ERIE, Pa. – Through four games, Miami has beaten the teams it should’ve beaten and lost to the team ranked in the top five of the national polls.
The RedHawks sit at 3-1 two weeks into the season, having swept Alabama-Huntsville twice at home and shut out Mercyhurst in the third-place game of the Ice Breaker on Saturday. Their blemish is a 4-0 loss to No. 5 Providence in Friday’s semifinal round here.
Miami outscored UAH and Mercyhurst, 12-1, an encouraging sign that the RedHawks have blown out those teams since MU has 11 new players on its roster.
And really Miami played better than the final score indicated in the loss to the Friars.
Considering how the RedHawks’ off-season began, this quote-unquote rebuild could’ve been a whole lot worse.
Miami will get plenty of true litmus tests against teams of its caliber, but its start has been encouraging.
— 6-feet-7 defenseman Andrew Sinard made his collegiate debut on Saturday, and he handled his start well. He was listed as the seventh defenseman on Miami’s lineup card and appeared cool when the puck ended up on his stick while holding his own on D.
He threaded a pass to Jonathan Gruden that nearly resulted in a goal as well.
“He handled himself pretty well,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. “He’s a big boy, he’s got good reach and he made a nice play on the back door to Gruds that just kind of got away from Gruds a little bit, otherwise it was a tap-in, but he saw some limited ice but I thought he did a good job.”
— Sinard and Chaz Switzer made their 2018-19 debuts on Saturday as Miami dressed seven defensemen. River Rymsha sat for the first time this season. Switzer was banged up in preseason but logged 55 games his freshman and sophomore campaigns.
— After this weekend, eight blueliners have dressed in four games – Grant Hutton, Alec Mahalak, Rourke Russell, Brayden Crowder, Derek Daschke, Rymsha, Switzer and Sinard. The first five have skated in all four games, Rymsha has played in three games, Switzer and Sinard made their 2018-19 debuts on Saturday.
The fact Miami has trouble getting some of these guys in the lineup speaks to its depth.
“We’re pleased with that, and obviously we’ve got to keep going and keep pushing guys to get better,” Blasi said. “We want our guys to play their best every night, I think the depth and everyone buying into that helps.”
— Karch Bachman leads the team with three goals, including a breakaway tally and eventual game winner in the first minute on Saturday.
He forfeited some of his gold star when he took a spearing major and was assessed a game misconduct in the second period, but the Florida Panthers draftee has clearly found another gear early this season.
Finishing chances was an issue at times in 2017-18 but his shooting percentage is .200 in a small sample size this season.
Asked whether his improved play was a product of confidence, Blasi said “you let me know if you figure it out.”
— So playing the Canadian and U.S. anthems prior to games is apparently a thing for Mercyhurst, so we heard both each night at Erie Insurance Arena.
— Somehow missed this in the off-season but teams are allowed to dress a 19th skater this season. On Saturday it was Sinard, on Friday it was forward Noah Jordan. That was extremely helpful for Miami on Saturday since Bachman was sent to the dressing room early, and the RedHawks also benefitted in their opener when Carter Johnson was cheap-shotted.
— If there was a penalty killing first star for the weekend, it would go to Brian Hawkinson. The freshman is proving himself quite an agitator and is earning tons of PK time with his defensive ability.
— Attendance was listed at 2,387 for Saturday, but there were fewer than 500 for each of Miami’s games, including the third-place game against Mercyhurst, which is located in Erie. As many MU grads as there are living in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, there should’ve been more RedHawks fans in the seats.
OUT (3): Louie Belpedio (graduated), Scott Dornbrock (graduated), Bryce Hatten.
IN (4): Derek Daschke, Andrew Sinard, Brayden Crowder, River Rymsha (graduate student).
RETURNING (5): Sr. – Grant Hutton; Jrs. – Grant Frederic, Chaz Switzer; Sos. – Alec Mahalak, Rourke Russell.
NOTES: Four of Miami’s starting six defensemen are back from last season, but the two who graduated were key contributors on the blue line.
Louie Belpedio was team captain for two seasons and Scott Dornbrock logged 139 career games, but Miami adds four to its blueline corps and will have nine D-men to battle for six starting slots each night.
“I think we’re a lot deeper, bigger, stronger,” Miami head coach Enrico Blasi said. “I think whe you add some of the size that we did and just sheer bodies, it’s going to be equally hard to come up with six (starters) on a game-to-game basis.”
All-planet senior Grant Hutton will share the captaincy with Melnick after leading college hockey in defenseman goals with 13 and tying for the Division I lead in power play goals by a blueliner (8).
He has also been arguably the team’s best shutdown D-man the past three seasons.
Alec Mahalak dressed for 36 of 37 games as a freshman and seemed to gain confidence in every facet as last season progressed, finishing 1-8-9. His size (5-feet-9, 165 pounds) worked against him defensively at times but he proved he can make smart plays, carry and pass the puck.
Rourke Russell is a shutdown defenseman who was in the lineup 34 times his rookie season. He got tougher to play against later in the season, blocking 51 shots, and Chaz Switzer, who played 32 games, showed improvement in his second campaign with Miami and finished with 47 blocks.
Grant Frederic only saw the ice 15 times but also seemed more confident in his second go-around, using his big body to defend more. If Frederic continues to make the case for a lineup spot as well as the four other returning blueliners, that would leave just one spot for four freshmen.
And Derek Daschke is considered the defensive blue chipper of this incoming class. He has logged 232 USHL games in four seasons and went 8-21-29 in 2017-18. The 6-feet-2 blueliner played under associate head coach Peter Mannino in Chicago en route to a Clark Cup title two seasons ago.
At 6-feet-6, Brayden Crowder will join Michael Findorff and Brian Sipotz among the tallest Miami D-men.
Andrew Sinard will also join that list of trees on the RedHawks’ blue line, as he is also 6-6 and listed at 185 pounds. He did not score a goal in 96 NAHL games but did pick up 21 assists in that span.
Dartmouth graduate River Rymsha joins Miami for his senior season. He is also a big body at 6-3, 205 pounds, and dressed for 28 games and picked up a goal and two helpers at that Ivy League institution last year.
“So we obviously added some size with Sinard and Crowder, and those are two guys that are really difficult to play against, from what we’ve seen out of them in practice, and a guy in Daschke who can really move the puck,” Hutton said. “All of the guys that have come in on defense have made an impact and an impression so far in practice, and obviously we have our returners that we’re going to look to for experience and help show the younger guys the way. We’ve all had the privilege of having guys like that in our freshman years that we’ve looked up to and learned a lot from. I’m excited about the group.”
This corps helped Miami hold opponents to 27.2 shots per game in 2017-18, but too many were high quality. They also need to help tighten up a penalty kill unit that killed just 78.0 percent of its chances, ranking 46th in the NCAA.
Miami entered 2017-18 with just three seniors, but its 2018-19 roster features 10 first-year RedHawks.
One is an NHL draftee – Johnny Gruden was selected by the Ottawa Senators in the fourth round last month.
Of the 10, five are forwards, four are defensemen plus one goalie. That brings Miami’s full roster to 15 wings and centers, nine blueliners and three netminders.
Two key names were missing from the RedHawks’ roster: Fs Matej Pekar and Ryan Savage.
Pekar was committed to UNO but switched to Miami this spring, following assistant coach Peter Mannino. He was drafted one spot ahead of Gruden, No. 94, by the Buffalo Sabres.
Since this is a sensitive subject that could negatively affect Pekar, BoB will not report any speculation about if or when he will join the team.
Savage, son of former NHL forward and RedHawks standout Brian Savage, signed an NLI prior to 2017-18 but will play another season in juniors after going 8-7-15 in 48 USHL games. He will join the RedHawks in 2019-20.
A glance at the newest official members of the Miami hockey community:
71 JONATHAN GRUDEN
From: Farmington Hills, Mich.
2017-18 stats/team: USNDT, 61 GP, 28-32-60.
Notes: Gruden has the best credentials of any incoming player. He was drafted by Ottawa 95th overall in June and kept a point-a-game place for the USNDT and posted 15 goals and 19 assists in 25 games vs. USHL opponents.
His father, John Gruden, is a former NHL defenseman who logged 92 games over parts of six seasons with Boston, Ottawa and Washington. He is now the coach of OHL Hamilton, which makes Jonathan Gruden choosing the college path interesting.
In addition to his points production, he has impressed with his two-way play, and he also can play multiple forward positions. Coach Enrico Blasi really likes versatility.
Where he fits in this season: There’s rarely a sure thing in college hockey, but barring injury Gruden will almost certainly skate on one of the top two pairings this season and should excel.
The RedHawks will need his offensive talents, as six forwards from 2017-18 have moved on.
18 MONTE GRAHAM
From: Hanover, Mass.
2017-18 stats/team: Muskegon (USHL), 57 GP, 10-15-25.
Notes: The former Boston College commit (actually still on the Eagles’ 2018-19 roster!) is the cousin of former NHLer Tony Amonte and current Minnesota Wild center Charlie Coyle.
Graham has already played three full seasons in the USHL, logging 173 games and notching 21 goals and 36 assists. He is known for his skating, and he racked up 95 PIMs last season.
While he went from eight points to 24 in his first two USHL seasons, he climbed just one point to 25 in 2017-18.
Where he fits in this season: Not a big offensive guy in juniors, but Graham reached the 10-goal mark for the first time last season, so he may slide into a starting role.
Miami only has nine returning forwards, so opportunities for ice time should be ample for rookies up front.
14 NOAH JORDAN
From: Toronto, Ont.
2017-18 stats/team: North York (OJHL), 47 GP, 18-20-38.
Notes: Jordan played four seasons for St. Michael’s of the Ontario Junior Hockey League then was back in that league for his overage season in 2017-18. He netted 18 goals and dished for 20 assists in 47 games with North York and also tied for the team lead in playoff points with 12 in 11 games.
Jordan is 21, and only 20 Division I players are taller, according to College Hockey News. Originally a Quinnipiac commit, Jordan switched to Miami in April.
Where he fits in this season: The OJHL is considered a slight step above the NAHL, so we’ll see how that offensive success translates in the NCAA.
With Conor Lemirande graduating, a player exhibiting a similar style could be welcome for the RedHawks.
19 BRIAN HAWKINSON
From: Aurora, Colo.
2017-18 stats/team: Tri-City (USHL), 58 GP, 6-10-16.
Notes: Hawkinson has played the past three seasons with USHL Tri-City, where he was team captain last season. He was also teammates with Graham the duo’s first two juniors campaigns.
Known as a do-anything-to-win type, he enters 2018-19 with 164 games of regular-season experience in the USHL. He notched just 10 points in his first two seasons combined in that league, but he stepped up with a 6-10-16 line last year.
Tri-City lists him at 5-10, 175 while other sites have him at 5-9-146.
Where he fits in this season: Hard to say because smaller forwards are usually known for their offense and Hawkinson is more of a grit guy.
A ton of USHL experience should make for a smooth transition to the college game.
25 SCOTT CORBETT
From: Carmel, Ind.
2017-18 stats/team: Dubuque (USHL), 59 GP, 6-18-24.
Notes: Another older player with ample USHL experience, Corbett started his Major Juniors career in the NAHL but has been in the U the past season and a half.
The dual citizen committed to Miami last week, becoming the third player from the northern Indianapolis suburb to join the RedHawks in the past dozen years, with Cameron Schilling and Grant Hutton being the others.
Corbett was solid in his first full season in the USHL, going 6-18-24 in 59 games with Dubuque. He has good size for a forward competing in the ultra-physical NCHC.
Where he fits in this season: He hasn’t been a big points producer in juniors but Miami hasn’t gotten much production from its third and fourth lines in recent seasons so he may have the opportunity to thrive.
Again, with nine returning forwards, starting slots will be there for the taking so Corbett and the four other newbies up front should get long looks this fall.
13 DEREK DASCHKE
From: Troy, Mich.
2017-18 stats/team: Chicago (USHL), 56 GP, 8-21-29.
Notes: Peter Mannino was Daschke’s coach for Clark Cup-winning Chicago of the USHL this spring.
Daschke was committed to Nebraska-Omaha, where Mannino was an assistant, but when Mannino was hired by Miami this off-season, the blueliner switched his commitment to the RedHawks.
His commitment is definitely in the top five news items from this program this off-season. Daschke has played in the USHL since 2014 and he was the captain of that championship Steel team last season.
He has a laser of a shot and found the net eight times last season, adding 21 assists.
Where he fits in this season: It’s hard to imagine, barring injury, Daschke not contributing right away.
He’s big, he’s experienced, he can shoot the puck and he’s joining a team that has just five returning D-men.
4 ANDREW SINARD
From: Brentwood, Tenn.
2017-18 stats/team: Aberdeen (NAHL), 58 GP, 0-19-19.
Notes: Sinard is a shut-down defenseman with a huge reach, and he also picked up 19 assists last season with NAHL Aberdeen.
He started his Major Juniors career with USHL Cedar Rapids but has been with the Wings since. Sinard does not have a goal in 96 juniors games, but he has impressed with his shut-down prowess.
Where he fits in this season: The only two similar players in recent Miami history are Brian Sipotz and Michael Findorff, and neither were full-time starters, although Sipotz played six seasons with Chicago of the AHL.
We’ll see if Sinard can buck that trend.
3 BRAYDEN CROWDER
From: Sudbury, Ont.
2017-18 stats/team: Muskegon (USHL), 55 GP, 5-14-19.
Notes: Like Daschke, Crowder was also committed to Nebraska-Omaha but switched to Miami after Mannino was brought in as an assistant.
Crowder left Canada two seasons ago, and after staying in the NAHL in 2016-17, he jumped to the USHL and went 5-14-19 with Muskegon, finishing plus-11.
Miami will be his 10th team in six seasons, so the blueliner should welcome the stability. His father, Troy, was a tough guy who logged 150 NHL games over seven seasons, amassing 433 PIMs to go along with his nine goals and seven assists.
Where he fits in this season: A 6-6 defenseman who scores five goals in the USHL is very intriguing, especially since he was 18 when last season started, and big guys typically develop later.
81 RIVER RYMSHA
From: Huntington Woods, Mich.
2017-18 stats/team: Dartmouth (NCAA), 28 GP, 1-2-3.
Notes: Like former Miamian Marc Hagel, Rymsha completed his degree with a year of eligibility remaining due to an injury that cost him the majority of a season, so he will work on his graduate studies at Miami.
Rymsha, who will not turn 22 until next month, played just 63 games at Dartmouth and scored three goals accompanied by five assists.
He is known as a physical D-man with a high hockey IQ. Rymsha also boasts a strong hockey pedigree, as his father, Andy, played six games with Quebec of the NHL and his brother is a Los Angeles Kings prospect.
Where he fits in this season: He has not played more than 28 games in an NCAA season and has just eight points, so it’s unlikely he goes Grant Hutton this season.
But another steady blueliner with plenty of college experience can’t hurt on a team that will start the season with five D-men who are freshmen or sophomores.
32 JORDAN UHELSKI
From: Burton, Mich.
2017-18 stats/team: Alabama-Huntsville (NCAA), 32 GP, 12-18-2, 3.05, .907.
Notes: Another fifth-year senior situation, as Uhelski was a major contributor in net for Alabama-Huntsville the past two seasons.
He played 55 games with the Chargers the past two seasons, posting a .907 save percentage and recording 18 wins.
Where he fits in this season: Chase Munroe and Grant Valentine were expected to vie for the backup job this season, but Munroe is not listed on Miami’s roster and Uhelski is.
Boasting a quality resume, Uhelski could move into the No. 2 spot and push Larkin for starts.