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Miami swept by UMD to end season

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.

Anthony Louis (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

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.

Miami forward Justin Greenberg (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

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.

Wingels contributes after playing career

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.”

Johnny Wingels celebrates with Justin Greenberg during an exhibition goal vs. Windsor in 2013-14 (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB)..

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.

Johnny Wingels (21) defends his own net vs. Nebraska-Omaha (Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

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.

Wingels defends his net vs. UNO (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

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.

Wingels (21) celebrates a goal vs. the Mavericks (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

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.”

Confidence key to Greenberg’s ascent

OXFORD, Ohio – Miami suffered through a miserable 3-12-1 stretch to wrap up the 2013-14 regular season and limped into its conference tournament, finishing last in the NCHC.

That meant a best-of-3 series at top-seeded St. Cloud State just for the RedHawks to extend their season.

Miami shocked the Huskies by winning Game 1, and just as it appeared Game 2 would head to overtime, Justin Greenberg buried the game-winning and series-clinching shot in the closing seconds of regulation.

Justin Greenberg as a freshman (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Justin Greenberg as a freshman (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

The decisive play started with Matt Joyaux knocking down a SCSU shot in front of his net and skating to center, where he fed streaking Anthony Louis on the right wing. Louis crossed the blue line, curled and slid a pass to Greenberg, who was open in the slot.

Greenberg settled the puck down and buried a wrister low to the glove side, then after sliding on his knees in celebration, he jumped into the arms of Alex Gacek – a close friend of his on the team – in one of the more picturesque moments in recent team history.

“It’s pretty unrealistic still because if you go back and look at it, I still remember Matty Joyaux – a freshman – blocks a shot and ends up passing up the ice to Anthony Louis, another freshman,” Greenberg said. “I had no idea how much time was left on the clock when it actually happened, which is probably bad on my part, I probably should’ve been more aware. But Anthony made a pass, and I remember when I shot it, I thought it was going in, in slow motion. I didn’t really have to do a lot because Anthony did all the work.”

It was just his second career goal, with his other coming in a 6-1 win over Colorado College 12 games earlier.

“When you come in as a freshman, it’s a big transition,” friend and student coach Johnny Wingels said. “College hockey is a much faster and bigger, stronger game than junior hockey is. With him being a smaller player, it can be difficult to get some confidence. Any time you can score a huge goal like that to make our team move on to the next round, that’s just a huge confidence booster, and everyone was really happy for him to able to score that goal.”

That shift is even more impressive considering Greenberg did not field Division I offers until midway through his final season of juniors.

Greenberg grew up in Plano, Texas, and he said his father, Joel, used to take him and his brother to watch his godfather’s son play. Both Greenberg brothers caught the fever and soon began lacing up the skates.

Even with the Stars entrenched in the local market, Greenberg said he had a difficult time gauging his ability because of the relative lack of teams in the area.

He was drafted by Green Bay of the USHL but ended up playing for the closer-to-home Texas Tornado of the NAHL. In Greenberg’s first season with that team, he recorded 27 points in 39 games, but more importantly, he netted the Robertson Cup-clinching goal in overtime.

Greenberg rolled up 25 goals and 32 assists for 57 points in 60 games in his second season with Texas, toward the end of which he ended up committing to Miami.

Greenberg’s brother was the same age as a former Miami forward from the Dallas area – Blake Coleman – and those two ended up playing against each other and becoming best friends.

“So it ended up being a pretty easy decision,” Greenberg said. “I had basically an older brother here the first couple of years.”

Greenberg did not commit until February of 2013, and was the last player in his class to sign.

When he came to Oxford, Coleman was the only MU player he knew.

“He definitely helped make the adjustment a lot more comfortable,” Greenberg said.

In his freshman season, Greenberg dressed for 33 of the RedHawks’ 38 games, including the final 25. He finished with two goals – including that series clincher vs. St. Cloud State – and six assists while taking just four minor penalties.

Justin Greenberg as a sophomore at the outdoor game at Soldier Field in Chicago (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Justin Greenberg as a sophomore at the outdoor game at Soldier Field in Chicago (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

“All the coaches made me feel pretty comfortable right away, they made sure I was playing with confidence – that’s always been a big thing since I’ve gotten here is I’ve got to work on being more confident, being more mentally tough,” Greenberg said. “But I think a big thing was the coaches actually believed in me before I believed in myself. That’s what contributed to me playing that many games is (them) showing they had faith in me and that I was responsible enough to dress in almost every game.”

Greenberg should have been brimming with confidence after playing such a crucial role in Miami’s postseason, but he was unable to work out that summer because of shoulder surgery.

Partly as a result, on a points-per-game basis his sophomore season was his worst in Oxford, as he ended up with a goal and five helpers despite being in the lineup 35 times.

Justin Greenberg as a junior, scoring his lone goal that senior vs. RPI (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Justin Greenberg as a junior, scoring his lone goal that season vs. RPI (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

In his junior season, Greenberg saw more time on the penalty kill – partly due to the loss of key forwards including Austin Czarnik and Riley Barber – and he began to thrive in that role.

He played 32 games and scored just once but tallied a career-best nine assists.

“Greeny’s a huge impact player for us,” Sullivan said. “He’s the guy you want to be in a foxhole with. He’s totally selfless – he’s one of the most selfless human beings I’ve ever met, on or off the ice – he’s willing to sacrifice his body to block shots. He does all of the little things very, very well and I think that’s what makes him a huge impact player for us.”

Greenberg blocked 22 shots – third-best among forwards on the team – and was assessed just one minor penalty as he helped the RedHawks to a 91.0 percent penalty killing percentage.

“I feel like I’ve found a way to play a lot more minutes being responsible,” Greenberg said. “I know if we have a defensive zone faceoff, the coaches normally put me out there…same with PK, I normally play a lot of penalty kill.”

Justin Greenberg as a senior (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Justin Greenberg as a senior (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

This season, he has improved his win percentage in the faceoff circle to .499 after a slow start on draws. He worked with former assistant and ex-Miami star Derek Edwardson tirelessly, and that effort seems to paying off.

“Every day after practice, you’ll see Kiefer Sherwood, he’s taking one-timers,” Sullivan said. “But what you don’t notice is Justin Greenberg’s out there in the corner taking hundreds and hundreds of draws. He’s one of the hardest-working guys on this team. Everything that he’s been given he’s definitely deserved. He works super, super hard and he’s reaping the benefits of it right now.”

He has a goal and three assists, but unfortunately has missed the last nine games with a lower body injury.

“(Penalty killing forward) was definitely a hole that needed to be filled,” Sullivan said. “He’s a huge, huge befefit to our PK…he does all the little things that people who are not familiar with hockey might not notice, but the little detailed things that he does on the penalty kill and 5 on 5 makes a huge difference. Hopefully we can get him back soon.”

Greenberg is close to returning and could be back this weekend, as he has just four regular season games remaining in a career that has seen him improve dramatically in some of the nuances of the game.

“I’d say I definitely became a more complete hockey player,” Greenberg said. “I should’ve contributed a lot more than I have offensively, I’d say I do have the skill set to do it, but a lot of it was a confidence thing. But I’m glad I’ve found a lot of ways to at least contribute other than scoring since I’ve been here.”

Miami’s penalty killing was 85.0 percent with him in the lineup and 80.0 percent since his injury.

Greenberg is one of several Jewish players to come through the RedHawks’ hockey program in recent years. That list includes standouts Carter Camper and Matt and Nathan Davis.

Joel Greenberg is Jewish and Justin’s mother, Doreen, is Christian, but Justin was allowed to decide whether to go through Bar Mitvah when he was a teenager and both he and his brother chose that route.

“I felt like it was the right thing to do,” Greenberg said.

For his career, Greenberg has logged 121 games, piling up five goals and 23 assists for 28 points.

“He’s not someone that’ll jump out at you on the score sheet, he’s just very sound defensively, he’s always in the right position,” Wingels said. “He’s good at faceoffs, which is a really big thing for us, and we really miss him in the lineup. You can see that third-line center spot is really important, and you can right now with him out it’s something we’re lacking, and we’re looking forward to getting him back in the lineup.”

He has blocked 49 shots, and despite playing a defensive role much of the time, has just 30 penalty minutes.

“PK is one of his strong suits, and (with him out) you’ve got to get guys slotted in there who might not be the best in that role, but you need someone to do it,” Wingels said. “Having him back in the lineup, solidifying that PK will be a huge help for us. The penalty kill is something that we take huge pride in and we like to be at the top of the league every year.”

Wingels, Sullivan and Greenberg have been close friends the past several years.

“He’s a really nice kid – he’s a little quiet but he’s really funny as well,” Wingels said. “Once you get to know him he opens up more. He likes to joke around, have a good time. He’s really easy to talk to, and a big sports fan – we’re really similar in that, we’ll watch anything on TV that’s involving sports.”

Said Sullivan: “Justin’s my friend now, he’s going to be my friend until I’m 70, 80, 90 years old. That’s a reason why I wanted to come here is to build lasting relationships, and in Greeny I definitely did that.”

Greenberg said besides hockey, he said his personal growth is one of the best things to come out of his Miami experience. In the classroom, Greenberg has a 3.3 grade-point average as an accounting major.

“I’ve matured a lot,” Greenberg said. “To be able to play college hockey, you don’t realize coming in how much you need to mature mentally. Stepping from youth hockey to junior hockey, it’s completely different from stepping from junior hockey to college. Here, you’re on your own. You have the coaching staff, but they’re not with you at all times.”

Because he signed so late, Greenberg did not have the opportunity to visit Oxford prior to his freshman year, but he fell in love with the town and the program immediately.

“When I came here in the summer (before freshman year), I couldn’t believe it,” Greenberg said. “This place is awesome. We play in what many call the best league in the country, and you go to the (other) campuses, and I don’t even know how someone could even pick there if you’re not looking at hockey. Great town, great people.”

Sullivan transferred skills to Miami

OXFORD, Ohio – Miami hockey has not seen a large number of transfers, and even fewer switch colleges from New England to become RedHawks.

And although former Boston College defenseman and Montréal Canadiens draft pick Colin Sullivan has battled injuries throughout his collegiate career, he is completely healthy for the stretch run of his senior career.

“He puts in the work every day in practice, he’s always looking to get better,” senior and student coach Johnny Wingels said. “Early on the ice, late off the ice, it’s nice to see a good kid like him get his opportunity now and be rewarded for it.”

Sullivan originally committed to Yale while playing for Avon, a prestigious prep school near his hometown of Milford, Conn. He and his family decided he should remain at Avon to complete his high school years, and he decommitted from Yale and signed with Boston College.

He joined the Eagles in the fall of 2012, a year after being selected in the seventh round by Montréal.

“You’re playing for the best coach – and arguably the most decorated coach in college hockey,” Sullivan said. “Jerry York was an amazing coach, and it was a fun experience. My whole family’s from the Boston area, so it was nice having them come to every single one of my games.”

Sullivan logged 32 games with Boston College his freshman season, but playing time was an issue and he decided to pursue other options. Transferring players have to sit out for a season, and Sullivan joined USHL Green Bay while in limbo, accumulating a pair of goals and six assists in 41 games during 2013-14.

Fortunately for the RedHawks, a former MU forward contacted Sullivan and played a key role in bringing him to Oxford.

In prep school, Kevin Morris played for rival Salisbury with Sullivan’s best friend.

“Kevin shot me a text and asked me if I was interested in Miami, and of course I was,” Sullivan said. “I’d never been to the campus and was interested that someone was actually going to take a look at me. When I came here for a visit I just fell in love with the place, so playing New England prep school actually brought me here with the connections that I had back there.”

After his redshirt year, Sullivan was ready to contribute as a sophomore. But after dressing for three of Miami’s first four games in 2014-15, he was shut down with a recurring groin injury.

“It was just so frustrating to come so close, to being in the lineup again, and all in the sudden you have to take your foot off the gas pedal and go back to square one,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan logged just nine games his sophomore season, picking up a lone assist in the best-of-3 home playoff series vs. Western Michigan.

Wingels, a defenseman himself and brother of Ottawa Senators forward Tommy Wingels, tried to help Sullivan through his transitional period.

Colin Sullivan as a sophomore (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Colin Sullivan as a sophomore (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

“I think he had a unique experience at Boston College, and he lost some confidence there,” Wingels said. “And I was just telling him that he needs to play his game. Boston College is a great hockey school – they have the history that they have, and he was clearly good enough to be able to commit there – so it was just a matter of getting his confidence back, because he clearly has it in him to be a good player at this level.

“It’s never fun to lose your confidence as a player, because that’s something that’s very difficult to get back. You just have to fight through it sometimes, and it might take longer than you’d hoped.”

Sullivan (3) celebrates his only career goal vs. Providence in 2015-16 (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Sullivan celebrates his only career goal vs. Providence in 2015-16 (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Junior year started off with plenty of promise, as Sullivan scored his first college goal in the season opener vs. Providence, juking a defender in the slot before burying a top-shelf wrister.

“I kind of blacked out to be honest with you,” Sullivan said. “We were playing Providence, too – my whole family went to Providence, it was down to Providence and Miami – so it was nice to get a goal against them.”

But after going under the knife for the fourth time for his groin injury, Sullivan said he tried to come back too soon, as he was limited to six games the first two months. Fortunately he was healthy for the second half of 2015-16 and was in the lineup 15 times.

Last summer was the first in three years that Sullivan did not require off-season surgery, but he still had trouble getting back on the ice. He did not dress for five of the RedHawks’ first eight games last fall.

“It was definitely frustrating,” Sullivan said. “Everyone’s got to pay their dues, and I think I definitely have, but it’s something where you put your nose to the grindstone and work hard every day, do what you need to do, and finally I’m back in the lineup and hopefully making a positive impact and helping us win some hockey games.”

Sullivan celebrates a goal by fellow defenseman Chris Joyaux (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Sullivan celebrates a goal by fellow defenseman Chris Joyaux (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

His attitude and hard work eventually paid off. Finally, nearly four years after transferring from Boston College, the search for more ice time that drove him to Oxford is coming to fruition.

Sullivan has played in 20 consecutive games and has three assists, all in his last nine contests.

And that confidence that earned him an NHL draft pick and a spot on Boston College’s blue line is finally back.

“For me, confidence is really key,” Sullivan said. “I rely so much on my skating and my mobility – not feeling that pain down there. Even when it was heeled, I would kind of mentally expect to feel that pain. It’s just crazy how much of a mental effect being injured has on your entire body. Now I’m at the point where that’s not a factor any more. I feel like the old Colin Sullivan again.”

He picked up helpers in back-to-back games for the first time in his Miami career on Dec. 31 at Ohio State and Jan. 6 vs. St. Cloud State. Sullivan also earned an assist on Willie Knierim’s game winner vs. Western Michigan on Jan. 28 with a well-placed stretch pass.

“It’s taking me back to high school when I’m totally healthy and I’m having fun playing again,” Sullivan said. “There was a stretch mentally where I’d come back for a couple of games and I’d get hurt again, and I’d come back for a couple of games and I’d get hurt again. I was never 100 percent. Now that I’m back on track, I’m on cloud nine right now.”

Making Sullivan even more useful to the team is his ability to play forward. He has been listed on the fourth line several times this season, enabling the team to dress a seventh blueliner.

Colin Sullivan as a senior (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Colin Sullivan as a senior (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

“Any way that I can help the team,” Sullivan said. “If Coach wants me to strap on the pads and go in play in net, I’ll gladly do that. If he wants me to sit in the corner and stand on my head for three hours, I’ll do that too. Whatever it’s going to take to help the team, and I can take a couple of faceoffs, and be a (fourth-line forward) and give the top-line guys a little break, and go out and do that too, yeah, definitely.”

Sullivan and classmates Wingels and Justin Greenberg have become close friends at Miami, and both said one of his best personality attributes is his sense of humor.

“When (Sullivan) transferred here he was sort of in between classes for a little bit while his credits were figured out, and he ultimately got slotted into my class, which is great because we got to spend another year with him,” Wingels said. “He’s a great guy – he’s probably one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, and there’s never a dull time when you’re around him.”

Both Wingels and Greenberg have gone through their share of injury issues as well, and Sullivan’s positive attitude has helped them deal with their respective issues.

“Even with right now, with me being hurt (lower-body injury), he’s so positive,” Greenberg said. “He’s going to be a groomsman in my wedding, we’re so close. We do everything together. He’s just a great guy.”

Greenberg said he also noticed the improvement in Sullivan’s game as the months have passed since his injury.

“This year, it’s not just that he’s gotten in the lineup, but he’s contributing and playing well,” Greenberg said. “Making great plays and he’s learned to defend with his feet, and he’s really made an impact – in my opinion – when he’s played, since I’ve been watching. I tend to watch him more since I’m so close with him and I think he’s played great this year.”

Sullivan is also a favorite among his hockey peers, according to Greenberg.

“He would do anything for anyone on this team,” Greenberg said. “If you went through the locker room, there’s not one guy that say they don’t love Sully. He’s the best. I can’t say enough good things about him, and I’m sure most people wouldn’t be able to either.”

Now healthy, Sullivan would like to continue playing hockey after he graduates this spring. He is a history major with a minor in entrepreneurship, boasting a 3.3 grade-point average.

But in addition to his ultimate pursuit of a traditional job, Sullivan plans on joining the military for four-plus years, and is especially interested in special forces.

“I want to serve my country before I reap the benefits from it,” Sullivan said. “I think that whole lifestyle and the aspect of being on a team – and those guys are super-competitive guys, high-octane guys – I just want to be around that. It’s going to be similar to here, same exact kind of guys, Division I athletes. I just think that’s something that I would really enjoy.”

Though everything hasn’t worked out as Sullivan had originally planned when he moved here from New England, transferring to Miami is something he has never regretted.

“If I could do it all over again, Miami is definitely the place where I’d want to go,” Sullivan said. “Coming from out east, you don’t hear about Miami University – everybody thinks I play hockey in Miami, Florida – which is interesting. Coming out here, it’s all cornfields and farmland, and the minute I drove down High Street, I said, mom, dad, this is where I want to be, this is the right fit.”

Analysis: Yeah, it was bad, but it was 1 game

OXFORD, Ohio – Miami has built a reputation for being one of the toughest teams to score on in college hockey.

Providence appears to be the RedHawks’ defensive kryponite.

The Friars beat Miami, 7-3 at Cady Arena on Friday, giving them 14 goals in two games vs. Miami, which likely can’t wait to play anyone else after losing to PC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to end its 2014-15 season.

With the lopsided score, it’s easy to say the defense and goaltending let the RedHawks down, and oh by the way, that’s supposed to be the team’s strength heading into this season, and while that isn’t completely untrue, as much credit belongs to Providence in this game.

The Friars were seemingly able to pick the corner of the net at will, and when they had opportunities, they did not miss.

Maybe it’s just because of the optimism of opening night, but this game seemed more like a team that is better right now played a nearly perfect game than Miami laid an egg on home ice to start 2015-16.

The first and third goals the Friars scored were perfect shots in the corner of the net. The second was on a penalty shot that was awarded even though it didn’t look like PC’s skater had a clear step breakaway.

The RedHawks got back to within one, but Providence put up four more in a row, as Miami sometimes has a tendency of not being able to stop the bleeding in games like this.

Overall this still looks like a good MU team. One loss doesn’t change that, even though it was lopsided, and of course it’s magnified because it was the season opener.

A few other thoughts on the game, trying to stay in line with the insert optimism theme:

– OK, one negative that needs to make it into prose is that Captain Kuraly didn’t play particularly well in this game. Sean looked like he may have been banged up or fighting an illness, as he appeared out of breath at times and hunched over. Defenses will pay much more attention to him this season with Czarnik-Barber-Coleman gone, and the 19-goal scorer from 2014-15 will need to step up if he hopes to match that goal total this season.

– Obviously Jack Roslovic, a first-round draft pick, was studly. He scored the first goal of the season, whipping it jai alai style into the net off a power play centering feed. Clearly Roslovic is going to be an offensive beast this season.

Miami's Jack Roslovic.

Miami’s Jack Roslovic.

– There’s a ton to like about Josh Melnick, who may have been better than Roslovic in this game. Melnick set up the Roslovic goal, scored one of his own and made a couple of great plays on the penalty kill. It speaks volumes about how much confidence Coach Enrico Blasi has in him that he’s on the first power play and first PK unit. From a purely Miami hockey fan perspective, Melnick not being drafted means he will likely spend four years in Oxford, and that will be fun.

– None of the other freshmen forwards stood out, bad or good. That’s OK. It was their first game. The chemistry will come. None looked lost on the ice. Roslovic and Melnick will obviously make up some of the void left by the departing forwards, and in theory the veteran defense and goaltending should make these players’ transitions easier, as the coaches can concentrate on helping develop them, and the team shouldn’t need to score as much to win. Friday didn’t exactly advance that theory, though.

It a tough way to start the season, but it was only one game. Time to move on. Some good things happened Friday, and it will get better.

GRADES

FORWARDS: B. It was a pretty good night for this group. Melnick was awesome, Roslovic is going to be excellent, and senior Alex Gacek and junior Devin Loe also played really well. The latter two are what Miami needs: Veteran players who weren’t studs to step up. Gacek played his best hockey the second half of last year, and Loe has looked very good at times when given the opportunity, and with a short stash of reserves, he should have a chance to earn plenty of ice time this season.

DEFENSE: C-. As usual, this is the hardest area to grade, and with the lamp getting lit seven times, it makes it tougher to grade higher. Freshman Grant Hutton did some really good things and looks like he has a lot of potential, but he also let a player cut in for the breakaway on which he was called for the penalty shot that resulted in the second PC goal. He allowed another player to cut in for an odd-man chance later in the game. But he looks big, strong, smart and agile for his size, and he should turn into a solid defenseman. Colin Sullivan’s goal was a thing of beauty, which gets the grade above the ‘D’ range.

GOALTENDING: D. Like we said, Goals 1 and 3 for PC were just wired. The second goal was a penalty shot, and except for a big rebounds, Providence had very good looks on the rest and did not miss. Not a fan of ever allowed a goalie to give up seven, whether it’s his fault or not, so it would’ve been nice to see him lifted earlier to his confidence doesn’t take a bigger hit. Ryan McKay stopped one shot in relief and will almost certainly start the series finale.

LINEUP: The odd men out for this game were forwards Andrew Schmit and Justin Greenberg, and defenseman Chris Joyaux. Greenberg is banged up, and we’ll see how the defense is handled moving forward. Joyaux played well at the end of 2014-15, so we’ll see how much patience Blasi is going to have with Hutton. Knowing Blasi, he’ll probably rotate which blueliner sits, with Louie Belpedio, Matthew Caito and Taylor Richart likely being the three with job security at this point.