Monthly Archives: October 2016

Photos: Ohio State at Miami

Images from the Ohio State at Miami game played on Oct. 15, 2016 at Cady Arena in Oxford, Ohio. All photos by Cathy Lachmann/BoB.

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Analysis: Miami solid in home debut

OXFORD, Ohio – Miami fans have been through the early-season Ohio State litmus test before.

Beat up on the woeful Buckeyes, inspire the team and fanbase with hope only to see that gauge prove wrong once the RedHawks face stiffer conference competition later in the season.

But Saturday was different. Miami didn’t beat the Buckeyes, tying them 1-1 at Cady Arena in their home opener, and yet this game gave those in attendance a better understanding of where the RedHawks are than most previous meetings with OSU with a freshman-laden team.

The reason is: Ohio State is a lot better than it has been in recent seasons.

Entering play at 1-0-1 including a win at then-No. 3 Denver, this edition of the Buckeyes has speed and can move the puck. These essential attributes were severely lacking as recently as last October.

This was an entertaining game to watch, more from a purist fan perspective than a casual fan one, as these teams did those unsexy things like backcheck, get sticks in lanes and shut down shooting lanes.

But there was still plenty of fast-paced, end-to-end action that is sometimes lacking in October contests as teams are still trying to build chemistry.

Miami started sluggishly, with a bad turnover at its own blue line by sophomore Kiefer Sherwood ultimately ending up in his own net five minutes in. The team looked nervous on its home ice.

The RedHawks were much improved in the second and third periods, although OSU owned overtime.

No one knew what this team would look like when it actually hit the ice this month: Not the fans, media, coaches or even the players themselves. Now after three games we all have a better idea.

There is certainly plenty of room for improvement for Miami, but if Saturday is any indication – and this game vs. Ohio State is a much better barometer than those Buckeyes matchups in the past – there is cause for optimism among those who root for this team.

Other thoughts…

Miami forward Karch Bachman (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Miami forward Karch Bachman (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

– First, it’s really hard to evaluate nine freshman in a 65-minute game when you haven’t seen seven of them play before. The overall impression was that one skater really stood out: Karch Bachman. Bachman, who is a Florida Panthers draftee, has excellent speed and a nose for the net. He was placed on Sherwood’s line, and the two worked exceptionally well together, with Sherwood lobbing outlet passes to him and Bachman using his speed to track them down. It should be a lot of fun watching these two develop together if they remain linemates.

Gordie Green and Carson Meyer also impressed among the new forwards. Green is small but seems to do everything, from playmaking to puckhandling to defending. Meyer appears poised to make his mark in the scoring column, as he displayed his missile of a shot a couple of times. He scored 32 times in his first full season in the USHL in 2015-16.

Miami used three freshman on defense, and none were terribly noticeable, but that’s meant as a compliment because blueliners often have their names called after making mistakes.

And we can’t forget to mention Ryan Larkin. His Cady Arena debut was quite impressive, with his rebound shot save in overtime and breakaway stop in the third period. Coach Enrico Blasi has started the season by giving the backups a start in the first couple of games most years, and it speaks to what Blasi thinks of Larkin that the netminder has been the lone goalie in net for the RedHawks through three games.

– It truly is a game of inches. Sherwood hit a crossbar and Bachman rang one off the post, both on excellent scoring chances. If those two remain together they’re going to be a force on this team.

– Talk about a game of highs and lows for new captain and junior defenseman Louie Belpedio. Belpedio looked flat-out lost on the ice in the first period, committing multiple egregious turnovers and handling the puck poorly early. But his second-period laser from the high slot resulted in MU’s only goal, and he appeared to settle down dramatically after the first 20 minutes. It was his first game as team captain on home ice, and that role has hindered the past two Miami players to wear the ‘C’ early in the season.

– [rant] For the love of God, can we please not have 3-on-3 and skills contests when they mean nothing? They’re passable at best during conference play, but Saturday they served no purpose other than to confuse fans and unnecessarily have players risk injury and/or suspension.

So after five minutes of 5-on-5 overtime, the game was officially a tie. Miami and Ohio State are no longer in the same conference, so shake hands and call it a night, right?

Nope. The teams skated three a side for five minutes – perhaps for fun? – and then participated in an abbreviated shootout, which supposedly the Buckeyes won.

The purpose is clear: College hockey wants winners and losers in each game, and the NCAA is slowly working toward that goal or at least is evaluating its current system. We get that.

But the major problem is that fans who don’t live and breathe with their teams don’t have a clue what’s going on. For decades hockey has been all about trying to grow the game, which is really tough with such nuanced rules. Why confuse your fans about the most important aspect of the game: The decision?

One knowledgeable fan asked me after the 5-on-5 if the game was officially over for NCAA purposes. I said I thought so but wasn’t 100 percent sure. Another fan asked that fan, who said that was just what he asked me.

One fan walked out during the 3-on-3, telling the ushers there was no point in watching since it meant nothing. Ninety-plus percent of the crowd either didn’t get that or didn’t care, wanting to watch the 3-on-3.

And make no mistake, the 3-on-3 isn’t the issue, it’s that it meant nothing and the fact that’s a tough message to get out to the masses. To Miami’s credit, it was made clear over the PA.

Either have college hockey’s governing body sanction 3-on-3 and shootouts or don’t. The sport and those who love to watch it deserve better than we’re-going-to-determine-a-winner-one-way-or-another-and-oops-Ohio-State-won-nope-just-kidding.

We’ve said it before: The NHL is certainly not a model of rules excellence, but it has it right with 4-on-4 overtimes. If that doesn’t determine a winner, it wasn’t meant to be. Or go to 3-on-3 after that. Those two sessions would determine winners 80 percent of the time. But two things: 1) Unlike last night, let’s be consistent and up front about the format from year to year and get rid of meaningless demonstrations to determine a “winner”, and 2) if we’re going to play 10 minutes of extra hockey when the temperature reaches the mid-80s in southern Ohio, can we please scrape the ice first?

But as the rules currently stand, the game should have been over after the five-minute 5-on-5 overtime. From the NCAA’s perspective it was. Why should fans who paid good money walk away from the rink unclear about that fact? [/rant]

– Speaking of fans, they were great. The students were on mid-term break, but it was still a loud crowd. Let’s hope that continues, and based on Miami’s level of play it should.

GRADES

Ah yes, with mid-terms come grades. As we have the past few seasons for games we attend, we evaluate the play of each facet of Miami’s lineup.

FORWARDS: C. They didn’t score a single goal but the season is a process, especially with all of the rookies. There was a lot to like in the line combinations, especially the Sherwood-Bachman combination with Green on the right wing. Anthony Louis showed a lot of life on the first line with Josh Melnick, who never seems to have an off game, and Carson Meyer gives the former two a sniper to finish. Conor Lemirande really seemed to step his play up, as he carried the puck more and was effective in both ends of the ice, using his huge frame.

DEFENSEMEN: B. The three freshmen did their jobs by not making a splash. Grant Hutton and Scott Dornbrock both looked like they may take another step forward this season, and Belpedio was at times the best and at other times the worst among this corps. Hopefully his first period was just the result of new captain jitters.

GOALTENDING: A. Well, Larkin made a couple thousand new fans, especially since he made his overtime rebound-shot save in front of the most boisterous fans in the student section. It was just one game but the kid looks like the real deal: Watching him away from the puck he appears to have great anticipation of where the puck is going and is athletic enough to position himself perfectly in order to squelch any scoring threats.

LINEUP CHANGES: How about this for Game 3: Blasi’s starting 19 were the same as in Game 2.

One surprise was that goalie Chase Munroe was a scratch, and Andrew Masters was the backup. Masters was expected to be the third goalie after committing late last school year.

Miami is light up front, with Alex Alger and injured Christian Mohs being the only scratches there, and Colin Sullivan and Grant Frederic sat among the blueline corps.

Miami ties OSU to open home slate

OXFORD, Ohio – Ryan Larkin deserved better than a tie.

The Miami freshman goalie stopped 23 of 24 shots including multiple point-blank chances late as the RedHawks and Ohio State finished even at one in Miami’s 2016-17 home opener at Cady Arena on Saturday.

Larkin, who has been the lone goalie to log minutes for MU this season, denied a breakaway in the third period, and after making the initial save on an overtime rip, he stretched to his right to cover the post, narrowing denying a rebound shot from the side of the net.

After allowing four goals in Miami’s season opener in Providence, Larkin has stopped 43 of 45 shots (.956), surrendering just two goals in 124:58 for a 0.96 goals-against average in his last two outings.

The Buckeyes (1-0-2) struck first when David Gust slammed home a rebound after Larkin had stopped a shot from the high slot by Dakota Joshua just 4:32 into the first period.

Miami goalie Ryan Larkin made this third-period save to preserve the tie (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Miami goalie Ryan Larkin made this third-period save to preserve the tie (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

The RedHawks (1-1-1) tied it on a 5-on-3 when junior defenseman Louie Belpedio ripped a shot that beat OSU goalie Matt Tomkins just inside the far post 4:11 into the second period.

Miami hit a pair of posts on quality scoring chances, one off the crossbar by sophomore Kiefer Sherwood in the middle stanza and another by freshman Karch Bachman that rang off the far post late in the final frame.

Ohio State dominated the overtime, outshooting the RedHawks, 4-1 and spending 1:59 on the power play.

After overtime, the teams played an exhibition 3-on-3 to no avail, and finally the Buckeyes won a shootout that also did not have any bearing on the standings or rankings.

Belpedio and Sherwood, who picked up an assist on Belpedio’s goal, lead the team with three points each. Senior forward Anthony Louis also picked up a helper, his first point of the season.

Miami has scored six goals in three games this season, and all have come on the power play. All of its contests to this point have been decided by one goal or zero.

The RedHawks host Maine next weekend, with faceoffs slated for 7:35 p.m. on Friday and 7:05 p.m. on Saturday.

Czarnik makes NHL debut for Boston

Austin Czarnik became the 28th former Miamian to log an NHL game when he made his debut for the Boston Bruins in Columbus on Thursday.

Austin Czarnik (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Austin Czarnik (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Czarnik, tied for fifth on the RedHawks’ all-time points leaderboard with 169 and second in team history with 123 assists, logged 15 minutes in his first game in the world’s premier hockey league.

The center from Washington, Mich., scored 20 goals and picked up 41 helpers in his first full pro season with AHL Providence in 2015-16. He turned professional immediately following his senior season at Miami in March of 2015 and notched two assists in three games for the P-Bruins.

Czarnik was Miami’s captain his final two seasons and tallied at least 37 points in all four of his seasons in Oxford.

Preview: Ohio State at Miami

WHO: No. 19 Ohio State Buckeyes (1-0-1) at Miami RedHawks (1-1).

WHERE: Cady Arena, Oxford, Ohio.

WHEN: Saturday–8:05 p.m.

TV: None.

NOTES: Miami has dominated this series in recent years, but Ohio State is ranked No. 15 in the USA Today poll and 19th in the USCHO.com rankings.

The Buckeyes are coming off a 3-2 win over then-No. 3 Denver in Denver and a 3-3 tie vs. Air Force in the Ice Breaker last weekend.

Defenseman Matt Joyaux is a Miami transfer (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Defenseman Matt Joyaux is a Miami transfer (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

OSU put 82 shots on net last weekend, including 49 vs. Air Force. John Wiitala scored a pair of goals, and five other players also picked up two points, including RedHawks transfer and defenseman Matt Joyaux.

Senior Christian Frey started both games in net last weekend, but classmate Matt Tomkins relieved him in the second game, stopping all 10 shots to salvage the tie.

Based on that, it would appear likely Tomkins would start between the pipes in this game. He is 16-21-5 with a 3.24 goals-against average for Ohio State. He has struggled vs. Miami with a 4.05 GAA in four games while Frey allowed two goals in his lone appearance vs. the RedHawks.

The Buckeyes are a balanced team in terms of class size, with seven seniors, seven juniors, nine sophomores and five freshmen. Three rookies played in both games last weekend and another dressed once.

Miami has won seven straight games against Ohio State and is 11-1-1 in its last 13 in this series, including a 4-0 record at Cady Arena since the 2013-14 season.

Overall, the RedHawks are 75-62-13 vs. OSU and 46-22-4 in Oxford.

Normally these teams play a home-and-home series the same weekend, but this season they meet in Columbus on New Year’s Eve, likely to break up a long Christmas break for both.

Providence split a good start for Miami

Miami’s first weekend of the season would have to be considered a success, as the RedHawks split at No. 10 Providence, losing the opener, 4-3 but winning the finale, 2-1.

Granted the Friars lost several key players from their dominant team of the past two seasons, but keep in mind that PC scored seven goals in Oxford last year in the first game when these teams met and Miami salvaged a tie in the Saturday contest.

Miami’s first weekend of the season would have to be considered a success, as the RedHawks split at No. 10 Providence, losing the opener, 4-3 but winning the finale, 2-1.

Granted the Friars lost several key players from their dominant team of the past two seasons, but keep in mind that PC scored seven goals in Oxford last year in the first game when these teams met and Miami salvaged a tie in the Saturday contest.

And not to be repetitive, but the 2015-16 edition of MU did not have 14 freshmen.

Especially with the win coming in the Saturday game, Miami has to have momentum heading into a five-game homestand, with very winnable games on tap.

The occasional disappointment is still expected this season as half of the team becomes acclimated to the physicality and speed of the Division I game, but a split in a hostile environment against a national power is a fine start and sets an outstanding tone heading into the rest of the season.

A look at how those position battles are shaking out…although unfortunately viewing this game was not in the cards on this end. BoB will get a much better look at everyone with five straight at Cady Arena in the next 15 days.

– Coaches are always going to say there are constantly positional battles for lineup spots, and based on Week 1 it looks like two defense slots are still being decided as well as one forward spot. Coach Enrico Blasi’s typical MO has been to let competitions play out the first half of the season and then solidify his lineup more in January.

Positional battles are healthy within a team, although the obvious downside is that qualified players sometimes sit. But here is a look at those competitions.

Forwards – Alex Alger and Willie Knierim both played one game at PC. Alger played on Friday and went minus-1 with no shots or points. Knierim dressed for Game 2 and did not have a shot or a point and took one minor penalty. Alger is more experienced and smaller while Knierim is a wide-bodied true freshman who is expected to get better as his Miami career progresses.

Returning forwards that played both games (7) were Josh Melnick, Kiefer Sherwood, Anthony Louis, Conor Lemirande, Justin Greenberg, Zach LaValle and Ryan Siroky.

Gordie Green (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Gordie Green (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

The four freshmen that were in the lineup for Friday and Saturday were Gordie Green (two assists), Carson Meyer (one goal), Carter Johnson (one assist) and Karch Bachman (Florida Panthers draft pick).

This team has only 14 forwards, so with Christian Mohs injured, Alger and Knierim will likely vie for that final lineup spot, although Colin Sullivan could move up from his traditional defense spot.

Defense – Jared Brandt is the lone freshman to hit the ice in both games last week, and he had a zero rating with one penalty and two SOG. Louie Belpedio, Scott Dornbrock and Grant Hutton, to no one’s surprise, were also dressed for both games.

Assuming Brandt will be a mainstay on the blue line, that leaves four defensemen for two spots. Grant Frederic, Bryce Hatten, Chaz Switzer and Sullivan all played one game opening weekend.

Frederic is one of the favorite to play each night although he went minus-3 with two penalties on Friday. Hatten is still working his way into game shape after an injury-plagued 2015-16 and took a major penalty in his start. Switzer went minus-1 and Sullivan, who is a senior and was solid for Miami last season, had a zero rating and did not go to the box.

Goaltending – We’ve seen Jeff & Eff, Cody & Connor and Jay & McKay, and since Jeff Zatkoff’s ridiculous junior season in 2007-08, the backup goalie has played at least 16 games. But Ryan Larkin logged all 119 minutes in the opening weekend, going 1-1-2.52 with a .906 save percentage.

At some point during this homestand it’s likely that we’ll see backup Chase Munroe, who posted a 2.22 GAA in the NAHL last season.

Preview: Miami at Providence

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WHO: Miami RedHawks (0-0-0) at No. 10 Providence Friars (0-0-0).

WHERE: Schneider Center, Providence, R.I.

WHEN: Friday–7:05 p.m.; Saturday–7:05 p.m.

TV: None.

PROVIDENCE RADIO: None.

MIAMI RADIO: None.

NOTES: Providence has had the better of Miami in recent years, with its NCAA Tournament-opening victory over the RedHawks in Dunkin Donuts Area up the street from this building in 2015 and a 1-0-1 mark in Oxford last season.

The Friars went on to win the NCAA championship two seasons ago and were eliminated by Minnesota-Duluth in double overtime in the first round of the NCAAs this spring.

Miami did salvage a tie in the series finale vs. PC last season after getting pounded by the Friars, 7-3 in the opener.

Overall, the RedHawks are 4-6-3 vs. Providence and 1-2-1 in this building, with their lone win coming in 1998. Their last visit to Schneider Arena was in 2013 and resulted in a loss and a tie.

The Friars’ top three scorers and four of their top five from 2015-16 are gone, and the top returning threats for PC are defenseman Jake Walman and forward Brian Pinho, both of whom finished with 28 points.

Pinho and Erik Foley are the lone 15-plus points producers back, so offense may not be a strength of this Providence team after multiple seasons of scoring dominance.

But the Friars are bringing in a pair of drafted forwards in Kasper Bjorkqvist, a second round pick of Pittsburgh, and Minnesota fourth rounder Brandon Duhaime.

On defense, in addition to Walman, Buffalo draftee Anthony Florentino and Josh Monk lead the list of returning starters. Monk had two goals and 11 assists and Florentino scored five times and notched seven helpers.

Steven Ruggiero – selected by Anaheim – also returns to the Providence blue line, and sophomore Vincent Desharnais was picked by Edmonton this past season.

In net, last season’s starter, Nick Ellis, turned pro after three seasons with PC, leaving the reins to Montreal draft pick sophomore Brandon Hawkey.

Possessing a fantastic hockey name, Hawkey played just five games in 2015-16 but went 2-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage.

Brandon Leahy is back between the pipes after playing one game last season, and Kris Carlson comes in as a freshman out of the NAHL.

With a huge freshman contingent, this will be a very tough road test for Miami, but long road trips can aid in the bonding process, and the team could be better off down the road because of it.

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.”

Josh Melnick (right) and Louis Belpedio (left) celebrate Belpedio's OT goal (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Josh Melnick (right) and Louis Belpedio (left) celebrate an OT goal by Belpedio (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

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.

FORWARDS

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.”

DEFENSEMEN

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.

GOALTENDING

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.

NCHC Snapshot: Western Michigan

>December WMU Game Re-Scheduled

Western Michigan University is the final stop in our NCHC Snapshot series.

The Broncos finished seventh in the conference in 2015-16. WMU dropped three of four with Miami while finishing 5-18-1 – a .202 winning percentage in NCHC play and 8-25-3 (.229).

NCAA TITLES: None.

COACH: Andy Murray (6th season 81-84-27 – .421 winning percentage).

2015-16 RECORD: 8-25-3 (5-18-1 in NCHC, 7th place in the league).

POSTSEASON RESULT: Swept by SCSU in first round of NCHC tournament.

RINK (capacity): Lawson Ice Arena, Kalamazoo, Michigan (3,667).

LAST SEASON VS. MIAMI: Nov. 6-7, Miami 2-1 and 2-1 in Oxford. Feb. 19-20, Miami 4-1, WMU 4-1 WMU in Kalamazoo.

ALL-TIME SERIES: RedHawks leads, 65-58-11.

SCHEDULE VS. MIAMI: In Kalamazoo Nov. 4-5. In Oxford Jan. 27-28.

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: So. F Griffin Molino, Sr. F Sheldon Dries, Sr. G Colin Conrad, Sr. D Chris Dienes.

KEY NEW FACES: F Wade Allison/ Myrtle, Manitoba/ Tri-City Storm, USHL; F Lawton Courtnall/Los Angeles/Sioux Falls, USHL (son of NHL F Russ Courtnall).

NOTES: WMU has finished seventh, seventh and fifth in the eight-team NCHC in three seasons.

The Broncos only managed 80 goals last season, while allowing their opponents to light the lamp 142 times, including being outscored 59-28 in the middle period of games.

Molino is the team’s top returning scorer with 25 points, including 11 goals, and Griffin was the leader on the team in assists (14).

The defense corps is led by senior Chris Dienes, who played in all 36 games a season ago, while tallying one of the team’s two shorthanded goals. Dienes racked up 14 points on three goals and 11 assists from the blue line for the Broncos.

Goalie Colin Conrad had season cut short due to injury after only seven starts while playing nine games (2-5, 4.15 GAA). Conrad, an Ohio State transfer, did make career-high 36 saves in 2-1 loss at Miami on Nov. 6.

The Broncos have added eight freshman, and WMU only has 12 upperclassmen. Western Michigan still only loses one of its top five point getters, missing forward Nolan LaPorte, who was tied for third in power-play goals with three.

WMU is trending in the wrong direction, finishing seventh in back-to-back years in the NCHC. The Broncos are off to a rough start, falling in their pre-season game at home to Toronto. WMU will also need to play much better on the road this year, as nearly anything would be an improvement from its 1-17-2 record as the visitors.

Part II: Q&A With Coach Petraglia

BoB continues with its interview with assistant coach Nick Petraglia. Part I can be found here:

Miami assistant Nick Petraglia (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Miami assistant Nick Petraglia (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

BoB: Obviously you’ve got some big shoes to fill on defense, losing three solid starters in Matthew Caito, Chris Joyaux and Taylor Richart. Can you talk about the incoming group of defensemen?

Petraglia: Yeah, so we have four new guys on the blue line – that’s half our D-corps – so there will be a lot of opportunity back there.

Grant Frederic – Coming in from Green Bay, he was a leader and a captain there, plays a really sound game at both ends of the rink. He’s big, he’s physical, he has a good stick, he takes pride in playing defense and making the right play. Offensively, he has a really good shot and release, and I think that offensive confidence is coming with him where he can chip in down there as well. But he’s just a very well-rounded player that’s probably very ready to contribute right away, and he’s coming in with a pretty good track record. He’s a mature guy, so he’ll have a big impact.

Bryce Hatten – Is a kid that is big, he has good feet for a big guy, really good stick, rangy, solid, simple defender that’s tough to play against. Coming off a year where he missed much of the season with an injury, and he’s worked hard to get himself back to 100 percent. He’s probably going to need a little time to get back into hockey shape and just feeling comfortable out there when we get to contact and really get going. But a talented kid that really takes pride in defending and not giving much up. Excited to see him transition to college hockey.

Chaz Switzer – Played three years in the USHL, I think he’s been committed the longest among this group on the back end. A lot of edge, physical, tough, left-hand shot which we haven’t had too many of those guys, so that’s helpful. And again, he understands his game and his role and he really likes to just plays defense and shut guys down.

We like the compete level there and the balance between those guys.

Jared Brandt – Older kid that was a captain in Minot last season with Christian Mohs and had a very successful career. He skates really well, has good poise with the puck, makes solid plays, was very successful on the power play. Another left-handed shot and a guy that can play both ends of the rink and comes in as a seasoned guy with a lot of maturity.

A balanced group, a little bit older – actually I think the whole class is older, Willie (Knierim) is the only true freshman – so we have guys that even though they’re freshmen have played a lot of hockey and are a little bit older, and typically it’s a little bit easier for those guys to transition to college hockey as opposed to 18-year-old kids that have just graduated from high school.

BoB: Is it by design with how the NCHC is structured, with everyone seemingly 6-feet-3, 220 pounds, to bring in older, more physically developed players on the blue line?

Petraglia: Well, it’s a case by case basis. I think the thing for us is it’s not age but it’s bringing in kids that are ready to play right away. So if a kid’s ready at 18 and he’s ready to come in and make an impact – that’s harder to find – typically it takes a bit of seasoning because college hockey is older and the development path and just the structure of it allows for extra years of development with the junior hockey landscape. Taking advantage of that time is something that’s beneficial to almost everybody. I guess it’s partially by design but for the most part it’s just making sure that guys come in when they’re ready to contribute, because we don’t want anybody coming in, sitting in the stands and struggling.

BoB: So goaltending. You have nine minutes and 39 seconds of experience returning in net, so can you talk about your goaltending group?

Petraglia: We’ve been here before with the way our tandems have worked, the guys staying in the same class, and that’s not something that’s held us back in the past actually. The last few times this has happened we’ve won the CCHA championship (in 2013) and the time before that we went to the national championship game and the time before that it was Charlie Effinger and Jeff Zatkoff, and they ran with it right away, and that team won a championship as well. Not to compare anybody but just saying that the structure of that is not something we’re afraid of or nervous about. We’re excited about the group coming in.

Ryan Larkin – Has been committed for a while and didn’t play last year because of injury except for a couple of games. High IQ, great poise and demeanor in net, and just a well-accomplished high-end goalie. The biggest thing for him is he’s really not coming in as a freshman because he enrolled and was here in January because of his injury – he has a full semester of Miami underneath his belt. He knows his teammates and he knows what the program is all about because he’s already lived it. Even though he didn’t play, he’s coming into the fall comfortable with his surroundings and has the confidence in his health, so he’s going to be a guy who obviously plays an enormous roll on our team. And it’s nice that’s coming in as a freshman that has some understanding of what things are really like at this level. Excited about him.

Chase Munroe – Big kid from Chicago, again, has a real calm demeanor in net. Fills a ton of space, tracks the puck well, understands the game. He’s a kid that we got a little later in the process, but somebody that has a high ceiling and a lot of potential and had a real solid season for the Minnesota Wilderness (of the NAHL).

Andrew Masters – Evan McCarthy is still going through some injury problems that he’s dealing with in rehabbing, so he’ll not be available for us for a while, and that’s why we had to go out and recruit another goalie after the season so we had the proper depth. Andrew Masters is a kid that had a very successful season last year in Georgetown (Ont.), was the goalie of the year in his league and one of the top goalies in the Canadian Juniors system, so it will be exciting to see what he can come in and show us.

But at the end of day, we’re looking for these guys to all work together and great teammates, and whoever’s name is called on Friday and Saturday nights to get the job done and help us win games, whoever that’s going to be.

BoB: You and Coach Brent Brekke both do recruiting for Miami, but as a former RedHawks goalie, do you handle more of the goaltender recruiting?

Petraglia: No, I don’t think it matters. Obviously it’s a position I played and something I’m passionate about. We all work together as a staff to make those decisions, and we’re always involved in making choices for who would be best for our program. Can’t say I can take full credit for that – it’s something that we all work together on.

BoB: Miami’s success in net has been something we’ve seen continuously over the past decade, including seasons like this one when the RedHawks have had two freshmen goaltenders. Is that something the coaching staff takes pride in?

Petraglia: Yeah, we take a lot of pride in that. I think that’s not just credit to the goaltending, but just the whole team in general. It’s a situation where everybody’s got to be on the same page and buy into playing a team game, and I don’t care how good of a goalie you are, if you don’t have a team that’s playing well and buying in in front of you, it’s going to be hard to stop pucks. We do take pride in that, our team defense and especially our penalty kill, which has been very successful over the course of time – Coach Brekke does a great job with that – but just the buy in of everybody is a key part to our program. If we’re going to have a problem in that area, that’s not a good thing. Any good team is going to have good goaltending and good, solid team defense.