just 13 points to become the next member of the RedHawks’ 100-point club.
No other returning player had more than 10 points last season, although freshman Carson Meyer pumped in 32 goals in his first full season in the USHL in 2015-16 and Karch Bachman, a Florida Panthers draftee, scored twice in the exhibition as well as Alex Alger.
Gordie Green and Willie Knierim are also expected to contrinute right away after successful seasons in Dubuque, with Green playing more of a playmaker role while Knierim is a true freshman wide body who will hopefully continue to get better as he develops into his 6-feet-3 frame.
“I think we’ve got a lot of dynamic forwards, a lot of guys who can make plays and score goals,” Belpedio said. “That opens up the offensive side for us, but at the same time I think the defensive zone is the most important part, and those guys aren’t going to get to use their skills unless we take care of business in our end. Luckily, we’ve got some guys that are two-way and care as much about D as they do offense, so the offense will definitely come.”
Overall Miami has seven newcomers at forward, and add four sophomores for a total of 11 with one year of experience or less.
“We’ve been focusing on finishing in practice and doing everything we can to bear down in those tough areas where we need to bury the puck,” Melnick said. “Just focusing on those scoring habits, and I think our line chemistry is really good right now, so it will be really interesting to see how we do the next couple of weeks.”
Said Blasi: “I like the way we’re balanced – we have a little bit of everything – and we’ve just got to continue to get better.”
Out are standout Matthew Caito and shutdown blueliners Chris Joyaux and Taylor Richart, which means Miami must replace half of its starting D-corps from 2015-16.
But obviously Belpedio will anchor the blue line, and senior Colin Sullivan, junior Scott Dornbrock and Hutton return and should be solid in their end.
Belpedio played 34 of 36 games and went 4-13-17, Dornbrock also logged 34 games and picked up six assists, Hutton dished for five helpers in 35 games and Sullivan scored a goal in 15 contests.
Assuming those four start each night, that leaves two spots for four freshmen.
“I think we’re got a good group of guys to step right in and fill those shoes,” Belpedio said. “This past weekend (in the exhibition vs. Waterloo) everyone got to dress, everyone played really well and it’ll be interesting to see what happens from here on out. But I think we have a strong D-corps, and even though we lost those guys I think we’ve got some good new faces.”
Grant Frederic is one of the favorites to land ample playing time, having captained USHL Green Bay last season. Frederic, a 6-feet-3 St. Louis native whose brother was drafted in the first round by Boston this June, went 2-12-14 with a plus-20 rating for the Gamblers and has a reputation as a big hitter.
Chaz Switzer, Jared Brandt and Bryce Hatten are the other three rookie blueliners. Hatten was injured much of last season and may still need time in 2016-17 to return to 100 percent. Hatten and Switzer are 19 while Brandt turns 21 later this month.
The rawest position for Miami, the four RedHawks goalies have logged a total of nine minutes, and the netminder who did play in a game – Evan McCarthy – is out with an undisclosed injury.
“In terms of goaltenders, it’s such a unique position,” Blasi said. “I think having three freshmen goalies battling it out every night, sometimes it’s nice to see the energy and the commitment and the passion that they have to prove themselves.”
Ryan Larkin played the first two periods of the exhibition, which is interesting because in the past when Miami has had split situations – which it has had most of the past decade – the top two goalies have played 30 minutes each.
Larkin, the cousin of Detroit Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin, was limited to four games last year because of injury and went 3-1-2.13 with a .917 save percentage. He had a .919 save percentage in 2014-15 in his only full season in the USHL.
Chase Munroe stopped all nine shots he faced in the third period on Saturday and finished 19-15-2.22-.912 with Minnesota of the NAHL in 2015-16.
Munroe has plenty of juniors experience, coming to Oxford at age 21 having played three full seasons in the NAHL.
“Obviously on any team, goaltending’s extremely important, like a backbone for a team as a whole,” Belpedio said. “Chase and Ryan are outstanding goaltenders and I think they’ll be able to step right in for us and make an impact immediately.”
The late addition to the team is Andrew Masters, who is also 21 and dominated in the Ontario Junior Hockey League, posting a .934 save percentage last season.