Category Archives: Miami Alumni

RedHawks and Redskins Hockey Alumni

Religion lifts Steffes to ECHL dominance

Looking at Gary Steffes’ career stats line from juniors in Cedar Rapids, four years in college and the last six years when he has played in several levels of the pros, his senior season at Miami stands out for all of the wrong reasons: 17 games, no goals, one assist.

Without knowing more about the 29-year-old forward, one might assume he was hurt that year, lost his passion for the game or battled any other of countless issues that sidetrack numerous would-be pro athletes from their ultimate goal.

But while many would hang up their skates and cash in their Miami degrees for lucrative jobs in their respective fields, the struggles of that 2009-10 campaign combined with hard work and a strong religious faith have culminated in his becoming one of the most lethal clutch scorers in the ECHL and Kelly Cup championships each of the past two seasons.

Forward Gary Steffes (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Forward Gary Steffes (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

“I look back at my senior year, and it was probably one of the hardest years, hockey-wise, that I’ve ever had,” Steffes said. “I didn’t score a single goal all season, I had one assist and I played half of the games, and I really went through a lot. There’s no question that my faith in Jesus Christ was impactful for me.”

After netting just 12 goals in 98 games in the USHL, Steffes arrived in Oxford in the fall of 2006, becoming a member of the first freshman class to play at Cady Arena.

“I came in one guy and left another guy, both on and off the ice,” Steffes said. “Being a part of the RedHawks’ organization was an amazing blessing, and I can’t say thanks enough for how the coaching staff invested in me. When I think about my experience about Miami, it’s so much bigger than hockey, but my experience as a hockey player was top-notch. I got to play against some of the best programs in the world, and it was a tremendous honor. It developed me a ton, and I’m grateful.”

Steffes skated in all 42 games his rookie season, and as a sophomore, Steffes doubled his points total from his 5-3-8 freshman season, as he scored six times and set up 10 more while rising on Miami’s forward depth chart.

He also dressed for both games in the NCAA Tournament before Miami fell in the regional final.

Steffes was roomed with classmate and former NHLer Jarod Palmer when he first came to Oxford. The two had never met before but are now close friends.

“He was extremely energetic – a go-getter in every facet,” Palmer said. “I was a lot more laid back as far as life went, but Gary was 110 percent in everything he did, in every category. That really impressed me, honestly, and kind of intimidated me.”

Junior season was Steffes’ collegiate high point. It started with him recording a hat trick in the RedHawks’ home opener vs. Ohio State, and he finished with 11 goals – tied for fourth on the team – and 12 assists.

Miami advanced to the national championship game for the only time in its history, and Steffes netted the RedHawks’ first-ever NCAA title game goal.

“Junior year was probably the best year that I had of all of them,” Steffes said. “We get to go into the Frozen Four, and we beat Bemidji (State) and then we go to the national championship game, and the environment was just crazy. I still remember the line I got to play with and the teammates that I had – it was an exhilarating run and an exhilarating year, and really just to be a part of a team that was atop the nation fighting to win a national championship. It was an amazing experience that I’m blessed to have been a part of.”

There was reason to believe Steffes’ development would take yet another step forward in 2009-10, but his on-ice story in Oxford was pretty much complete.

Forward Jarod Palmer (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Forward Jarod Palmer (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

“In college, (Steffes) had a tough time trying to stay calm,” Palmer said. “He was really nervous before games, and it would show in his play. He’d make panicked decisions out there. He wanted to be successful – he trained harder, he practiced harder than anyone. If you came to our practices you’d have thought he was the best player on the ice, without a doubt. But when it came to game time, performance time, he would get nervous and make strange decisions. As things didn’t go so well, his pressure increased.”

He was a healthy scratch down the stretch, including the NCAA Tournament as the RedHawks again qualified for the Frozen Four.

“Going through my senior season, it really was a very big maturing year, and the Lord, he pulled some things out of me and I had to develop in a lot of ways, mentally and emotionally. I look back at my performance, and I would’ve liked to have seen it a little better, but at the same time there are so many things that I took from that. I grew as a man, I grew as player – it was a tough year overall.”

Meanwhile, Palmer scored a team-high 18 times and picked up 27 assists for a RedHawks-best 45 points in his final season at Miami, but he was unable to help his struggling friend garner that same success.

“Senior year, he tried to find his way in life, and he really changed dramatically,” Palmer said. “He became a close follower of Christ, and I think it was really tough for him to watch other guys play games. He was (a) healthy scratch sometimes, and I saw that it hurt, it was really painful, and I didn’t really know how to help him. I tried to tell him mostly…he needed to relax, he needed to not think hockey is the most important thing in the world. He would put so much pressure on himself that he would kind of choke out there.”

Unless there’s a major injury, it’s almost a given that when a skater’s stat line reads 0-1-1 his final collegiate season, it’s time to find another line of work.

Steffes’ stock had obviously taken a major hit, and after being discussed as a potential AHL candidate prior to 2009-10, he found himself out of college eligibility and wondering if he had logged his last competitive game.

“I remember getting on my knees, saying Lord, if you want me to play, open up a door,” Steffes said. “But honestly, I didn’t have a ton of credibility to get my own contract. I didn’t know if I was going to play again. The Lord opened up a door in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to go play in the Central League and get my pro career started. It was crazy: An agent called me and asked if I wanted to play, and I said absolutely, I’d love to if there’s still an opening, and sure enough I had a contract a couple of weeks later, and I spent the next three years in Tulsa. I’m really grateful that I got to, I can tell you that.”

Tulsa, in the now-defunct CHL, was a step below the ECHL. Already 23 years old entering his first pro season, Steffes spent three full seasons with the Oilers and improved his points-per-game average in each one.

He went from 43 points in 66 games (0.65) as a rookie to 52 points in the same number of contests in his second pro season – a 0.79 clip – finishing third on his team in scoring and goals (22).

Steffes’ third season was a turning point in terms of offensive production. He scored 20 times and set up 14 more goals in just 37 games before vaulting two levels to the AHL, where he played 16 games with Lake Erie.

“I’d heard that the Central League was not the greatest league, and I was totally blown away by how gifted those players were,” Steffes said. “I grew so much as a player there, and my coach, Bruce Ramsay, took me under his wing and taught me how to be more offensive, and how to play in different spots on the power play, and how to be in situations that allow my game to develop and grow. And through that, I got my opportunity to go Lake Erie of the American League.”

Steffes put up a modest three points in his inaugural call-up to the Lock Monsters of North America’s second-best league, and his play in that 2012-13 season earned him a spot on Bakersfield of the ECHL the following fall.

It was Steffes’ first stint in that league, and he posted 18 goals and 17 assists, adding nine more points during the Condors’ conference finals run.

From there it was on to Allen – his current team and member of the ECHL – and Steffes has seemingly found the net at will since joining the Americans in 2014-15.

He led the league in goals with 44 despite a nine-game call-up to AHL Milwaukee. No one in the ECHL has scored more regular season goals since 2011. Steffes ended the season with 73 points and a plus-31 rating.

Steffes also netted four goals with the Admirals during his promotion and said that helped boost his confidence level even more.

“How could it not, right?” Steffes said. “You get to live out your dream, you get to go to the American League and play just on the verge of being in the NHL. There’s not an awe factor like there is some places. Now there’s a confidence like, holy smokes we could be called to be there tomorrow, and that’s just a totally different mentality. Obviously everyone’s games are totally top-notch, so it was extremely encouraging.”

He was sent back to Allen for the playoffs, where he resumed his torrid pace. Allen won the Kelly Cup that season, thanks largely to 13 goals by Steffes, tied for the second most that playoff year.

That gave him 61 goals between the regular season and playoffs.

Steffes called Palmer after he won that first Cup in Allen to thank him for helping him through that difficult period in Oxford.

In that conversion, Steffes told Palmer that he remembered their first game day together at Miami in the fall of 2006. Palmer was relaxed that day and took a nap while Steffes was pumped up in the hours before the puck dropped.

The result: Palmer had a solid night and Steffes did not.

“I said ‘wow, I’m glad I did something to help you out,’” Palmer said. “He said ‘I stayed really relaxed out there and we played great and we won the championship,’ and I said ‘that’s awesome’.

“The best athletes in the world, they’re not nervous before the game because they’re confident in themselves and they’ve practiced so many times and they’ve seen success in what they do so many times that they don’t have a thought in the world that something could go bad. It took Gary a long time to figure that out, and you can see it in pro hockey – he’s done really well for himself. Not just in the ECHL, but he’s gotten some chances to play in the AHL. That’s pretty special compared to where he finished his college career.”

But that was just half of Steffes’ championship story. He returned to Allen last season and earned another brief stint in the AHL, this time a two-game recall with San Jose where he picked up an assist.

Palmer, who had retired because of concussion issues in 2012-13 after six games in the NHL, actually joined shorthanded Allen over the holidays and played three games with his former Miami teammate before hanging up the skates again, this time for good.

“I’m really excited for him, to see his hockey success,” Palmer said. “I know he really battled hard in college and had some rough times, and to see him come out of that and end up becoming a champion in the (ECHL), it’s pretty cool. He was a captain in every way, shape and form. They even had him kind of coaching the penalty kill and teaching the system. It was pretty cool to see what a prominent role he played on the team.”

Steffes dominated in the playoffs again last season, amazingly putting up the same 13-5-18 postseason line en route to another Kelly Cup title this June.

“It’s such a neat feeling,” Steffes said. “You can look your brother in the eyes and say, ‘we did it’. Of all that we went through, in that moment you’re thinking about all of the bus trips, and you’re thinking about the ups and downs of your season, and you’re thinking about the injuries that guys took on, the guys that took big hits to make plays, the sacrifice guys made and the times you’re getting in at four in the morning from a bus trip and you’ve got to be up and ready to play the next day. There’s just this feeling of joy and relief and excitement and gratitude – it’s just a great feeling. And then that’s something you get to celebrate with your guys moving forward, right? We’ll always have that bond as brothers. It’s not just another team that we played for, it’s a team that did something successfully, a team that won the last game that they played in the season. That’s a pretty awesome feeling to have.”

So what has been the difference in Steffes’ game? He scored 22 goals in 136 games in four years with Miami and never recorded more than that in a single season dating back to juniors.

In 2014-15 and 2015-16 he has 96 between the regular and postseasons, including his trips to the AHL, in 192 games.

“I would say there’s been some significant development that’s happened in my career the past couple of years,” Steffes said. “My coach in Allen (Steve Martinson), of course, gave me the chance of a lifetime. He’s put me into opportunities when I can be effective offensively. And then I’ve had people come into my life that have really challenged me to become a critical thinker and to become a guy who is not just a robot and just does what coaches says but actually tries to get into (players’) heads as to how they think. When you watch the NHL and see some of the most prolific offensive players like Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby and Joe Thornton and (Joe) Pavelski and try to get into their minds, and what are they thinking in different situations? I really put a lot of time into that, I was watching video, I was learning, I was practicing different skills and trying to learn how to be a scorer. And then I got a coach that gave me the opportunity to do it and the Lord totally blessed the road. I walked away with nearly 50 goals in a season and to be a part of two incredible playoff runs, words can’t really express how I feel when I think about the whole journey I’ve been on here.”

Steffes will return to suburban Dallas again this fall where he will attempt to skate the Kelly Cup for a third straight year.

With three trips to the AHL in four years, chances are good he earns another recall.

No one in the hockey world appreciates his opportunities as much as Steffes, yet like all North Americans that lace up the skates, he still has strong NHL aspirations.

“I dream of it, man,” Steffes said. “I’m getting older, and I’m being careful of that line of perseverance and stubbornness. There’s a line where either you have to keep fighting a little longer, or you’re at the point of stubbornness, and you’ve kind of got to let go. But I’m still going for it, and I would love to be able to make the NHL and play one game. Anything’s possible and I’m going to keep working at it until God leads me out of it, leads me away. I’m hopeful – you never know – I got an opportunity last year, and I got an opportunity with Milwaukee the year before. (Need another) opportunity, and you never know what can happen from it.”

Now 29, Steffes has to make that annual decision: To keep playing or to turn pro in another field?

Even now, at the top of his game, it’s something he thinks about each off-season.

“Those are questions that I’ve really got to take some time to start thinking through, especially heading into my seventh year,” Steffes said. “I’ve definitely considered going to Europe, I’ve considered playing until I can’t play any more – you know, when you hang them up, you hang them up. I realize it’s a very big decision and I still love the game. I feel like I’m the prime of my career, and I feel like I’m totally in the best shape of my life at 29, so I’m not in a rush to hang them up, but I don’t know, but as for now I definitely hope to keep playing for a little while here.”

Opportunities, constant learning and staying in peak physical shape are musts for a hockey player’s game to spike.

But then there’s the mental side, the side that began evolving for Steffes during a tumultuous senior season in Oxford. And for Steffes, that growth directly correlates to his faith.

“As my life began to change in so many ways, I had to learn how to be motivated differently,” Steffes said. “I think there was definitely a transition of going from being motivated to prove people wrong and being motivated to prove how good and prove my worth by my performance to playing because I love the game, and I love my teammates and I love the Lord and I want to honor Him the best I can and be a man of excellence and be a man of honor in everything I can do.

“To be completely honest, this twitch in motivation has actually raised my game, because now my end goal isn’t just to be great in people’s eyes, my goal is to be the best I can possibly be in God’s eyes, and that draws me to a place where in my heart, I know if I’m really giving my all or not.”

Prior to that life-altering senior season at Miami, it was expected that Steffes’ final campaign with the RedHawks would pick up where his third year had left off.

Double-digit goals and assists as a top-six forward, even on a loaded MU team.

It didn’t work out that way for Steffes in 2009-10. But what if it had? What if the ECHL came easily to Steffes right out of college? Would he still be the player he is today?

“Where would I be if I had gone on that road, where would I be if that had happened?” Steffes said. “I definitely don’t know that I would be as strong in certain areas of character, in certain areas of the mental game that I am today. I have so much grateful for, but I realize that I don’t want to walk through that again. But looking back on it I can’t help but be grateful for some things that came out of it.”

So many people encounter seemingly-overwhelming obstacles in hockey and in life, and Steffes talked about how to overcome them.

“The encouraging thing is even when you walk through a valley, it doesn’t mean there’s not the opportunity for a mountain to be coming,” Steffes said. “If people are going through valleys, there are three enemies to persevere: The first one is we can buckle under the pressure and we can totally cave under the pressure. The second one is we can bail, when things get hard we just want to escape and want to get out of there, and the third one is we can start blaming. We can blame others and start pointing the finger left and right. Those three things I think about all the time when things get hard: Don’t buckle, don’t bail and don’t blame. Some of those competitive quote-unquote set-backs in life are really set-ups for us to do something greater. For me I look back at that tough (senior) season, and it was hard. It was really hard. But it totally molded me and I learned so many things that year that have really been huge for my in my pro career. I learned so much about strength of character and maturity and perspective and things outside of the rink that have totally catapulted me to be the player I am today. Totally.”

Steffes, whose Bachelor of Science from Miami is in kinesiology and health, is involved in an organization called Fellowship of Christian Athletes. In the off-season, he travels around the country and the world, running hockey camps and teaching Christianity.

He enjoys meeting and helping kids that are struggling with their own challenges in life.

“It’s bigger than hockey, but hockey has become my tool to impact a lot of people for Christ,” Steffes said. “I’ve learned so many things about how to be a confident, consistent, excellent athlete that’s not defined by hockey. I think one of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned over the years is that it’s so easy – especially for us as men – to be completely defined by what we do. What we do determines our worth and our value, and (determines) what other people think about us. To find freedom from that and to be able to experience the game the way it was intended to be played – you can compete when every time you’re touching the ice you’re not worried about your worth, your value being on the line. If you totally blow it, you totally fail you’re still the same guy – you’re worthy, you’re valuable. I think that is one of the biggest aspects of my journey is learning and realizing that hockey does not define me any more.”

When Steffes finally has to put the skates away for good, he would like to stay involved in the sport that he loves. He said he may write a book about his life and how to be a victorious Christian athlete.

“He’s very happy,” Palmer said. “He’s enjoying hockey, and he’s enjoying life – success or not – and I think that’s something that’s different about him since I played with him in college to now. When he found Christ he realized that he was loved by the Creator in all facets, regardless of whether he scored goals or not – that’s not something that’s very important in terms of eternity. Something for him was he found out that it wasn’t life or death to perform or not perform. Obviously everyone wants to perform and it’s always nice and feels good too, but I think Gary has gotten to the point where when he has a bad game or a bad shift, it doesn’t affect him like it used to because he knows he’s loved eternally by Jesus Christ. He’s a very loving human being and I think that comes from the Creator and his relationship with Christ.

“When I meet with him he likes to ask me the deep questions in life, like how’s your social life, how’s your relationship with your wife and your kids? And those are things that can be uncomfortable to talk about sometimes, but he’s really, genuinely concerned. Gary’s a very special human being because of how much he cares and loves people.”

To find out more about the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, click here:

Jeff Zatkoff Notches First Career Win as Penguins Blank Blue Jackets

Jeff Zatkoff makes one of his 19 saves to earn his first career NHL victory. (Zanesville Times Recorder)

It was only fitting that former Miami goaltender, Jeff Zatkoff, notch his NHL first win in a town where he and the RedHawks have been so successful over the years.

The 26 year old Miami alum from Detroit, Mich. made 19 saves to record his first career win shutting out the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-0 behind goals from Derek Engelland, Jussi Jokinen and former Ferris State Bulldog, Chris Kunitz. The win moves Zatkoff’s season record to 1-2 with a 3.35 GAA and .865 save percentage as he has largely seen the pine behind Penguins starter Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury, who is 10-2 and has played 12 of Pittsburgh’s first 15 games, collected the victory on Friday as the Penguins swept a home-and-home series from their new division-mates.

With the loss, the bumbling Blue Jackets slip to 5-8 and have started what was supposed to be a breakout season very slowly.

Congratulations, Jeff, and Love and Honor! Here’s to many more victories in the future!

Where have you been for 2 weeks?

We hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving with your families and didn’t miss us and the Miami RedHawks too much. You guys should have been asking “where are you guys” because we’ve been MIA for a bit. We’re sorry for leaving you hanging, and we’re back at it this week as Miami is already en route to Alaska for a 2 game set in The Last Frontier. For now, here’s what you’ve (we’ve?) missed in the last 2 weeks.

First of all, and most importantly, Miami took 5 more points against the Spartans way back on the 16th and 17th of November. On Friday night, Miami held a 2-0 lead and let MSU tie the game before taking the shootout. It was Miami’s 2nd shootout win in a row and 3rd of the season (Providence, NMU, MSU). In the three shootouts, Miami still has not allowed even one goal, as Ryan McKay has stopped the 2 shots he has seen and Jay Williams has stopped all 4 shootout attempts in his 2 wins. John Doherty played in his first game for Miami, Alex Wideman scored to continue his point streak and Alex Gacek scored his 2nd of the year.

In Saturday’s game, Miami again went up 2-0, but this time played some outstanding defense and Williams posted the shutout. Miami held MSU to 13 shots on the night, with 9 of them coming from 2 players. Freshman Taylor Richart recorded his first career point as he helped Wideman continue his blazing hot scoring streak in the third period. McKenzie recorded his 3rd goal of the season and Jay Williams got his first career shutout.

For the effort on the weekend, Williams took home the CCHA Rookie of the Week award – his first such honor. Jay is the second Miami freshman to win the award (Riley Barber has won it twice), and it’s the 4th weekly award for Miami.  He stopped 19 shots and 2 shootout attempts on Friday as well as all 13 shots on Saturday. The wins ran his season record to 6-2-2, while allowing 2.18 goals against and a save percentage of .915. Get to know Jay a little better by reading muredhawks.com’s “In the Crease with Jay Williams.”

Even though Miami didn’t play this past weekend, the top of the CCHA standings is still in the hands of the RedHawks at 16 points. Notre Dame had a weekend series against North Dakota (and split). For now, Miami holds a 1 point lead on the Irish, Ferris State and Ohio State. Alaska is just 2 points behind at 14 and Lake Superior State is in 6th at 12 points. The next 3 weekends have Miami playing three of those teams (at Alaska, Lake State, at Ohio State), so to say they will be an important 3 weeks is an understatement.

Alex Wideman missed three weeks of play with mono, and since his return has been lights out. He now has 4 goals and 3 assists on the season – good enough for 3rd best on the team. He has also scored the shootout clinching goals in each of Miami’s 2 CCHA shootout wins and is looking better and better on the ice every night out.

After the MSU weekend, Miami dropped a spot from #4 to #5 in the polls. We’ll reserve judgement, but Really, that’s stooooopid. The voters made up for their poor choices last week to bump Miami up 1 spot in this week’s (November 26th) polls, but Denver, who lost AT HOME to Yale and New Hampshire, dropped just 3 spots to #5 behind the Hawks. The PairWise is the important ranking, and we’re still a few weeks away from knowing where Miami really stands compared to the rest of the NCAA.

In addition, Miami’s All-1990’s CCHA team was announced. In the decade where Miami earned its first ever CCHA Championship in the 1992-93 season and gained momentum throughout, this team looks fantastic. Some guys named Kevyn Adams, Brian Savage, Enrico Blasi, Dan Boyle, Bobby Marshall and Mark Michaud made the first team. The second team has forwards Chris Bergeron, Randy Robitaille and Ken House, defensemen Joe Cook and Steve Wilson and goaltender Richard Shulmistra. The only thing I’d change is putting Shulmistra on the first team and Michaud on the second. You can vote for the all-2000s team on muredhawks.com.

And finally, but certainly not least important, Steven Spinell was named a Senior CLASS Award Candidate.

Stay tuned for our Weekend Preview before Miami takes on Alaska at 11:00pm Eastern time on Friday and Saturday nights!

Weekend Recap: RedHawks get 5 CCHA points on the weekend

Sing a song? Light the lantern? Sweepness? Well…almost anyway.

The Miami RedHawks came back to Goggin Ice Arena and despite a rough first period on Saturday night, got their season in full gear for a young team that is now atop the CCHA standings.

That feels good to say… “Atop the CCHA standings.” After opening the CCHA’s Celebrate the Legacy season with road trips to Michigan (now 6-46-3 all time) and Ferris State (always a tough place and opponent), to come out of the first 3 weekends of CCHA play on top feels real nice.

In the process, Miami has seen freshman goaltender Jay Williams take the spotlight in what we thought would be another 4 years of rotating goalies. While we still will likely see the rotation for a while, Ryan McKay stayed on the bench – a sweet sweet luxury that head coach Enrico Blasi will certainly enjoy. If Williams does continue to get the nod and later falters, a healthy, rested and eager McKay will be eager to get back out there. Knowing Blasi, however, McKay has healed up and will be back on the ice against Michigan State next weekend. In any event, Williams improves to 5-2-1 on the year, has a .911 save percentage and is allowing just 2.5 goals per game.

Last night, Jay stood tall in net (at 6’2″ I suppose he is always standing tall) despite a lot of untimely turnovers and 2 awful embellishment calls from the Referee combination of Steven McInchak and Rodney Tocco (did somebody say Taco?). They certainly cost Miami 2 power play chances that Miami could have turned into paydirt.. In addition, the 2 embellishment calls were widely contested by the raucus Miami crowd last night, and at the end of the night, may have earned coach Blasi a penalty on consecutive nights.

On Friday night, Miami was assessed a Bench Minor at 15:20 of the third period, and Blasi was less than pleased with McInchak and Taco Tocco. It may have been because NMU’s Kyle Follmer was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after the whistle. That was Follmer’s 4th 2-minute minor of the night, and he continued some of his antics on Saturday night with another 2-minute minor in the 2nd period. Then, during Saturday’s handshake line, Blasi was seen having a civil conversation berating one of the linesmen and a 10 minute misconduct was added to Miami’s totals when everything was said and done. To say that Da Coach was upset would be an gross understatement.

An unnamed source has given us an inside scoop as to what happened this weekend from an officiating standpoint. Apparently Coach Blasi despises is less than friendly with McInchak, and because of it has even gone to CCHA head of officials Steve Piotrowski about the situation. Whether it be a history of awful calls or just a general distaste for the guy, McInchak hasn’t been to Oxford in over 4 years. Friday night’s call that cost Miami 2 minutes in the box was just the start, and it escalated on Saturday. Rico could be heard across the arena on one occasion (after the second of 2 embellishment calls), and to put the feud to rest, McInchak finished the weekend with a 10-minute misconduct for the bench (which was shaking hands at the time), primarily aimed at Rico.

In good news from the weekend, Alex Wideman made sure that we knew he was back on the ice last night as well. The shortest player on the team at 5’7″ can get lost out there sometimes due to his size. Last night, it came at the right time for him to reappear after missing a few weeks with an mono. With just 2:13 left in the night, Wideman knocked home the game-tying goal just over NMU goalie Jared Coreau’s pad as he tried to hug the post (It was eerily similar to the game tying goal that snuck past Cody Reichard against BU in Washington, DC in 2009).

“I didn’t really aim it; I just kinda threw it at the net just to see what happened,” said Wideman. “Good things happen when you throw pucks at the net. Luckily, it got in short side. In that kind of situation, you’re not going to get a pretty goal, not gonna get a back-door goal or anything like that. It’s gonna be hard. The ice is terrible. It’s gonna be a gritty goal or even a lucky goal like that.” (source: USCHO.com)

Then, Wideman streaked down the ice and put the game winner past Coreau in the shootout to delight the hometown crowd. You can view the 2 shootout goals at the bottom of this page!

To top it off, after the weekend, just 3 RedHawks have yet to score on the season: Michael Mooney, Paulides and Taylor Richart. To say that Richart has been unproductive, however, would be a gross understatement. He may just be the best defender on the ice, and I’ve yet to see him look nervous or rattled.

After holding the Wildcats to 4, 9 and 7 shots in the 3 periods on Friday, the defense was also stout Saturday night after allowing 2 goals in the first period. After being outshot 15-5 in that first period, they held NMU to 12 more shots: 8 in the second, just 2 in the 3rd and 2 more in OT. Williams knew that Miami was going to pull out the victory on Saturday: “Before the third period in the locker room, there was no doubt in our minds we were going to win that game,” Williams said. “We just had to keep going, keep fighting.” (source: muredhawks.com)

Usually Miami is a team that scores early and holds on for the victory. This year, however, Miami has evened things out and have 9 first period goals, 9 more second period goals and 11 third period tallies. On the other side of the puck, Miami has allowed 10 first period and 8 third period goals, and just 2 in the middle frame.

After taking 11 points against the first 3 teams from Michigan these last three weeks, Miami welcomes yet another team from that state up north in the Michigan State Spartans. MSU smashed Michigan on Saturday night by a score of 7-2 after betting slammed 5-1 on Friday night. To this point in the season, all 11 teams are still just one weekend sweep of 1st place, as Miami stands at 11 points and Northern Michigan is in 11th with just 5 points. There’s a long way to go in the season, but the Hawks are positioning themselves well to start things off.

Miscellaneous weekend notes:

After this weekend, Miami is now 2-2-1 on Fridays this year, having lost their last 2 Friday night games on the road, and compared to 4-0-1 (1 SO Win) on Saturdays.

On the injury front, Miami seems to be back at full strength. Ben Paulides, who had been out for a couple weeks returned to action for both games this weekend. As did Wideman (mono) and Joe Hartman (ankle).

After tallying a goal and 2 assists Friday, and adding an assist on Saturday, we think we’ll see another CCHA Rookie of the Week award for Riley Barber. Barber is now the CCHA’s leading scorer with 5 goals and 9 assists. Czarnik (6G, 7A) is just behind him, tied with Michigan’s A.J. Treais with 13 points.

In case you missed it

First of all, congratulations go out to @RedHawkCooch on Twitter. “Cooch” won our first ever trivia contest and is the winner of this puck, signed by Coach Blasi. Keep an eye out for future trivia contests, and thanks to those of you who participated and follow us on Twitter!

If you didn’t get a chance to see the shootout winning goals from Saturday night, here you go. (Sidenote: cellphone technology is amazing. These were taken with a phone.)

Barber, Czarnik earn Player of the Month Honors

It is becoming “old hat” to see RedHawks taking player of the week or month honors (think Reilly Smith – 3 POTM awards in 2011-12, Andy Miele twice and Carter Camper once in 2010-11, Czarnik as rookie of the month last season, and Cody Reichard AND Connor Knapp were each Goalie of the month winners last year). This afternoon, we continue that trend as the CCHA has announced that 2 young RedHawks have earned awards in October.

Riley Barber, sporting a 5 game point streak with 4 goals and 4 assists earned the Gongshow Rookie of the Month award. Barber is tied for the league lead in scoring through 3 weekends, and has been the leader of the RedHawks 11 freshman – 10 of which have seen ice time already in this young season. Seeing as though this is his first month in the CCHA, it’s also his first monthly CCHA honor – not a bad start for the youngster. Barber was also named CCHA Rookie of the week for the week of October 22nd.

In addition to Barber’s honor, Austin Czarnik earned the CCHA Player of the Month award for his outstanding play in October. “Z” has also tallied 8 points on the season, with 3 goals to go along with his league leading 5 assists. His three goals are of three different varieties, having scored one even strength goal, a power play goal and a short-handed goal thus far. The Sophomore didn’t earn any player of the week honors for the month, but was clearly the RedHawks leader on the ice, looking very Andy Miele-like all month.

Our Congrats go out to Riley and Austin!

Miami to host 2014 NCAA Midwest Regional in Cincinnati

It has been a relatively big day for the RedHawks on the eve of their away series at Ferris State. First, the big news: Cincinnati has been selected to be home to the Midwest Regional of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, and your Miami RedHawks will be the hosts. In addition to this spectacular news, two RedHawks were named as players of the month for October by the CCHA.

Miami will be the host of 3 games in the NCAA tournament in 2014 – the last time since 1996 that the Cincinnati Gardens have hosted a portion of the NCAA Hockey Tournament. According to MURedHawks.com, the arena “has also seen multiple NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament regionals and the 1997 NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four take place under its roof.” Miami will, however, have to overcome the perception of what many believe was the worst Frozen Four ever to be held.

Some may recall that the 1996 Frozen Four that Miami hosted and eventually saw Michigan carry away the National Championship trophy. An average of over 11,000 fans attend the three games. Over that weekend, the arena crew may have lost a few employees as well – when putting in the goals after a break in the action (in the first of 3 games), a cooling line was hit and the ice was not staying frozen for the remainder of the games. The second semifinal was delayed a couple hours and the teams played in what could have been described as a swamp.

At the time, the Riverfront Coliseum as it was called, was not a hockey facility. Only occasionally did they host hockey games in the 15,300 seat arena. Nowadays, the arena is the home of the Cincinnati Cyclones (current team of 2009 Miami graduate Kevin Roeder), and has hosted the ECHL Playoff Championship known as the Kelley Cup Finals in 2008 and 2010.

The other host cities are as follows:

  • West: St. Paul, MN – Xcel Energy Center (host of the 2011 Frozen Four)
  • East: Bridgeport, CT – Webster Bank Arena
  • Northeast: Worcester, MA – DCU Center
  • The 2014 Frozen Four is going to be held at the Wells Fargo Center – home of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers.

As far as Miami is concerned, this is a big GIGANTIC win for a team that has accumulated too many frequent flyer miles in recent years. After trips to places like Bridgeport (lost to UMass-Lowell in 2012), Manchester, NH (loss to UNH as the #4 overall seed in 2011) and St. Paul (wins against Denver and Minnesota-Duluth in 2009), Miami will certainly enjoy the short trek to Cincinnati if they were to make the tournament. The shortest of the ‘Hawks 4 most recent NCAA tournament trips was to Ft. Wayne, IN, where Notre Dame hosted, and Miami earned it’s second ever and second consecutive trip to the Frozen Four which was held in Detroit. Miami currently has the 3rd longest streak in terms of NCAA Tournaments made at 7 (Michigan: 22, North Dakota: 10), and will be guaranteed a spot in the Cincinnati Regional if they were to make the 2014 tournament.

We will of course look forward to the 2013-14 season and tournament, but there’s a lot of work to do in 2012-13 first. We’ll preview this weekend’s big series at Ferris State in the coming hours.

Capitals eliminate Bruins

Miami’s own John Walton with the call of Joel Ward’s overtime winner in game seven that sent the Washington Capitals past the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins. What a shame. Boston sucks.

12-04-25-WSH@BOS-I-P4-WSH-WARD-GWG-1-2.mp3

Oh, and I know I need to give a little love to Miami’s “other” radio play-by-play man, Chris Kerber, who has been with the St. Louis Blues for 11 years. Chris, no offense intended, I just happened to grow up with John. I’ll grab some of your calls during the second round where Los Angeles Kings’ defenseman, and former Miami standout, Alec Martinez provides the opposition.

Go Caps, Blues and Kings!

Analysis: One Warrior’s take on the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend

For this Redskin Warrior, a sense of optimism and hope comes along with the tournament brackets for once. Teams like the evil empires BC and BU are nowhere to be found (until the finals, anyway), other teams are missing key components, and momentum from a strong finish seems to be on our side. There are 9 teams that made the tournament in 2011, and 6 teams that have never won the whole thing.

Here are my picks and thoughts on the weekend ahead…

Northeast Region: #1 overall – Boston College, Minnesota-Duluth, Maine, Air Force

Let’s start in Worcester, where BC will undoubtedly have issues with Air Force. The Atlantic Hockey Champion has given teams fits in the last few NCAA tournaments. Last year, the Air Force Academy took the #1 overall seed Yale to overtime. 2 years ago, RIT took down another #1 seed in Denver, then blew out New Hampshire to make its first ever Frozen Four.

Even though BC has won 15 in a row, I still think Air Force comes in with the experience of last year’s tournament and gives them quite a fight. They are over sized and over matched on paper, but you can never discount the heart of the Falcons on the field or on the ice. BC in a tight one, maybe even in overtime again.

On the other side, you have the defending National Champions in the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs taking on the Maine Black Bears – Hockey East’s runner-up. If Maine’s Hobey Baker candidate and the nation’s top goal-scorer Spencer Abbott doesn’t play, I think they are 1 and done. If he plays (his status is currently “questionable”), this is a game to watch. I think the ‘Dogs come out on top in either scenario, however.

In the regional final, look for a titanic battle between the last 2 National Champions. BC’s size and speed will overpower UMD and make it to the Frozen Four again.

West Region: #4 overall – North Dakota, Minnesota, Boston University, Western Michigan

Congratulations, Western Michigan! You’ve won the CCHA Tournament, arguably the best conference in NCAA hockey this year. Here’s the Mason Cup, and you get North Dakota as your victory prize!

All kidding aside, I think the Broncos ride their Mason Cup win to a good showing. However, North Dakota has won 3 straight WCHA Playoff tournaments – something no other team has ever done, and they’ve been here before. NoDak moves on in this matchup.

In the early game in St. Paul, the home town team is matched up with Boston University. The Minnesota Golden Gophers make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2008. For one of the flagship programs of college hockey, this is somewhat remarkable, and in that time, 29 teams have made the NCAA tournament since Minnesota last did. Can you beat my score of guessing 24 of those 29 teams?

Minnesota, this region’s host, should have about 15,000 of the capacity 18,064 fans in the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, and I have no doubt this will help propel them to a victory.  Don’t count out BU, however. In a battle between head coaches who have 5 total national championships between them (Lucia – 2, Parker 3), I’ll take Minnesota.

This creates a rematch of a conference tournament that we just saw last week, and ironically, it happens in the exact same building.  Last Friday, North Dakota quickly went down 3-0, but rallied and scored 6 unanswered goals to move on. This coming Friday, I predict a different story, and Minnesota heads to Tampa.

Midwest Region: #2 overall – Michigan, Ferris State, Denver, Cornell

Michigan extends its NCAA tournament appearance streak to 22 years in a row – all of them under head coach Red Berenson – and will face the Cornell Big Red, whom Michigan met in the first year of the streak. While Cornell has 18 total wins on the season, Michigan has 18 wins against TUC’s this year. ‘Nuff said. Michigan big.

On the other half, a much depleted Denver squad comes in for its 5th straight trip to the NCAA tournament. The Pioneers could be missing their best player in Jason Zucker, and head coach George Gwozdecky is preparing for the weekend as if they do not have their leading goal-scorer. They will take on a Ferris State squad that was unexpectedly bounced by Bowling Green in round 2 of the CCHA Playoffs, and has only been to the NCAA tournament one other time (2003) in their history. I’m taking Ferris State, here, but they’ll run into a much more stern task in the regional final.

If the 2 CCHA teams prevail in Green Bay, this pits the #1 vs #2 teams from the conference against each other. Ferris State lost 7 times during the CCHA regular season this year, and two of them were to Michigan. I don’t think Ferris State has the star power to overcome Michigan, and Michigan makes it to their second straight Frozen Four.

East Region: #3 overall – Union, Miami, UMass – Lowell, Michigan State

Of the 4 brackets in this year’s tournament, I don’t think Miami could have drawn a better grouping. They don’t have to face Michigan, North Dakota, or either of the Minnesotas OR Bostons. Nice work, selection committee!

In the early game, Michigan State – the last team in the tournament – takes on the ECAC winner, the Union Dutchmen. A school of only 2,000, who is lead by first-year coach Rick Bennett, looks for their first-ever win in the NCAA tournament.  I think they get it this year, as Michigan State is reeling. As we know, they fell 6-0 and 4-1 in Oxford 2 weekends ago, and have a bit of a goalie controversy. Also in his first year, Head Coach Tom Anastos will need to find something for either Drew Palmisano or Will Yanakeff to build on from those embarassing losses. Michigan State is going to be coming off of a bye, those 2 big losses, and another “bye” week, so they are going to be rusty as well. The ECAC Champs from Schenectady, NY (that’s fun to say) take this one handily.

We’ll have some more for you on the Miami vs. UML game later in the week, but I will tease you with this fact from our Sunday #SixPack from this past weekend. Despite the youth on this team, Miami will be the bigger and stronger team. UML’s largest player is just 6′ 1″ tall. Miami averages that in height, with 13 players plus Connor Knapp coming in at 6′ 1″ or taller. It might look like a scene from one of my favorite hockey movies with the size advantage Miami will have on the ice. In any event, the New York Rangers RedHawks take down the scrubs from Mystery, Alaska River Hawks and move on to face Union.

The Regional Final will be a hard fought battle, but I’m confident that Miami will be back on track after a big win on Friday night and will carry the momentum to Tampa where I’ll get to see the RedHawks take on Michigan in the National Semifinals.

To recap, that’s BC against Minnesota on one side, and Michigan vs Miami in the other half of the bracket. Post your picks in the comments below and we’ll see how things turn out this weekend. IS IT FRIDAY YET?!?!?!

Both Miami Goalies Take Home CCHA Hardware, Smith a Hobey Finalist

At last Thursday’s CCHA Awards Banquet, 2 RedHawks took home some hardware on the night. Miami didn’t take home some of the awards we’ve grown accustomed to winning (defensive defenseman, CCHA POTY), but last night was still a success for 2 Miami Seniors.

For the on-ice awards, despite only receiving Honorable Mention for the All-CCHA teams, Senior Connor Knapp took home the goaltender of the year. Somewhere along the lines, the voters changed their minds and moved Knapp from the third best goalie in the league to the best, jumping over .  With his stats in 2012, you can understand why – I would have changed my mind as well. 16 games, 10-5-0 record, 1.41 goals against average, .945 save percentage, and don’t forget those 5 shutouts on the season and 13 career shutouts – a Miami record.

Reilly smith won this year’s Perani Cup, given to the player with the most nominations as one of the “3 stars of the game” in conference play. Check out the standings here, and you’ll see that he beat out this weekend’s opposing goalie Frank Slubowski for the award.

Jumping off of the ice now, we turn to Senior goaltender Cody Reichard. We know about Cody’s efforts with Swoop’s Stoop, and his hard work off the ice has also payed of. Reichard won the prestigious Ilitch Humanitarian Award, which is given to a player “who had tremendous philanthropic efforts.” Tremendous philanthropic efforts… that doesn’t even begin to describe Cody’s work with Swoop’s Stoop. Congratulations Cody on this award, and we hope we get to see a Lowe’s Senior CLASS award on your mantle as well!

In addition to yesterday’s CCHA Awards Banquet, the Hobey Baker Award Committee announced its 10 Finalists for the 2012 Player of the Year Award. Reilly Smith made the top 10 list, marking the 5th time in the last 6 years that Miami has had a Hobey Baker Award Finalist. Of the 10 finalists, 3 will be named to the Hobey Hat Trick, invited to Tampa Bay and the Frozen Four, and will be eligible to win the award.

Here’s a list of the finalists all-time for the Redskins/RedHawks.

  • Reilly Smith, 2012
  • Andy Miele, 2011 Winner
  • Carter Camper, 2011
  • Cody Reichard, 2010
  • Ryan Jones, 2008 – also a Hobey Hat Trick member
  • Nathan Davis, 2007
  • Andy Green, 2006
  • Derek Edwardson, 2004
  • Dan Boyle, 1998
  • Randy Robitaille, 1997
  • Brian Savage, 1993

Sorry for the late posting on this…It was a long weekend for the Warriors!

Weekend Preview: CCHA Semifinals and Finals

This weekend marks the final weekend of conference play in all of college hockey, with the final positioning for the NCAA tournament at stake and conference championships waiting to be won. Your 4th seeded and defending Mason Cup Champion Miami RedHawks take to the ice at 4:35 pm Friday afternoon against the #3 seed Western Michigan Broncos in the first CCHA Semifinal and #2 seed Michigan takes on the #11 seed Bowling Green in the late game.

Semifinal 1: #3 Western Michigan vs. #4 Miami 4:35
TV: Fox Sports – Ohio (DirecTV 660), Fox Sports Detroit Plus (DirecTV 664 SD, 664-1 HD) and Fox College Sports-Atlantic (it’s out there somewhere)

This season, the Broncos and RedHawks faced off twice, and Miami took both games in Oxford by scores of 3-1 and 4-0. Connor Knapp started both games and  made 48 out of 49 saves on the weekend, and Reilly Smith started his torrid second-half streak with a hat trick on Friday night, and added another goal on Saturday night.

On Friday, expect to see a showdown of Knapp, a senior, and Rookie of the year candidate Frank (the big) Slubowski in opposing nets. Knapp, as we know, has been absolutely on fire in 2012. Here’s the low-down on Knapp’s unbelievable season from muredhawks.com:

  • Connor has not allowed an even-strength goal since Feb. 4, 2012 against Michigan, a span of seven starts.
  • In those 7 games: four goals allowed, all on the power play.
  • Knapp has allowed one or fewer goals in 13 of his last 15 games, during which he has a 0.89 goals against average and .964 save percentage (since the start of 2012).
  • Knapp leads the NCAA with a 1.43 GAA and is second in save percentage at .943.
  • His 5 shutouts this year (all since 1/7/12) are a career high, and he broke the school’s career shutouts record with his 13th last Friday.
Slubowski, on the other hand, has been WMU Head Coach Andy Murray’s goaltender of choice this season, compiling a 15-10-4 record, and a stingy 2.03 Goals Against Average. The Big Slubowski, as he is nicknamed by his teammates, joins teammate Garrett Haar (Defense) and Miami’s Austin Czarnik on the CCHA All-Rookie team this season, and is a finalist with Czarnik and Michigan’s Alex Guptill for the conference’s Rookie of the Year Award.

Miami comes in with an 8-game winning streak, second longest in the nation to Boston College who has won 13 straight contests. In those games, Miami has outscored their opponents 32-5. Western Michigan is unbeaten in its last 4 games, including a win and a tie against the previously bounced Ferris State Bulldogs, and last weekend’s sweep of Lake Superior State in round 2.  While the Friday game is the first time Miami and WMU have met in the CCHA Semifinals, it is a rematch of the CCHA Championship game from 2011, a contest won handily by the RedHawks for Miami’s first Mason Cup title.

More notes for the weekend:

  • Reilly Smith is carrying an 8 game point streak into this weekend. He had previously scored goals in 7 straight until Saturday night’s game. He continues to lead the NCAA with 8 game winners and is second in the NCAA with 27 goals scored.
  • Jimmy Mullin has scored in 5 straight games – his career long – and has 11 points in those games.
  • Western Michigan Head Coach Andy Murray will coach in his 22nd game at Joe Louis Arena in Friday’s CCHA Semifinals. As a head coach of the Los Angeles Kings he went 1-9-1 against in Joe Louis Arena, with the lone win coming as a playoff series clinching victory over the Red Wings in 2001. (Source: wmubroncos.com)
  • Miami will want to stay out of the penalty box this weekend. WMU is 3 for 5 on the power play during the CCHA playoffs, and were performing at a 20.1% clip in the regular season. Miami’s penalty kill stands at 6th in the nation at 85.9% of penalties successfully killed, and also ranks 6th with 16.4 penalty minutes per game.
  • As the games go final on the weekend, keep your eye on USCHO’s PairWise rankings. Miami sits tied with Boston University for the #4 spot at this moment, meaning if  the season had ended and today we were watching the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, Miami would be a #1 seed. After every final score of the weekend, these standings are going to jostle ever so slightly, and almost every game is important.
  • Senior Goalie Cody Reichard was named one of 5 finalists for the NCAA’s Wooden Citizenship Cup. The award is  presented annually to two distinguished athletes, one collegiate and one professional, for their character and leadership both on and off the field and their contributions to sport and society. (source: muredhawks.com)
  • For your reading pleasure, check out USCHO blogger Elliot Olshansky’s Hobey Baker picks for 2012, where he picks Reilly Smith as a finalist.
  • And for your viewing pleasure, take a gander at the CCHA’s 20 Questions with Miami Senior Defenseman Chris Wideman, and their CCHA Now feature for 3/14/12.

Semifinal 2: #11 Bowling Green vs. #2 Michigan; approx 8:05PM Eastern
TV: Fox Sports-Detroit Plus, and Fox College Sports-Atlantic

Coming off of a 2-1 series victory over Northern Michigan 2 weekends ago, Bowling Green got 5 more goals from Freshman Dan DeSalvo and took down top-seeded Ferris State in dramatic fashion last weekend. Ferris State led 3-0 after 1 period of play in Sunday’s round 2 finale, but 4 straight goals from the Fighting Chris Bergerons, and they move on to Detroit for the first time since 2001. Consider these facts about BG’s improbable run:

  • BG was the first team to win a playoff series from the last place seed in 2011. They repeated that feat in 2012, and in doing so, knocked off the #6 and #1 seeds in the CCHA tournament in the process
  • BG won 5 CCHA conference games all season, and have now won 4 of their last 6 in the tournament. Throw in a win over Michigan in the last series of the season, and they’re 5-3 in the last 3 weeks of play
  • Freshman Dan DeSalvo scored 4 goals all season in 17 games, and missed the last 4 games of the season with an injury. Against NMU, he had 5 goals in the 3 game series, and he scored another 5 in the three games against Ferris State.
  • DeSalvo scored the first hat trick for BG since Jan. 18, 2008, and DeSalvo’s 10 playoff goals are already a new CCHA Tournament record, with 2 more games to play.
The primetime matchup of Friday night is sure to be a crowd pleaser, and we’d just love it if BG were able to pull of the upset of Michigan. Just 3 weeks ago, BG took down Michigan at the BGSU ice rink in a 4-3 decision, so it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility to think that BG could advance to the CCHA Championship win a win on Friday night.

Third place game: The losers of the semifinal games will meet at 3:35PM Eastern Saturday.

CCHA Championship game: winners of the 2 semifinal games, 7:35PM Saturday; Fox Sports-Detroit, Fox Sports-Ohio (Alternate channel)

If you’re looking for your hockey fix tonight and can’t wait until tomorrow, catch 3 future Miami conference-mates in action from the WCHA’s Final Five tournament (that consists 6 teams). Denver takes on Michigan Tech at 3:07 Eastern today and St. Cloud State takes on North Dakota at 8:07 Eastern. You can catch both with the “sports packages” on Fox Sports-North (DirecTV ch. 668) out of St. Paul, Minnesota’s Xcel Energy Center tonight.

After all the dust settles on the entire weekend, jump over to ESPNU on Sunday at high noon. John Buccigross, Barry Melrose and Aaron Ward will announce the NCAA Tournament Field on the NCAA Hockey Selection Show, and we’ll find out exactly where Miami is heading for its first round NCAA tournament game.