OXFORD, Ohio – Ryan Siroky was asked about his Miami experience, and 10 minutes later and after he had left the room, the same question was posed to Zach LaValle.
The first five words out of both of their mouths were identical: Best years of my life.
The senior forwards didn’t know each other at all before joining the RedHawks in the fall of 2015, which is not surprising considering Siroky was born and raised near the beaches of Los Angeles and LaValle grew up in the much more traditional hockey hotbed of the Twin Cities.
But since the start of their freshman year, they have been almost inseparable, and they have played on the same line much of this season.
“I think both of them are the types of guys that guys follow and respect because of the type of people that they are,” RedHawks coach Enrico Blasi said. “In terms of the type of impact that they’ve had, they’ve been good leaders for those young guys and good models and good representatives of our culture and Brotherhood.”
On the ice, they have been mainstays on the grind lines for four years.
Both have played over 100 maximum-effort games over their four-year careers, and while their impact may not always appear in statistical columns, they have been invaluable to the RedHawks in numerous ways.
“I think they have been huge leaders for our class in particular and for the guys coming in,” captain Josh Melnick said. “They have both matured in our time here. I think their leadership qualities at times goes unnoticed, but they do a great job of bringing guys together both on and off the ice.”
Their chemistry on the ice carries over away from the rink and vice versa. Their GPAs are even exactly the same: 3.35.
And they share at least one personality trait: Their gregariousness.
“Zach’s the easiest person to talk to: He never shuts up,” Siroky said. “We became really close friends right off the bat and still are. He’s one of my best friends on the team. We clicked right away.”
Said LaValle: “(Ryan’s) a hilarious guy. He’s always got jokes, he’s always smiling. I give him a hard time now because I’m actually older than him but he acts like he’s way older than me – he’s a grumpy old man nowadays. But he’s got a great smile, he’s got funny one-liners that get people fired up.”
Siroky, from the coastal Los Angeles suburb of Manhattan Beach, saw hockey on television at age 4 and wanted to try it and despite having parents who were raised in the west and not traditional hockey markets.
He did come from athletic pedigree, as his father, Charles, was a star swimmer in college and his mother, Tammi, had a volleyball background.
Siroky won back-to-back championships with his L.A. Selects team (losing a third title on an overtime goal) and was drafted by Green Bay of the USHL in the second round, where he began his junior career at the end of 2011-12.
At age 13, he broke his femur in two places during a game in Texas and was unable to touch his skates for 10 months. He considered quitting the game, as he enduring stints in a full cast and wheelchair.
But his difficult rehab paid off, as he thrived when hitting the ice for the Gamblers, spending two full seasons there. He scored 25 goals and picked up 11 assists in 118 games, and he even attended a couple of Packers game during his stay.
“It was a cool experience,” Siroky said. “It was kind of a culture shock coming from L.A. to a smaller town in Green Bay, but it was really good, I really enjoyed my two years there a lot.”
In his overage year of juniors, Siroky started with Bloomington – where he was named captain – and was later traded to join a Muskegon team that advanced to the Clark Cup finals.
“(In Muskegon) I got to play with a lot of really good players, got a lot of playing time and it really helped with my confidence before coming in here,” Siroky said.
After a visit set up by former Miami coach Brent Brekke, Siroky committed to Miami while still in Green Bay, but prior to that he had his doubts about coming here.
“I told my grandma I’d never come here because of the name: It would be too hard to explain to everybody,” Siroky said.
But the campus quickly sold him.
“It’s funny,” Siroky said. “Me and my dad flew out here, we flew into Columbus right at the end of January, and it was an ice storm. It was a two-hour drove, and there’s not a lot between Columbus and Oxford, and I kind of looked at him and I was like, ‘what the hell are we getting into?’ But then you enter onto campus and it’s all of the red brick and the trees and it’s a beautiful campus.
(During the season), we get to go to a lot of different schools, and obviously we see their campuses, see their facilities, and I still think nothing compares to Miami. The people here, the culture of The Brotherhood, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Siroky dressed right away for the RedHawks, playing in their first 16 games of 2015-16 and 31 contests overall that season.
His defensive prowess was immediately evident, as he either shut down or physically punished most opposing forwards that entered the Miami zone during his shift.
“When he’s playing his game, he’s obviously physical and effective in doing that,” Blasi said. “When he’s moving his feet he’s hard to play against and he blocks shots. He’s done a little bit of everything for us, he’s played center and wing, so he always find himself in the mix every week.”
As a grinder, Siroky logged 99 games his first three years with exactly four points in each campaign.
“I’m not the most offensive-gifted player so in order to stay in the lineup and stay effective for the team I had to focus on something, and obviously defense is one of the most important parts of the game,” Siroky said. “It’s really important to know your structure, be able to play defense to be able to play on offense, blocking shots, getting pucks out of the zone. It’s just always been a goal of mine to be as defensive-minded as I can to succeed.”
Of his seven goals in that span, two were in NCHC Tournament series, both at Minnesota-Duluth.
Siroky has seven goals this season alone and nine points, including his first-ever two goal game in Denver on Friday. He also netted the game winner in that contest.
And he has punished more opponents with his hitting than ever and played a better-shut down game.
“I’ve always liked to hit people, I’ve always liked to play physical,” Siroky said. “You’re allowed to – you can’t really in real life – but ever since I was a little kid I’ve liked to throw the body around, and it’s kind of translated into my role as a player.
“It’s always nice scoring goals, especially in my last year. I’ve been getting rewarded, I think I’ve been playing pretty well this year so it’s always good to get rewarded on the scoresheet as well.”
It took LaValle just four games to find the net for Miami.
He banged home a rebound off a power play shot by Kiefer Sherwood against Ohio State at a sold-out Cady Arena.
“It was such a cool feeling, scoring there and the crowd erupts,” LaValle said.
Later that freshman season, LaValle netted a goal and picked up two assists in a win at Nebraska-Omaha that saw Conor Lemirande record his lone career hat trick.
LaValle was raised in the St. Paul area and played high school hockey at Hill-Murray School, captaining that team his final two seasons. He scored 73 goals and dished for 95 assists for 168 points in 99 games.
He also played baseball and quarterbacked the football team.
LaValle struggled his first season of juniors. He played for Chicago of the USHL in 2013-14 but managed just four points in 40 games.
“It was hard first year away from home – I think it’s like that for a lot of people,” LaValle said. “I didn’t have the best hockey year, kind of wasn’t playing a role that I had normally played and it wasn’t a great fit.”
The following season he did not make the USHL, so he skated for NAHL Janesville with current teammate Grant Hutton.
There he regained his offensive touch, piling up 20 goals and 41 assists for 61 points and a plus-24 rating in 56 games.
He added three tallies and six helpers in nine playoff games.
“We had an awesome team, and everybody was close and we were having fun, and I think there’s a direct correlation between having fun in hockey and success in hockey,” LaValle said. “If you’re just miserable going to the rink, you’re not going to play well. We made a good run and I met a lot of cool people on that team.”
With no definitive plans beyond juniors, LaValle had visited Miami during the Saturday the RedHawks beat Denver, 4-1 in early 2015.
The next fall he was a RedHawk, having fallen in love with the building and the energy of the crowd that night.
“I didn’t go on any other visits, I kind of went back and forth with my parents to see if I could make it work financially and that’s why I chose it, just because I fell in love with it right away,” LaValle said. “They wanted me, which felt good. They were like, we want you for who you are.”
Once in Oxford, he finished 3-6-9 his freshman year, playing in 31 games despite breaking his jaw when Matthew Caito dumped a puck into the offensive zone and hit him in the face.
After a slow start to 2016-17, he put up nine points the final 18 games to end up with a 2-9-11 line and was playing with Sherwood and Gordie Green on the top line by season’s end.
“End of my sophomore year they kind of put me in a role I like playing, that I’d played my whole life,” LaValle said. “It was fun to play offense and get things going with (Sherwood and Green) – those guys are such unbelievable hockey players.”
LaValle has dressed just 40 times the past two seasons, but he has been in the lineup for seven of Miami’s last nine games as he winds up his Division I career.
“It’s tough sometimes because you want to contribute, you want to do more, but I make the most out of what I’m given and if I’m in the lineup I’m going to work my butt off,” LaValle said.
Like Siroky, LaValle also found the net this past weekend. He scored his second goal of the season by poking a loose rebound home on Saturday.
He has played in 105 games, scoring seven times and setting up 19 more goals.
“He’s a super-skilled guy,” Melnick said. “The thing about him is he may not be as hard-nosed or as aggressive as Ryan, but I think the things he does, he does really well, and he does those things to the best of his ability, and I think that whatever what situation he’s put in, he’s going to excel.”
Siroky has played in at least 30 games each season, and for his career he has dressed 129 goals, recording 12 goals and seven assists.
“He’s super-tough to play against and I think over the years he’s done a great job to embrace that role,” Melnick said. “He’s skilled and he can score, but he’s so gritty and he’s so big and so strong that 90 percent of the time when he goes into the boards for a battle, he’s coming out with that puck. Especially in the past couple of weeks, you’ve seen it in games, and it’s a little bit of a kick-starter for us. He brings some momentum for our forwards and when I see him go out and be able to possess the puck down low, I think that lets other guys know that they can do the same. His hard work and determination has given him success on the scoring sheet as well.”
Both have plenty of praise for each other’s game as well.
“(LaValle’s) playmaking ability, his ability to pass the puck, he sees, he’s got good vision, good awareness out there so he can see a lot of plays before they happen, and he’s been really successful at that,” Siroky said. “Especially when he gets on his hot streaks, he’s hard to stop.”
Said LaValle: “I’m super proud of (Ryan). He had a rough start to last year and kind of came into his role. He used to be more of a goal scorer and now he throws the body around and parks himself in front of the net. He really came into that role this year and he’s dominating. Scoring goals when he’s on the power play – I thought he was playing awesome. We needed that out of him and he stepped and I think he did really well there. He’s still doing really well.”
Playing together as often they have over the past four years is a huge plus when they’re together on the ice.
“It’s fun – we kind of feed off each other and I know where he’s going to be and how he’s going to play,” LaValle said. “I know that he’s going to go in the corner and get the puck and I know how to support him. Once you have that chemistry and you know how a player plays, you just kind of know where to go to help them.”
The RedHawks lost in the first round of the NCHC Tournament each of their first three years and are currently in seventh place in the NCHC, but both have nothing but praise for Oxford, for the school and for the hockey program.
Set to graduate this spring, Siroky and LaValle are quick to highlight how integral the relationship building has been at Miami.
“I’ve met amazing people, made so many cool relationships and just had a blast in such a fun little town,” LaValle said. “It’s kind of like a bubble – I don’t think I’ll be able to live like this ever again. It’s so tight and compact and the community is so close, it’s awesome.”
Said Siroky: “The people that I’ve met I’ll cherish for a lifetime. We talk about The Brotherhood and I think that is real here: The comradery between teammates and friends. In terms of hockey, we’ve had a lot of ups and downs, so I think it’s really developed me as a player and a person, knowing and learning how to win games but also knowing and learning how to lose games and then how to come back and develop from that. We’ve gone through a lot of adversity here but we always seem to come through it together, so I think that’s big. Overall it’s been the best four years of my life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”