Category Archives: 2018-19
And we thought last off-season was eventful.
With the dismissal of Miami head hockey coach Enrico Blasi on Tuesday, the program faces an even more chaotic spring and summer than last year, when the RedHawks replaced both assistant coaches and had six non-seniors leave Oxford.
Now the status of everyone involved in the program is uncertain.
For those who aren’t MU hockey diehards, let’s catch you up.
The year is 1999 and Miami hires a 27-year-old alum in Enrico Blasi. He’s the youngest coach in Division I at the time.
His fifth season – his first having all his recruits dressing each night – Miami qualifies for the NCAA Tournament for the third time ever.
The RedHawks miss that field the following season, but for the next eight – eight! – campaigns, the RedHawks are back in the nation’s top college championship.
And in 2006, Cady Arena opens at the new Goggin Ice Center, and the beautiful new home for Miami hockey is packed to the walls, sometimes exceeding its alleged capacity of 3,642.
From then on, not only did the NCAA berths start becoming an annual event, the RedHawks inched closer to bringing home a national title.
In 2007, Miami earned its first-ever NCAA Tournament win, 2-1 over New Hampshire.
The next season, as the No. 2 overall seed, the RedHawks took out Air Force in overtime and led Boston College, 3-1 late in the second period before falling in overtime, 4-3 in the NCAA regional final.
Numerous players graduated prior to 2008-09, but that spring 2009 Miami still managed to sneak into the tournament.
As a four seed in their bracket, the RedHawks won the NCAA regionals, getting past Denver and Minnesota-Duluth as they headed to their first-ever Frozen Four in Washington, D.C.
The success continued, as they beat Bemidji State, 4-1 in the national semifinal and advanced to the NCAA title game.
We know what happened next, but many forget Miami went right back to the Frozen Four the next season in Detroit after winning an epic, double-overtime thriller over Michigan in Fort Wayne.
No one knew it at the time, but that win over the Wolverines would represent the tip of the plateau that Miami had been riding.
The RedHawks returned to the NCAAs the next three seasons but won just one game, a 4-0 blanking of Minnesota State in Toledo in 2013.
Then in 2013-14, MU transitioned to the NCHC and the unthinkable happened. A sub-.500 record. No trip to the NCAA Tournament.
It appeared that season was just a hiccup, as the RedHawks won the NCHC Tournament and earned a No. 1 seed in the Providence Regional in 2015.
But that conference title game came at a huge cost, as Riley Barber was injured and Blake Coleman was assessed his third game misconduct of the season and was suspended for the NCAA opener.
On top of that, Miami drew the lowest seed in the bracket – Providence – which played its home games two miles from the rink they would play in.
The RedHawks lost that game, 7-5, and haven’t been back to the tournament since.
They haven’t reached the .500 mark in the four subsequent seasons, and after winning 15 games in 2015-16 their victory totals since have been nine, 12 and 11.
Miami’s collapse was blamed on recruiting, which was definitely a major reason.
The RedHawks benefitted greatly from the players brought in by assistants Chris Bergeron and Jeff Blashill. Bergeron was hired as the head coach at Bowling Green and Blashill became the head coach for the Indiana Ice of the USHL, where he continued to push quality players toward Oxford, such as Sean Kuraly and Coleman.
But Blashill climbed the proverbial coaching ladder and is now the head coach of the Detroit Red Wings.
That brings us to March 11, 2018. Assistants Brent Brekke and Nick Petraglia are both let go, and in the following months, Peter Mannino and Joel Beal are hired in their place.
Derek Daschke and others decommitted from Nebraska-Omaha – where Mannino coached previously – and came to Miami to follow the coach that recruited them.
So things are looking up heading into 2018-19, and the change behind the bench seems to pay instant dividends, as the team starts the season 7-2 and is 9-5 at Thanksgiving.
A tough road trip that involved multiple canceled flights and some players arriving just shy of gametime in New Hampshire, and Miami comes away from that series with a tie and a loss.
The RedHawks return home and play two of their best games of the year, coming back from a goal down six times in a pair of ties against No. 1 St. Cloud State.
Off to Providence, where Miami was 0-1-1 but rebounded from a 3-1 deficit to salvage a tie in the finale.
Then in Kalamazoo, the RedHawks were a little sluggish at times and lost both games by a goal.
That’s eight straight without a win (0-4-4) but Miami is still playing mostly good hockey at this point and has a high collective compete level.
After all, the expectations weren’t terribly high this season, but it would be good to see the team play hard and show signs it’s moving in the right direction, right?
To this point, the RedHawks had. After this point, no.
Duluth came to Oxford and in the series opener, Blasi ripped Mannino on the bench for a disagreement in strategy. Coincidentally or not, Miami was outscored, 7-0 for the weekend.
Colorado College was the next team to visit the RedHawks, and CC picked up all six points in a 6-1 and 3-2 sweep at Cady Arena, with Blasi receiving a game misconduct and eventually a reprimand from the league for berating an official and breaking a stick on the boards during the latter game.
St. Cloud State swept Miami by identical 5-1 scores the next week.
Finally, after a 3-0 home loss to Omaha, the RedHawks beat the Mavericks in the series finale to snap a 15-game, 0-11-4 skid that essentially ended any chance Miami had to earn the all-important home ice advantage for the NCHC Tournament.
The RedHawks pulled out a win in Denver the next Friday but would not pick up another victory, losing their last seven for a 2-18-4 post-Thanksgiving mark.
To its credit, Miami played quality hockey at times during the NCHC opening round but was outskilled by No. 1 St. Cloud.
What happened after such a promising start?
It’s likely a combination of several of factors. The schedule got tougher after December. The frustration of the winless streak snowballed. The Mannino-Blasi bench rift. Youth. Injuries played a major role.
The end result: A final record of 11-23-4. Three days after the Game 2 loss at St. Cloud State, Blasi was fired by Miami.
He was under contract until 2023 but an adjustment to his contract after last season only guaranteed him one year’s pay should he be terminated.
So that’s where we are now, and everyone is left to speculate about the future of Miami hockey.
Let’s reflect on the Blasi legacy first.
Criticism of the former coach has been whipping through cyberspace for some time, and how ever much of that is warranted no longer matters.
Blasi played for four years at Miami, was a captain, a 115-point scorer and played on the first-ever RedHawks (then Redskins) NCAA Tournament game in 1993.
After a short assistant coaching stint abroad, he took over the head coaching job at Miami at age 27. Again, the RedHawks went to 10 NCAA Tournaments under Blasi, including eight in a row.
They went to the Frozen Four twice and the national title game once. They won the CCHA Tournament, they won multiple CCHA regular season titles. They won the NCHC Tournament in 2015.
Still just 47, Blasi has 398 career coaching wins.
Miami hockey may have existed before Blasi, but he took the program from fledgling to a level of excellence rarely seen in any RedHawks sport.
Yes, Miami hockey has struggled in recent years but without Blasi, there’s no NCAA runs and no Cady Arena.
This man belongs is one of the greats in the history of Miami sports, and when we get some distance from this tumultuous run, hopefully everyone will realize that.
Blasi has either played or coached Miami hockey for a quarter century despite still being well short of 50 years old and deserves the upmost credit and respect from the hockey community.
So where does that leave the coaching situation?
We’re entering that pure speculation portion of the piece because probably no one knows at this point. The release from the AD said “a national search” has begun in search of the next head coach.
And there’s no doubt, as John Buccigross said, that despite its recent issues that job is still a very desirable one.
The NCHC is the best D-I conference by far, creating a magnet for top recruits.
Miami is still a fantastic school. Oxford is still a beautiful college town. Cady Arena is still a top-notch building, and the RedHawks still have their own multi-million dollar weight room just outside their locker room, a perk very few NCAA hockey players enjoy.
So regardless of who the new coach is – and my guess is it’s not going to be an obvious name familiar to the program – he should be a quality candidate.
The process probably won’t drag on for too long, although if it’s someone already on a bench – pro or college – it could be held up if the ideal candidate’s season is still ongoing.
Because uncertainty in the head coaching slot obviously makes recruiting exceedingly difficult.
Then there’s the assistants, and here’s where Miami may have a problem.
The RedHawks brought in assistants Mannino and Beal a year ago, and obviously that’s not ample time to turn a program around. But when Miami hires a new coach, he will almost certainly be allowed to pick his own assistants.
The optics of that could be terrible for Miami sports overall if the athletic department is perceived as treating their coaches poorly.
Both men uprooted their families to move to Oxford and unless there is an agreement in place to allow them to remain with the team regardless of the head coach, they could presently be in limbo.
Now could Mannino be considered for the head coaching job? Absolutely. He’s an exceptional recruiter, but with only a couple of seasons as a Division I assistant, the perception is that he may not be ready for such a high-profile position.
Then there’s the recruits. Mannino and Beal have pieced together a well-reputed recruiting class for the next few seasons, but many of those potential RedHawks could bolt if the coach that sold them on Miami are not retained.
There could be roster overhaul anyway, as some players could choose not to remain with the program, and – like last year – some may not be invited back by the team if they are not performing to expectations.
So the question becomes: Why let Blasi go now?
Miami could’ve blown the entire program up last season and started over, but at that point Blasi’s contract was still structured so that he would’ve received a lot more money, should he be relieved of duty.
And Blasi was – and still is – very well respected by many at Miami, especially with his decades of service to the program and being an alum, plus with recent firings in other sports, it appeared at the time Miami hockey was deserving of a reboot.
The powers-that-be know all of this, of course. So this is just a guess, but the athletic department probably intended to give the coaching staff at least a second season to right the program, but the 2-18-4 finish may have sealed all of their fates.
From their perspective, paid attendance, merchandise and concession sales plus those all-important alumni dollars have been dwindling, and they may have figured they couldn’t afford to take the chance the program wouldn’t improve in 2019-20 and then having to hire in a new coaching staff anyway as their incoming revenue pool continued to dwindle.
It had to be an excruciatingly difficult decision.
But agree or not, the David Sayler-led athletic department expects results and will replace anyone – even a 20-year tenured coach and alum with Blasi’s credentials – who isn’t meeting those expectations.
For the first time this millennium, Miami is without a head hockey coach.
Following his 20th season at the program’s helm, Enrico Blasi was fired on Tuesday, athletic director David Sayler announced in a statement on the RedHawks’ website.
“This is a difficult day for Miami Athletics and our hockey program,” Sayler said. “The hockey program has had strong historical success under the guidance and leadership of Rico. In addition, Rico is an exceptional person of character and devotion. In recent years, Miami hockey has fallen short of expectations, both within our conference and nationally. The NCHC is the strongest conference in hockey and it’s imperative that we become more competitive for conference championships and NCAA appearances. I want to thank Rico and his family for their service and commitment to Miami University and the broader Oxford community.”
The RedHawks have posted four straight losing seasons, failing to advance past the first round of the NCHC Tournament in that span, and have a .362 winning percentage since 2016-17.
Blasi is a 1994 Miami graduate who is tied for 25th on the team’s all-time points leaderboard with 123, including 55 goals. He was also a team captain his final two seasons.
Blasi never played a professional game, opting for an assistant coaching job at Denver under former Miami coach George Gwozdecky.
After four years there he was named head coach at Miami at age 27, the youngest coach in Division I at the time.
The RedHawks finished ninth in the CCHA his first season behind the bench but jumped to second place in 2000-01. In 2003-04, Miami made its first of what would be 10 NCAA Tournament appearances under Blasi.
MU made the Frozen Four back-to-back years in 2009 and 2010, including a national title game appearance in 2009 which the RedHawks lost in overtime.
Miami also won three CCHA regular season titles and a CCHA Tournament and NCHC Tournament under Blasi.
Blasi earned CCHA coach of the year honors five times and was named the top coach in Division I in 2006. He is the all-time winning coach in Miami history with 398 victories, ranking him 45th among NCAA hockey coaches all-time.
The status of assistant coaches Peter Mannino and Joel Beal is unclear. They were both brought in last off-season after the previous assistants were relieved of their duties.
Miami’s statement did say that a national search for a new coach would begin immediately.
Miami has seen enough of the Poehling brothers.
The threesome combined for five points as the RedHawks fell, 5-2 at No. 1 St. Cloud State in Game 1 of a best-of-3 series on Friday, setting up a potential clinching game for the Huskies.
After Miami fell behind by two in the first period, the RedHawks twice cut the deficit to one but St. Cloud State pulled away with a pair of unanswered goals in the final frame.
River Rymsha led MU with a goal and an assist.
RECAP: Just 3:43 into the game, Nick Poehling tipped in a blue-line wrister by Jack Ahcan to give the Huskies the early lead.
SCSU (28-4-3) made it 2-0 with 2:25 left in the opening stanza on the power play when a Huskies pass pinballed off skates in the slot and ended up on the stick of Robby Jackson at the side of the net for an easy tap-in.
Miami (11-22-4) finally got on the board with 8:42 left in the second period when Alec Mahalak threw a puck at the net and it hit off Ben Lown at the side of the cage and went in.
St. Cloud regained its two-goal advantage three minutes later when Ryan Poehling shoveled home a pass from Jack Poehling in the slot. It was an all-Poehling goal as Nick Poehling picked up the secondary assist.
A Rymsha blast from just inside the blueline found its mark 34 seconds into the third period, again trimming the RedHawks’ deficit to one.
But the Huskies made it 4-2 less than four minutes later when Ahcan carried the puck behind the net and shielded it as he skated to the faceoff circle, where he wristed it inside the far post.
Easton Brodzinski sealed it by slamming home a one-timer on a 2-on-2 break with under four minutes left in regulation.
STATS: It was the sixth straight game in which Miami has allowed four or more goals and the fourth consecutive contest in which a RedHawks opponent scored at least five times.
— MU has allowed at least one goal in 14 periods in a row.
— Lown scored in his second straight game for the first time in his career. He had just two markers the first 35 games.
— It was Rymsha’s second career multi-point game.
THOUGHTS: Miami played well the first few minutes but the St. Cloud State goal killed the RedHawks’ momentum.
And when MU was down two in the second period, the team really wasn’t playing well when Lown scored his goal.
Miami did fight back again by clipping the lead to one, 3-2 in the opening moments of the third period but ultimately talent won out and the Huskies pulled away.
— RedHawks goalie Ryan Larkin stopped 32 of 37 shots for a pedestrian .865 save percentage, but tips in front of the net accounted for two SCSU goals and he was hung out to dry the last one.
He probably should’ve stopped the Ahcan goal but made several key saves to keep Miami in the game, and the second one was unlucky, as a loose puck hit a skate in the slot and kicked straight to the SCSU scorer.
Larkin deserved a better fate than a ‘5’ in the GA column.
LINEUP CHANGES: Miami went with seven defensemen, as Rourke Russell returned after sitting out last Saturday for the first time this season.
Forward Christian Mohs also dressed after missing the regular season finale vs. WMU.
Out were Fs Carter Johnson and Zach LaValle.
FINAL THOUGHTS: This was more of an example of St. Cloud State being really, really good than Miami being really, really bad.
The Poehlings, Ahcan and Brodzinski are all going to be excellent pros and Miami had little answer for the Huskies’ skilled skaters.
That’s why the 2-16-4 stretch heading into the playoffs was so detrimental for the RedHawks: They have to face the best team in Division I on the road to open the postseason.
St. Cloud State is the top-ranked team in Division I with just four losses this season.
The Huskies are unbeaten at home, going 15-0-1 and have won seven straight games overall.
Now Miami must go into the Herb Brooks Center and beat the top-ranked team in Division I two out of three just to advance to the NCHC semifinals if the RedHawks hope to advance to the NCAA Tournament.
BoB takes a look at Miami’s opening-round series in the NCHC Tournament:
WHO: Miami RedHawks (11-21-4) at No. 1 St. Cloud State Huskies (27-4-3).
WHEN: Friday – 8:07 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday (if necessary) – 7:07 p.m.
WHERE: Herb Brooks Center (5,159), St. Cloud, Minn.
ALL-TIME SERIES: St. Cloud State leads, 18-17-4.
ST. CLOUD STATE RADIO: All games – KZRV-FM (96.7) and KVSC-FM (88.1), St. Cloud. Minn.
MIAMI RADIO: WBKV-AM (1490), Richmond, Ind.
TV: Friday and Saturday – FSN North (DirecTV Ch. 668).
NOTES: It’s the second straight season these teams have met in the first round of the conference tournament in this building, and Miami took St. Cloud State to overtime of Game 3 in 2017-18.
The RedHawks, as an eight seed, also beat the Huskies in this round in 2013-14, with Justin Greenberg scoring the clinching goal in the final seconds of the third period.
So Miami has some positive playoff history vs. SCSU heading into this weekend, but the Huskies have been dominant this season – especially at home – and the RedHawks have won just two games since mid-November.
St. Cloud State has outscored its opponents, 137-73 this season, and six Huskies skaters have recorded at least 30 points.
SCSU flipped the all-time series this season, taking a half-game lead after going 2-0-2 vs. the RedHawks in 2018-19.
Patrick Newell leads the team in goals (19) and points (41), notching 22 assists, and a team-high plus-28 rating and six game winners.
Robbie Jackson leads the team in shots with 104, and he has scored 15 times and picked up helpers on 19 others for 34 points.
Blake Lizotte also has 34 points on 13 goals and 21 assists, and first-round pick Ryan Poehling is 7-23-30.
That’s the forward leaders. Two SCSU defensemen have at least 30 points: Jimmy Schult and Jack Ahcan.
Schult has been all-world this season, as the third-year captain has racked up nine goals and 22 assists for 31 points.
Ahcan has four goals, a team-best 26 assists and a plus-27 rating.
In net, David Hrenak has been the starter most of the season, going 20-3-2 with a 2.18 goals-against average but just a .907 save percentage.
But Jeff Smith has played in two of the Huskies’ last three games and has a 2.01 GAA and .923 save percentage.
Miami enters this series having lost five in a row, and the RedHawks were outscored, 26-11 in that stretch.
The RedHawks have lost in this round three straight seasons.
OXFORD, Ohio – Before coming to Miami, hockey opportunities were scarce for Grant Hutton.
No team in the USHL wanted him, and college offers were nearly non-existent.
“From his freshman year to now, potential NHL free agent signing, just his game, his defensive ability, his offensive ability has all come from his hard work and his willingness to do extra,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. “He’s bought into how he needs to play at this level.”
Hutton is from Carmel, Ind., the Indianapolis suburb that produced former RedHawk Cameron Schilling – who has played 10 games in the NHL – as well as current Miami forward Scott Corbett.
Hutton’s father, G.R. Hutton, logged a season with USHL Omaha and G.R.’s father also coached hockey. So as soon as Grant learned how to walk, his family threw him on skates.
After two seasons with the Indiana Ice Under-16 team, Hutton hoped to make the Ice’s USHL team, which had drafted him. He was excited about the prospect of playing for the team he watched growing up less than a half hour from his home.
Hutton didn’t ultimately stick with the Ice, as he dressed just four games with Indiana that season and spent the majority of the campaign with NAHL Corpus Christi, which had tendered him.
“It was just one of those deals where obviously I wanted to be in the USHL but I was still young and wasn’t quite there yet,” Hutton said.
Prior to the following season, Hutton, now 18, attended the camps of two USHL teams – Des Moines and Tri-City.
Both cut him.
So that fall it was back to Corpus Christi. In parts of two seasons there, Hutton scored 10 goals and assisted on 19 others in 85 games.
At the trade deadline, Tri-City – one of the USHL teams that snubbed him the previous off-season – traded for him and called him up. In 20 games there he went 1-1-2.
He returned to Tri-City for his final juniors season in 2014-15 but that team again cut Hutton as it was in a rebuilding process.
Then Des Moines – the other USHL team that had released Hutton – traded for his rights and he logged 11 games there.
Des Moines again told Hutton that things weren’t working out, and it was back to the NAHL.
“They even tried to play me at forward for one game, but that was a terrible idea,” Hutton said. “I had no idea what I was doing up there.”
Hutton joined Janesville, but unlike some of his previous stops, this one would prove fulfilling.
With current teammate Zach LaValle leading the team in points, Hutton racked up four goals and 10 assists in 32 games, going a remarkable plus-26 in just half a season.
His plus-minus was largely the effect of Janesville’s 49-11 regular season record, as the Jets advanced to the conference final that spring.
So a season that started with Hutton yet again being rejected by the USHL ended up being one of his best on-ice developmental experiences.
“I was super upset, it totally sucked, but it was one of those things now – looking back at it – it was 100 percent the best thing that could’ve happened to me in my hockey career,” Hutton said. “Obviously I ended up at Miami, and I’m super grateful for that, but just in terms of going to a place where I was a role player, I was used in all situations. I wasn’t sitting in the stands. We were on an unbelievable team…I’ve never been on a team like that in my life. Everyone was good hockey players and good people, and we just meshed really well, and I think I developed – in terms of my junior career, for sure I took the biggest step in Janesville, just maturing as a player and as a person.”
In three seasons of juniors, Hutton played for five teams in two leagues and was cut five times, with two teams releasing him twice.
“For me, I think I learned a lot about myself, went through a lot of adversity, and it’s helped me immensely in my career because I’ve gone through a lot of these experiences that some guys may not have had to go through,” Hutton said. “When hard times come around I feel like I’m prepared for that kind of thing.”
His struggle to find a USHL suitor is baffling considering he has missed three games in three seasons since coming to Oxford.
“I think a little bit of everything plays into that, right?” Hutton said. “First and foremost, you have to find a place where you fit in. All these teams I kept going to, other than Tri-City when I first got called up, had good right-handed defensemen. I always felt like I could compete with all of them at that level, but I think it’s hard in terms of confidence when you go into a new place and you aren’t really given a shot, and if you are given a shot, you make one mistake and you end up back in the stands.”
With three years of juniors service, Hutton, now 20, had only three Division I teams interested in him. Air Force was one but Hutton hadn’t considered that route, and Bentley wanted his services but he would have to walk on there.
Option three was Miami.
Though the RedHawks courted Hutton, there was certainly no guarantee ice time would be available for him entering his freshman year. The 2015-16 RedHawks featured five senior defensemen plus sophomores Louie Belpedio and Scott Dornbrock.
Hutton was the lone freshman on D, and he fully expected to sit most of his Division I rookie season.
But when the defensive pairings were announced for Game 1 of 2015-16, Hutton’s name was on the lineup sheet, and he earned an assist in his inaugural NCAA game vs. Providence.
“When I was in the lineup opening night I was totally shocked – this is absolutely crazy,” Hutton said. “Obviously all the hard work paid off, and I always believed in myself, but I was mentally prepared to have to take a step back and develop my game and learn from those guys, even if it meant being in the stands, which I was OK with.”
Hutton played in 35 of 36 games his first season, and with all of the veterans already on the Miami blueline he was able to gain experience in lower-leverage situations in adapting to the college game.
“It was one of those things where I think I was in an awesome situation to come in and learn from those guys,” Hutton said. “I wasn’t thrown into a role where I had to do too much. I was lucky enough I came into a situation where my role was: Play defense. Don’t let other teams score. And I love doing that, so it was super easy for me.”
Hutton, who is third in Miami hockey history in defenseman goals, did not score once as a freshman, picking up five assists. He earned NCHC defenseman of the week honors once and blocked 38 shots.
With all of the departed senior blueliners, Hutton relished the opportunity to move into a more offensive-oriented role and log minutes on the power play his sophomore season.
He was happy with his progress the summer before his second year, and from Game 1 the puck started finding the net. Hutton scored his first career goal in Providence on opening night 2016-17.
Hutton finished that season with nine goals, tops among Miami defensemen, and he tied Belpedio for first in points by a blueliner with 17.
“He wouldn’t shoot the puck his freshman year – I think he was afraid to get it off for some reason,” Blasi said. “Once he started shooting the puck, it started going in – obviously he’s got a hard shot – I think his confidence from playing and feeling good about what he does on a day-to-day basis has helped his overall game probably.”
Junior season, Hutton racked up five goals the first four games of the season. He ended up leading all college hockey defensemen with 13 goals, and he added 14 assists.
It was the fourth-most goals ever by a Miami blueliner.
“It’s no coincidence that he shoots extra pucks every day and then they end up in the back of the net, but he puts in the work to get what he deserves,” junior forward Gordie Green said.
Green joined the team after Hutton’s freshman season, so he doesn’t know life at Oxford without Hutton being a major scoring threat.
“I kind of joke with him: The Grant that I know wasn’t the Grant Hutton his freshman year,” Green said.
Immediately following 2017-18, both RedHawks assistants and six non-seniors left, and the pro game was beckoning the undrafted star.
Hutton said he pondered the decision during a family trip, and he and Josh Melnick – also a highly-skilled senior-to-be with pro aspirations – publicly announced via social media that they would return for their senior season.
“I love it here so much, ultimately that was what brought me back,” Hutton said. “Obviously I knew Mel was probably coming back and everybody knows how close we are. We were going to be in or out together. Once we mutually decided we were coming back it was a done deal, there was no more speculation. I know I called Rico right away once I made my decision and said hey, I’m coming back, just wanted to let you know first. I just didn’t want to have any regrets leaving this place – it’s amazing.”
Both Hutton and Melnick were assistant captains last season and they were named co-captains prior to 2018-19.
“He’s someone that everyone respects, and each follows his lead, no matter what that is,” Melnick said. “The best thing is he knows what to say at the right time, and that’s been the biggest thing for us this year. Whenever something may not be going the right way, he knows what to say and guys listen and respect that. On top of that he works extremely hard both on and off the ice, so he sets a good example as well.”
As captain, Hutton has seven goals and 13 assists this season, leading the team in blueliner goals. His 20 points rank fourth on the team.
“It’s been an awesome learning experience,” Hutton said. “For me, I just wanted to be able to bridge the gap between the coaches and the players – I think that’s the primary role of a captain. I think the biggest thing for the captain is you have to portray both sides, so whatever the players are thinking, you’ve got to be able to voice that to the coaches and if the coaches are thinking things, whatever they’re preaching you’ve got to be able to preach it to the players as well.”
For his career, Hutton has 29 goals, the third-most ever in Miami history among blueliners behind only Kevin Beaton and Dan Boyle.
He also has 41 assists for 70 points, the fourth-highest defenseman total in the Cady Arena era. Matthew Caito, Chris Wideman and Belpedio are the only others to record more in their RedHawks careers since the rink opened.
“He has grown so much as a player since we’ve gotten here,” Melnick said.
Both Green and Melnick talked about the advantage of having Hutton on the ice during their shifts.
“From a forward perspective, if you’re working hard in the corner you know you can get the puck up to him at the point and you’d better go to the net because you know it’s coming,” Melnick said.
Said Green: “He’s really smart when he picks and chooses when to step in the rush,” Green said. “It’s definitely just a comfortability thing, knowing that you’re on the ice with him, and especially on the power play, he’s our go-to guy. Anyone who has that hard of a shot and that accurate of a shot is a threat at all times.”
Hutton said he was recently talking to his father, G.R., about the magnitude of his four-year transformation from unwanted to Miami captain.
“Can you actually believe what’s going on?” Hutton said. “We were talking about preparing not to play freshman year, and it’s kind of taken off.”
Said Blasi: “He’s a very mature young man so he’s kind of taken that in stride. He knows he’s got a lot of work to do and every day is a challenge, but you just take it from there and whatever happens, happens and you control the things you can control and you go from there. The maturity and the growth is something that we as a program and a coaching staff really emphasize in terms of growing our players, whether we’re winning championships or not. That’s the most important thing that we do is to develop our players to become better at what they do, and a lot of the credit goes to the player and the individual and we just try to hold them accountable to the standard that they set.”
And when the RedHawks’ season ends, NHL teams will be drooling to sign a player of Hutton’s caliber, with a stature and skill set custom made for the pro game.
But if it wasn’t for Miami, that evolution may have never occurred, and Hutton has treasured his years in Oxford.
“It’s been the best four years of my life, by far,” Hutton said. “I tell people all the time, if I had 60 offers, there’s no way I’d go anywhere (else), knowing now what I know about Miami. It’s the best place in the world. We have amazing fans, we have an amazing support system, incredible facilities, the education is top-notch and the people that I’ve been able to meet here are going to be with me the rest of my life. It’s just such a surreal place. It’s almost hard to put into words, you almost can’t say enough good things about Miami University as a whole and the Miami hockey program. It’s such a special place – it means so much to me. I tell people all the time: You’ve got to come over here and check out Miami. I can’t imagine being anywhere else but here.”
OXFORD, Ohio – The preseason NCHC poll picked Miami to finish last in the conference.
The RedHawks proved those voters correct as No. 12 Western Michigan pounded them 6-1 at Cady Arena on Saturday, sealing eighth place in the eight-team league.
Miami (11-21-4) actually tied Omaha for the bottom spot but lost the tiebreaker. The RedHawks will head to St. Cloud State next weekend in a best-of-3 NCHC Tournament opening-round series.
Wade Allison recorded a hat trick and added an assist, and Colt Conrad ended the night with a goal and three helpers to pace the Broncos (20-13-1).
RECAP: Just 57 seconds in, Allison stole the puck at his own blue line, setting up a 2-on-1 as he tapped home a return feed from Dawson DiPietro.
With 6:06 left in the opening period, WMU’s Colt Conrad threw a hard pass from the top of the faceoff circle to DiPietro, who tipped it in from the side of the crease on the power play to extend the Broncos’ lead to two.
Western Michigan’s Ethen Frank made it 3-0 when he skated into the zone on the right wing and ripped a shot past goalie Ryan Larkin from the top of the faceoff circle five minutes into the second period.
The Broncos scored each of the next two goals 12 seconds into power plays.
Conrad held the puck in on a clearing attempt, drove the net and whipped it under the crossbar with 12:24 left in the second period, and Allison held the puck behind the Miami net, maneuvered the puck onto the end of his stick and threw it around the net and in to make it 5-0 with six minutes left in the that frame.
Ben Lown scored Miami’s lone goal on a laser from the high slot that snuck inside the far post three minutes into the third period, but a faceoff-dot wrister from Allison capped the scoring 57 seconds later.
STATS: It was Lown’s first goal in 21 games and the first assist for Knies in 17 contests.
— Miami was outshot, 25-9 the first two periods.
— The RedHawks allowed three power play goals on five chances and were 0-for-3 themselves on the man advantage with just two shots.
— Opponents have scored 25 goals in Miami’s last five games.
THOUGHTS: Nothing to see here: Western Michigan scored in the opening minute and sent a number of fans to the exits by the end of the second period with a five-goal lead.
At least Friday created the illusion of being close for the first two periods.
Ticket face value for these games was $25 each, and in terms of bang for the entertainment buck, this weekend rated lower than Howard the Duck.
— Mike Babcock and other have famously said that it takes no skill to kill penalties.
Regardless of any talent disparity, Miami’s PK has been abysmal for quite a while, and a poor penalty kill has been directly proportional to the RedHawks’ overall struggles.
Miami finished the regular season 59th out of 60 in the NCAA in at 73.5 percent. During the RedHawks’ final 24 games they were 65.8 percent on the PK and 61.8 percent over their last 10 contests.
FORWARDS: D-. Not much positive other than the Lown goal. An undisciplined offensive-zone penalty by Casey Gilling penalty ended up in the Miami net 12 seconds later. Like Friday, Miami’s top forwards had very few shots, and no one up front had more than two SOG.
DEFENSEMEN: D. Not many highlights here except a couple of big Grant Hutton hits. Liked the play from the big guys – Bray Crowder and Andrew Sinard.
GOALTENDING: D. There were a couple of shots Larkin had no chance on but others were stoppable. Overall he finished 20 of 25 (.800). Jordan Uhelski was 6-for-7 (.857) in relief.
LINEUP CHANGES: Rourke Russell was scratched for the first time this season, as Sinard replaced him.
Up front Carter Johnson dressed and Christian Mohs sat.
STANDINGS: At 5-17-2, Miami finished last in the NCHC for the second straight season and was seventh in 2016-17. As a result, the RedHawks will head to the road for the first round of the league tournament for the fourth straight season.
Both MU and Omaha ended the regular season with 18 points, but the tiebreaker came down to goal differential in head-to-head games, and the Mavericks outscored the RedHawks by one in their four meetings, 11-10.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Miami went 3-12-1 to end the 2013-14 regular season and finished last in the conference, setting up a series at top-seeded St. Cloud State.
The RedHawks swept the Huskies on a clinching goal by Justin Greenberg in the closing seconds of Game 2 and came within a goal of winning the NCHC championship.
So there is hope.
But it would’ve been nice to see an inkling of improvement from this team in the waning games of the regular season, and it never happened.
Five straight losses and a woeful 2-16-4 record since mid-November.
It would be quite a story if the RedHawks could somehow advance to the Frozen Faceoff with their resume.
OXFORD, Ohio – Miami hung with No. 12 Western Michigan for the first two periods, but an early Broncos surge in the final frame sealed the RedHawks’ fate.
WMU scored twice in the first three minutes of the third period and three times overall in that stanza en route to a 5-1 win over Miami at Cady Arena on Friday, handing the RedHawks their fourth straight loss.
Colt Conrad finished with a goal and two assists and Trevor Gorsuch stopped 22 shots to pace the Broncos (19-13-1).
RECAP: WMU’s Jade McMullen carried the puck along the boards before sending a one-time pass to Corey Schueneman, who ripped it by Miami goalie Ryan Larkin to open the scoring 9:11 into the game.
Conrad extended the Broncos’ lead 3:41 into the second period when he skated across the blue line on a 3-on-2 rush and wired a shot past Larkin on the power play.
Phil Knies cut the RedHawks’ deficit to one on a one-timer from the right wing faceoff circle off a pass by Brian Hawkinson that snuck through Gorsuch with 6:04 left in the middle frame.
But Lawton Courtnall batted home a loose puck in the slot to make it 3-1 WMU at the 1:53 mark of the third period, and 41 seconds later, Cam Lee stole the puck in the offensive puck and centered one to a streaking Dawson DiPietro, who directed the puck into the net.
Wade Allison tapped in an empty netter with 6:29 left to seal it.
STATS: Knies scored his sixth goal of the season and his third in the last six games.
— Hawkinson’s assist extended his points streak to four games, the longest of his career.
— Jonathan Gruden also picked up a helper on that goal and has points in three straight contests.
— Miami has struggled mightily in the third period, as the RedHawks have been outscored, 20-4 in the final 20 minutes of their last 12 games.
— MU reached the 20-loss mark for the third straight season.
THOUGHTS: This was not an entertaining game to watch.
Western Michigan really didn’t play that well. Miami (11-20-4) was awful.
There was no flow. Icings and faceoffs halted play continuously in the opening minutes, and there were so many penalties in the second period the referees’ arms needed to be iced down at intermission from all the delayed calls.
It was 2-1 for about eight minutes and Miami did lead in shots through 40 minutes but it never really felt like the RedHawks had a chance.
Too many turnovers, no transition, trouble completing passes, substandard compete level, mediocre goaltending, weak power play isn’t going to win many games in the NCHC.
FORWARDS: D. This corps simply didn’t create enough quality scoring chances and finished with 13 shots by 13 skaters. Knies scored but that line went minus-5. Josh Melnick: 2 shots. Gordie Green: 1 shot. Karch Bachman: 0 shots.
DEFENSEMEN: C-. Generated some shots but most were low percentage from the outside. More turnovers than usual, especially along the wall. Derek Daschke did have SOG and Grant Hutton four.
GOALTENDING: D-. Larkin should’ve stopped the first two goals, as they were from outside with no traffic, as both beat him to the glove side. The third was kind of fluky, the fourth was on a net crashing situation and the fifth was an empty netter. He made 19 saves for an .826 save percentage.
LINEUP CHANGES: Scott Corbett returned up front but did not look 100 percent. He missed the last four games with an upper-body injury.
Christian Mohs was also back in the lineup after sitting for the last two.
Out were Carter Johnson – who scored last Saturday – and defenseman Andrew Sinard as the RedHawks went with 13 forwards rather than the usual seven defensemen.
FINAL THOUGHTS: The point of this weekend was to play better hockey and build momentum heading into the postseason.
This game did nothing to move toward that goal.
OXFORD, Ohio – No one in the history of Miami hockey can match Josh Melnick’s clutch goal resume.
The NCAA still uses 5-on-5 overtimes, so scoring is relatively rare in those five-minute frames.
But Melnick has netted three OT winners in his career plus two more in 3-on-3s following the extra sessions.
“It never fails, right? It’s always him,” senior defenseman Grant Hutton said. “I think he gets rewarded for all the little things he does, and that’s why he seems to be so clutch, whether it be blocking shots or winning a small battle on the boards, he does the little things, and if you do the little things, you’re going to get rewarded all night long. I think that’s the best way to describe him being clutch is him doing the right thing over and over and over again. That’s not always flashy, it’s not always the highlight-reel play. But he makes the right play all the time, and at the end of the night when he gets that scoring opportunity in overtime, maybe a 3-on-3, a shootout, whatever it is, the puck goes into the net for him.”
Melnick was born and grew up in Annandale, New Jersey, about 50 miles west of New York City. He fell in love with hockey thanks to his step-father, David Crandall.
Melnick played prep hockey as well as soccer and lacrosse at Delbarton, a private New Jersey high school that was close enough for him to live at home.
He eventually dropped the other two sports and was dominant on the ice his final two years of preps. His junior season he scored 22 goals and picked up 25 assists in 28 games, and he racked up 62 points including 46 helpers in 26 contests as a senior.
The following season, Melnick, 18 at this point, headed to Youngstown of the USHL. His first season there he posted a 7-21-28 line in 52 games.
In 2012-13, he returned to the Phantom and his numbers ballooned. He notched 14 goals and a league-leading 48 assists in 60 games, including a five-point performance that included a hat trick vs. Fargo.
Melnick had intended to play Division I hockey for Princeton but decommitted within the final month of his final juniors season.
Within weeks Melnick had committed to Miami following a visit to Oxford.
“I fell in love with the campus right away, and everything that the program stands for,” Melnick said.
He also would be joining former Youngstown teammates, which he said factored into the decision, as he was close friends with Kiefer Sherwood, and Conor Lemirande and Grant Valentine also played with Youngstown during Melnick’s juniors career.
Melnick adapted to the college game with ease. He assisted on Miami’s first goal of 2015-16 and scored in that inaugural NCAA game as well, Oct. 9, 2015 vs. Providence at Cady Arena for a two-point night.
“We had a lot of seniors on our team my freshman year and I think that was huge, just getting guidance from them on a daily basis and being able to play with some of those guys right off the start was really good in terms of learning what it takes at this level,” Melnick said.
The next night he would become the first player in Division I history to score a 3-on-3 goal following the conclusion of overtime. College hockey had allowed conferences the option to adopt that format for league points the previous off-season.
Though PC was not in Miami’s conference, the teams skated three a side anyway following what was officially a 2-2 tie, and Melnick lit the lamp.
Two months into his sophomore season, Melnick found the net in overtime to beat Colorado College for his first official OT winner, and he did it in spectacular fashion.
Teammate Carson Meyer threw a wrister at the net, and it grazed off the side of Melnick, who batted it out the air and into the short side of the net.
Two games later, Melnick tallied the tying goal in the final minute vs. St. Cloud State. Then he scored the game winner in overtime.
Early in his junior season, he victimized Colorado College in OT again, this time burying a rebound on a loose puck at the top of the crease.
He added another 3-on-3 goal to earn Miami a conference point earlier this season vs. St. Cloud State on Dec. 1.
That gives Melnick three official overtime winners plus two 3-on-3s in supplemental OT, and he has six official career game winners. Over 15 percent of his career goals have gone in the GWG column.
“That doesn’t surprise me because he’s the first guy that we’re sending over the boards,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. “Everything that you would say about him is true. He’s the leader of our team in a lot of ways.”
Some perspective: No Miamian has ever even scored two career overtime winners since Cady Arena opened in 2006-07.
— Melnick is the only RedHawk with multiple OT goals in a season since at least 2000.
— The last Miamian to post two career OTWs in a career was Alec Martinez, whose first won the final game played at Goggin Arena, clinching the RedHawks’ CCHA opening-round tournament series.
— Chris Michael is the last Miamian to score an OT winner in consecutive seasons, doing so in 2003-04 and 2004-05.
“It’s just being in the right place at the right time, and when you go to overtime it’s a little more sense of urgency,” Melnick said. “And when you get the puck in those situations you’ve got to bear down.”
Freshman season he was voted the team’s rookie of the year by his classmates and was a finalist for Miami’s most valuable player award.
Named assistant captain as a sophomore, his points total jumped by two each of the next two seasons.
Junior Gordie Green has been his linemate for much of those campaigns. Green notched 21 points as a freshman but vaulted to a team-best 15 goals and 33 points last season.
“He’s a complete player – I think he’s probably the most complete player that we have,” Green said. “I’ve had the honor of playing with him for pretty much the last two years and he’s probably been the easiest player I’ve ever gotten to play with. He does everything right and you can count on him. He’s been a lot of fun to play with.”
In 2018-19 Green is again tops on Miami in goals with 11 and is second in points by just one.
The team leader is Melnick, who is also second on the RedHawks in markers with 10.
“He’s definitely a player that makes everyone around him better,” Green said. “That’s why it’s fun playing with him – we play against all of the top lines because our coach wants Melly out there to shut them down as well as generate offense against them. And he’s always out there for the penalty kills, he’s usually the first one to take that big draw.”
This season his points rate is at a career high, as he averages exactly a point a game with 26 in 26 contests. He missed six games with an upper body injury.
So in addition to his reputation for scoring in the clutch, Melnick has exemplified consistency in the points column. His season totals are 25-27-29-26.
That’s a total of 107 points, tied for the 45th with Blake Coleman on the all-time RedHawks’ leaderboard.
“Obviously it’s a great feeling, and I’m very honored to be recognized with some of the names that are there as well,” Melnick said. “But a huge portion of that credit goes to the players that I’ve been able and fortunate enough to play with in my four years here.”
As impressive as his offensive numbers are, Melnick has been one of the top defensive forwards on the team each season.
“I think that’s definitely one of my strengths as a player – being able to play in all three zones and being able to defend well,” Melnick said. “That’s something that I’ve focused on a lot through the years and continue to improve on. Obviously playing well in the O-zone is important, but you’ve got to be able to play on both sides of the puck.”
In addition to playing against opponents’ top forwards, he logs as much ice time on the penalty kill as any RedHawk. Miami has even played four forwards with him in a defense slot late in games this season.
“One of the things that makes Melly so special is his ability to make plays under pressure, and obviously his defense — 1-on-1 he can skate with anybody, he uses his body well, he’s not huge in terms of the size department, but he’s really good at protecting the puck and he makes really good decisions with the puck,” Hutton said. “When you get the puck back (in the defensive zone), you still have to get it out of the zone, you still have to transition to offense, and he makes that transition so easy. As a defenseman, if I go back and I’ve got to make a play, I know I can put the puck anywhere for him – on his feet, on his backhand, behind him – anywhere in the general vicinity – he’s going to get the puck and he’s going to get it out.”
After last season, there was uncertainty as to whether Melnick would have the opportunity to eclipse the 100-point mark. With both assistant coaches and six non-seniors leaving the program, it was unclear if Melnick would return for his senior year.
But early in the off-season, he and Hutton told the world via social media they would both be back for their final year.
“It was a tough decision, but in the end it was fairly easy decision,” Melnick said. “I talked with my family and thought about it, but at the end of the day, for me, I love it here, and I wanted to come back and spend my final year – getting my degree was also important to me – but spending another year with the people that we’re surrounded by every day and getting a chance to leave my mark a little bit more.”
And his game has further evolved this season, as he has improved drastically in the faceoff circle.
“He takes a lot of pride in that, and that’s becoming such an important part of the game because the game nowadays is more about puck possession,” Hutton said. “You win the faceoff, it’s much easier to start with the puck than to go get it. The coolest thing is he pulls the other forwards along with him. They see him taking faceoffs, well if Melly’s taking faceoffs and doing the extra work, then you’ve got to do it too, right? Not only has he gotten better but his teammates have gotten better because they’ve followed his lead.”
He has been resilient in his quest to improve his faceoff numbers, as he has been one of the last players off the ice during practice because of his work in the circle.
“That’s one of the things I focus on during the week, especially closer to game day,” Melnick said. “I feel like I’ve noticed it more as the years go by, but the more draws you can win, obviously that just means more possession for your team and it really shows in the long run of the game.”
He has won 55 percent of his draws in 2018-19. A faceoff win by Melnick directly led to a Miami goal last weekend.
“He’s not a natural centerman, so when we moved him to center way back when he really had to learn the position, positionally, and then he had to be effective taking faceoffs,” Blasi said. “That’s a credit to Josh and his hard work and his willingness to do whatever it takes to help the team. He’s the guy that everybody kind of looks to, to lead the way in practice and games. He’s out in every faceoff and special teams (situation). Obviously we really missed him as you can tell from our record without him in the lineup.”
The RedHawks went 0-6 earlier this season while Melnick was out.
“The kid’s unbelievable,” Hutton said. “He does things every week in practice where we’re like, what in the world? It doesn’t even make sense. Physically, there are things that he can do that (most) people can’t. He just has a special skillset and a special mindset, he’s a super-hard worker. He’s super honest with himself – he doesn’t try to be someone he’s not, and that’s the coolest thing about Josh. He’s so humble and so honest, it shows up in his game, right? He works his ass off every single day and everyone benefits from that.”
Melnick and Hutton were named co-captains this season, a fairly unusual move in hockey but one that has worked well for program.
“I think the relationship is very solid, and so anytime you do something like that the two guys have to get along, and have to kind of share the load,” Blasi said.
Hutton has been more vocal while Melnick has played a more lead-by-example role, and Melnick always leads the pre-game huddle speech when the team congregates around the net.
“For me it’s just continuing to be who I am and not really changing the type of player or the type of person I am,” Melnick said. “Making sure we’re holding guys accountable on a daily basis, but all the guys on the team are great and easy to get along with, so for the most part it’s been pretty smooth.”
Said Hutton: “He’s respected by everybody – you don’t have a choice because of how special he is as a player and as a person.”
That consistent level of excellence has carried over into the classroom as well for Melnick, who is a four-time member of the NCHC All-Academic Team.
Unfortunately for Miami, Melnick’s time in Oxford is running short, as the RedHawks play their final two regular season games this weekend.
And while he said his time as Miami has gone too quickly – with each season zooming by faster – Melnick has carved a permanent legacy into RedHawks hockey history.
“As an overall experience it’s definitely been the best four years of my life,” Melnick said. “Coming in, I think one of the biggest things for me was not only developing as a player, but developing as a person. I’ve grown so much over the past couple of years, again, as a player and a person, and I wouldn’t trade any of the experiences for anything.”
Both teams scored five times in the first two periods.
But a Kobe Roth goal with 13:17 left in regulation was the difference maker in No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth’s 6-5 win over Miami on Saturday.
In a crazy game that saw the Bulldogs score twice in the first 90 seconds and ultimately fall behind by a goal in the second period, UMD (21-9-2) completed a four-game season series sweep of the RedHawks.
MU dropped its third straight game and is 0-11-2 in its last 13 games on the Bulldogs’ home ice.
RECAP: Just 86 seconds into the game, the Bulldogs led by two thanks to a pair of Nick Wolff goals scored on outside shots, 23 seconds apart.
Miami (11-19-4) went on a two-man advantage and powered home a pair of quick goals of their own, tying it on markers scored 55 second apart.
Josh Melnick whipped a wrister home from the high slot on the 5-on-3, and Jonathan Gruden grabbed a rebound off a Grant Hutton shot and backhanded it home to tie the score at the 5:42 mark of the opening stanza.
Riley Tufte tipped home a slap pass from the edge of the crease on the power play to give Minnesota-Duluth a 3-2 lead with 10:30 left in the first frame.
The RedHawks again answered with a man-advantage goal of their own, as Hutton ripped a shot from the high inside edge of the faceoff circle that found its mark with 3:34 left in the first period.
A blue line blast by Dylan Samberg put UMD ahead by one again, 4-3 less than three minutes into the middle stanza, but Gordie Green tied it for Miami with a one-timer from the slot off a centering feed by Ryan Siroky along the boards.
RedHawks forward Carter Johnson stole the puck behind the Bulldogs’ net, wrapped around and poked it into the net less than two minutes later to give the RedHawks their only lead.
But with 20 seconds left in the second period, Parker Mackay cleaned up a rebound off a blue line wrist shot by Scott Perunovich to tie the score at five.
The game winner also was scored on a rebound, as Roth banged home a Billy Exell shot from the side of the net 6:43 into the third period.
STATS: Hutton finished with a goal and two assists, tying his career high in points. It was his fourth-ever three-point game.
— Melnick and Green both found the net and picked up a helper. Green snapped a five-game goalless streak and Melnick recorded his third tally in five games.
With 107 career points, Melnick moved into a tie with Blake Coleman for 45th on Miami’s all-time leaderboard.
— Gruden broke out of a 12-game skid without a marker, and Johnson scored for the first time since opening night.
— The RedHawks were 3-for-5 on the power play, scoring three times on the man advantage for the first time since Jan. 12, 2018 in an 11-7 loss at Omaha.
Miami also gave up two PPGs on four chances. MU is 15 of 24 on the penalty kill in its last eight games, a clip of 62.5 percent.
— The RedHawks generated just 19 shots and have failed to put up more than 22 shots in five consecutive contests. They have been outshot by 94 in that span, or 19 shots per game.
THOUGHTS: Miami played much better overall than on Friday, especially considering the RedHawks went down two within the first 90 seconds.
MU was assisted by a 5-on-3 later in the first period, as the team scored twice to tie it.
The RedHawks actually led heading into the final minute of the second period but ultimately two Minnesota-Duluth rebound goals in the final stanza were the difference.
As tough as Miami has had it at Amsoil Arena, it’s looking more likely the RedHawks return there for their first-round NCHC Tournament series again.
MU has gone to Duluth two of the previous three years for the best-of-3 and its season has ended there both times.
— Gruden seems to be heating up at the right time. He made a highlight-reel pass to set up Phil Knies‘ goal on Friday and scored one of his own in this game.
— Funny how a game with the same officials as Friday played about at an equal level physically sees these teams combine for nine power play chances after racking up only two in the series opener.
Even the UMD broadcasters were commenting on that and how calls against both teams that weren’t made on Friday were minors on Saturday.
Miami and UMD combined to go 6-for-11 on the man advantage for the weekend (54.5 percent).
— Jordan Uhelski made the start and allowed six goals on 39 shots. It wasn’t one of his better games, and Ryan Larkin was not in top form on Friday.
LINEUP CHANGES: River Rymsha was back in the lineup after serving his league-imposed one-game suspension. He replaced Noah Jordan.
The only other move was Uhelski in net for Larkin.
STANDINGS: At 5-15-2 in the NCHC, Miami is locked into a seven or eight seed.
The RedHawks are tied with Omaha for seventh place but are technically behind the Mavericks because they lose the tiebreaker, which is goal differential in head-to-head meetings (UNO has outscored Miami, 12-11 in their four meetings).
MU is six points behind sixth-place Colorado College but cannot win the tiebreaker vs. the Tigers because of a 1-3 head-to-head mark.
St. Cloud State has locked up the No. 1 seed, and if the season ended today that’s where Miami would head. Minnesota-Duluth is likely to finish second, as the Bulldogs are four points ahead of Denver.
One of those three teams will host Miami in two weeks. SCSU is No. 1 in the PairWise, UMD is third and Denver sixth.
The RedHawks host Western Michigan next week while Omaha travels to North Dakota.
MU is No. 34 in the PairWise.
FINAL THOUGHTS: One weekend left in the regular season and all that’s left to decide is where Miami will head for the NCHC Tournament.
For whatever reason the RedHawks have had more success in Denver than Duluth or St. Cloud, but Denver is also the least likely opponent for Miami, as the Pioneers would have to rally from four points down to catch UMD.
However, Duluth heads to St. Cloud State next week while Denver hosts Colorado College.
Miami needs a strong finish to its regular season against Western Michigan next week to carry some confidence into the postseason.
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.”