For the third time in four years, Miami viewed the NCAA Tournament at home following a run of eight consecutive appearances on Division I hockey’s highest stage.
It was tough to watch, as this team didn’t compete hard enough, consistently enough to pull itself into PairWise contention, and the reality that the RedHawks would not play long into March began to set in during a miserable February.
The program is presently at its lowest point of the Enrico Blasi administration, as its win total last season was Miami’s lowest since 1990-91.
True the RedHawks went 0-for-4 in NCAA berths during Blasi’s first four years, but they were trending upward at that point.
And now we’re nearly at the midway point of the off-season, three months removed from the tragic end of 2016-17, a little under four months from puck drop.
When a program reaches DEFCON 2, everyone has a theory to fix its problems, and emotions can sometimes obscure rational thought.
And giving into that mentality is tempting, because of course SOMETHING has to be done.
It doesn’t help being close to the situation. Going to a majority of games, watching most of the rest on TV or the internet, knowing many people within the program and their families.
From this end, in a way the relationship is somewhat paternal (or maternal for any PC police that may be reading). There’s a love of program that ultimately – eventually – overrides all negatives.
A season like last one is tantamount to having your kid get busted by the cops for egging neighborhood houses: You’re mad as hell but that anger only exists because of your superseding love.
And that’s largely why three months have elapsed since the last post on this site (to that point: two written and edited stories were scrapped on this end in late March). Blasting hard-working athletes and coaches seems like piling on after a season ends.
Everyone reading knows 9-20-7 isn’t an acceptable record for this program. Re-hashing that yet again doesn’t do anyone any good.
So it was necessary to take a step back rather than rolling out the hatemobile and taking the urban assault approach.
With that out of the way, let’s address the program in an ombudsman-like fashion, answering some of the questions now being tossed out and allow people who didn’t follow this season to catch up.
Q: What happened last season?
A: A number of issues culminated in a bad year. Injuries to key players, such as captain Louie Belpedio and fellow defenseman Jared Brandt, goalie Ryan Larkin, forwards Carson Meyer and Justin Greenberg, all of whom missed multiple games. The team severely lacked scoring depth beyond its first two lines, and overall the forwards weren’t as strong defensively as in past years. Same with the defensemen, who were not physical enough and frequently out of position, leading to far too many A-plus scoring chances by opponents. And yes, there were 14 freshmen on the team, which didn’t help. The development didn’t happen as quickly for some as has typically been the case at Miami.
Q: So if there are all of these freshmen this year, does that mean the program is doomed for several more seasons?
A: Let’s hope not. The injuries were (hopefully) an aberration, and only three of the starting 19 graduated (Fs Anthony Louis and Greenberg and D Colin Sullivan). Several of the freshmen got substantially better as the year went on, most notably F Gordie Green. The defense is going to be key next season. Miami scored 2.53 goals per game, which is nowhere near great, but the RedHawks allowed an average of 3.14, which is brutal with such a solid goalie. And Miami does have an excellent netminder in Ryan Larkin who was among those freshmen.
Q: Is Miami not getting good enough players or are they not being coached well?
A: Gotten this one a couple times, and it’s an excellent question but a really tough one to answer. In college, the coaching staff recruits the players, so either way it falls on the assistants and the head coach. But to answer, it appears to be more on the recruiting end but it’s a little of both. Miami was extremely fortunate to have current Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill and Bowling Green coach Chris Bergeron as assistants during much of that long NCAA Tournament run, and even after Blashill left, he was coaching USHL Indiana and feeding players like Blake Coleman and Joe Hartman to Oxford. With those coaches no longer associated with the program, the talent pool has not been as strong, and that obviously has a delayed effect, as players that those former coaches guided to Miami remain in college for several years after they sign. Miami has brought in more NAHL players recently, and while some have thrived in Oxford, overall it’s not as strong of a juniors league as the USHL, the top development league for Division I.
Q: So the current coaches are to blame?
A: Questions like these deserve very careful response, because we’re talking about people’s livelihoods. People with families and houses and bills. Journalists of all people should be aware of the scrutiny people can face when they’re in the public eye. If a team goes 9-20-7 like Miami just did, it’s there for everyone to see, evaluate and lambaste through social media and other internet sites. On a smaller scale, if a writer types “seive” instead of “sieve”, same thing. So there should be professional courtesy. That said, yeah, it’s absolutely fair is to say the coaching staff hasn’t done a good job during this stretch. Note that it’s not saying that any of these men who undoubtedly love the program and work their hind quarters off to make it successful aren’t doing their best, they don’t care, or they’re bad people. That effort just isn’t culminating into victories. And what’s especially frustrating is that they’ve been given all of the right tools by the university to win. The RedHawks play in a rink that’s the envy of 90 percent of Division I and they had a seven-figure weight room built specifically for them, literally yards from the Cady Arena ice. The school is top-notch, the campus is beautiful, as are the co-eds. Heck, even the weather is fantastic compared to the rest of the NCAA, except Arizona State and Alabama-Huntsville. They also have two well-paid assistants when the standard in college hockey has been one. And speaking of pay, head coach Enrico Blasi is one of the highest-compensated college hockey coaches on the planet. The university has basically said, here you go, here’s the keys to the vault and everything you could possibly need to field a winning hockey team. All you need to do is win. And for four years, they haven’t done that nearly enough.
Q: Should the coaches get the boot?
A: It’s the elephant-on-the-computer-monitor question. First off, Blasi has six years left on a huge contract. So for the people who want him gone, he isn’t going anywhere soon, especially with the recent turmoil surrounding the coaching positions in other sports the past couple of years. And in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately field, let’s not forget that without Blasi, there would likely be no palace of a rink on the south side of town, no 10 NCAA Tournament banners – including eight in a row – a national championship game appearance and two Frozen Four berths. Like him or not, the guy built this program to elite status. Miami went 11-20-5 the year before he took over, and in his fifth season – the first year all of his players were recruits by his staff – the RedHawks made the NCAAs and would do so eight of the subsequent nine years. He’s also a Miami graduate who has completed 18 years of coaching at his alma mater. He deserves a ton of respect for what he’s done for this program. Now if the titanic struggles continue for several more seasons, his position may be reevaluated. As for the assistants, their positions are probably less stable since they’re largely responsible for recruiting. They’re also pretty well paid for Division I hockey. And to be fair to them, Brent Brekke is well-respected for his work with defensemen and Nick Petraglia – another MU alum – has done great work with the goaltenders (TV PxP guy Dave Starman illustrated the improvement in Larkin’s game due to an adjustment Petraglia made in his stance). But it’s very difficult to answer the question as someone who’s not in the locker room every day and rarely sees practices or even a lot of live road games. To call for those jobs from this perspective would be irresponsible. But it’s irrelevant right now anyway. It’s mid-June, and any changes in this area would’ve been addressed months ago.
Q: So what now?
A: So an outside entity is going to evaluate every aspect of the program, which cross-our-fingers will get it back on track. Hopefully the coaches realize what they’ve been doing the past several years isn’t working – a tough thing to accept for choleric leaders accustomed to success – and will hopefully implement suggestions from that analysis. Then the hard part: Everyone from fans, players, coaches, etc., play the waiting game for another four months until Miami’s 2017-18 home opener vs. Providence.
The 2015-16 season ended for Miami on March 12, after being swept in two games at Minnesota-Duluth in the first round of the NCHC Tournament.
This campaign ended a day earlier, again after a two-and-out in the conference quarterfinals and on the same ice surface.
The RedHawks’ season ended with a 5-3 loss to No. 3 UMD at Amsoil Arena on Satuday, as Miami finished with its fewest wins since 1990-91.
Brenden Kotyk and Nick Wolff scored early in the first and second periods, respectively, to give the Bulldogs a 2-0 lead.
But Miami (9-20-7) ran off the next three, as Justin Greenberg found the net on the power play with 8:18 left in the middle stanza and Kiefer Sherwood and Anthony Louis connected 1:48 apart early in the third period, giving the RedHawks a 3-2 advantage.
That was the fourth lead of the series for Miami.
Once again Minnesota-Duluth (23-6-7) came back. Jared Thomas tied it at three with 6:35 to play, Alex Iafallo put UMD ahead for good 2:12 later and Dominic Toninato sealed it with a late empty netter.
Louis finished his career with 126 points, as he tied John Ciotti and Dave McClintock for 20th on Miami’s all-time leaderboard. It was his first marker in 14 games.
Greenberg is also a senior, registering a goal in his final collegiate game.
Sherwood’s goal was his 14th of the season, tying him with Louis for the team lead.
The RedHawks are now 0-8-1 in their last nine games at Amsoil Arena and are 0-4 in the postseason there. Overall they have not beaten the Bulldogs in their last 10 meetings (0-8-2), with their last victory over UMD coming on Feb. 21, 2015.
This was just the fourth season in the program’s 39-year varsity history it has failed to reach the 10-win mark and the first time it has happened under coach Enrico Blasi. It’s the first time since Blasi’s inaugural season that Miami has posted consecutive losing records, which it last did in 1998-99 and 1999-2000.
The RedHawks finished the season winless in their final 10 and 1-12-2 in their last 15. MU had not gone 10 games without a win since 1990-91 but did that twice this season.
Miami loses three seniors – Greenberg, Louis and defenseman Colin Sullivan.
The RedHawks open the 2017-18 season on Oct. 6 against Providence at Cady Arena.
OXFORD, Ohio – Too small to succeed.
That has been the label given to Anthony Louis his entire life, but he continues to rack up the points despite his detractors’ criticism.
The senior forward who is listed at 5-feet-8, 158 pounds has climbed Miami’s all-time points leaderboard in his four years in Oxford and is currently 22nd in team history with 125 on 45 goals and 80 assists.
“I tend to use it as motivation,” Louis said. “I always wanted to prove people wrong and make it to the next level.”
Louis grew up in Winfield, Ill., a far west suburb of Chicago but now lives slightly closer to the city in West Chicago. He scored 60 times in 66 games between Team Illinois’ Bantam Major and his Under-16 seasons, earning his way onto the U.S. National Development Team.
On the Under-17 team in 2011-12, he netted 27 goals in 49 games, and he was second on the Under-18 team with 51 points the following season, second-best on the team despite facing much tougher competition.
Louie Belpedio, MU’s captain and junior defenseman, played and lived with Louis in Ann Arbor on the USNDT. Belpedio is also from Chicago, and with the tandem’s dads being longtime friends, so too have Belpedio and Louis.
“He keeps proving people wrong – that’s one of his best traits,” Belpedio said. “People always told him he’s too small, and he’ll never made it. Every level he moves up, he gets better. He proves to people that size isn’t necessarily the biggest factor, and his heart’s bigger than his body is.”
Louis turned those negative stereotypes into positives, and he said he developed a thick skin when it comes to dealing with negative comments surrounding his play.
“I wouldn’t say I didn’t believe in myself but I knew it was going to be harder because people thought I was too small,” Louis said. “I definitely used it as a motivator to myself what I could do, and prove people wrong that didn’t believe in me. It made me work (harder) than I would’ve if they weren’t doubting me.”
He earned a silver medal his final season prior to college with the U-18 squad, and Louis also keyed a Four Nations championship by recording five points in four games.
Despite that resume, every team in the NHL passed him by with their first six selections of the 2013 draft. That is, until the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks picked him last in that round.
The hometown Louis was the 181th overall pick in June of 2013.
“Obviously it’s a dream come true,” Louis said. “It’s just the first step to hopefully a few more to make the team. Growing up watching them, it was awesome, and I always wanted to play for them. Now that it’s only a few steps away, it’s going to be a lot of hard work but it’s a pretty exciting process ahead of me.”
Following in a familiar line of players from the Chicago area, Louis chose to play for Miami, where he began his career in the fall of 2013. Knowing the Wingels brothers – NHLer Tommy and brother Johnny, a current senior and student coach – helped seal his decision.
“The culture here at Miami is a big reason why I committed here,” Louis said. “Everyone here has really lived by The Brotherhood – I know there’s some people who think that’s not true – but they really do live by it here, from the staff to the players, all around at the school, just unbelievable people here at Miami. The fans, obviously, and atmosphere are incredible.”
He said the combination of playing against international competition like in the Four Nations tournament parlayed with the U.S. team taking on college teams in exhibitions prepared him for life in Division I college hockey.
But it was a slow start for the offensive whiz, as he was limited to four goals and three assists in his first 17 games wearing a RedHawks sweater.
“Getting used to the system, and obviously guys are bigger,” Louis said. “I don’t think I was as consistent my freshman year, and I was in my own head a little bit, but as I grew as a player I obviously learned how to handle that. Once I did things started going much (better) for me.”
Louis began to thrive as that season progressed. He recorded eight goals and seven assists the final 15 games, notching points in all four of Miami’s postseason games.
While the RedHawks fell a goal short in the NCHC Tournament championship game, Louis earned a spot on the All-Tournament Team as he finished that event with four goals and a pair of helpers.
Louis followed up on that campaign by tallying nine goals and a career-best 27 assists as a sophomore, and once again Louis exceled as games became more important.
He scored twice and set up five more goals in six postseason games, including a 1-1-2 line vs. Providence in his lone NCAA Tournament contest.
In his junior season, Louis amassed 11 markers and 15 assists, and although Miami was limited to two playoff games – in the first round of the NCHC Tournament at Minnesota-Duluth – he scored once and dished for two helpers in that series.
That gave Louis a career 7-9-16 line in 12 postseason games his first three seasons in Oxford, as he has loved college hockey’s spotlight.
“I have a lot of fun with it,” Louis said. “I know a lot of guys are pretty nervous and overthink things. I just try to take it all in and enjoy the atmosphere. I think it’s the most fun time of the year.”
Named an assistant captain last summer, Louis’ goal and points totals are career highs, as he is 13-24-37 this season. For his career, he has 45 goals and 80 assists for 125 points, ranking him 22nd all-time among RedHawks skaters.
One more point would move Louis into a three-way tie for 20th.
“I think that’s obviously a huge accomplishment for him, and I’m happy for him and everything that he’s done,” Belpedio said. “Obviously we’re playing top teams every night, so for him to be able to do that says a lot about him.”
But beyond the offensive stats, Louis has worked to become a more complete player in his four years at Miami.
“My defensive game has gotten much better – this is my first year of penalty killing,” Louis said.
Louis is also proud of how much physically stronger he has become since that freshman campaign. Belpedio has been impressed with Louis’ leadership this season.
“Just because I wear the ‘C’ and he wears the ‘A’ doesn’t mean he’s not just as much of a leader as I am,” Belpedio said. “We work well with each other, and we’re two guys who like to lead by example. He’s a good leader, and he might not be the most vocal guy in the world, but he’s got character traits about him that make everyone else around him better.”
Louis is set to graduate in May, when he will earn a degree in sports management. From there it’s on to the pros, and no matter how his future career in hockey evolves, he will always cherish his Miami years.
“My experience at Miami has been incredible,” Louis said. “All of the people that I’ve met, and as a whole my teammates I’ve grown with – a lot of lifelong friends that I’ll have. And from a hockey (standpoint), it’s just been incredible playing in front of the fans here. Throughout the country, even the alumni supports us well. It’s truly a Brotherhood here. It’s pretty much everything I expected coming in. I’ve really enjoyed it. Hopefully it’s not over.”
Miami has not won in six weeks, but its next loss will be its last of the season.
The RedHawks lost their NCHC Tournament first-round opener in their best-of-3 series, 5-4 in overtime to Minnesota-Duluth at Amsoil Arena on Friday and now face elimination in that series.
Miami’s path from here on out couldn’t be more clear: Win or go home. The RedHawks would need to win on Saturday and Sunday at No. 3 UMD then run the table in the semifinal and final of the league tournament in Minneapolis.
That would earn them a berth into the NCAA Tournament, which, of course, is one and out.
An unlikely scenario made more improbable considering the first half of the opening sentence. Miami is 0-8-1 in its last nine and 1-11-2 since Jan. 14.
To Miami’s credit, it took the third-best team in Division I to overtime in the Bulldogs’ home building on Friday despite missing captain Louie Belpedio and losing stud goalie Ryan Larkin in the second period.
The RedHawks led three times in the game (2-1, 3-2 and 4-3) but were unable to close out the win, a common theme in 2016-17.
Backup goalie Chase Munroe had not logged a minute in exactly three months, and after stopping just three of the first five shots he faced, he turned aside 26 of the final 28. He faced a shooting gallery in the final 20 minutes of regulation and overtime, and didn’t get a lot of help from his skaters defensively.
It would’ve been easy for this team to mail it in, considering the near impossibility of its task of winning this tournament.
But the RedHawks didn’t quit, and in a season that will likely go down as their worst in a quarter century, that’s an encouraging sign.
Crazy things happen in conference tournaments, and it would take a run that makes 2013-14 look tame just for Miami to return the position it was in three years when it came within a goal of advancing to the NCAAs despite a 12-19-3 regular season record.
The RedHawks have their backs against the boards but are playing with passion, and in Game 2 we’ll see if that’s enough to extend the season.
– No idea what Larkin’s injury is or how severe, but when a goalie leaves a game and doesn’t return he rarely returns the next night. Already Belpedio-less, that makes MU’s chances of advancing in this round even more remote. If there is a bright spot it’s that Munroe earned valuable conference tournament experience, and as we recall, Jay Williams was shaky early before finding his groove, as was Charlie Effinger before him.
– Scorers’ list from Friday boom: Ryan Siroky and Zach LaValle, in the bottom six of the forward list on the lineup card all season, both scored in this one. It was just their third and second goals of the season, respectively, although LaValle especially seems to have picked it up a notch recently. This is encouraging because Miami was able to hang without its go-to snipers finding the net, and also the lack of scoring from non-top six forwards has been well documented here.
– Scorers’ list from Friday bust: Josh Melnick hasn’t scored in seven games and Anthony Louis has been stuck on 13 goals for 13 games. Kiefer Sherwood was limited to one shot. Scoring from tertiary forwards is great, but the top players need to be top players in the playoffs for teams to advance.
– Yet another Gordie Green update. Hate to be redundant but Green has been the hottest forward on the team with seven points in four games and 11 in his last 10 – more than anyone else on the team.
– Speaking of points surges, two assists on Friday give Grant Hutton eight points in his last seven games. He picked up three helpers the first 28 games but has five in the last seven. On a team that has struggled mightily the past two months, it says a lot that a pair of underclassmen in Green and Hutton are two of the RedHawks’ top points producers. Green is a freshman and Hutton is a defenseman.
– Shots were close the first two periods: 14-12 UMD. Shots after: 27-10 UMD. Miami has now been outshot in 13 straight regulation periods. The RedHawks have allowed 474 shots while generating just 320 during their current 1-11-2 skid.
Miami had played in 10 overtime games this season without suffering a loss.
That streak was broken on Friday, as No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth edged the RedHawks, 5-4 in an NCHC Tournament best-of-3 opener in the quarterfinal round at Amsoil Arena.
Alex Iafallo skated behind the crease and had his wrap-around denied by MU goalie Chase Munroe, but Dominic Toninato was there at the top of the crease to slam home the game winner 7:24 into the extra session.
Miami is winless in its last nine games, going 0-8-1 in that span, and faces elimination on Saturday.
Parker Mackay stole the puck from Josh Melnick, skated across the slot and wristed one home to give Minnesota-Duluth the lead 5:21 into the first period.
Miami (9-19-7) answered with a pair of goals in the next 64 seconds. On a 2-on-1, Gordie Green passed through the slot to Zach LaValle, who skated around sprawled-out UMD goalie Hunter Miska and deposited the puck in the net to tie it.
Carson Meyer put the RedHawks ahead when he beat two defenders to a loose puck to gain the zone then ultimately grabbed the rebound off an outside shot from Anthony Louis, burying it to make it 2-1.
Moments later, there was a pile-up in the Miami crease, and RedHawks goalie Ryan Larkin was injured. He did not return and was replaced by Munroe, who had not played in a game in three months.
The Bulldogs (22-6-7) tied it at two when Nick Wolff fired a blue line shot that caromed off the end boards to Riley Tufte, who was wide open at the side of the net for a tap-in at the end of a long shift with 16:16 left in the second period.
Green one-timed a shot from the slot off a pass by Grant Hutton from behind the UMD net as Miami regained the lead, 3-2 with 4:06 remaining in the middle stanza.
That RedHawks lead was short-lived, as Iafallo skated the length of the ice on a 2-on-2, crashed the net and backhanded it past Munroe to tie it just 43 seconds later.
Miami took its third lead of the game with 8:46 to play in regulation when Ryan Siroky whipped a puck on net from along the boards, and it hit a body in the slot, trickling past Miska.
Once again, Minnesota-Duluth answered quickly, as Karson Kuhlman slid a pass through two defenders to Tufte, who was wide open in the slot. Munroe made the initial save but Tufte corralled his own rebound and scored just 65 seconds after the RedHawks’ goal to make it 4-4.
Green finished with a goal and an assist, giving him helpers in four straight games and seven points in that stretch. Hutton earned a pair of assists and has 10 points in his last 11 contests.
Game 2 is scheduled for 8:37 p.m. on Saturday.
OXFORD, Ohio – Johnny Wingels missed the last four months of his final juniors season because of concussions.
And after he’d worked his way back on the lineup card his first season at Miami 3½ years ago, the worst thing that can happen to someone coming off that type of head injury occurred: Another major concussion.
For the second time in a year, the 5-feet-10 defenseman suffered through the aftereffects. He decided the risk of permanent injury was too great and opted to hang up the skates after just 11 games in a RedHawks sweater.
“It was definitely always a dream of mine to play college hockey, and even though it only lasted half a season, it was a dream come true and I think I proved to myself that I was very capable of playing at this level,” Wingels said. “Because of that I don’t have any regrets with this decision and am satisfied with what I was able to accomplish.”
Wingels is the younger brother of Ottawa Senators forward Tommy Wingels, and when Johnny was very young, he was dragged to Tommy’s practices each morning. Inevitably, Johnny took up the sport as well.
The brothers are from Wilmette, Ill., a northern suburb of Chicago, and fortunately for Johnny Wingels, his juniors rights belonged to the Chicago Steel. He was called up from Triple-A to the Steel for two games in 2011-12 and was slated for a starting role the following season as an 18-year-old.
Wingels exceled in his only season in the USHL. He recorded assists in each of his first two games of 2012-13 and racked up seven in the first 22 contests.
“It was cool to play in my hometown – my parents got to come to all of my games, which was nice, and I got to live at home,” Wingels said. “So it wasn’t your typical junior experience. It was a pretty short junior career, but it was fun while it lasted.”
In mid-December vs. Dubuque, he received a minor concussion and was out for nearly three weeks.
But in his first game back from that injury, he was blindsided and suffered a more substantial concussion. Wingels said he had others before that, but these were his first two documented cases.
That cost him the balance of the season, as he wrapped up a brief juniors career with 26 games played, seven assists and a plus-2 rating.
Wingels had visited Princeton and Yale, but he had narrowed his college choices to St. Lawrence and Miami. With two sisters and his older brother having chosen the latter, Wingels went that route as well.
“I felt at home at Miami,” Wingels said. “It just was always a dream of mine to play here after seeing my brother play here when I was younger, so it definitely felt like it was the right decision to come here.”
Coming to Miami meant joining a team that his older brother had captained four seasons earlier. Tommy Wingels recorded 99 points in three years in Oxford and has logged 355 NHL games between San Jose and Ottawa, scoring 52 goals and assisting on 72 others.
By the start of the 2013-14 season, Tommy Wingels was a regular for the Sharks and had set a high bar for the Wingels name in Oxford. Comparisons were inevitable when another skater named Wingels joined the team.
“We were far enough apart (age wise) that I never really crossed paths with him,” Wingels said. “The only time I ever felt that was when I was considering coming to Miami. The coaching staff let me know that they were recruiting me for me and not because of my brother.”
Cracking MU’s lineup presented a challenge. Wingels had not played since January, and the RedHawks had seven other highly-skilled defensemen on their roster in 2013-14.
That meant Wingels was going to have to beat two of them out each night just to earn a spot in the lineup.
“It was a struggle to start, not having played in four or five months and getting back into hockey shape and game shape,” Wingels said. “It was difficult – it was a tough training camp – but the coaches prepared me very well, spent a lot of extra time getting me back into game shape and getting ready for the games. “
Wingels played in three of Miami’s first six games that season but was scratched for the next eight. Finally in late November, he forced his way onto the ice with his dependable and heady stay-at-home style, dressing for six consecutive tilts and eight of nine.
Wingels was a regular in the RedHawks’ lineup when he headed to Colorado College in late January of that freshman year.
In the series opener, Wingels got the puck from the blue line along the boards, ran a scissors play and tried to cut back. But when he did, he was crushed from behind, slamming his head into the boards.
No penalty was called at the time and Colorado College actually scored before the next whistle, but after reviewing the play, a major penalty was assessed to CC.
“Didn’t think too much of it at the time, had a little bit of a headache but nothing too serious,” Wingels said. “I didn’t think it was another concussion because I pretty much knew what the symptoms were from my other experiences.”
So he finished the game and felt fine the rest of that Friday night. But when he woke up on Saturday, those familiar concussion traits had returned.
And they didn’t go away.
At that point, Wingels had to weigh his future in hockey vs. his future quality of life. And while Wingels had logged quality minutes in his brief Miami career, he was undrafted, and just six defensemen in the history of Miami hockey have ever made the NHL.
He chose retirement.
“I was never actually told by a doctor that I needed to stop playing,” Wingels said. “I just talked with many doctors who were trying to get my symptoms to subside, and I tried many forms of treatment and none of them really seemed to help, and so it seemed like time was really the only thing that would help me in the long run. With my experience the year before, having symptoms for four or five months and having symptoms for four to five months after this last one, it just dawned on me that there’s a lot more to life than hockey, and I have 60, 70 years left of life ahead of me. So I just knew it was the right decision to stop playing, because I need my brain for longer than I need hockey.”
During this time, he read an article about Scott Parker, an enforcer for the Colorado Avalanche who sustained at least 20 concussions. At that point, it had been five years since head injuries forced Parker out of the game, but he still suffered from seizures, acute nausea and intense ringing in his ears.
Like the previous season, Wingels’ headaches and other maladies lasted over four months. The chance of long-term effects increase as concussion totals mount in an individual.
In about a year and a half window, Wingels had already suffered through the recovery process for over eight months in total.
“I sort of had the mindset that if I kept playing, I had to assume that this would happen again eventually just because of the nature of the sport, and that’s not something I was prepared to handle again,” Wingels said.
Fortunately for Wingels, he had already made a couple of close friends on the team in current fellow seniors Colin Sullivan and Justin Greenberg, who could empathize because of their own injury histories.
“He waited a while…we kind of knew he wasn’t going to play again because he was really struggling with headaches,” said Greenberg, who was concussed last season and dealt with the effects. “Obviously that’s not an easy decision, but I still remember when he came in and told us, he was pretty much in tears and the guys were pretty broken up about it.”
Said Sullivan: “That’s actually how we got to be really close. He dealt with concussions, and before I got here I dealt with concussions. I had one serious concussion going into my senior year of high school where I was out of school for two months. I’ve gone down that road and I know what he was going through, trying to come back. The headaches, the memory loss, you don’t really feel like yourself. I have the utmost respect for Johnny because what he’s had to go through I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.”
Wingels finished with 11 games played, seven shots on goal and seven blocked shots. But just because he was done as a defenseman did not mean his Miami career was over.
He was given an opportunity as a student-coach, a position he has held for the past three seasons.
“When I was going through this decision to stop playing, the coaches were extremely supportive and wanted me to do what was in my best interest, and they said I could be involved as much as I want or as little as I want,” Wingels said. “To start, I didn’t really have a clear mindset as to what I wanted to do, I just wanted to be around and obviously all of the guys on the team are my best friends. It just sort of evolved from helping out in drills, taking stats during to games to what it is now, which is helping out the coaches accomplish some of their coaching duties.”
Wingels said that being a coach who is also a student – and one who has players in his class still lacing up the skates – can be a little awkward.
“I feel like I’m sort of the liaison between the coaches and the players – whether that a good thing or a bad thing I’m not exactly sure,” Wingels said. “It’s a little bittersweet to see my classmates finish up their time here. I definitely wish I could be out there with them.”
And while Wingels is enjoying his role as a coaches’ assistant, his career goals are loftier. He has a 3.61 grade-point average as a finance major and would love to work on Wall Street.
Or if he did work in hockey, his dream job would be general manager of an NHL team.
“He could be a GM, he could be the CEO of some Fortune 500 company – I would give him all of my money to invest in whatever,” Sullivan said. “That’s how much I trust I guy, that’s how smart he is, and I’m sure Justin Greenberg’s going to be handling his books too.”
Greenberg and he and Wingels initially ended up hanging out frequently because the pair were in business school.
“I can’t even imagine how he went through everything he went through,” Greenberg said. “Hockey was everything. He had to make the decision, because it wasn’t healthy for him to keep playing. There’s always a life beyond hockey, we talk about that all the time – even coach does, no matter how long you’re going to play for. For him to come to the rink and be so positive is unbelievable. I can’t imagine having to do that.”
Wingels has made the transition from player to coach look easy, but his friends know how much he misses taking regular shifts on game night.
“The kid still comes to the rink every single day, he’s helping guys out on the ice, trying to help guys get better,” Sullivan said. “Watching us be able to play, and him I’m sure wishing to God he could – he’d give his right arm to play one game, one shift – so I gave the greatest respect for Johnny and what he’s had to go through. He’s somebody that younger kids should definitely emulate.”
Off the ice, Sullivan called Wingels one of the most genuine people he’s ever met.
“He’s super smart, super intelligent, just a really nice person,” Sullivan said. “He and I kind of have the same personalities, we watch the same movies, we’re too pretty big movie buffs – we swap movie quotes back and forth – he’s one of my roommates too. We spend a lot of time with each other, and Johnny is a guy I made friends with here and he’s going to be a friend for the rest of my life, for sure.”
Obviously, being limited to 11 games was not what Wingels was hoping for when he came to Oxford in the summer of 2013.
But he has still enjoyed the Miami hockey experience in addition to thriving in the classroom. And he has still found a way to contribute to the team without putting on his No. 21 jersey.
“It definitely didn’t go as I expected – I would’ve loved to have played four years here and then played professional hockey like my brother – go down that path, but it’s been a wonderful experience,” Wingels said. “I’ve had a great time here, I’ve made great friends and the coaching staff has been great. I have nothing to complain about during my time here, and the school here – it was just an awesome experience.”
OXFORD, Ohio – Eleven shots on Saturday, 27 for the weekend.
Not surprisingly, Miami was swept by North Dakota, losing 5-2 on Saturday in the regular season finale at Cady Arena.
BoB has spent all season analyzing stats, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the above are not going to get you many wins.
One more stat: One win since Jan. 13.
Hoping for a miraculous turnaround at Minnesota-Duluth next weekend.
We’re done here.
FORWARDS: F. Six of those shots were by forwards. Six. That’s one every 10 minutes. Again, not much else to say, other than Carson Meyer got abused by Tucker Poolman in a 1-on-1 for the second UND goal after Conor Lemirande committed an offensive-zone turnover for the first. Could’ve gotten a ‘G’ or ‘H’ if it wasn’t for Kiefer Sherwood’s rebound goal.
DEFENSEMEN: B-. Still need to see better coverage in the slot and around the crease, but this group was more physical and limited UND to 27 shots. Plus Grant Hutton’s shot led to Sherwood’s rebound goal, and Chaz Switzer scored the other.
GOALTENDING: B-. Besides the empty netter, goalie Ryan Larkin allowed two goals to wide-open players in the slot, one on a skated who was allowed to skate around the crease and jam one in and another on a 2-on-1. And he made two spectacular saves. Miami won nine games this regular season, and that number would’ve been lower if Larkin hadn’t been in net.
LINEUP CHANGES: It appears less likely that Louie Belpedio will return for next weekend’s series, which hurts Miami’s chances. He is still in a knee brace. Willie Knierim missed this game after blocking a shot on Friday. Alex Alger dressed in his place.
OXFORD, Ohio – The end of the regular season couldn’t come quickly enough for Miami.
The RedHawks lost their finale, 5-2 to No. 15 North Dakota on Saturday as they will limp into the playoffs with an eight-game winless streak and one victory in their last 13.
After a scoreless first period, the Fighting Sioux took the lead 2:34 into the second period when Ludvig Hoff stole the puck from Miami’s Conor Lemirande and threaded a pass to Chris Wilkie, who was wide open in the slot and wired a shot home.
The RedHawks (9-18-7) tied it on the power play when Grant Hutton fired a shot from just inside the blue line, and after goalie Cam Johnson made the initial save, Kiefer Sherwood slammed home the rebound from the side of the net with 14:51 left in the middle stanza.
UND (18-14-3) went ahead for good with 4:24 left in that frame when Tucker Poolman took the puck from along the boards, skated from behind the net to the top of the crease and buried a backhander just under the crossbar.
On a 3-on-2 break, Poolman fed Trevor Olson in the slot, and Olson found the net to make it 3-1 with 15:42 left in regulation.
Miami did trim the lead to one when a blue line blast by Chaz Switzer tricked through Johnson with 11:12 to play for Switzer’s first career goal.
But 35 seconds later, it was Poolman again, scoring off a Dixon Bowen feed on a 2-on-1, giving North Dakota a 4-2 lead.
Bowen sealed it with 3:30 to play with an empty netter.
Sherwood finished with a goal and an assist, accomplishing that for the second straight game as he ended the weekend with a team-best four points.
The RedHawks were limited to 11 shots, their lowest total in the Cady Arena era and one off the team record low of 10, which Miami ended up with twice, most recently in 2000 vs. Michigan.
Miami had already locked up a seven seed in the NCHC Tournament, which starts next weekend. The RedHawks will travel to Minnesota for a best-of-3 series in the opening round against third-ranked and second-seeded Minnesota-Duluth.
The games will be on Friday, Saturday and – if necessary – Sunday. Miami needs to win that tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament.
OXFORD, Ohio – For Miami, PairWise doesn’t matter, seeding has been wrapped up and the RedHawks even know their first-round opponent in the NCHC Tournament.
That means after Friday’s 3-2 loss to North Dakota, Saturday’s regular season finale will be little more than a glorified exhibition.
For official purposes that is. Miami can certainly conjure up reasons to take its last game at Cady Arena in 2016-17 seriously.
Trying to gain momentum heading into a brutal road trip – the same one that saw the RedHawks’ season end last year – would be the most obvious.
But it’s been no secret Miami would open the NCHC Tournament on the road for weeks now, and the RedHawks still went winless the entire month of February and have opened March 0-1.
Next week’s opponent, Minnesota-Duluth, swept Miami to end the 2015-16 season and just went 1-0-1 vs. the RedHawks last weekend. The Bulldogs are ranked second in Division I.
There is the legacy play. Miami has won at least 12 games in every season under Coach Enrico Blasi, and his worst two seasons from a wins standpoint were Years 1 and 3 (1999-2000 and 2001-02), when the team won 13 and 12 games, respectively.
But that was with recruits from the previous administration. With his own players, Blasi has won at least 15 games each season, although two of the previous three campaigns have seen the RedHawks win exactly that many with sub-.500 winning percentages.
So Miami needs to win on Saturday and advance to Minneapolis just to tie Blasi’s low-water mark in terms of wins.
To be fair, the RedHawks have tied seven times, so essentially that have 12½ wins. But the team’s .379 winning percentage is 47th out of 60 Division I teams.
And hey, the NCHC’s lone knock – right or wrong – is the lack of an identity and natural rivals. North Dakota was one known quantity when this league was formed. The Native-American-turned-avion-nicknamed team has appeared in more championships than any team in Division I (13) and is second in titles (8).
Oh yeah, UND won the national championship in 2016. Can Miami possibly get up to play this team on its home ice, even in a down year?
Because the RedHawks didn’t do that in their penultimate home game of the season. North Dakota had seven shots in the first four minutes, and if it hadn’t been for Miami goalie Ryan Larkin, it could’ve been 2-0 before many found their seats at Cady Arena.
The RedHawks had their moments on Friday but there was zero sustained pressure. On the other side, the Other Hawks controlled the puck in the offensive zone for shift after shift.
Shots on goal are not the be-all, end-all of hockey stats, but when a team is outshot by a 2-to-1 margin or greater in all three periods, that’s not a coincidence. The SOG by period was 16-5, 15-7 and 10-4.
There’s the cliché that winning is contagious. Well, so is not winning, and Miami has failed to secure a victory in 11 of its last 12 games.
A win on Saturday won’t fix the RedHawks’ seed, or their PairWise or even do much to correct their anemic record, but it could point them in the right direction heading into the playoffs.
– Time to dispel the “we’re young” excuse for Miami’s woeful performance this season. North Dakota has eight freshman and 11 sophomores – that’s 19 underclassmen, using the first two years of college definition – and five juniors and two seniors. One of those seniors is a goalie who has logged 18 career games.
– If we’ve learning one positive thing about a player this season, it’s that Gordie Green’s work ethic is top notch. It’s easy to get off your game when the team you play for rivals the Jacksonville Jaguars in terms of winning percentage, but he has thrived while the team has done the opposite. Green has three goals and five assists his last eight games, and Miami only has 19 markers in that span, meaning Green has factored into 42 percent of those. He even laid a player out on Friday and was assessed a bogus charging penalty even though he neither lined his opponent up nor left his feet.
– Impressed with Carter Johnson, who made a great move and just missed the net in the second period and had another quality scoring chance in the third period. Kudos also to Zach LaValle, who has continued to work as hard as anyone this season resulting in eight points in his last 16 games.
– With Louie Belpedio out, it was Josh Melnick who met with officials and UND captain Gage Ausmus during warm-ups. Very telling.
– BoB is not big on criticizing officiating, but seriously, in this game, 7-to-2 on power plays including an extended 4-on-3 that led to the decisive goal? It was a chippy game, no doubt, but come on. That said, UND made the most of those opportunities, outshooting the RedHawks, 17-2 on the man advantage and scoring a shorthanded goals on one of Miami’s chances.
– To complete the thought on penalties, Grant Hutton’s cross check to the head of a player laying in Miami’s crease wasn’t the smartest play of the season, and Conor Lemirande took three minors, eventually resulting in him being relegated to the bench for the balance of the third period. North Dakota a was better at getting under the RedHawks’ skin and watching MU get called for the retaliation.
– With this being the first time seeing the Fighting Hawks live this season, their skating and puck control stood out as two of their top attributes. They also move the puck extremely well on the power play. Hard to believe they were just two games over .500 entering this weekend. As usual, their fans traveled well, as this was the loudest any opposing fan base has been in this rink all season.
– With the regular season wrapping up, it’s about time we consider hanging numbers of more recent members of the Miami hockey clique on the brick wall at Cady Arena. For now, Andy Greene and Ryan Jones certainly seem worthy of having their respective 23 and 26 mounted in the Zamboni end.
– Louie Belpedio was in the concourse wearing a knee brace. Sounds like he’s just week-to-week, but unfortunately for Miami, do-or-die mode starts next week for this team. Obviously his return would help tremendously.
FORWARDS: C-. Just 12 shots from this group. The LaValle-Sherwood-Green line was undoubtedly Miami’s best. Overall, this corps wasn’t particularly impressive on defense as well.
DEFENSEMEN: C-. The listed pairings bore little resemblance to how these blueliners were actually implemented in game. Scott Dornbrock had a decent game overall but coughed up the puck for the decisive breakaway goal. Other than an errant turnover, Grant Frederic played one of his better games.
GOALTENDING: B+. Again, when a goalie faces 41 shots and many are Grade-A chances, three goals against is a pretty good night. Larkin kept Miami in the game by stopping the first seven shots he faced in the opening four minutes. Other than arguably the breakaway, there was little he could’ve done about any of his goals against.
LINEUP CHANGES: For the third straight game, it was Alex Alger (F), Bryce Hatten (D) and Belpedio sitting. Hatten has been scratched for 15 of the last 16 games, so if Belpedio returns, it would be the expense of one of Friday’s starters on defense. With his forward corps relatively healthy, it appears this 12 from this game will be the group Blasi heads into the tournament with.
OXFORD, Ohio – Miami officially locked itself into the seventh seed for the NCHC Tournament.
Consecutive No. 15 North Dakota goals late in the second period helped send the RedHawks to a 3-2 loss at Cady Arena on Friday.
Miami will travel to Minnesota-Duluth next weekend for a best-of-3 series. The RedHawks, who extended their winless streak to seven games (0-6-1), are 1-9-2 in their last 12.
MU (9-17-7) went ahead 7:38 into the first period. Gordie Green had an initial pass denied, but the puck came back to him and he ultimately fed it to Zach LaValle across the blue line. LaValle backhanded a pass through the slot, and Green advanced it to a wide-open Kiefer Sherwood, who rammed it home from the inside edge of the faceoff circle.
The Fighting Hawks (17-14-3) tied it on the power play with 2:11 left in the first period when Rhett Gardner connected on a pass to Chris Gardner in the slot. Gardner’s point-blank shot was denied, but Ludwig Hoff shoveled the rebound in on the backhand.
The net was dislodged during the play, but after a lengthy review it was determined that the puck crossed the goal line first.
Miami again took a one-goal lead midway through the second period. Kiefer Sherwood carried the puck through the neutral zone behind the North Dakota net before curling and connecting with Green. Green’s initial shot was blocked, but the rebound came back to Green, who stuffed it in the short side.
Just 3:18 later, the Fighting Hawks again evened the score at two on a 4-on-3, as Tyson Jost whipped a wrist shot just under the crossbar from the slot.
North Dakota took its first lead of the game with 1:40 left in that stanza when Trevor Olson stripped RedHawks defenseman Scott Dornbrock, went in for a breakaway and beat Miami goal Ryan Larkin on the glove side.
The Fighting Hawks limited the RedHawks to four third-period shots and 16 for the game while racking up 41 themselves.
Green and Sherwood finished with a goal and an assist each. It was Green’s second consecutive multi-point game, as he now has eight points in his last eight games (3-5-8).
Sherwood found the net for just the second time in 13 games but in his last nine contests he has recorded eight points.
Miami dropped to 31st in the PairWise rankings and has 23 points in NCHC play. If the RedHawks had swept in this series, they could’ve improved to fifth or sixth in the standings.
MU is 0-6-1 in its last seven games in Duluth, and last season the RedHawks were swept there in the NCHC Tournament, ending their season.
Miami wraps up its regular season against North Dakota at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday in a game televised on Fox College Sports (DirecTV Ch. 608).