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WHO: Alabama-Huntsville Chargers (12-23-2) at Miami RedHawks (12-20-5).
WHEN: Saturday – 7 p.m.; Sunday – 3 p.m.
WHERE: Cady Arena, Oxford, Ohio.
ALL-TIME SERIES: Miami leads, 8-1.
NOTES: Miami typically hosts a CIS (Canadian collegiate) team in an exhibition to open competitive play, but the RedHawks have no such luxury this season, heading straight into regular season action without a tune-up opportunity.
The last time these teams faced was in February 2012, when Miami swept UAH at Cady Arena. In 2010 these teams met in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and the RedHawks prevailed, 2-1.
Alabama-Huntsville lost its only two 20-point producers from last season, and Christian Rajic is the Chargers’ leading veteran forward with 15 points, nine of which came on goals.
A pair of small forwards – Hans Gorowsky and Madison Dunn – netted five goals each and finished with double-digit points totals.
Kurt Gosselin leads the blueline after scoring five times – three of which came on the power play – and notching 11 assists. John Teets and Cam Knight also return for their senior seasons after combining for 20 points in 2017-18.
These teams have not met in six years and Miami is 2-0 vs. UAH at Cady Arena.
Since 2014-15, Miami has won just 36 games, its lowest three-season total since 1989-92.
As a result, the RedHawks parted ways with two assistants and 11 players this off-season and they hope the influx of new talent – both on the ice and the bench – will vault them to more victories.
With all of the moving parts within the program, game-action anticipation has never been greater. Fortunately for the RedHawks, opening night is Saturday vs. Alabama-Huntsville.
“I think you’re always excited to start a new season,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. “But I think with the last five months the way they played out, just focusing on games and getting better as a team and moving forward, I think everyone’s excited, I’m excited, we’re ready to go.”
Peter Mannino was hired as associate head coach at the end of March, and Joel Beal was named assistant in June.
Mannino, a former NHL goalie and NCAA Tournament champ with Denver, was an assistant at in-conference rival Nebraska-Omaha last season after winning a Clark Cup as the assistant of the USHL’s Chicago Steel.
Beal was an assistant at Sacred Heart the past five seasons and an associate head coach since 2016, and on the ice he starred at Union in the early 2000s.
“Peter is very outgoing, energetic, very positive, kind of throws a lot of things at you and makes you think about 10, 15 things at once, and Bealer is very systematic, very cerebral, thinks about things, makes sure that we’re not missing anything,” Blasi said. “Both are very positive – Bealer’s a very positive guy – both are hardworking guys, trustworthy guys you can count on. That’s what you want in a staff and that’s what you want out there recruiting for your program. The dynamics of the three of us – we all bring something different to the table and yet…we mesh together. With both of them, my conversations were very similar in the fact that I felt like we could connect right away and build from there. And I think we see the game the same way, I think we see the type of team we want to be, where the game is going, the way we want to develop our players and inspire our players and the process in which to do it. Those are all things that will continue to grow as we go through the days, and the games, and the practices, but we get along really well.”
Senior co-captain Josh Melnick said the energy the duo has brought to the program has been contagious.
“They’re obviously two younger guys and they bring sort of a different perspective to the locker room,” Melnick said. “As a whole, they’ve settled in really well, and I think they’re getting a good feeling of what our program’s about and also helping re-establish the things that we want to work on to get the program back to where it was in the past.”
Miami’s roster, which was not completed until late July, features five new forwards, four on defense and two in net. Two of the 11 are graduate students completing their fourth years of hockey eligibility.
“I think we’ve brought in some guys that will know their role – they were recruited to it,” Blasi said. “I think they’re a little bit older, we’ve got some Clark Cup championship-caliber players who have been through it, understand how to win a championship, guys that have been captains on their teams, and we have one (Jonathan Gruden) that played on the U.S. Development Team, played in the Worlds, and played with (the forward) that’s probably going to be the first overall pick in this (2019’s) NHL draft (Jack Hughes) and played on the same line with him. These are all positive things, and then you add two postgrads to the new faces, and we’ve got guys that are real positive and a tight freshman group.”
Both Melnick and defenseman fellow co-captain Grant Hutton love what they’ve seen from the newest Hawks.
“I think it’s everything we’ve expected and more,” Hutton said. “A lot of these guys are a lot of key, role players that know they’re here for a reason. You see it a lot in college hockey where guys may be goal scorers or big points guys in juniors or whatever it may be, and they get to college and they’re kind of shell-shocked. Gruden is our only true freshman at 18 years old and a lot of older guys that are coming in are mature, and I think that’s the biggest thing. Usually you talk about college hockey being a place where players have the opportunity to mature and develop, but it’s a huge plus when you get players that come in and have some of that maturity, some of that development. We’re pretty lucky with the group we have coming in, and I think it adds more excitement.”
Said Melnick: “They all assimilated right into things quickly – they’re all great people off the ice, and I think a lot of the reason we have high energy is because those guys have a lot of energy. They came here ready to work, and they know what the program stands for and what it’s been like in the past, and they’re ready to help get it back to that point.”
During the summer before the new players arrived, the returning players reached out to the freshman class to welcome them to the program, Melnick said.
The off-season didn’t start well for Miami. Within days of the RedHawks’ final game, it was announced that assistant coaches Brent Brekke and Nick Petraglia would not return as well as four players.
Two other prominent forwards also left the team early in the off-season, with one turning pro and the other transferring.
That’s on top of Miami not qualifying for the NCAA Tournament or even making it out of the NCHC quarterfinal round for the third straight season after qualifying for 10 of the previous 12 national championships.
“This is something that, I don’t look at this as a job, this is my life,” Blasi said. “When your life isn’t going the way you think it should go in terms of guys not playing up to their capabilities or even some of the things I might’ve done in the last couple of years that were wrong decisions. You assess, you evaluate, you try to be better – we all have opportunities to be better every day, we’re no different and I’m no different – and if I told you I wasn’t frustrated or disappointed in certain occasions, I’d be lying to you. But I can also tell you that I’m very proud of some of the things that have happened in the past couple of years. I believe in my heart that these are necessary steps that need to happen to move forward and become better. When we built the program, we went through some tough times, but nobody talks about those because nobody remembers those, everybody just remembers the wins and the Frozen Fours and the championships. I can tell you there were times where we had the same frustrations, the same disappointments, but they were necessary disappointments and necessary things that we needed to get through to get to the next level, and that’s what we’re going to do right now.”
Some positive things happened this off-season well. Multiple prior Omaha recruits switched to Miami following Mannino’s hiring, including defenseman Derek Daschke.
“Obviously at first it was a little difficult with having to (deal with) some difficult situations, to be honest with you,” Blasi said. “Once we started to kind of shape our team around the guys we have coming back, finishing off the recruiting and finishing off the staff, and getting together as a staff and kind of formulating our plan and getting to know each other on a different level, and then obviously have our team come back and work with them and kind of creating their identity. It’s been a lot of fun. ‘Reenergize’ is a work that we’ve been using a lot lately.”
And both Melnick and Hutton, both seniors and destined for lucrative professional careers, announced they were returning this fall.
“I give Hudson, Melly a lot of credit, them and the senior class – Lavs (Zach Lavalle) and (Ryan) Siroky – that helped shaped the spring and the summer to make sure when these new guys came in, that our program was in a good place and we were going to hit the ground running.”
Miami played some quality hockey down the stretch last season, and Blasi said his team will seize that momentum and carry it into this campaign.
“Those are some of the things we were really proud of,” Blasi said. “To stick with it and to keep fighting, that’s a character trait that you can’t teach. And that’s something that’s in our locker room, that’s something that’s in our culture. I was very, very proud of the team and the way they played. Now, do we want to win at the end? Of course. Everybody does. But at the same time, you have to take a step back and assess the situation, and I believe that how we played was really important for the guys coming back in the spring and the summer and for our recruits, to say hey, we’re not that far off. We just need to maybe work a little harder, improve one or two percent. If everybody can do that, then we have something. When you’re in the moment, it doesn’t seem like it, and I know it probably doesn’t seem like it to the general fan – and we have great fans and great supporters, some of which have expressed their support and some of them haven’t, and that’s OK too – but when you take a step back and you see all the developments that have happened over the past couple of years, I think you’ll look back and say, hey, maybe if we didn’t go through that we don’t get to that next level.”
He pointed out that Miami was ranked as high as No. 14 in the PairWise after its big January home win over powerhouse Denver.
“It just shows that we have a group that isn’t rolling over, we’re not going to quit,” Hutton said. “We’re here because we want to be here, we’re here because we love each other, we love Miami, and we want to be the best possible hockey team that we can be every single night and ultimately reach our goal of bringing a championship back to Oxford.”
Blasi said that he, as well as both assistants, have been actively involved in recruiting this off-season and has hit the road with one or both on several occasions as Miami tries to fortify its roster for the coming years.
“I think the culture of the program is still very strong in terms of what we believe in and the way we do our business from day to day,” Blasi said. “We may tweak some things here and there but I think The Brotherhood and the family and the relationships and the process is still something that we still focus on, it’s still all about developing these young men to play at the next level or develop them to be better people on a day-to-day perspective. But at the end of the day, recruiting is your bloodline – that’s never going to change – and so recruiting is very important, and our team is very important. We have to make sure we’re focused on both equally and we’re doing what we need to do to help these men that we have get to the next level and win games and play at a high level, maybe reach levels that they thought they couldn’t reach. That’s part of what we do as coaches is inspire them and push them in a good way to make them play better than even they think they can.”
Though the season doesn’t start until Saturday, Melnick he noticed a marked difference in the locker room already.
“A lot of the times when people ask what’s most exciting about this year and what’s different, I think it’s the energy, and it’s just coming from everyone,” Melnick said. “It’s honestly kind of crazy to be around, because everybody’s so positive and confident and we just can’t wait to get out there.”
Check back for a positional breakdown of the RedHawks.
For the first time since 2001-02, North Dakota failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
Coach Brad Berry won the national championship in his first season with the Fighting Hawks in 2015-2016, but the team won just 21 games the following campaign – its worst total in 15 years – and posted just 17 victories last season.
Four NHL draftees join the Fighting Hawks, who enter 2018-19 trying not to become the first UND squad since 1996 to miss to national championship tournament back-to-back years.
NORTH DAKOTA FIGHTING HAWKS
NCAA titles: 8 (1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997, 2000, 2016).
COACH: Brad Berry (4th season, 72-35-17, .649 winning percentage).
2017-18 RECORDS: 17-13-10 (8-10-6 in NCHC).
POSTSEASON: Lost to St. Cloud State in an NCHC Tournament semifinal.
RINK (capacity): Ralph Engelstad Arena (11,634).
MIAMI VS. NORTH DAKOTA LAST SEASON: 1-1-2.
ALL-TIME SERIES: North Dakota leads, 13-6-3.
2018-19 SCHEDULE VS. MIAMI: Nov. 9-10 – at Miami.
KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: G Peter Thome, D Colton Poolman, F Grant Mismash, F Rhett Gardner, F Nick Jones.
KEY NEW FACES: F Gavin Hain, F Jasper Weathersby, F/D Jonny Tychonick, D Jacob Bernard-Docker, G Adam Scheel.
KEY LOSSES: G Cam Johnson, D Christian Wolanin, F Shane Gersich, F Austin Poganski.
NOTES: North Dakota averaged fewer than three goals per game for the first time in the NCHC era, as the Fighting Hawks ended the season fifth in the league in scoring, their lowest finish since the conference’s inception.
And three of UND’s top three four goal producers from 2017-18 have joined the pro ranks.
Fortunately for the Fighting Hawks, leading sniper Nick Jones is back after the Ohio State transfer led the team with 15 markers and ranked second on the team in points with 30.
Nashville second-round pick Grant Mismash returns after posting nine goals and 13 assists as a freshman, and he is expected to take a major step up this season.
North Dakota’s other returning 20 point-producing forward is Rhett Gardner, who went 7-13-20.
Three other Fighting Hawks reached double figures in points – Jordan Kawaguchi, Joel Janatuinen and Cole Smith.
Islanders draft pick Collin Adams was limited to 26 games in 2017-18 but scored five goals and could make a significant leap.
NHL draftee forwards USNDT product Gavin Hain and 6-feet-3 Jasper Weathersby enter their freshman seasons.
On defense, captain Colton Poolman scored seven times and picked up 22 assists last season while being whistled for just four penalties.
UND’s blueline is deep – five other defenseman logged at least 25 games last season.
Hayden Shaw dressed for all 40, going 3-10-13 and Gabe Bast tallied 10 assists in just 27 games. Matt Kiersted, Casey Johnson and Andrew Peski all played in the majority of the Fighting Hawks’ contests.
And North Dakota added the Ottawa Senators’ first- and second-round picks from 2018 in Jacob Bernard-Docker and Jonny Tychonick. The Alberta-raised tandem has played together since age 10.
Columbus draft pick Peter Thome posted a 2.14 goals-against average and .910 save percentage – showing how strong UND’s defense was last season – and he remains the favorite to start the majority of games this season after playing in 29 as a freshman.
Freshman Adam Scheel should be Thome’s primary backup after a strong showing in the BCHL in 2017-18.
North Dakota set a program record with 10 ties last season, which is part of the reason the team struggled to reach 20 wins. Eleven more of its contests were decided by one goal.
Despite the Fighting Hawks’ downturn the past two seasons, in May coach Brad Berry signed a five-year deal that will run through 2022-23.
NOTE: BoB is previewing each NCHC team leading into the 2018-19 season. This is the fifth of seven installments.
Here are the links for the other snapshots:
Last season, Mike Gabinet inherited a team that had gone .500 the previous season and a game over that mark in 2015-16.
Despite the coaching change, Nebraska-Omaha proved itself the master of consistent mediocrity, finishing 17-17-2 in 2017-18.
It’s been a tough follow-up to the Mavericks’ first-ever NCAA semifinal round berth in 2015, as none of their subsequent seasons have produced return trips onto college hockey’s highest stage.
The loss of assistant coach Peter Mannino to in-conference rival Miami, as well as the resulting departure of multiple recruits to the RedHawks this off-season will not make it any easier for UNO to qualify for the NCAAs in 2018-19.
NCAA titles: 0.
COACH: Mike Gabinet (17-17-2 in 1 season).
2017-18 RECORDS: 17-17-2 overall, 10-13-1 in the NCHC (6th place).
POSTSEASON: Lost to North Dakota in NCHC semifinal round.
RINK (capacity): Baxter Arena (7,898).
MIAMI VS. UNO LAST SEASON: 0-2.
ALL-TIME SERIES: Miami leads, 20-17-6.
2018-19 SCHEDULE VS. MIAMI: Nov. 2-3 – at UNO; Feb. 8-9 – at Miami.
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: G Evan Weninger, F Zach Jordan, F Tristan Keck, F Steven Spinner, F Fredrik Olofsson, D Ryan Jones.
KEY LOSSES: F David Pope, F Tyler Vesel, F Jake Randolph, D Joel Messner.
KEY NEW FACES: F Tyler Weiss, F Chayse Primeau, F Taylor Ward, D John Schuldt.
NOTES: In addition to losing Mannino and two top-tier recruits, Nebraska-Omaha graduated four of its top five points producers from 2017-18.
Forward Zach Jordan is the team’s top returning points producer, as he posted 28 points including 16 goals last season.
Also up front, Tristan Keck, Fredrik Olofsson and Steven Spinner reached the 20-point mark in 2017-18.
Teemu Pulkinen netted eight goals and Mason Morelli dished for 10 assists.
The Mavericks expect 150-pounder Tyler Weiss to contribute immediately, as he is a USNDT product and Colorado Avalanche draftee. Same goes for 6-feet-3 Chayse Primeau, whose father Keith played in the NHL.
No returning UNO defenseman tallied more than two goals last season, and Ryan Jones is the Mavericks’ top returning points-getting among blueliners with 13.
D-man Lukas Buchta, Jalen Schulz and Dean Stewart are also back after turning in solid seasons for UNO in 2017-18.
Freshmen John Schuldt and Jason Smallidge look to make an immediate impact on the Mavericks’ blueline, but key defense commit Derek Dashcke bolted for Miami.
Goalie Evan Weninger is back after logging over 80 percent of UNO’s minutes between the pipes. His numbers weren’t great – his save percentage was .899 and goals-against 3.35 – and Philadelphia Flyers draftee and North Dakota transfer Matej Tomek could eat into Weninger’s ice time.
UNO needs serious improvement on the back end – the team was dead last in Division I in goals against per game and 49th on the penalty kill in 2017-18.
Conversely, the Mavericks finished seventh in goal average and were seventh on the power play.
Nebraska-Omaha’s tendency toward high-scoring affairs was exemplified by its series sweep vs. the RedHawks in Omaha that saw 25 goals including an 11-7 weekend opener.
That set extended UNO’s unbeaten streak vs. Miami to six games, as the Mavericks are 5-0-1 against the RedHawks the past two seasons.
NOTE: BoB is previewing each NCHC team leading into the 2018-19 season. This is the fourth of seven installments.
Here are the links for the other snapshots:
WHO: Connecticut Huskies (2-3-1) at Miami RedHawks (1-3).
WHEN: Friday, 7:35 p.m.; Saturday–7 p.m.
WHERE: Cady Arena, Oxford, Ohio.
NOTES: Strange that a pair of Division I teams in a tier of 60 have never met, but Friday will represent the inaugural contest between UConn and Miami.
The Huskies went Division I in 1998-99 and won 20 games that season, but they have not reached that high-water mark since. They have also never advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
Current coach Mike Cavanaugh took over prior to 2013-14 – UConn’s final season in the Atlantic Hockey before joining Hockey East – and after an 18-14-4 debut, his teams have not posted a winning record since.
Like Miami, the Huskies split with Maine. After that season-opening series, they beat American International and lost to Sacred Heart then went 0-1-1 in a home-and-home with Boston University.
Connecticut has had no problem generating offense, averaging 3.3 goals and 35.3 shots per game.
F Alexandre Payusov was limited to two points in 15 games as a freshman, but he is 6-2-8 in six games to start 2017-18, leading all UConn forwards in goals and points.
Like Payusov, Karl El-Mir is from Montreal, and he has a pair of goals and four assists. Maxim Letunov, a second-round pick of San Jose, also has six points (1-5-6) and Kasperi Ojantakanen and Spencer Naas have recorded four points.
At defense, Johnny Austin has one goal and team highs in assists (8) and points (9) – his point total is tied for second among D-I blueliners – although the senior’s career high at UConn is 10 points last season.
Derek Pratt has a goal and three assists, and four NHL draftees – Miles Gendron (Ottawa), Philip Nyberg (Buffalo), Joseph Masonius (Pittsburgh) and David Drake (Philadelphia) also patrol the blue line for the Huskies.
The Huskies are outshooting opponents by nearly five shots per game, yet they have a goal differential of zero.
Which means UConn is not stopping the puck at a high enough clip. Starting goalie Adam Huska, a seventh-round New York Rangers pick in 2015, has a .905 save percentage and a 2.95 goals-against average.
Backup Tanner Creel was solid two years ago in relief but started against America International and allowed three goals on seven shots.
Like Miami, UConn is executing at a 33.3 percent rate on the power play, tied for fifth in the NCAA, but the Huskies are tied for 42nd with just a .722 penalty killing clip.
Connecticut has outscored its opponents in the final two periods but has struggled early, as it has netted just three goals while allowing 10 in the opening 20 minutes.
This series begins a crucial four-game homestand for Miami. These are extremely winnable games for the RedHawks, as are next week’s tilts against Colorado College.
If Miami is unable to thrive against these opponents, it could be a long season. UConn and CC were a combined 15 games under .500 in 2016-17.
The RedHawks are currently two games under .500, and the schedule gets a lot harder following these two series.
WHO: Miami University RedHawks (0-2) at Maine Black Bears (1-1).
WHEN: Friday and Saturday–7 p.m.
WHERE: Harold Alfond Sports Arena, Orono, Maine.
NOTES: Maine visited Oxford last season, and the RedHawks went 1-0-1, tying the opener, 3-3 and winning the finale, 5-0.
A Division I force through the late 2000s, the Black Bears have won 20 games just one time in the past 10 seasons, and that 23-win season in 2011-12 represented Maine’s lone NCAA Tournament appearance in that span.
The past three seasons have been particularly brutal for the Black Bears, as they have failed to reach the .400 mark, averaging just 11 wins.
Amazingly, Maine didn’t win a single road game in all of 2016-17, salvaging just four ties including one at Miami.
The Black Bears lost their top two scorers from last season in Blaine Byron and Cam Brown. Nolan Vesey, a Toronto draft pick and brother of New York Rangers forward Jimmy Vesey, is the team’s top returning scorer with 13 goals and 10 assists for 23 points.
Sophomore Chase Pearson, a Detroit selection, finished 14-8-22 in 2016-17 and has a pair of assists already this season.
The Black Bears have two other drafted players – G Jeremy Swayman and F Patrick Shea. Swayman is a freshman who gave up four goals in a losing effort in his debut. Shea, a sophomore, has dressed for both games this campaign.
Cedric Lacroix, Peter Housakos and Mitchell Fossier are all back this season, and each found the net vs. Miami last year.
Miami was swept at home by Providence two weeks ago and beat the U.S. Under-18 team, 7-5 in Plymouth, Mich., last Friday.
The RedHawks are looking for their first non-exhibition win since Jan. 28, having gone 0-11-1 in their last 12 games.
D Grant Hutton is 1-1-2, found the net nine times in 2016-17 and scored twice in Miami’s exhibition and has to be considered a credible threat to score from the blue line, which should create more space for his linemates.
The Gordie Green-Josh Melnick chemistry last week vs. the USNDT was undeniable, as Green scored twice – both times set up by Melnick, including a spectacular kick-pass-for-breakaway goal, and Melnick finished with three helpers.
These types of long trips early in the season can help teams bond, and Miami will have played just one exhibition in 13 days entering this series, so the RedHawks have reason to come out strong.
Miami and Maine have only played eight times, with the Black Bears leading the all-time series, 5-2-1.
Carson Meyer recorded four assists in last season’s series, and Louie Belpedio netted a pair of goals.
WHO: Bowling Green Falcons (0-5-1) at Miami RedHawks (2-1-2).
WHERE: Cady Arena, Oxford, Ohio.
WHEN: Friday–7:35 p.m. Saturday–7:05 p.m.
BOWLING GREEN RADIO: WBGU-FM (88.1), Bowling Green, Ohio.
TV: Friday–Fox College Sports alternate (DirecTV Ch. 608).
NOTES: What in the world is happening at Bowling Green?
The Falcons were ranked in the top 15 in USCHO’s preseason poll, and they were picked to win the WCHA, yet BGSU has yet to win a game and dropped its first two conference contests.
BoB has talked extensively about Miami’s ability to reload in net, a credit to the entire coaching staff’s ability to recruit at that position.
Bowling Green has gotten miserable goaltending, as the Falcons have allowed 29 goals in six games – the second-worst average in the NCAA – for a unbelievably poor team save percentage of .806. BGSU is only allowing 25.2 shots per game, so it’s hard to pin those numbers on the blueline (actually the Falcons have outshot their opponents thus far).
Chris Nell gave up eight goals in less than four periods vs. Ohio State last weekend, but he still has the best numbers on the team with a 3.79 goals-against average and .841 save percentage.
Freshman Ryan Bednard is a Florida draftee, but in his first outing, he surrendered four goals on nine shots in just over a period.
Defenseman Sean Walker leads the team in goals (3) and points (5), and forwards Matt Pohlkamp and Kevin Dufour have four points each. All three are seniors.
Mitchell McLain, Brett d’Andrea and Stephen Baylis have added three points each from the forward corps, and Pierre-Luc Mercier has 58 career points in 123 games.
Other than Walker, two Bowling Green defensemen have been drafted – Mark Friedman, who has scored one and picked up two assists, and Adam Smith, who has dressed for five games.
Special teams have been a disaster for the Falcons, who are tied for second-last in college hockey with a 66.7 penalty kill percentage and are 46th on the power play at 10.6 percent.
Miami is 11th on the man advantage at 21.4 percent and tied for tops in the NCAA with a 96.7 PK percentage.
If this series comes down to goalies, the RedHawks should have a definite advantage, as freshman Ryan Larkin is 13th in the NCAA in save percentage (.931) and 11th in GAA (1.75).
Miami enters play unbeaten in its last four (2-0-2) and owns a 1-0-2 home record.
The RedHawks are 18-1-1 against Bowling Green in these teams’ last 20 meetings, although the Falcons still hold a 59-49-8 advantage all-time.