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Especially considering the state of the Miami hockey program in mid-March, the first half of the 2018-19 season has to be considered a major success.
Following the RedHawks’ third straight first-round exit from the NCHC Tournament and subsequent dismissal of both assistant coaches, Miami received zero consideration as a preseason top 20 and was picked to finish last in its conference.
But the No. 16 RedHawks have stuck it to critics, as they enter the back half of their regular season schedule three games over .500, their best pre-January mark in four years.
The two coldest-weather months have been problematic for Miami in recent seasons, choc with top-10 in-conference matchups and long road trips.
Miami by month
The RedHawks are 8-24-5 after New Year’s the past two seasons – a paltry .284 winning percentage – including 2-15-4 (.190) on the road.
BoB takes a look at five things Miami needs to do to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
1. Better special teams. The RedHawks are in the bottom half of the NCAA in both power play and penalty kills, with a 16.4 percent efficiency rate on the man advantage and a 79.4 percent PK clip. They have just four PPGs in their last eight games and are just 14 of 21 on penalty kills their last five contests (66.7 percent). Miami has tried pretty much every one of its skaters on the man-advantage and still needs to improve its chemistry.
2. Less time in the defensive zone. Teams have set up camp in Miami’s third of the ice at times and obviously it’s counterproductive to have your best players chasing the puck in their own zone for a minute or more.
3. Better road play. The RedHawks are a stellar 6-2-2 at Cady Arena but are 2-3-1 on opponents’ campuses and 1-1 on neutral ice. And with the exception of Providence, those road foes were not among college hockey’s elite – Colorado College, New Hampshire and Omaha plus Mercyhurst in its home city. Miami has scored just 18 goals in eight games away from Oxford. And we documented the RedHawks’ recent road struggles in the second half above.
4. Cut out the major penalties. The NCAA has made its point: The bar for five-and-a-game has dropped significantly, and three guys who are not cheap-shot artists in the least have all been booted from games this season.
5. Avoid major skids. Last season it was a 1-9-1 stretch. In 2016-17 Miami endured both 10- and 11-game winless streaks. An 0-6-1 span doomed 2015-16. Those types of streaks are season killers, so the RedHawks must have a thicker skin than in past seasons when facing adversity.
Now, five reasons to be optimistic about MU’s second half:
1. Effort. This team does not quit, and there’s no reason to believe it will during the stretch run of the regular season. That attribute was exemplified during Miami’s last series, a pair of ties vs. No. 1 St. Cloud State during which the RedHawks fell behind by one goal six times and rallied to even the score each time. Karch Bachman has been one of the leaders in this area, as he has parlayed his game-changing speed with a suburb compete level, resulting in him leading the team in goals with seven and generating multiple scoring chances almost every game.
2. Goaltending. Throw out last season’s numbers for Ryan Larkin. He was voted team MVP as a freshman and is even better in 2018-19, boasting a 1.89 goals-against average and .936 save percentage – which is five whole percent better than his sophomore year when he finished at .886. Part of the credit belongs to Jordan Uhelski, who has performed well when called upon and was a game saver in both ends of the St. Cloud State series. Uhelski has a .915 save percentage but as importantly the graduate senior has also helped push Larkin, who did not have a similar foil last season.
3. Freshmen are improving. Derek Daschke is clearly the freshman MVP of the first three months of the season, as he leads that class in points (3-9-12) and has been exceptional in his own end as well. And he continues to improve on seemingly a nightly basis. Scott Corbett is thriving in his grinding role while wielding a quality shot that has netted him three goals, and he stood out vs. SCSU. Same with Brian Hawkinson, who is 1-6-7 and has been a better forward than those stats indicate. Monte Graham is a faceoff stud and is starting to demonstrate skills in other areas. Big D-men Bray Crowder and Andrew Sinard also seem to be adapting to the college game. Jonathan Gruden (1-6-7) is raw but has tons of upside and could take off once the calendar flips.
4. A healthy Knies? Phil Knies suffered an upper body injury at Cady Arena on Nov. 10, so Knies should be nearing a return. The sophomore will have missed seven weeks by the time the second half starts with the puck drop in Providence. Knies has been a critical part of Miami’s offense, scoring 11 times as a freshman and posting three goals in 12 games this season.
5. The defense corps is deeper. Daschke’s presence is huge, and River Rymsha has been a pleasant surprise, forcing himself onto the lineup card each night with his impressive two-way play. Crowder has dressed for all 18 games, and Sinard has seen the ice six of the last seven games. With sophomores Rourke Russell and Alec Mahalak earning regular spots, that has severely curtailed the number of starts for Chaz Switzer and Grant Frederic, who were decent five and six defensemen last season. Of course, standout and captain Grant Hutton leads this corps with a skill set that will likely land him in the NHL within two years.
Now, the schedule…
After a Sunday exhibition vs. the University of Guelph (Ont.), Miami heads to No. 10 Providence. The RedHawks were already shut out by the Friars on neutral ice in October. Then it’s off the Kalamazoo to face No. 17 Western Michigan.
Back home for a pair against Colorado College and two vs. No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth.
Miami then heads to No. 1 St. Cloud State, followed by a home series vs. Omaha before its one off week of the second half.
The final three series? At No. 8 Denver, at No. 4 UMD, home vs. No. 17 WMU.
A look at the final 18 regular season games:
|Jan. 4||at Providence||7:00|
|Jan. 5||at Providence||7:00|
|Jan. 11||at W. Michigan||7:00|
|Jan. 12||at W. Michigan||7:00|
|Jan. 25||COLO. COLLEGE||7:35|
|Jan. 26||COLO. COLLEGE||7:05|
|Feb. 1||at St. Cloud State||8:07|
|Feb. 2||at St. Cloud State||7:07|
|Feb. 22||at Denver||9:07|
|Feb. 23||at Denver||9:07|
|March 1||at Minn.-Duluth||8:07|
|March 2||at Minn.-Duluth||8:07|
|March 8||W. MICHIGAN||7:35|
The NCHC standings…
All eight teams have played eight out of 24 league games, or one-third of their conference slate, and Miami is currently tied with Denver for that all-important fourth spot.
The four spot is crucial because it’s the final home-ice slot for the NCHC Tournament. Miami has not hosted a league tournament series since 2015 but has a legitimate shot this winter.
|St. Cloud State||8||6||0||2||1||21|
Miami played well overall the first half of 2018-19, better than many expected.
The challenge of course is for the RedHawks to sustain that level of success during their annual murderer’s row of opponents in the winter months.
But heading into the pressure cooker three games over .500 and playing with the type of intensity Miami has exuded the first three months, returning to the NCAAs is now a real possibility.
Miami has not been a Friday team this season.
On this particular Friday, the No. 20 RedHawks struggled early, gave up the go-ahead goal late in the second period and failed to capitalize on a 5-on-3 in the final stanza, culminating in a 2-1 loss at Colorado College.
Miami is still 8-5 overall but fell to 2-4 on Friday, meaning the RedHawks are 6-1 on Saturday and Sunday.
Karch Bachman scored the lone goal for MU, tying the score eight minutes into the middle frame.
RECAP: The Tigers (5-5-1) dominated the first 20 minutes and came out of the first period ahead, 1-0.
Trey Bradley took a drop pass in the high slot and fired it on net, and though Miami’s Ryan Larkin kicked it aside, it caromed directly to the goalie’s right where waiting Mason Bergh whipped it in from the bad angle 7:45 into the contest.
The RedHawks (8-5) tied it with 11:56 left in the second period when Karch Bachman carried the puck into the offensive zone and fired a shot around his defender and into the top left corner.
But Colorado College regained the lead eight minutes later when Erik Middendorf one-timed a pass home from Alex Berardinelli. Berardinelli had grabbed a loose puck at the blue line after Zach LaValle tried to pass up ice and had his stick shatter.
The Tigers were whistled for overlapping penalties early in the third, creating a 46-second two-man advantage for Miami, but the RedHawks were unable to generate the equalizer.
STATS: Bachman has scored in consecutive games for the second time this season and leads the team in goals with five.
— Gilling picked up his sixth point in his last six, as he is 1-5-6 in that stretch. Larkin earned his first point since Oct. 28, 2017 with his secondary assist.
— Larkin has allowed exactly two goals in each of his last three games, stopping 90 of 96 shots in that span (.938).
— Miami extended its winless streak vs. Colorado College to four games. The RedHawks are 0-3-1 against the Tigers dating back to Nov. 3, 2017.
— MU outshot its opponents in eight of its first nine games, but its foes have more shots than the RedHawks in their last four. Colorado College edged out Miami, 31-30 in this contest.
THOUGHTS: Like last weekend, the RedHawks weren’t ready for this one as they were dominated early.
That resulted in a 1-0 CC lead, and while Miami tied it, a bad-luck goal by the Tigers ultimately sealed it.
In six Friday games this season the RedHawks have only scored three first-period goals, so the slow series starts are becoming a concern. A poor start to the North Dakota series eliminated any chance of a Miami win last Friday.
— We’ve been saying it all season, but how about the improvement by Bachman? He was 1-on-1 entering the zone and still ripped it home for his goal. He’s now winning battles in the corners and regularly forcing turnovers.
— He was well defended in The decisive goal was pretty unlucky for Miami, as LaValle’s stick broke while he was trying to send the puck out of his zone, but instead it ended up in the RedHawks’ net.
— Gilling was limited to one point his first seven games but has six in his last six. He has really upped his game at every level in recent weeks.
— Interesting that Coach Enrico Blasi is playing the two huge freshmen D-men, Bray Crowder and Andrew Sinard, on the same pairing.
LINEUP CHANGES: Unfortunately, Phil Knies was not in the lineup for the first time in his career. He suffered an upper-body injury early in last Saturday’s win over North Dakota.
Sinard dressed in his second straight game for the first time this season, and Carter Johnson has now missed consecutive contests.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Miami has to realize that it can’t just show up for the final 40 minutes and hope to win.
The RedHawks spotted Colorado College the first 20 minutes and the teams were basically even the last two periods, but that 1-0 difference in the opening stanza was the difference.
Relatively speaking, Miami has had it pretty easy to open NCHC play – the RedHawks played UNO, which has won two games, and North Dakota before heading to Colorado Springs to face a team that was previously 0-4 in the league – and MU is just 2-3 in conference play.
Miami’s ninth game of the season was its first true road contest, but the No. 20 RedHawks kept up their MO of winning by wide margins.
Gordie Green found the net twice as MU scored the final three goals in a 4-1 win vs. Nebraska-Omaha at Baxter Arena on Friday, extending its winning streak to four games.
This was also the NCHC opener for the RedHawks (7-2), who played six of their first eight games this season in Oxford and the other two in Erie, Pa., in the Ice Breaker Tournament.
During their recent hot spell, the RedHawks have surrendered just three goals and none in the third period.
Miami goalie Ryan Larkin won his fifth straight game, stopping 19 of 20.
RECAP: Jonathan Gruden scored his first career goal when he skated behind the UNO net and shot it off the back of goalie Evan Weninger on the power play just 79 seconds into the game.
The Mavericks (0-6-1) tied it with a Taylor Ward goal on a tic-tac-toe passing play as he swept in a pass from the top of the crease with 2:53 remaining in the first period. That tally was also scored on the man advantage
Miami regained the lead 66 seconds later on a blue line blast by Grant Hutton that was deflected in by Brian Hawkinson for his first career goal.
With 5:27 left in the middle stanza, Gordie Green jarred the puck from an UNO defender in the Miami zone, and Scott Corbett seized it and fired a shot off the crossbar. The puck skipped through the top of the crease and Green batted it out of the air as it dribbled into the back of the cage.
Green picked up his second marker of the night with an emphatic rip into the empty net from the outside edge of the faceoff circle with 22 seconds to play after controlling a Josh Melnick two-line outlet pass.
STATS: The Green-Melnick combo on Miami’s top line continues to dominate, as Green extended his multi-point game streak to four and Melnick picked up multiple points for the third consecutive contest.
Green has scored in three straight games and is 4-5-9 during his points streak. Melnick has scored twice and earned five assists in his last three.
— Hawkinson also has points in three straight, including his first career goal in this one.
— Larkin has allowed just three goals during his five-game win streak and has stopped 123 of 126 shots in that span (.976).
— This was the fourth straight game in which Miami did not allow a third-period goal, and the RedHawks have given up just three in nine contests this season.
In 2017-18 they surrendered 46 tallies in 37 games after the second intermission, including a pair in overtime.
THOUGHTS: Miami, once again, played a full 60 minutes against a team they were supposed to beat, and the RedHawks won for the seventh time, with six of those wins coming by three or more goals.
In other words, they’re beating teams they should beat and doing so in decisive fashion.
This was both the first true road game and the inaugural league contest for Miami, which passed both tests with high grades.
And UNO may be winless but it is not a bad team, or at least the Mavericks didn’t play that poorly. Their shot total of 20 is somewhat deceiving because they generated a lot of chances.
A road win in this league, regardless of the opponent’s status, is a major accomplishment, and in this game Miami pulled out the victory on hostile ice and looked good doing so.
— Great job answering the tying UNO goal late in the first period goal by regaining the lead before intermission. That was the Hawkinson deflection on the Hutton blast and eventual game winner.
— Can’t say enough about how well Green is playing. He has nine points in four games and his defense is as good as his offense. He made his first goal happen with his forechecking, as he knocked the puck loose and scored on the rebound from Corbett’s ensuing shot.
— I’d been to all of the first eight games and this was the first one I’d seen on TV, but Derek Daschke looked even better on the tube than live. Twice a last-second desperation play prevented a slam-dunk goal, and he picked up two assists, giving him five points in his last four.
Daschke was probably even more amped to play against the school he was formerly committed to. Mentioned this last weekend but he continues to better every game.
— Prior to this game, only four Miami forwards had played every game but had not scored, and Hawkinson and Gruden both took their names off that list.
Gruden had been snakebitten, as the Ottawa Senators’ fourth rounder was expected to contribute right away.
Yet Hawkinson played three full USHL seasons – 164 games – and only scored 10 times with just 16 assists. Despite his lack of scoring in juniors Hawkinson has a 1-5-6 line in nine games with Miami.
Gruden has tons of raw talent and it should be fun to watch him develop, and Hawkinson has taken complete advantage of his opportunity in Miami’s lineup and has already become a regular on the penalty kill.
— Karch Bachman hit a post early and then a crossbar-and-post later in the game. He had three goals in the first four games this season and continues to get better in other aspects.
He is scoreless in five straight but has been pretty unlucky recently and it feels like he’s going to break out again soon.
— This game was broadcast nationally on one of the regional Fox Sports Channels, and UNO announcers Dave Ahlers and David Brisson did a fabulous job.
Both are very fair in their announcing – regularly complimenting Miami players for their play – and extremely knowledgeable.
Ahlers is a former AHL announcer and Brisson played briefly in the pros after graduating from UNO.
FORWARDS: A-. A well-played game by this entire corps, up and down the lines. Green was the standout with Melnick not far behind. Gruden still makes too many high-risk passes but hopefully this goal will vault his game another level.
DEFENSEMEN: B+. Especially liked Daschke’s play although he did turn one over for a near-goal. Rourke Russell also stood out, and watching from a higher vantagepoint it was easier to appreciate his geometrical smarts in his usage of the boards on defensive-zone passes.
GOALTENDING: A. The goal against was on a magnificent passing play that was basically a 2-on-oh at the top of the crease. Larkin is a key reason for Miami’s hot start and his rebound control is as good as it’s ever been since he came to Oxford.
LINEUP CHANGES: Only one: Up front, Carter Johnson was back in the lineup after sitting last Saturday. He has now played three straight series openers but has sat in consecutive finales.
He replaced Andrew Sinard, who was the seventh defenseman in Game 2 vs. Colgate last weekend.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Winless or not, UNO played pretty well and Miami was better.
The Mavericks hurt themselves with undisciplined penalties early and the RedHawks took advantage with a power play goal.
Omaha is obviously in a down year but this was still a quality win for Miami.
OXFORD, Ohio – Ryan Larkin had one shutout in his freshman season and one more as a sophomore.
Six starts into 2018-19, the Miami junior has already blanked more opponents than in his first two years combined.
On Saturday, he recorded his third clean sheet of 2018-19, a 30-save effort in a 6-0 win over Colgate at Cady Arena that wrapped up a weekend sweep for the RedHawks.
It was the fourth straight win for Miami in the all-time series, as the RedHawks have outscored the Raiders, 18-2 during their winning streak vs. CU and 40-17 overall.
MU wrapped up its four-game homestand with three consecutive victories and is 5-1 on its home ice this season.
RECAP: Just 2:48 into the first period, Josh Melnick backhanded a pass to Gordie Green at the blue line, and Grant Hutton received a drop pass from Green, skated into the high slot and wired one home on the stick side on a 4-on-4.
It remained 1-0 until the 7:49 mark of the middle frame, when Green fed a pass to Melnick from the point to the side of the cage, where Melnick rammed in a bad-angle one-timer on the power play.
With 3:14 left in that period, a shot from the top of the right faceoff circle by Alec Mahalak handcuffed goalie Andrew Farrier, and Scott Corbett was there to knock in the rebound on the opposite side for his first career goal, making it 3-0.
Melnick and Green connected again, as Melnick threaded a pass through two defenders from the inside edge of the faceoff circle to a wide-open Green, who fired it into the vacant half of the net with five seconds left in a second period that saw MU score three times.
Midway through the final stanza, Casey Gilling fed a one-time pass to River Rymsha, who was crossing the blue line, and Rymsha found the top corner of the net as he stepped into a slap shot.
Hutton wrapped up the scoring as he eluded three defenders while carrying the puck from the blue line to the slot before backhanding one in to the stick side with 5:03 left in regulation.
STATS: Larkin leads all of Division I in shutouts with three. His save percentage of .966 is second in the NCAA and he is third in goals-against average (0.83).
His five career clean slates moves Larkin into a tie with Dan Kodatsky for seventh all-time on the Miami leaderboard.
Green finished with a goal and three assists for four points, the second-highest total of his career only to his five-point effort vs. Maine on Oct. 20, 2017.
It was his second three-assist game as a RedHawk.
Hutton ended the night with two goals and a helper, becoming the first skater to score twice or more in a game this season. It was his fifth career multi-goal game and the fourth time he has picked up three points.
Melnick also notched three points – the third time he has done so in a Miami sweater – on a goal and two assists.
Green has seven points in his last three games including six this weekend and Melnick picked up five points this series.
It was the third career multi-point game for Mahalak, who tallied two assists and wrapped up the series with three points.
Miami scored in all six periods this weekend and has goals in seven consecutive frames overall.
THOUGHTS: Miami played with maximum effort from the opening faceoff to the final horn, as the RedHawks were still bombarding the offensive zone in the closing minutes trying to add another score.
Too many times for too many years Miami has had trouble closing out wins, but at least for the first month of this season, the RedHawks have wielded a killer instinct late in games.
Colgate didn’t play poorly on Friday but fell behind early in this one and sort of threw in the proverbial towel the final 20-25 minutes on Saturday, and rather than sit back and play not to lose, Miami absolutely took it to the Raiders in the sixth period of the weekend, punishing them physically and on the scoreboard.
At this point, the RedHawks are better than Colgate. They aren’t 6-0 better though, but both teams got the outcomes they deserved: Miami didn’t let up the entire game and the Raiders did.
And good teams take advantage when that happens. That’s the difference between the first eight games of 2018-19 and their 110 contests the previous three seasons.
And that’s what makes this such a big win heading into NCHC play.
— Corbett returned to the Green-Melnick line and all three ended up finding the net. They combined for eight points (Green 1-3-4, Melnick 1-2-3, Corbett 1-0-1).
We heaped praise on this line for its play on Friday but it was even better in this game at both ends.
— This is as locked in as Larkin has been since coming to Oxford. In his last four starts he is 4-0 with a .981 save percentage, stopping 104 of 106 shots.
He’s second in the NCAA in save percentage at .966 only to a Lake Superior goalie whose last name is Mitens (how do you compete with that)?
And that’s been a big difference in Miami’s start: It’s virtually impossible to have a successful season when your team save percentage is .883 and your starter finishes at .886, which was the case in 2017-18.
Quality goaltending can help a decent team become a great one, and while there’s no way Larkin maintains his current save rate, he has the ability to steal wins for the RedHawks.
FORWARDS: A. The passing by this corps was so much crisper than in any other game this season. Yeah, Green and Melnick were studs, but their supporting cast was strong as well. Karch Bachman continues to generate chances with his speed. Gilling keeps winning key draws and impressing with his defense, plus he set up Rymsha’s goal. Sophs Ben Lown and Phil Knies continue to play above their size. Zach LaValle is earning playing time by stepping up. Corbett scored his first career goal and plays a high-energy, physical style. Etc., etc.
DEFENSEMEN: A. Hutton, Mahalak and Rymsha were the standouts among this group. This was Hutton’s best game at both ends, and probably the same could be said for Mahalak, who picked up two assists and earned some power play time. Rymsha’s goal was an absolute blast with pinpoint accuracy.
GOALTENDING: A+. About as perfect of a game as a goalie could play. He turned 30 shots aside and faced some Grade-A chances. He seemed more comfortable going side to side this weekend and gave up almost zero second chances.
LINEUP CHANGES: Corbett replaced Johnson, both on the first line and in the lineup, as Johnson was a scratch.
Defenseman Andrew Sinard dressed for the second time this season as Christian Mohs sat out.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Percentagewise, this equals Miami’s best start through eight games since 2010-11.
The locker room is much more unified than in recent seasons.
Goaltending has been phenomenal. Defense has been solid. The RedHawks are starting to score goals.
Even those in the stands are having a lot more fun, and hopefully more will show up as we enter the cold-weather months and super-skilled league opponents come to town.
Miami has a lot going for it, but the RedHawks also haven’t played a true road game yet, suiting up for six at home and two on neutral ice. They also haven’t started league play.
MU will tackle both of those obstacles next week in its NCHC-opening series at Omaha.
Maybe Miami, picked to finish last in the conference, ends up being the biggest surprise in the NCAA. Maybe the RedHawks do struggle in league play as was predicted.
But if they keep up the kind of effort they put forth this weekend, the dividends will eventually come for this program.
At least by playing the game the right way the foundation is now being laid for future success.
OXFORD, Ohio – Ryan Larkin’s 2018-19 debut was worth the one-day wait.
The junior stopped all 11 shots he faced in a 4-0 win over Alabama-Huntsville at Cady Arena on Sunday, earning his third career shutout.
Jordan Uhelski, expected to back up Larkin, started and won on Saturday while Larkin did not dress.
The win completes a series sweep for the RedHawks (2-0), who have won their first two games for the first time since 2013-14.
RECAP: The game was scoreless through the first period, but Brian Hawkinson teed up River Rymsha with a pass across the blue line, and Rymsha buried it just inside the post 5:39 into the second frame.
Less than three minutes later, a blast by Alec Mahalak tricked off the glove of goalie Mark Sinclair, and Karch Bachman was there to slam home the rebound.
Early in the third period, Josh Melnick whipped a wrister from the top of the faceoff circle that beat Sinclair. With 6:14 left in regulation, Ryan Siroky was denied on his initial attempt at the side of the net but batted one into the air, off Sinclair’s back and into the net.
STATS: Rymsha and Hawkinson led Miami with two points apiece. Rymsha scored once and set up another and Hawkinson earned a pair of helpers.
Larkin’s last shutout was Oct. 27, 2017 vs. Connecticut. All of his perfect sheets have been in October and at home.
Miami was 37-15 on faceoffs for a .714 win percentage. Casey Gilling was 14-3 on draws and Melnick 13-3 in the circle.
How about a strange one: Grant Hutton was the lone MU defenseman without a shot. The others combined for 15.
THOUGHTS: The first period was slow but once Rymsha’s shot went in, Miami dominated the balance of the game.
When it came to 50/50 pucks, the RedHawks won almost every physical battle and not only were faster but outhustled UAH as well.
By the third period the Chargers (0-2) were a beaten team. The final shot totals reflect that: 45 Miami, 11 UAH.
— Let’s give one of the stars of the game to the facility. This was a 3 p.m. game when the temperature is about its highest, and it was 90 degrees out for opening faceoff.
The ice certainly wasn’t January-Edmonton-in-the-1990s-caliber but it held in the near-record heat.
— Alabama-Huntsville captain Kurt Gosselin, who was booted for his hit on Carter Johnson in the opener, was absent from Sunday’s lineup. It’s unclear if the team or an outside entity made that call.
He should miss multiple games for that hit. It’s everything hockey is trying to take out of its game for the long-term well being of its players.
— Not to bore about a non-sexy subject, but Miami’s faceoff success is an area in which it has struggled for several years.
Gilling has been key in this realm since Day 1 and isn’t afraid to voice concerns to officials when he thinks draws are unfair.
Melnick’s numbers are outstanding early, as are those of Monte Graham, who won a team-best 11 draws on Saturday.
— While the 2-0 start is exciting, Miami has been above .500 early each of the four recent seasons in which it has finished below that mark.
The RedHawks started 2013-14 at 6-2-1, were 3-1-1 to open 2015-16, 3-1-2 in their first six of 2016-17 and reached 4-3 last season before their descent.
Miami’s problem in recent unsuccessful campaigns has been earning wins in those cold-weather months.
FORWARDS: A. This was a solid effort by all. We saw some suspect passing on Saturday but this corps seemed to tighten that up in that game. Loved Siroky’s combination of persistence and athleticism on his goal. Thought Gruden was much better in this game than in the opener. Thought Bachman was as much as force as in the opener. In the second period he stole the puck and nearly scored despite having a defender draped on his during a shorthanded chance. As mentioned, MU dominated on faceoffs.
DEFENSEMEN: A. This corps actually outshot the opposition, firing 15 shots while the entire UAH team managed just 11. None of those chances were Grade-A. Rymsha went 1-1-2 including the first goal and eventual game winner, Hutton and Mahalak picked up assists. Granted UAH lacks a lot of elite offensive talent but Miami’s D-corps shut the Chargers down in this game.
GOALTENDING: A. Hard to slight Larkin for not facing a difficult shot. He was perfect, albeit on 11 non-high-quality chances. This has to be a confidence boost for Larkin after last season when he posted an .886 save percentage.
LINEUP CHANGES: Two key ones: Larkin started in net after Jordan Uhelski earned the win in the opener, and Carter Johnson was out up front after getting cheap-shotted on Saturday.
Zach LaValle also sat among the forward corps, and Noah Jordan and Christian Mohs took the ice in their place.
Coach Enrico Blasi stuck with his starting six on D for Game 2, which is even more interesting because it was 20 hours between starts instead of the normal 23:30, and often a coach will go with a rested player in such a situation, but Andrew Sinard, Grant Frederic and Chaz Switzer all sat out for the second straight night.
UP NEXT: Miami will play in Pennsylvania for the first time since Robert Morris hosted the RedHawks six years ago at the Penguins’ home rink.
MU faces Providence at 4 p.m. on Friday, and if it wins will face the Notre Dame-Mercyhurst winner in the championship at 7:35 p.m. on Saturday but would play in the consolation vs. the loser of the other game at 4 p.m. Saturday. All games will be played at Erie Insurance Arena, home of the OHL Erie Otters.
In late 2012, MU took second in Pittsburgh, beating Ohio State before losing to the hometown host. Both scores were 1-0.
FINAL THOUGHTS: This weekend will provide a much better indication of where Miami is in early-to-mid October.
A strong showing could earn the RedHawks some much-needed respect into a four-game homestand.
At least against UAH, the forwards, defensemen and goalies were all superior. Much tougher test against this weekend’s foes.
OUT (6): Conor Lemirande (graduated), Kiefer Sherwood (turned pro), Carson Meyer (transferred), Austin Alger, Alex Alger, Willie Knierim.
IN (5): Jonathan Gruden, Noah Jordan, Monte Graham, Brian Hawkinson, Scott Corbett.
RETURNING (10): Srs. – Josh Melnick, Ryan Siroky, Zach Lavalle; Jrs. – Gordie Green, Karch Bachman, Carter Johnson; Sos. – Casey Gilling, Ben Lown, Phil Knies, Christian Mohs.
NOTES: Gordie Green hit his stride midway through his freshman year and has gotten better seemingly every game since, as he led the team in goals (15) and points (33) as a sophomore.
Newly-named captain Josh Melnick makes everyone around him better and finished with nine goals and a team best-tying 21 assists for 30 points in 2017-18.
Phil Knies was last season’s freshman goals leader with 11, including six in a four-game road trip in January, he finished with 20 points, and fellow college rookie Casey Gilling added 19 and was one of the team’s best in the faceoff circle.
Ben Lown (4-11-15) was the other significant contributing freshman up front.
Speedster Karch Bachman nearly tripled his rookie points output, posting 16 points including seven goals after earning six as a freshman. The Florida Panthers draft pick netted three goals the final four games.
Senior Ryan Siroky is the only other returning regular starter from last season. He dressed for 33 games and was of the team’s best hitters and played solid defense, contributing two goals and a pair of assists.
Zach Lavalle, Carter Johnson and Christian Mohs logged a combined 46 games, and Johnson locked down a lineup spot the second half of the season with his energetic play.
Not counting Johnson, that’s only seven every-night forwards back, meaning five other slots would be open each night. Even if all 10 veterans start that leaves two openings for newcomers.
“If you look at those guys, they took huge strides last year, especially toward the end,” Melnick said. Obviously those guys have to step into bigger roles now, and I think they’re ready for that. It’s easy for me to say they’ve been really good this preseason, but it’s 100 percent true. Also, the guys that are coming in are really exciting – you’ve got some really skilled and dynamic players all throughout the forward lineup.”
Of the freshmen, Jonathan Gruden is a near certainty to claim one of those lineup spots. Playing for the U.S. National Team the past two seasons, the Ottawa Senators’ fourth-round pick rolled up 34 points in 25 games vs. USHL competition last season as a 17-year-old while going plus-28.
Monte Graham has serious NHL pedigree, as he is the cousin of Wild center Charlie Coyle and former NHL forward Tony Amonte. A New Englander, the former Boston College commit boast plenty of juniors experience, as he has played two full USHL seasons.
Noah Jordan is 6-feet-5 and skated for North York in Ontario Juniors last season. He scored 18 goals in 2017-18, and the Toronto-area native led his team in playoff points.
Brian Hawkinson has three seasons of USHL experience and is known for his grit and leadership. He was the captain for Tri-City in 2017-18, where he notched 16 points.
Scott Corbett is another Carmel, Ind., product, the same hometown as former defensemen Cameron Schilling and Grant Hutton. He is known as more of a playmaker and has good size at 6-1 and 187.
“I think we’ve got like guys that are (solid), guys that need to take another step in terms of their production, and then we’ve got some guys that understand they’re playing a certain role, and they have to perform,” Miami head coach Enrico Blasi said. “I like the depth we have, it’s going to be a struggle each weekend to see who’s going to play, and that’s a good thing – that breeds competition in practice, and everybody has to elevate their game.”
Though Miami was below average offensively last season, the RedHawks finished ninth in Division I on the power play (23.2 percent).
Then again, MU’s defensive duo accounted for 13 of those 35 PPGs and managed just two markers in last season’s final 11 games on the man-advantage.
Depth was an issue among centers and wings, as only eight forwards were able to generate seven or more points last season.
“When we came here in the summer just to work on stuff, we actually started to get a lot better then,” Melnick said.
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.
In 2016-17, Western Michigan finally reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the NCHC era.
Last season the Broncos regressed to four games under .500, posting their second-lowest winning percentage under coach Andy Murray.
But WMU could surprise, as the team returns its top eight points-producers and a talented eight-man freshman class that includes the Broncos’ second-highest NHL draft pick ever.
NCAA titles: 0.
COACH: Andy Murray (9th season, 118-116-34, .504).
2017-18 RECORDS: 15-19-2 (10-13-1 NCHC, 7th place).
POSTSEASON: Swept at Minnesota-Duluth in the first round of the NCHC Tournament.
RINK (capacity): Lawson Arena (3,667).
MIAMI VS. WESTERN MICHIGAN LAST SEASON: 2-2.
ALL-TIME SERIES: Miami leads, 68-63-11.
SCHEDULE VS. MIAMI: Jan. 11-12 – at Western Michigan; March 8-9 – at Miami.
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: F Dawson DiPietro, F Wade Allison, F Hugh McGing, D Cam Lee, D Corey Schueneman, G Ben Blacker.
KEY NEW FACES: D Matthias Samuelsson, F Paul Cotter, D Jared Kucharek.
KEY LOSSES: D Paul Stoykewych, D Neal Goff.
NOTES: All three of Western Michigan’s 30-point skaters were sophomores last season, and with its top eight points leaders back again this fall, the Broncos’ offense looks formidable.
Dawson DiPietro dressed just once his freshman year but led WMU in assists (22) and points (35) in 2017-18. Wade Allison led the team in goals with 15 and notched 30 points.
Hugh McGing racked up 21 helpers and 30 points overall.
Colt Conrad was another key contributor up front, finishing 9-18-27, and Austin Rueschhoff notched 10 goals as a freshman.
Paul Cotter enters his freshman season after being selected by Las Vegas in the fourth round of this summer’s NHL draft. He was named to the USHL’s all-rookie team in 2017-18 following a 39-point campaign.
Three of the Broncos’ returning defenseman tallied at least 15 points last season, led by Corey Scheuneman’s 26. He scored five times – all on the power play.
Cam Lee picked up six goals and 18 assists, and Luke Bafia racked up 15 assists in addition to his lone goal, which was a game winner.
Mathias Samuelsson, son of former Pittsburgh Penguin Kjell Samuelsson, is expected to make an immediate impact on the blue line. He was drafted by Buffalo with the opening pick of the second round this June, the second earliest any Bronco has ever been selected.
He has played 105 games for the U.S. National Team.
Another newcomer for Western Michigan is Mike Joyaux, the youngest of the three Joyaux brothers. Both Chris and Matt played for Miami.
Following a stellar freshman season, goalie Blacker struggled in 2017-18, going 12-13-2 with a 3.17 goals-against average and .893 save percentage. Neither backup impressed in limited action.
Like many NCHC teams, Western Michigan scored plenty but also gave up its share of markers. The Broncos were No. 11 in the NCAA in goals per game but fourth last in average goals allowed.
NOTE: BoB previewed each opposing NCHC team leading into the 2018-19 season. This is the seventh and final installment.
Here are the links for the remaining snapshots: