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Preview: Cornell at Miami

WHO: No. 5 Cornell Big Red (9-1-0) at Miami RedHawks (6-6-2).

WHEN: Friday, 7:35 p.m.; Saturday–7:05 p.m.

WHERE: Cady Arena, Oxford, Ohio.

TV: None.

CORNELL RADIO: WHCU-AM (870, WHCU-FM (95.5), Ithaca, N.Y.

NOTES: Following a four-year run of mediocrity, Cornell is a rejuvenated hockey team.

The Big Red were a force the first few years of this century, advancing to the NCAA Tournament seven of 11 seasons starting in 2001.

But Following that run, Cornell won no more than 17 games four straight campaigns and did not compete on college hockey’s biggest stage.

That trend reversed quickly, as 23rd-year coach Mike Schafer’s squad won 21 games last season and after a 9-1 start this fall, it has has a .722 winning percentage since the start of 2016-17.

Cornell moved up two places after wins over Niagara and Boston University last week, and its lone loss this season was to then-No. 8 Clarkson on Nov. 18.

The Big Red have also beaten Quinnipiac and Harvard this season, so their early-season resume is legitimate.

And this is a team built to win for a while, as only one senior (Trevor Yates) has played all 10 games, and in addition to Yates, who is 7-4-11, a freshman and sophomore round out the top three in team scoring.

Yates leads the team in goals and points, and Morgan Barron and Jeff Malott both have three goals and six assists for nine points. Barron is the rookie, Malott the sophomore.

Anthony Angello and Mitch Vanderlaan have two goals and five assists each, and Beau Starett is 1-5-6. All are juniors.

Cornell’s defense corps has scored 11 goals but combined for just 13 assists. Alec McCrea leads Big Red blueliners with four goals, but he has just one assist.

Defensemen Brendan Smith (no relation to the former Miami F/D of the same name) and Yanni Kaldis have five points each.

This blue line corps may not rack up the points, but it has shut down its opponents in the shot column. Cornell allows just 23.6 shots per game.

Freshman Matthew Galajda has started all 10 games in net for the Big Red, going 8-1-0 with a 2.04 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. Senior Hayden Stewart pitched 40 minutes of relief earlier this season and is 1-0, 1.50, .929.

Cornell is sixth in Division I scoring at 3.60 goals per game and third in goals against (2.00). The Big Red also rank in the top 20 on both the power play and penalty kill.

These teams have met six times, but none have come in Oxford. Each team has won three times.

Last season’s series vs. Cornell was less than memorable for the RedHawks. They gave up three unanswered third-period goals in a 4-3 loss in the opener and falling behind by two early in a 2-1 defeat in the finale.

Melnick

Miami’s Josh Melnick (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Miami’s other loss to the Big Red came in the opening round of the 1997 NCAA Tournament.

The RedHawks are riding a three-game unbeaten streak (2-0-1) and are 4-2 in their last six home games.

Josh Melnick recorded three points vs. Cornell last season, and Carson Meyer scored once in each game.

This is the last non-conference series of 2017-18 for Miami and the team’s last home series of the calendar year. The RedHawks will host just one more series prior to February and have only eight home games on their slate after this weekend.

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Analysis: That dreaded 6-on-5

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – Ahh, 6-on-5 hockey.

Earlier this month it helped Miami tie that Colorado College home game in regulation, which eventually turned into a win.

But over the past eight years it has largely been RedHawk kryptonite, including Saturday’s 2-2 tie at the Slater Family Ice Arena in which Bowling Green scored the equalizer with 37.8 seconds left in the third period.

It was also the second time in 2017-18 Miami surrendered a decision-altering goal against in the final minute. Providence beat the RedHawks by scoring with 0.9 seconds left opening weekend.

An inability to close out wins is a legitimate criticism of Miami teams the past few years, but to the team’s credit it runs 6-on-5 drills all the time in practice.

Is it coaching? Is it heart? Is it just bad luck? Is it a statistical anomaly? Hard to say, but it’s definitely real.

On the flip side, there were 13 goals scored this weekend, and the RedHawks had eight of them in a road series against a team ranked in the top one-fourth of the PairWise.

They went 1-0-1 on Friday and Saturday, their best road series record since sweeping Nebraska-Omaha in late January of 2016. That was 22 months ago.

Overall Miami deserves a grade of ‘B’ for the weekend, but it would be tough to finish one or two spots out of the NCAA Tournament field because the RedHawks saw a win flipped to a tie because of yet another extra-attacker goal.

Other thoughts…

– Here were go with another edition of meaningless-3-on-3-exhibitions-suck. Regular readers have heard this rant before and can move on to the next long dash.

But seriously, can anyone please tell me why, for the love of God, we’re risking injury to some of the best Division I hockey athletes, for a demonstration between two non-conference opponents? It was 2-2 after the requisite five-minute overtime. So the game is officially a tie. Just leave it at that.

For whatever reason the teams played a five-minute 3-on-3 afterward, and while it was announced that the game had been completed, few on or off the ice got the memo. With a game story to complete on this end, following a mad ending to the actual game – which was highly entertaining, by the way – there was zero attention given to the skills competition on the deteriorating ice that was 30 minutes of game play old. Apparently BGSU won that, because the team and fans celebrated like they won Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. In reality it meant absolutely nothing.

College hockey wants it both ways in this situation. It detests ties, so it creates “decisions” through artificial means like these. But the “wins” are utterly meaningless, and the process does a disservice to its fans.

We asked about going to a 4-on-4 for overtime like the NHL did, and the NCAA’s position – according to a conversation with NCHC commissioner and NCAA rules committee member Josh Fenton a couple years ago – is that college hockey believes overtime should be played by the same rules as regulation, and that means five players a side.

If conferences choose to alter rules beyond those five minutes, they may do so, but for NCAA purposes a game needs to be 5-on-5 for 65 minutes. After that, the league can hold an arm-wrestling competition at center ice to determine a “winner” from a points perspective if it so chooses.

OK. Respect that argument. Don’t agree, but respect it.

But the reality of that position is few games are resolved in five minutes of 5×5. It was 22 percent in the last sample studied on this end. In the NHL, which uses 4×4, that percentage jumps to between 40 and 50, depending on the season.

That leaves 78 percent of games that are tied through three periods, and the NCAA feels a compulsory need to generate a non-tie outcome at the expense of legitimacy.

Please, either break all ties by sane means or cut down the chance of ties and leave the occasional one alone.

– Love the weekend series at the in-state rival and hope these two can play four a year, since Ohio State has decided to bail on its annual home-and-home with Miami. The RedHawks and Bowling Green are less than three hours distance driving, and the teams can drive back on Saturday nights to cut out on the expense of a second game-night hotel stay.

– Staff at BGSU was top notch. Lots of Miami fans were in attendance, and the games got chippy, but never saw or heard about any problems.

Miami’s Louie Belpedio (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

– Ryan Larkin’s save percentage is not where he would want it, but he had a solid weekend. He faced a lot of high-percentage shots and stopped most.

– Grant Hutton and Louie Belpedio are giving the RedHawks a dominant defensive tandem it has not had in some time. One wonders if Belpedio was ever truly healthy in 2016-17 and Hutton seemingly gets better each shift.

– Didn’t think the penalty shot should’ve been awarded. It was close though. Kiefer Sherwood did all he could to prevent the goal and did commit a penalty, but it should’ve just been a two-minute power play.

GRADES

FORWARDS: C-. Only two points from this entire corps: Josh Melnick’s goal for his tip-in and Gordie Green’s assist for an outlet pass that hit Belpedio in stride, as he crossed the blue line and blasted one home. Carson Meyer has to stop taking penalties – he had 12 more PIM in this one.

DEFENSEMEN: B. Belpedio fired the shots that resulted in both Miami goals. Hutton picked up an assist. Both were stellar defensively. This group was shaky in the first period but got better as the game progressed.

GOALTENDING: B+. Larkin faced a lot of quality chances as usual, and the only goals he allowed were on a penalty shot and a well-placed wrister from the high slot on a 6-on-5.

LINEUP CHANGES: There was only one: Casey Gilling was back in the lineup, sending Carter Johnson to the bench. It was the first game missed by Gilling all season.

Analysis: Fighting major sparked Miami win

OXFORD, Ohio – In team sports, sometimes an emotional spark is needed.

Miami, which was 0-9-2 vs. Minnesota-Duluth the past two-plus seasons, was losing again on Saturday when its galvanizing moment occurred.

The RedHawks scored the next three goals and eradicated their winless streak vs. the Bulldogs, holding on for a 3-2 win at Cady Arena.

A quick stage set: UMD is an excellent team that has a reputation for playing chippy hockey, playing on the edge, sometimes over the edge.

Remember that one of the first times these teams met in Oxford, Chris Joyaux squared off after the final whistle with three dozen skaters and a handful of goalies on the ice.

Miami defenseman Chaz Switzer (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

So on Saturday, Minnesota-Duluth took a late poke at Miami goalie Ryan Larkin after a puck was clearly frozen.

Chaz Switzer took exception and pushed another player behind the net, and the Bulldogs were not called.

Minutes later, UMD took a run at Larkin, and again it was Switzer coming to his goalie’s defense, using offender Avery Peterson as a human punching bag before officials intervened.

Switzer was given five minutes for fighting and a game disqualification penalty, which carries a one-game suspension. He left the ice to a standing ovation by fans that had little to cheer about to that point of the weekend.

And here’s where hockey and the attitudes of many its fans/players/coaches/etc., deviates from the majority of other team sports.

The hate mail may roll in from those in other sports’ camps and the college-hockey-is-pure-and-fighting-is-barbaric-crowd, and that’s OK. So here goes.

Not only is Switzer a stud for what he did, it’s the officials’ fault he’s going to be suspended.

Miami goalie Ryan Larkin (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Larkin is a RedHawks star. Anyone who knows anything about UMD hockey knows its players are old-school WCHA all the way. That means ultra-physical play, after-the-whistle confrontations and yes, the occasional fisticuffs.

If a dumb fan sitting at a word processor knows this, certainly NCHC officials do, right?

So when Larkin gets hit the first time, you assess a penalty. If you don’t really think it warrants a Miami power play, you penalize the violator and Switzer two minutes each.

That sends the message that we’re watching and goalie running will be punished.

You do that, the second incident and resulting fighting major/suspension almost certainly doesn’t happen.

Even if you blow that, there have been plenty of times when players in Switzer’s situation have just received a game misconduct than the DQ, which carries an automatic suspension.

The officials didn’t have Larkin’s back, so Switzer did.

Good for Switzer. If it wasn’t for players like Switzer, the NCAA would have 60 teams like Michigan who take out players’ knees and cross-check players in the head with relatively few repercussions.

Miami dressed seven defensemen for this game, so the team went in able to absorb the loss of a blueliner.

Switzer is a five or six defenseman who struggled at times last season and has stepped up his play significantly this fall. He had 294 penalty minutes in 121 games of juniors, so clearly he’s no stranger to extracurriculars.

Don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth, but it’s very, very likely Switzer earned ample respect from his teammates. He certainly made a lot of fans in his home rink.

The on-ice results were obvious in the final two periods.

Coach Enrico Blasi wasn’t asked about the incident (seriously, the event that changed the game never made it into the presser forum?), and while he wisely did not address the incident he acknowledged the team struggled in the first period but played much better the final 40 minutes.

Through the years, RedHawks teams rarely cross the line (think that was the first fighting major since Alden Hirschfeld seven years ago?), but they typically are prepared to defend themselves when their opponents do.

UMD took a couple of late shots at Miami’s goalie in an attempt to intimidate its southern Ohio rival, and it backfired.

Other thoughts…

– Now onto far less controversial topics. Despite the split, Miami was the better team this weekend and certainly didn’t seem overmatched by a ranked Bulldogs team.

Friday’s loss aside, it was a good weekend for Miami, which didn’t win its fifth game in 2016-17 until New Year’s Eve.

– Carson Meyer broke out with goals in both ends of the series after scoring just one the first 10 games. Meyer heating up means good things for the Miami offense.

– Same goes for Ryan Siroky, who scored on his only shot of the night for his second marker in three games. He had two more big hits on the weekend and has become a very solid third liner that no one wants to play against.

– Karch Bachman picked up another assist and has already matched his point total of 2016-17 with an identical 2-4-6 line. He was the only forward to finish plus-2 in this game.

– Despite those forwards stepping up, MU is averaging 1.8 goals over its last five games. Up next is Bowling Green, which is 11th in the NCAA in goals allowed per game.

– UMD had 10 skaters take faceoffs. That might be an NCAA record. Only two had winning records, so perhaps the Bulldogs are auditioning their forwards? But still, 10 skaters?

GRADES

FORWARDS: B. With 11 forwards, there were a lot of different line combinations. Despite the odd number, the overall chemistry of this corps was good. Josh Melnick and Gordie Green put on a show with their goal, passing back and forth before Melnick buried a wrister for the eventual game winner. This group was solid defensively all weekend as well.

DEFENSEMEN: B. Believe it or not, 29 shots allowed is the fourth-highest opponent total of the season for Miami. As mentioned above, the forwards chipped in on D, and the D was strong on D, thus the ‘B’. Many of those 29 shots were right at Larkin, who swallowed them up for easy saves. Grant Frederic played just two of the first eight games but has dressed for three of the last four and has been pretty much mistake-free.

GOALTENDING: B. UMD’s first goal was a rapid-fire missile that Larkin had no chance on. Maybe Larkin could’ve gloved the Bulldogs’ second shot, but he stopped 27 shots and as usual allowed few second chances.

LINEUP CHANGES: With Frederic in as the seventh defenseman, F Christian Mohs was scratched. Zach LaValle sat for the second consecutive game, and Willie Knierim played in his third straight. Frederic should play at least the front end of the BGSU series with Switzer suspended.

Miami finally ends skid vs. UMD

OXFORD, Ohio – Of all the sounds at a hockey rink, the final horn was the sweetest for Miami.

The RedHawks led by two with under two minutes left but held on – literally by inches – for a 3-2 win over No. 14 Minnesota-Duluth at Cady Arena on Saturday.

The teams split the weekend series, as Miami snapped an 11-game winless streak against the Bulldogs.

Miami led, 3-1, but a wrister by UMD’s Parker Mackay with 1:23 left in regulation beat RedHawks goalie Ryan Larkin on the glove side, cutting the lead to one.

In the closing seconds, a loose puck in the Miami crease was poked toward the net but was turned aside just shy of the goal line.

Minnesota-Duluth (6-6-2) took the lead when a rebound kicked out to Nick Wolff, who slammed it just under the crossbar with 7:25 left in the first period.

Miami’s Willie Knierim slid a pass from the side of the net that hit a body and slid back to Ryan Siroky in the high slot. Siroky stepped into it, and his slap shot tied it at the 13:23 mark of the middle stanza.

The RedHawks (5-6-1) went ahead when Carson Meyer batted in a puck from the side of the net on the short side, as goalie Hunter Shepard was unable to hug the post. Scott Dornbrock had fed the puck to Meyer from the blue line with 1:39 left in the middle frame.

Miami’s Gordie Green and Josh Melnick played give-and-go at the blue line, as Melnick took the return pass from Green, skated in and buried a shot from the center of the faceoff circle three minutes into the third period, giving the RedHawks a 3-1 lead.

That set up the frantic final moments, as Shepard headed to the bench at the 18-minute mark.

Meyer scored for the second straight game. Siroky found net for the second time in three contests, and that makes four in seven for Melnick.

Miami forward Willie Knierim (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Louie Belpedio picked up an assist, extending his points streak to three games.

Knierim also earned a helper for his first point of 2017-18.

The RedHawks were 0-9-2 in their last 11 games against the Bulldogs, as they snapped a 33-month winless drought vs. UMD.

Miami is now 2-3-1 in NCHC play and is in sixth place in the league. The RedHawks improved to 40th in the PairWise rankings.

MU heads to Bowling Green for a weekend series Nov. 24-25. Game times are 7:37 p.m. on Friday and 7:07 p.m. Saturday.

Duluth continues dominance of Miami

OXFORD, Ohio – Puck luck played a major role in Friday’s outcome.

And Miami had none.

The RedHawks hit four posts and were unable to convert several other close chances as they fell, 3-1 to No. 14 Minnesota-Duluth at Cady Arena.

The Bulldogs extended their unbeaten streak against MU to 11.

Miami (4-6-1) controlled play during the first 14 minutes, but after a defensive-zone turnover, a wrister from the high slot by the Bulldogs’ Jared Thomas was partially deflected by RedHawks goalie Ryan Larkin, popped over the netminder and rolled across the goal line to give UMD the lead.

Miami’s Carson Meyer (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

A pane of glass broke in the corner of the rink, causing a 15-minute delay and killing any energy remaining from MU’s surge.

Miami tied it less than four minutes into the third period when Louie Belpedio connected on a pass from along the boards to Carson Meyer, who was in the slot. Meyer whipped an off-balance shot that found twine with seven seconds left on a power play.

But Minnesota-Duluth (6-5-2) regained the lead on a man-advantage of its own. With 5:09 left in regulation, Thomas blasted a one-timer past Larkin from the center of the faceoff circle after a long shift in the offensive zone.

Thomas had not scored this season entering Friday.

Again, MU had dictated play prior to that decisive power play.

The Bulldogs sealed it 76 seconds later on a slap shot by Scott Perunovich from just inside the blue line, as his shot slipped through Larkin’s pads.

Miami had rang the puck off posts twice in the same shift earlier in the period and finished with 15 shots on goal in that frame.

The RedHawks outshot UMD, 29-19 and have led on the shot counter in eight of their 11 contests this season.

Meyer snapped a six-game scoreless streak. Belpedio picked up a point for the second streak tilt, and Karch Bachman picked up the other helper, his second point in three games.

Miami’s power play goal was its first in five games.

The RedHawks are now 0-9-2 in their last 11 games against Minnesota-Duluth. MU’s last win against the Bulldogs came on Feb. 21, 2015.

Miami falls to 1-3-1 in the NCHC and is winless in its last four, going 0-3-1.

The teams wrap up their weekend series at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday.

Miami shuts out Connecticut

OXFORD, Ohio – Arriving late for Miami’s inaugural game against Connecticut would have been ill-advised.

The RedHawks scored three goals in the first nine-plus minutes and Ryan Larkin stopped all 19 shots he faced in a 3-0 win over the Huskies at Cady Arena on Friday.

Miami’s Scott Dornbrock (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

At the 3:52 mark of the first period, Miami’s Scott Dornbrock wristed a shot from the blue line that Carson Meyer redirected from the slot and into the net.

Just 1:36 later, Dornbrock lit the lamp from near the same spot off a drop pass by Casey Gilling, extending the RedHawks’ lead to two.

With 10:53 left in the opening stanza, Gordie Green buried a shot from the slot on a one-timer, as Josh Melnick fed him a pass from along the boards through traffic.

That was it for the scoring despite both teams having four power plays.

Huskies goalie Adam Huska left the game late in the third period after going down awkwardly, appearing to suffer some type of lower-body injury. He was replaced by Tanner Creel, who stopped both shots he faced.

Green now has eight points on the season, taking solo control of first place on the team.

Dornbrock finished with a goal and an assists, his third career two-point game and his first with a 1-1-2 line.

It was Larkin’s second career shutout, with his other coming against Maine on Oct. 22.

The teams wrap up their weekend series at 7:05 p.m. tonight.

Preview: Miami at Maine

WHO: Miami University RedHawks (0-2) at Maine Black Bears (1-1).

WHEN: Friday and Saturday–7 p.m.

WHERE: Harold Alfond Sports Arena, Orono, Maine.

NOTES: Maine visited Oxford last season, and the RedHawks went 1-0-1, tying the opener, 3-3 and winning the finale, 5-0.

A Division I force through the late 2000s, the Black Bears have won 20 games just one time in the past 10 seasons, and that 23-win season in 2011-12 represented Maine’s lone NCAA Tournament appearance in that span.

The past three seasons have been particularly brutal for the Black Bears, as they have failed to reach the .400 mark, averaging just 11 wins.

Amazingly, Maine didn’t win a single road game in all of 2016-17, salvaging just four ties including one at Miami.

The Black Bears lost their top two scorers from last season in Blaine Byron and Cam Brown. Nolan Vesey, a Toronto draft pick and brother of New York Rangers forward Jimmy Vesey, is the team’s top returning scorer with 13 goals and 10 assists for 23 points.

Sophomore Chase Pearson, a Detroit selection, finished 14-8-22 in 2016-17 and has a pair of assists already this season.

The Black Bears have two other drafted players – G Jeremy Swayman and F Patrick Shea. Swayman is a freshman who gave up four goals in a losing effort in his debut. Shea, a sophomore, has dressed for both games this campaign.

Cedric Lacroix, Peter Housakos and Mitchell Fossier are all back this season, and each found the net vs. Miami last year.

Miami was swept at home by Providence two weeks ago and beat the U.S. Under-18 team, 7-5 in Plymouth, Mich., last Friday.

The RedHawks are looking for their first non-exhibition win since Jan. 28, having gone 0-11-1 in their last 12 games.

D Grant Hutton is 1-1-2, found the net nine times in 2016-17 and scored twice in Miami’s exhibition and has to be considered a credible threat to score from the blue line, which should create more space for his linemates.

The Gordie Green-Josh Melnick chemistry last week vs. the USNDT was undeniable, as Green scored twice – both times set up by Melnick, including a spectacular kick-pass-for-breakaway goal, and Melnick finished with three helpers.

Miami’s Carson Meyer (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

These types of long trips early in the season can help teams bond, and Miami will have played just one exhibition in 13 days entering this series, so the RedHawks have reason to come out strong.

Miami and Maine have only played eight times, with the Black Bears leading the all-time series, 5-2-1.

Carson Meyer recorded four assists in last season’s series, and Louie Belpedio netted a pair of goals.

Season preview III: The predictions

BoB grades forwards, defensemen and goalies after each home game.

So why not give preseason grades for each position?

Miami lost three players from 2016-17 but has added six – seven if you count reshirt freshman Christian Mohs – so BoB takes a look at each position heading into this season.

FORWARDS: C. The RedHawks were well below average in scoring last season, and they should be improved from 2016-17 overall. That said, depth beyond the team’s top two lines is still a question mark.

Miami’s Louie Belpedio (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

DEFENSEMEN: C-. Again, lots of question marks after the first pairing, and Louie Belpedio has been banged up multiple times. Grant Hutton is the best shut-down defenseman on the team, and the final four spots are all up for grabs with Jared Brandt transferring to Niagara.

GOALTENDING: A. Ryan Larkin was named team MVP by the team back in April, as he faced a Grade-A chance shooting gallery much of the season. His health is key in 2017-18. Larkin missed several games due to injury and was out for the end of the team’s playoff series vs. Minnesota-Duluth.

OVERALL PLACE OF FINISH: 4th. Miami finally earns a home series in the conference tournament after heading to the road back-to-back seasons. Both the offense and defense improve and Larkin is stellar in net.

Season preview II: The lineup

Of the 23 players who dressed for Miami last season, 19 will back in the same sweaters this fall.

But that doesn’t mean the RedHawks didn’t lose any talent from 2016-17.

Miami’s Anthony Louis (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Anthony Louis wrapped up his college career as the team’s top point producer his senior year. Also departed are Justin Greenberg, who was a solid penalty killer, and Colin Sullivan, a two-way defenseman that could also move up to forward.

Jared Brandt is also gone after a solid freshman campaign that saw him ascend to the top pairing.

Joining the RedHawks for 2017-18 will be a class of seven, consisting of five forwards and a pair of defensemen.

That’s a net gain of four, so Miami should have ample depth heading into this season, which has been an issue at time the past couple of years because of injuries.

BoB breaks down how the RedHawks Version 2017-18 breaks down positionally.

FORWARDS

Two starters are out (Louis and Greenberg) and five are in.

That means solid depth and lots of fierce, healthy competition for lineups spots each night on a team that struggled to produce offense after the first two lines.

Miami returns 11 forwards, which means at the very least one of the newbies will be dress each night.

Several of the freshmen have put points on the board in juniors, and Coach Enrico Blasi has a reputation for throwing young players into the mix immediately, so there is definitely plenty of opportunity for the newbies to carve themselves regular starting spots.

Miami forward Kiefer Sherwood (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Four returning RedHawks recorded at least 20 points last season – Kiefer Sherwood, Josh Melnick, Carson Meyer and Gordie Green. Sherwood was second in points only to Louis (14-24-38), and Melnick went 9-18-27 as the team’s top defensive forward.

Meyer admirably missed just four games while suffering through mono, going 10-16-26 as he noticably ran out of gas down the stretch. Green turned it up as the season went on, as he had seven goals and eight assists the final 18 games of 2016-17.

What Miami needs is more production from the remaining eight spots.

Zach LaValle went 2-9-11 and big Willie Knierim scored four goals and seemed to be adapting well to the college game. Karch Bachman has tons of speed and a great shot, and hopefully that will translate to more success for the talented Florida Panthers draft pick.

That’s seven guys that should start for sure each night.

Of the returning forwards, Ryan Siroky has become a strong penalty killer but doesn’t produce much offense. Carter Johnson played on the fourth line and managed three points in 35 games.

Conor Lemirande is huge at 6-feet-6 but has just nine points in 103 games.

Alex Alger played in 21 games and was an energy forward but finished with just one assist in 21 games.

Those five spots would appear to be less secure on a team looking to generate more offense.

It’s an intriguing unit. Austin Alger, Philip Knies and Casey Gilling were all scorers in the USHL and could press all of the above for their jobs.

Miami was 45th out of 60 Division I teams in goals per game last season (2.53), and the RedHawks need to put the puck in the net more in 2017-18 if they hope to have success this season.

DEFENSEMEN

This was a facet of the game in which Miami struggled in 2016-17, and two mainstays from last season and gone in Jared Brandt and Colin Sullivan.

Brandt transferred to Niagara and Sullivan graduated.

Captain Louie Belpedio was limited to 24 games due to various injuries and although he was not 100 percent when he did play, he racked up six goals and 11 assists for 17 points, the best scoring rate of his career.

Miami’s Grant Hutton (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Grant Hutton is back for his junior season, and while he has been a shutdown-type D-man in his two seasons in Oxford, he scored nine goals in 2016-17.

Scott Dornbrock went 3-10-13 last season and is one of the team’s best hitters.

The other three returning blueliners are all sophomores – Grant Frederic, Chaz Switzer and Bryce Hatten.

Frederic finished with three points in 2016-17 and needs to be more physical this season, as he is 6-3-201. Switzer got better as last season went on, and tallied a goal and an assist in 23 games.

Hatten dressed just 11 times and did not record a point, but a major injury in 2015-16 stunted his performance, and he could take a huge step forward this season.

The freshmen are Alec Mahalak and Rourke Russell, who should challenge for starting spots right away.

Mahalak is more of an offensive-minded blueliner, tallying 26 points in 59 NAHL games, and Russell has a reputation for shutting down opponents.

Two defensemen will have to sit each night, so that should up the ante for everyone involved each practice.

GOALTENDING

At the banquet this spring, Ryan Larkin won the MVP award despite being a freshman.

Miami goalie Ryan Larkin (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

That’s pretty much all you need to know about Miami’s goaltending.

Larkin logged 1,946 minutes last season, going 8-16-7 with a 2.77 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.

Those numbers are mediocre until considering the quality of shots Larkin faced in 2016-17. Miami only won nine games last season but that number would be lower if Larkin hadn’t been in net.

He was banged up a couple of times last season, most notably during the RedHawks’ NCHC playoff series, so hopefully he can stay healthy in 2017-18.

Chase Munroe went 1-4 with a 4.25 GAA and .861 save percentage, but he sat much of the year and was under fire when he did hit the ice.

Analysis: Close doesn’t count in hockey

Having watched a lot of hockey at a lot of levels, it’s not hyperbole to say this is one of the most frustrating teams to watch in this lifetime.

Unfortunately, that cliché about “close” counting doesn’t refer to hockey and hand grenades, or else Miami would be in much better shape after its 3-3 tie at No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth on Friday.

Because in many ways, close is what the RedHawks (9-16-7) are to being a successful team and not one mired seven games under .500, facing a brutal road series to advance in the NCHC Tournament in two weeks just to extend their season. And it’s frustrating that they’ve not been able to close teams out too many times this season.

Close – amazingly – is what Miami is to defaulting to home-ice advantage in that round despite a 5-12-5 league record, as the team is only six points out of that elusive fourth seed. Frustrating because with Duluth and Denver running away with the top two seeds, the points threshold for that seed is lower than in any of the four seasons of the NCHC.

Close in forward depth, as this team has true offensive stars in Anthony Louis, Kiefer Sherwood, Josh Melnick and Carson Meyer. Gordie Green’s stock has soared the past two months, and Willie Knierim seems to be figuring it out at a steady, big guy, 19-year-old-in-D-I pace. Frustrating because the other seven forwards on the roster have a combined total of seven goals.

Close at defense, an area BoB highlighted at the beginning of the season with half of its studly blue line from 2015-16 graduating, as Grant Hutton is becoming a leader among this group and youngsters like Chaz Switzer appear to be gaining confidence. Frustrating because that progress has been too slow for some, veterans are making too many unforced mistakes and opponents are still setting up shop in front of the Miami net far too often with over 90 percent of the regular season in the books.

Miami goalie Ryan Larkin (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Miami goalie Ryan Larkin (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Well past close to “arrived” status in net, as Ryan Larkin has been a savior for this team – pun intended – as he has faced far too many A-plus scoring chances this season but still owns a .912 save percentage. Even that area is frustrating because he appears to be either tiring or losing a bit of confidence and has allowed the occasional soft goal in recent weeks that never would’ve gone in during December or January.

Close because this team showed a flash of excellence when it ran off five straight wins around the holidays and outscored its opponents, 18-2 in the third period and overtime during that span, with Melnick netting a pair of highlight-reel OT winners. Frustrating because the RedHawks suffered through an 0-7-3 span – their longest winless stretch in a quarter century – and are currently 1-8-2 in their last 11 during their most important games when they were given every chance to move up both in PairWise and the NCHC standings to earn their way into the NCAAs. And oh yeah, they’ve been outscored, 16-4 in the third period in their last seven, giving up multiple goals in the final stanza in every one of those contests.

This weekend is a microcosm of close and frustrating. Miami came back from 2-0 on Thursday to tie the second-ranked team in college hockey on the road, then after the Bulldogs (20-5-7) surged ahead again, the RedHawks again evened the score at three. Finally UMD buried a power play chance with a minute and a half left. Miami salvaged a tie on Friday and earned the extra league point.

The RedHawks have played some of their best hockey against top-ranked opponents like Minnesota-Duluth. This was probably the toughest series on Miami’s entire season schedule, and even without its captain, MU hung with the Bulldogs both games.

But it’s the story of the season: the RedHawks couldn’t get the win either night. Close doesn’t count in hockey.

Very frustrating.

Other thoughts…

– Is this series an example, like we talked about last week, of a team that is playing loose because home ice and PairWise are no longer factors? At six games under .500 heading into this weekend, these outcomes really don’t matter except for NCHC Tournament seeding. That takes a lot of pressure off a team that was in a bad place after the recent St. Cloud series. The focus now is getting better next weekend and preparing for that all-important best-of-3 in two weeks.

– How much of an impact does the return of Justin Greenberg and the loss of Louie Belpedio have on this team? Greenberg’s injury hurt the team on the penalty kill and in the faceoff circle, and Louie Belpedio missed this weekend after being kneed last weekend. Those changes can affect the chemistry of a team – positively or negatively – and based on where Miami was for the Denver series and where it was this weekend, it seems like the RedHawks got a boost from Greenberg and were more fired up after losing their captain.

– And on the latter, BoB wishes a speedy return to Belpedio, who is a team leader on and off the ice and a delight to talk to. He’s had some struggles this year with penalties and turnovers, but captaincy on this team is very difficult. We even saw it affect Austin Czarnik, one of the best Miamians in team history and a current NHLer who could play there for the next decade.

– In fairness to the above, injuries really have played a role with this team, as Meyer, Larkin, Belpedio, Greenberg and Jared Brandt have all missed time this season, and with just three extra skaters on the team, Miami doesn’t really have the depth to absorb personnel losses. Christian Mohs hurt his knee before the season even started and has been out for the season, which put the RedHawks shorthanded from Day 1.

– Miami was mathematically eliminated from home ice after failing to secure three points on Friday. Long story as short as possible, if the RedHawks won out and Nebraska-Omaha won on Saturday then was swept next weekend, and St. Cloud State was swept, that would be best albeit super-unlikely scenario, as Miami would finish in a three-way tie with whatever the Sioux are calling themselves these days and the Huskies. But the RedHawks would still be 3-4-1 against those two teams and would end up with a six seed. So much for the suspense.

– In the bizarre stats area, Hutton is now tied with Melnick for best shooting percentage on the team, as both have scored nine times on 49 shots (.184). Maybe Brandt’s first career goal in Oxford last Saturday instilled confidence in him, as he had 27 shots on goal all season entering this weekend and fired six times in these two games, finding the net twice.

– Tapping the old memory banks to recall a team that was more self-strangulation inducing, the 2000-01 Cincinnati Mighty Ducks come to mind. That team had to use 12 goalies during the regular season and lost player after player to Anaheim and Detroit, that team’s affiliates. They finished above .500 but took an early exit from the playoffs.