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State of the program

For the third time in four years, Miami viewed the NCAA Tournament at home following a run of eight consecutive appearances on Division I hockey’s highest stage.

It was tough to watch, as this team didn’t compete hard enough, consistently enough to pull itself into PairWise contention, and the reality that the RedHawks would not play long into March began to set in during a miserable February.

The program is presently at its lowest point of the Enrico Blasi administration, as its win total last season was Miami’s lowest since 1990-91.

True the RedHawks went 0-for-4 in NCAA berths during Blasi’s first four years, but they were trending upward at that point.

And now we’re nearly at the midway point of the off-season, three months removed from the tragic end of 2016-17, a little under four months from puck drop.

When a program reaches DEFCON 2, everyone has a theory to fix its problems, and emotions can sometimes obscure rational thought.

And giving into that mentality is tempting, because of course SOMETHING has to be done.

It doesn’t help being close to the situation. Going to a majority of games, watching most of the rest on TV or the internet, knowing many people within the program and their families.

From this end, in a way the relationship is somewhat paternal (or maternal for any PC police that may be reading). There’s a love of program that ultimately – eventually – overrides all negatives.

A season like last one is tantamount to having your kid get busted by the cops for egging neighborhood houses: You’re mad as hell but that anger only exists because of your superseding love.

And that’s largely why three months have elapsed since the last post on this site (to that point: two written and edited stories were scrapped on this end in late March). Blasting hard-working athletes and coaches seems like piling on after a season ends.

Everyone reading knows 9-20-7 isn’t an acceptable record for this program. Re-hashing that yet again doesn’t do anyone any good.

So it was necessary to take a step back rather than rolling out the hatemobile and taking the urban assault approach.

With that out of the way, let’s address the program in an ombudsman-like fashion, answering some of the questions now being tossed out and allow people who didn’t follow this season to catch up.

Q: What happened last season?

Defenseman Louie Belpedio (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

A: A number of issues culminated in a bad year. Injuries to key players, such as captain Louie Belpedio and fellow defenseman Jared Brandt, goalie Ryan Larkin, forwards Carson Meyer and Justin Greenberg, all of whom missed multiple games. The team severely lacked scoring depth beyond its first two lines, and overall the forwards weren’t as strong defensively as in past years. Same with the defensemen, who were not physical enough and frequently out of position, leading to far too many A-plus scoring chances by opponents. And yes, there were 14 freshmen on the team, which didn’t help. The development didn’t happen as quickly for some as has typically been the case at Miami.

Q: So if there are all of these freshmen this year, does that mean the program is doomed for several more seasons?

A: Let’s hope not. The injuries were (hopefully) an aberration, and only three of the starting 19 graduated (Fs Anthony Louis and Greenberg and D Colin Sullivan). Several of the freshmen got substantially better as the year went on, most notably F Gordie Green. The defense is going to be key next season. Miami scored 2.53 goals per game, which is nowhere near great, but the RedHawks allowed an average of 3.14, which is brutal with such a solid goalie. And Miami does have an excellent netminder in Ryan Larkin who was among those freshmen.

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

Q: Is Miami not getting good enough players or are they not being coached well?

A: Gotten this one a couple times, and it’s an excellent question but a really tough one to answer. In college, the coaching staff recruits the players, so either way it falls on the assistants and the head coach. But to answer, it appears to be more on the recruiting end but it’s a little of both. Miami was extremely fortunate to have current Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill and Bowling Green coach Chris Bergeron as assistants during much of that long NCAA Tournament run, and even after Blashill left, he was coaching USHL Indiana and feeding players like Blake Coleman and Joe Hartman to Oxford. With those coaches no longer associated with the program, the talent pool has not been as strong, and that obviously has a delayed effect, as players that those former coaches guided to Miami remain in college for several years after they sign. Miami has brought in more NAHL players recently, and while some have thrived in Oxford, overall it’s not as strong of a juniors league as the USHL, the top development league for Division I.

Q: So the current coaches are to blame?

A: Questions like these deserve very careful response, because we’re talking about people’s livelihoods. People with families and houses and bills. Journalists of all people should be aware of the scrutiny people can face when they’re in the public eye. If a team goes 9-20-7 like Miami just did, it’s there for everyone to see, evaluate and lambaste through social media and other internet sites. On a smaller scale, if a writer types “seive” instead of “sieve”, same thing. So there should be professional courtesy. That said, yeah, it’s absolutely fair is to say the coaching staff hasn’t done a good job during this stretch. Note that it’s not saying that any of these men who undoubtedly love the program and work their hind quarters off to make it successful aren’t doing their best, they don’t care, or they’re bad people. That effort just isn’t culminating into victories. And what’s especially frustrating is that they’ve been given all of the right tools by the university to win. The RedHawks play in a rink that’s the envy of 90 percent of Division I and they had a seven-figure weight room built specifically for them, literally yards from the Cady Arena ice. The school is top-notch, the campus is beautiful, as are the co-eds. Heck, even the weather is fantastic compared to the rest of the NCAA, except Arizona State and Alabama-Huntsville. They also have two well-paid assistants when the standard in college hockey has been one. And speaking of pay, head coach Enrico Blasi is one of the highest-compensated college hockey coaches on the planet. The university has basically said, here you go, here’s the keys to the vault and everything you could possibly need to field a winning hockey team. All you need to do is win. And for four years, they haven’t done that nearly enough.

Q: Should the coaches get the boot?

Miami coach Enrico Blasi (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

A: It’s the elephant-on-the-computer-monitor question. First off, Blasi has six years left on a huge contract. So for the people who want him gone, he isn’t going anywhere soon, especially with the recent turmoil surrounding the coaching positions in other sports the past couple of years. And in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately field, let’s not forget that without Blasi, there would likely be no palace of a rink on the south side of town, no 10 NCAA Tournament banners – including eight in a row – a national championship game appearance and two Frozen Four berths. Like him or not, the guy built this program to elite status. Miami went 11-20-5 the year before he took over, and in his fifth season – the first year all of his players were recruits by his staff – the RedHawks made the NCAAs and would do so eight of the subsequent nine years. He’s also a Miami graduate who has completed 18 years of coaching at his alma mater. He deserves a ton of respect for what he’s done for this program. Now if the titanic struggles continue for several more seasons, his position may be reevaluated. As for the assistants, their positions are probably less stable since they’re largely responsible for recruiting. They’re also pretty well paid for Division I hockey. And to be fair to them, Brent Brekke is well-respected for his work with defensemen and Nick Petraglia – another MU alum – has done great work with the goaltenders (TV PxP guy Dave Starman illustrated the improvement in Larkin’s game due to an adjustment Petraglia made in his stance). But it’s very difficult to answer the question as someone who’s not in the locker room every day and rarely sees practices or even a lot of live road games. To call for those jobs from this perspective would be irresponsible. But it’s irrelevant right now anyway. It’s mid-June, and any changes in this area would’ve been addressed months ago.

Q: So what now?

A: So an outside entity is going to evaluate every aspect of the program, which cross-our-fingers will get it back on track. Hopefully the coaches realize what they’ve been doing the past several years isn’t working – a tough thing to accept for choleric leaders accustomed to success – and will hopefully implement suggestions from that analysis. Then the hard part: Everyone from fans, players, coaches, etc., play the waiting game for another four months until Miami’s 2017-18 home opener vs. Providence.

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2016-17 Miami season preview

Miami opens its season on Friday, and when it takes the ice it will feature its first defenseman captain since 2012-13 in junior Louie Belpedio.

Belpedio, an assistant last season who netted four goals and dished for 13 assists to lead all RedHawks blueliners in points with 17 last season, is just the second defenseman to hold that title since Cady Arena opened. Steven Spinell (2012-13) is the other).

Captaincy is a cumbersome role at Miami, and the transition was not easy for the past two captains. Austin Czarnik took over in 2013-14 after having never been in that capacity at any level and it took time for him to learn leadership off the ice, and Sean Kuraly earned the ‘C’ in the summer of 2015 but struggled on the ice the first half of last season.

“I think this year is a little different than in years past, with 14 freshmen,” Belpedio said. “For me, a lot of good examples were set by both Austin and Sean that I can take with me into this year and next year so I’ve got to thank those guys for really leading the way and showing me the ropes and what it takes. Those are probably two of the best guys to learn from. But obviously it’s an honor, and you look at the list of guys that have worn the ‘C’ before me, it’s obviously a pretty exciting list, and a lot of them are playing pro hockey right now and I look to follow in their footsteps. But right now, it’s a good personal accomplishment for me, but it comes with a lot of responsibility and I’m ready to take on that role.”

Belpedio said the high number of freshmen could have made his job even more difficult, but the players came in over the summer to work out rather than when school started, making their transition into their first regular season smoother.

“Honestly it hasn’t been to tough so far,” Belpedio said. “Everyone’s bought in and is abiding by what The Brotherhood stands for, and I think that makes it easier on the coaches, myself and even just the team in general. I’ve got to thank those guys for stepping right in and doing what they’re supposed to, and we’ve got (opening) weekend coming up, so it’ll be a big test for us and we can kind of see where we stand.”

Coach Enrico Blasi said that Belpedio having been an assistant last season had aided in his transition to wearing the ‘C’.

“He’s been in that role with other teams and I think his comfort level is pretty good at this point,” Blasi said. “He’s got a good surrounding cast around him, so I think he’s been adjusting well.”

Josh Melnick (right) and Louis Belpedio (left) celebrate Belpedio's OT goal (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Josh Melnick (right) and Louis Belpedio (left) celebrate an OT goal by Belpedio (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Also earning assistant captain status are senior forward Anthony Louis as well as junior forward Conor Lemirande and sophomores forward Josh Melnick and defenseman Grant Hutton.

“It’s obviously a huge honor and I’m very fortunate to be in that position,” Melnick said. “I’m really not trying to think about it too much, and I’m really not looking to change up anything in terms of play last year. Like I said about Louie, trying to show everyone the way and model the way on the ice and know when there’s a good time to speak my mind and let everyone know. Obviously there’s always a time to lead and a time to follow, so just focusing on that.”

It’s unusual for a sophomore to earn a letter, much less for a team that will have half its team entering their first season in Oxford.

“It was a little overwhelming at first, I think, but from top to bottom, coaches, staff and all the returning guys, we never had any doubts – and still don’t – that we wouldn’t be able to execute this year and play at a high level,” Melnick said. “I think it was really helpful to get the guys in here this summer and get to know them, and we had to establish early what our program was about, and I think we did a pretty good job of that.”

Melnick called Belpedio a great fit for captaincy.

“Throughout the whole spring last season and the summer this year, he’s been a great leader both on and off the ice, showing the new guys the way and pulling everyone along with him as well as saying the right things, keeping high spirits,” Melnick said.

With 14 freshmen, Blasi said the only way to cope with that is for them to play games and gain experience. Opening night is Friday in Providence, which went 1-0-1 against the RedHawks in Oxford last season and knocked them out of the 2015 NCAA Tournament.

“For us it’s about process, and we’ve got to make sure we navigate that process correctly and we’re teaching and yet we’re holding them accountable to a certain standard,” Blasi said. “I think our culture’s in a good place where our older guys have done a nice job of implementing responsibility and that ownership for who we are.”

Blog of Brotherhood takes a quick glance at each position.

FORWARDS

First-round pick Jack Roslovic turned pro this off-season after tying for the team lead in points last season with 26 and standout Sean Kuraly graduated, but two of Miami’s other 25-point producers return this fall in Melnick and Louis.

The RedHawks averaged just 2.39 goals per game last season, and although it was an exhibition, MU took a step forward in that department by lighting the lamp eight times vs. Waterloo on Saturday.

“Last year we struggled in that area a little bit, and obviously losing Jack doesn’t help us, but we got off to a great start the other night, and I think it was great to see every line contributing,” Melnick said. “That confidence is something I think we need, and we carried it into practice (this Monday) as well. We’ve had that confidence for the past couple of weeks, so that was definitely a confidence booster as well, and that should help us the next few weeks.”

Melnick did everything at a high level in 2015-16 and went 9-16-25. Kiefer Sherwood, also a sophomore, had an outstanding second half and finished with 11 markers and seven assists and Miami hopefully has a serious scoring duo for the next three seasons.

Louis finished with 11 goals as well in addition to 15 helpers and needs just 13 points to become the next member of the RedHawks’ 100-point club.

No other returning player had more than 10 points last season, although freshman Carson Meyer pumped in 32 goals in his first full season in the USHL in 2015-16 and Karch Bachman, a Florida Panthers draftee, scored twice in the exhibition as well as Alex Alger.

Gordie Green and Willie Knierim are also expected to contrinute right away after successful seasons in Dubuque, with Green playing more of a playmaker role while Knierim is a true freshman wide body who will hopefully continue to get better as he develops into his 6-feet-3 frame.

“I think we’ve got a lot of dynamic forwards, a lot of guys who can make plays and score goals,” Belpedio said. “That opens up the offensive side for us, but at the same time I think the defensive zone is the most important part, and those guys aren’t going to get to use their skills unless we take care of business in our end. Luckily, we’ve got some guys that are two-way and care as much about D as they do offense, so the offense will definitely come.”

Overall Miami has seven newcomers at forward, and add four sophomores for a total of 11 with one year of experience or less.

“We’ve been focusing on finishing in practice and doing everything we can to bear down in those tough areas where we need to bury the puck,” Melnick said. “Just focusing on those scoring habits, and I think our line chemistry is really good right now, so it will be really interesting to see how we do the next couple of weeks.”

Said Blasi: “I like the way we’re balanced – we have a little bit of everything – and we’ve just got to continue to get better.”

DEFENSEMEN

Out are standout Matthew Caito and shutdown blueliners Chris Joyaux and Taylor Richart, which means Miami must replace half of its starting D-corps from 2015-16.

But obviously Belpedio will anchor the blue line, and senior Colin Sullivan, junior Scott Dornbrock and Hutton return and should be solid in their end.

Belpedio played 34 of 36 games and went 4-13-17, Dornbrock also logged 34 games and picked up six assists, Hutton dished for five helpers in 35 games and Sullivan scored a goal in 15 contests.

Assuming those four start each night, that leaves two spots for four freshmen.

“I think we’re got a good group of guys to step right in and fill those shoes,” Belpedio said. “This past weekend (in the exhibition vs. Waterloo) everyone got to dress, everyone played really well and it’ll be interesting to see what happens from here on out. But I think we have a strong D-corps, and even though we lost those guys I think we’ve got some good new faces.”

Grant Frederic is one of the favorites to land ample playing time, having captained USHL Green Bay last season. Frederic, a 6-feet-3 St. Louis native whose brother was drafted in the first round by Boston this June, went 2-12-14 with a plus-20 rating for the Gamblers and has a reputation as a big hitter.

Chaz Switzer, Jared Brandt and Bryce Hatten are the other three rookie blueliners. Hatten was injured much of last season and may still need time in 2016-17 to return to 100 percent. Hatten and Switzer are 19 while Brandt turns 21 later this month.

GOALTENDING

The rawest position for Miami, the four RedHawks goalies have logged a total of nine minutes, and the netminder who did play in a game – Evan McCarthy – is out with an undisclosed injury.

“In terms of goaltenders, it’s such a unique position,” Blasi said. “I think having three freshmen goalies battling it out every night, sometimes it’s nice to see the energy and the commitment and the passion that they have to prove themselves.”

Ryan Larkin played the first two periods of the exhibition, which is interesting because in the past when Miami has had split situations – which it has had most of the past decade – the top two goalies have played 30 minutes each.

Larkin, the cousin of Detroit Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin, was limited to four games last year because of injury and went 3-1-2.13 with a .917 save percentage. He had a .919 save percentage in 2014-15 in his only full season in the USHL.

Chase Munroe stopped all nine shots he faced in the third period on Saturday and finished 19-15-2.22-.912 with Minnesota of the NAHL in 2015-16.

Munroe has plenty of juniors experience, coming to Oxford at age 21 having played three full seasons in the NAHL.

“Obviously on any team, goaltending’s extremely important, like a backbone for a team as a whole,” Belpedio said. “Chase and Ryan are outstanding goaltenders and I think they’ll be able to step right in for us and make an impact immediately.”

The late addition to the team is Andrew Masters, who is also 21 and dominated in the Ontario Junior Hockey League, posting a .934 save percentage last season.

Richart is Miami’s black and blueliner

OXFORD, Ohio – While Taylor Richart’s presence in Miami’s lineup seems like a given on a nightly basis, there was a point when he pondered whether he had a shot at making it to this level.

Undersized for a defenseman at 5-feet-9, the senior went from having to try out to make an NAHL team to logging 122 games at the Division I level for the RedHawks and becoming one of their most dependable and toughest stay-at-home blueliners.

Taylor Richart as a freshman (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Taylor Richart as a freshman (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

“He comes in, works his (butt) off every day, he really attacks it – practice, workouts, whatever it may be – real detail oriented, and he makes sure does all of the little things right,” goalie and classmate Jay Williams said. “He wants to do everything he can in his power to make sure he’s ready (for games), and obviously you’ve seen the results: For the past two years he’s been one of our best, most consistent players on our back end.”

Richart was born and still lives in Blaine, Minn., a northern suburb of Minneapolis, and was a rink rat practically from birth. His father, Scott, played for the University of Minnesota and still coaches youngsters.

Richart learned how to skate at a small park a couple of minutes from their home as a toddler and was a natural on the ice.

“Even when I was two years old I would put a pair of skates on and walk around the house,” Richart said. “Everything in my house is hockey since my dad grew up around hockey.”

Prep hockey is huge in Minnesota, and Richart helped Blaine High School qualify for the state tournament twice, including a third-place finish in 2009. He was named to the all-conference team in 2010.

Richart at the outdoor game in Chicago in 2013 (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Richart at the outdoor game in Chicago in 2013 (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

But at that point, he didn’t see a lucrative future for himself in the sport and considered non-scholarship competition.

Richart also patrolled second base and shortstop growing up, and he thought he could play hockey in the winter and baseball in spring if he went to a Division III school.

After his senior year of high school, Richart received a call from an acquaintance that offered him a tryout for NAHL Aberdeen. Richart not only earned his way onto that team, he logged 53 games, scoring twice and dishing out 10 assists.

He worked as hard as anyone on the ice, impressing so much that he joined a USHL team the following season and went 7-9-16 for Fargo.

“His work ethic is really something that’s above and beyond,” senior defenseman Matthew Caito said. “Everything he does, he does 100 percent and he gives it his all, and guys really follow him, and we feed off of that. His intensity and work ethic in practice is amazing to watch. He’s one of my good friends, but I’m not just saying that because he is. It’s true – he’s one of our great leaders.”

Richart was preparing for a third season in juniors when a late defection left Miami short a defenseman. He came to Oxford for a visit and fell in love with the campus.

“That year we had (Steve) Spinell and (Joe) Hartman and (Garrett) Kennedy and (Matthew) Caito obviously with (Joyaux) and Ben Paulides – a year older,” RedHawks coach Enrico Blasi said. “So we needed him to come in right away and compete for playing time and he did that.”

Richart as a sophomore (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Richart as a sophomore (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Richart proved himself ready for that challenge right away as well.

Two years after trying out to make an NAHL team, Richart was in the lineup for an elite Division I school. He played 40 of 42 games as a freshman, went plus-2 with four assists and was fourth on the team with 49 blocked shots.

“From Day 1 he’s had that hockey IQ, and it’s obvious – if you watch him play you can see it,” Caito said. “It’s great how he’s always in the right position at the right time.”

A concussion essentially ended Richart’s season after 24 games as a sophomore. Despite the short year, he managed five assists and still blocked 36 shots while taking just one minor penalty.

With more freshmen coming in for his junior season, Richart again had to work his way into the lineup. After being scratched for the first five contests of 2014-15, he hit the ice for the final 35.

“I knew coming into the year I was kind in an odd spot because we had a lot of guys coming in as well, so I knew I had to work my butt off when I came to the rink every day,” Richart said. “Positive attitude, just kind of wait for chance, and when the chance came I grabbed it and ran with it.”

Richart netted his only career goal that season in a 3-0 win over Cornell on Dec. 29, 2014. He piled up 45 more blocks, finished plus-5 and took just three minors.

In 23 games this season, Richart leads team with 46 blocked shots – 11 ahead of any other RedHawk. – and he has three assists.

“The last couple years he’s done a tremendous job, really working hard to bring everything else along,” Williams said.

Richart as a junior (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Richart as a junior (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

He also won the team’s hardest shot competition prior to this season.

“He’ll tell you that his shot’s gotten a little harder, but I don’t know about that,” Williams said. “They clocked it before the season but it might have been in kilometers.”

Said Blasi: “He came in his freshman year, kind of struggled sophomore year – which is not uncommon for guys – toward the end of his sophomore year started to come out of it and had a real solid year last year and he’s been pretty good this year. Those are always the good stories when the guys work themselves into the lineup and contribute and are mainstays.”

He also has just four penalty minutes, giving him 12 PIM in 90 games since the start of his sophomore season, a marvel considering his stay-at-home role.

Richart has a goal and 16 assists for his career, but points are a deceiving stat for a player in his role, and his total does not reflect the obvious improvement in his game since he first set foot on the ice at Cady Arena in 2012.

“His sound plays with the puck,” Caito said. “When he was younger, he kind of forced pucks a little bit just like everyone does when they first come into college. Now he’s really harnessed in on making the simple plays and realizing that plays lead to bigger opportunities for us. His defensive play is amazing right now.”

Having a father who played at the college level and still coaches has helped Richart become a smarter player as well.

“He knows the game very well, and as a smaller guy you have to know the game a little better,” Blasi said.

Richart uses the hockey smarts he father instilled in him to overcome the size deficit he faces when he dresses for games against ultra-physical NCHC opponents.

Richart grimaces after blocking a shot (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Richart grimaces after blocking a shot (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

“You’re not going to out-muscle guys – you’ve just got to be smart,” Richart said. “Know the game, know your strengths and weaknesses. Just make strong plays. I know I’m not going to be the bigger guy, and that’s part of the reason why I kind of got overlooked, because I’m smaller, but I always knew I was going to have to out-think someone rather than rough them up.

“That kind of comes from my dad. He taught me to block shots, and he always told me that’s a big part of the game, being a defenseman, so that’s kind of what I prided myself on, blocking shots, taking hits, making plays, being a tough player. Your teammates look up to you when you do that as well, because they see that you’re sacrificing your body for them.”

If there was a statistic for penalty minutes drawn vs. penalty minutes taken, Richart would have to be high on the Division I leaderboard. He has drawn boarding majors numerous times in his career and has rarely missed a shift despite taking some brutal-looking hits.

“He’s got to set an NCAA record for being on the receiving end of hits from behind,” Williams said. “Obviously every time it happens it’s scary and it’s dangerous plays usually, and your No. 1 concern is thankfully he’s OK and his health and his safety. But drawing penalties is the result of hard work and moving your feet and doing the right things, and playing disciplined but playing with an edge and aggressive, so I think that’s kind of a testament to how he plays and how hard he works out there.”

Said Blasi: “He puts himself in that situation where he’s competing so hard for pucks that he’s going to take some punishment. As a smaller guy that’s just the name of the game – you’re just going to have to take it and move on.”

Besides the concussion, Richart said he has broken fingers a couple of times, fractured a foot on multiple occasions and has received countless stitches.

He also bruised a lung earlier this season and required medical treatment as he was coughing up blood. Richard missed just two games for the latter, the only times he has not been in the lineup in 2015-16.

“A couple of times I’ve gotten stitches this year and last year and just put some glue on it and repair after the period so I don’t miss time,” Richart said.

Richart as a senior (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Richart as a senior (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Whenever Richart has to visit a doctor, the paperwork heads north to his parents.

“My mom always gets the bills, an X-ray here, an X-ray there, there’s probably a stack about 20 deep,” Richart said. “They always joke that when I get an X-ray they know me by name there – I have a little VIP section where I go in.”

Caito is one of Richart’s best friends, and he said that Richart has earned the nickname The Deputy because of his militaristic routine.

“He’s real strict about his schedule and he gets all upset if you mess with it,” Williams said. “Kind of the iron fist.”

Richart has a 3.3 grade-point average as a sports leadership management major and will graduate this spring. He want to continue playing hockey in the professional ranks beyond this season but is currently focused on his final collegiate games as he wraps up his last few months in Oxford.

“The coaching staff, the guys – this place is just unbelievable,” Richart said. “Even the first time I came for my visit in the summer when no one was here, I knew this was the place for me. Everything is set up for you to succeed – the professors want you to succeed, the coaches want you to succeed, not only on ice but they want you to grow as a person. They care about you and they have so much respect for you. I’ve made some of the best friends I’ll have for life here. It’s been an unbelievable experience.”

Blue line is Caito’s institute

OXFORD, Ohio – A successful career in college athletics has always been in Matthew Caito’s pedigree.

Several members of the senior defenseman’s family have competed for Division I schools.

But not in hockey, a seemingly unlikely sport of choice for a 22-year-old raised in Southern California.

His parents, both college athletes originally from New England, encouraged the 5-feet-11, 187-pound Caito to choose hockey, and it was a natural fit.

“They just really started getting me into it, and I really liked it,” Caito said. “Got my first stick when I was really little and I fell in love with it.”

Caito’s father and grandfather both played football for Boston University, and he had uncles that suited up for the Boston College and University of Pittsburgh football teams.

Matthew Caito confronting a Notre Dame player as a freshman (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Matthew Caito confronting a Notre Dame player as a freshman (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

His aunts played field hockey, and his mother was a collegiate gymnast.

The increasingly-violent nature of football is why Caito was steered away from the gridiron. However, rinks are rare in the San Diego suburb of Coto de Caza, where he hails from.

With limited local practice facilities, Caito spent of lot of time traveling in search of ice.

“It’s tough – the minimum ride is probably 30 minutes with no traffic, and with traffic it’s probably an hour-plus,” Caito said. “My parents were always good about getting me there, so I really thank them for all of the time and effort that they put into that – getting me to practices every day.”

Caito’s hockey talent was obvious, so during his high school years he was sent across the country to the Salisbury prep school in Connecticut, where he joined current teammate Kevin Morris.

“That’s where you kind of gauge yourself when you’re younger,” Caito said. “Obviously you’ve got to realize you’ve got time to develop, so going back east where it’s easier (to be discovered), that was really the gauging point where maybe I could do something with this.”

Following two years in prep school, Caito spent one season in juniors, playing for Dubuque, where he was second in defenseman points (26) and first among blueliners in assists (19). He finished that campaign with the second-best plus-minus on the team at plus-16.

Matthew Caito as a freshman (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Matthew Caito as a freshman (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

During his prep school years, Caito participated an evaluation camp in Oxford with former RedHawk Riley Barber while current MU assistant coach Brent Brekke was in attendance, setting the stage for Caito’s Miami career.

Caito fell in love with the campus as soon as he saw it. Knowing that friends and classmates Jay Williams and Alex Gacek, who were also in east-coast prep schools, were both committed to Miami helped seal his decision.

“I’m like, if there’s more kids like these that are coming in with my class these are going to be a great four years, and it’s been that way,” Caito said.

A goal of Caito’s was to come to Oxford as a true freshman, and after just one season in the USHL, he dressed for Miami on opening night in October of 2012.

Matthew Caito at the outdoor game at Soldier Field in 2013 (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Matthew Caito at the outdoor game at Soldier Field in 2013 (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

“He’s obviously pretty offensive-minded at times, but he’s very dependable, pretty good defensively,” RedHawks coach Enrico Blasi said. “We just felt like he would be an all-around player for us on the D-side of things.”

All he did his rookie season was lead the RedHawks in defensemen goals, assists and points (5-6-21).

“Obviously he’s tremendously talented and he’s got the work ethic and the right mindset and the good head on his shoulders,” Williams said. “He comes to work every day to make the most of it. Pretty much from Day 1 he’s been first D-pair for us and played 30 minutes a night. Just the experience and the attitude he brings is invaluable to the team.”

He was the lone freshman to play every game in 2012-13, led Miami with 81 blocked shots and he tied for third with a plus-12 rating on a team that advanced to the NCAA regional final in Toledo.

“He just has a knack for seeing the ice,” senior defenseman Taylor Richart said. “Stretch plays that will open up, and he’ll know it’s going to open up before that even happens. I think that’s just having the hockey IQ that he has and just studying the game – he’s always watching video, stuff like that – I think knowing the players and being around the game so much, he knows what’s going to happen before it actually happens.”

Matthew Caito as a sophomore (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Matthew Caito as a sophomore (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Sophomore season was a disappointing one for the RedHawks overall, the lone campaign in the last 10 years they did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament, but Caito led the team in blocks again with 73.

Matthew Caito as a junior (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Matthew Caito as a junior (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

He also topped the defense corps in assists (13) and points (16), finishing with more helpers than the second- and third-best D-men combined in that category.

It was another solid season for Caito as a junior, as he went 4-20-24 – again posting Miami defensemen highs in the latter two – and he led the team with a plus-19 rating and in blocked shots with 64. That includes a goal and an assist in the RedHawks’ NCAA Tournament loss to Providence.

“Matty’s decision-making has gotten a lot better at times,” Blasi said. “When he’s playing well he keeps things simple he makes smart plays in the defensive zone and the offensive zone.”

This season, Caito has three goals and six assists for nine points and 32 blocks. All of his goals have come on the power play, and he netted the game winner at Nebraska-Omaha on Jan. 22 in a 3-1 win over the seventh-ranked Mavericks.

That’s a total of 250 blocked shots. In 3½ seasons, Caito has recorded 15 goals and 55 assists for 70 points. He currently ranks ninth in school history in defenseman assists and points and is tied for eighth in markers.

Matthew Caito and Taylor Richart celebrate after winning the NCHC championship in 2015 (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Matthew Caito and Taylor Richart celebrate after winning the NCHC championship in 2015 (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

“For the most part he’s been really dependable and reliable back there for us,” Blasi said. “He’s played a lot of minutes and a lot of games for us, and that’s what we thought we saw in the future when we were recruiting him. I would say he’s done everything that we expected him to do.”

In the Cady Arena era, Alec Martinez is the only defenseman with more goals than Caito, and Martinez has won a pair of Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings.

And then there’s Caito’s durablility. He has missed one game in his career at Miami, and that was the opener in 2014-15. He has played in 142 games and is just 16 shy of cracking the top 10 in team history.

For that to happen, the RedHawks need to play three postseason games, and they are guaranteed two in the best-of-3 first-round series under the NCHC format. Curtis McKenzie and Joe Hartman are currently tied for ninth all-time with 158 games played.

The statistics don’t always do responsible defensemen justice, but Caito has improved in his play across the board, from clearing pucks on the penalty kill to becoming more physical and knocking forwards entering the offensive zone around.

“I’m happy, it’s all like the simple plays and consistency is the big thing I’ve learned since being a freshman and coming in and all that,” Caito said. “Really, playing sound in my own end and making good decisions with the puck is a huge thing. And then offensively, working with Coach Blasi and Coach (Nick) Petraglia and Coach Brekke, just working on finding lanes to the net and finding guys’ sticks – simple stuff that helps you statistically over the years.”

Richart is one of his best friends on the team, and the two have been friends since coming to Oxford. The duo is nicknamed the Rock Brothers because they are so close, and both are similarly solid on defense.

“I knew (Caito) a little bit playing against him in juniors…and when I met him my visit freshman year I knew he was going to be one of the hard workers,” Richart said. “Kind of had his head on straight, and I looked up to him right when I first got here because I knew he was a good defenseman. He knew what he was talking about – defensive partner to (Steve) Spinell – so comes to the rink, works hard every day. He’s a great kid.”

Richart has seen Caito’s improvement first hand over the past four years.

“I think his all-around game defensively, always closing guys off, being tough to play against, a tough-nosed defenseman,” Richart said. “He has that offensive side to him, too, where his shot is great. He knows when to step up into the play, and he knows when to stay back, and I think (his) reading the situation has gotten a lot better with him.”

Matthew Caito as a senior (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Matthew Caito as a senior (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

And Caito has made Williams’ life much easier in front of him with his tough defensive play.

“He’s so smart with the puck and he’s so steady, and his consistency – you know what you’re going to get,” Williams said. “Good day, bad day, whatever, he’s real steady, real even-keeled. He keeps his emotions in check, and he’s just a tremendous player.”

Caito is set to graduate this spring with a 3.0 grade-point average in sports management with a minor in economics.

His professional future appears bright. Any AHL team would be lucky to have a two-way defenseman with Caito’s talent.

But for the next couple of months, Caito is focused on completing his degree and his senior season, and he reflected on his time at Miami.

“It’s meant so much,” Caito said. “I have my best friends here – I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Just to share it with these guys is awesome. The school is beautiful, everyone around it is great, great community, great experience, and it’s something that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”

2015-16 Miami season preview

Miami lost 10 players from its NCHC Tournament championship team in 2014-15, including its top three points producers, but six regulars on defense plus both goalies return this fall as the RedHawks chase their 10th NCAA Tournament berth in 11 years.

So with the loss of Austin Czarnik, Blake Coleman and Riley Barber plus others up front, Miami will need more offensive production out of its returning forwards and its newbies.

The RedHawks entering the NCAA Tournament as the top seed in the Northeast Region last season but lost in the opening round, 7-5 to Providence. Miami hosts the Friars this weekend to open 2015-16.

The Blog of Brotherhood takes a look at this season’s RedHawks by position.

FORWARDS

Czarnik, Barber and Coleman netted 49 of the team’s 130 goals and finished with 45, 40 and 37 points, respectively, and are all in the pros this fall.

Senior Sean Kuraly is the returning leading goal scorer with 19 goals and 10 assists last season. He was also named team captain this off-season, taking over the reins from Czarnik, who had held that post for two years.

Sean Kuraly.

Sean Kuraly.

“Huge honor,” Kuraly said. “It’s not just given away, I think it’s something that’s earned, and obviously it’s a great honor for me to wear that (‘C’), it’s not something that I take lightly, I know it comes with a lot of responsibility.”

Kuraly is the first son a former player, as his father, Rick Kuraly, is the team’s all-time leading scorer with 101 career goals. Sean Kuraly has 37 in three seasons and needs 65 to top his dad.

“I’m going for 70,” Sean Kuraly said.

Junior Anthony Louis finished with 36 points last season, fourth on the team and tops among all RedHawks back this fall. His 27 assists were second on the team.

After that, the dropoff is substantial, as seniors Alex Gacek and Kevin Morris both went 5-9-14 in 2014-15.

However, Gacek played the best hockey of his RedHawks career the second half of last season and has become a strong defensive forward. Morris also plays good defense and scored all of his goals on the power play, finishing plus-6.

Junior Justin Greenberg, senior Andrew Schmit and sophomore Conor Lemirande also logged significant minutes last season, but Devin Loe and Michael Mooney – who combined to play 21 games – are the only other returning forwards that saw the ice last season.

Jack Roslovic is the team’s top incoming forward. The former U.S. National Development standout, who played on that team’s top line last season, was drafted in the first round, 25th overall by Winnipeg in this summer’s NHL draft. He has two assists in the exhibition last weekend.

Ryan Siroky, Zach LaValle, Josh Melnick and Kiefer Sherwood are the other freshmen forwards. Melnick found the net vs. Western Ontario on Saturday.

“I think every so often we go through a transition where we lose some real good guys, and you have to allow the young guys that you’ve brought in, to trust them and to allow them to grow into those roles, and we feel like we’ve done that,” Blasi said. “Those guys have to step up and play their role, and it might take a little time, but this isn’t anything that we haven’t been through before. Everyone wanted to question when Ryan Jones and Nate Davis left, and Andy Greene, and then everyone wanted to question when (Andy) Miele and (Carter) Camper and (Pat) Cannone) and Reilly Smith left, and I get it. But that’s what we’re paid to do is bring in guys that can play.”

With only nine returning forwards from last season and Roslovic a near lock to dress every night, the new forwards should have plenty of opportunity to his the ice.

“Obviously I think we have a lot coming in, but Czarnik, Barber, Coleman, (Cody Murphy, Alex Wideman), it’s a lot to replace, so we’re going to have to prove that we can score some goals, step up,” Sean Kuraly said. “I think we’re going to be relying a lot on our senior goalies and basically senior defensemen. It’s going to be a learning curve for sure, but I think the guys have what it takes, and we always replenish what we lose.”

DEFENSEMEN

Miami only lost Ben Paulides from last season’s team on defense, returning six regulars.

“That means we’re going a lot of faith in our defensemen to step up in big situations, and guys are progressing, so with the experience, (this group) should be very good,” senior Matthew Caito said.

The top pairing of Caito and sophomore Louie Belpedio lead this group after ending last season plus-19 and plus-15, respectively.

Matthew Caito (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Matthew Caito (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Caito had a career-best 24 points, including 20 assists, and will move into the top 10 all-time in Miami defensemen scoring this season. His 64 blocks led the team, and he has missed just one game in three years.

Belpedio, the Minnesota Wild’s third-round selection in 2014, posted a team blueliner-high six goals as a freshman, and also added 13 helpers.

Senior Taylor Richart earned most improved player honors, going 1-5-6. Sophomore Scott Dornbrock scored in last week’s exhibition and went 2-6-8 in 2014-15.

Senior Chris Joyaux ended last season with six assists in 38 games, and junior Colin Sullivan was limited to nine games because of an injury and the RedHawks’ team depth, but the former Montréal Canadiens draftee played well when he was in the lineup.

“Really, all year, (the defensemen) were unbelievable in front of me, blocking shots and limiting second and third opportunities, getting pucks out of dangerous areas,” senior goalie Jay Williams said. “We really started firing on all cylinders from a systems standpoint and executing last year, so that was a huge help.

“You’ve all the trust in the world and all the confidence in the world in them. They’re experienced and they know what to do. I would think (goalie) Ryan (McKay) would saw the exact same thing – knowing that they’re going to be there and they’ve got our back.”

The only freshman on the team is Grant Hutton, who is 6-feet-3 and went plus-26 for NAHL champion Janesville in 2014-15.

“That’s the great thing about it, is every day is a competition and guys are always battling for spots, and it helps them get better, which is great,” Caito said. “That’s what we have on D – we’ve got the depth that will make practice very competitive and very fun.”

With only 24 players on the roster this year, Mooney has experience on defense and could jump in there if Miami has injury issues.

“The luxury of having our veteran ‘D’ and goaltenders is nice, and we can focus on the younger guys up front,” Blasi said.

The blueline corps, which found the net just 16 times all of last season, scored three of the team’s six goals in the exhibition.

“It’s the effort to get more pucks on net, and we’re going be moving up in the play a lot more and helping our forwards out on the rush, so that’s how you get three goals, when you’re doing that stuff,” Caito said.

GOALIES

Like the defense corps, Miami has an all-veteran starting corps here.

Williams had his best season as a RedHawk in 2014-15, going 19-8-0 with a 2.04 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. His 38 career wins rank him fifth all-time in Miami history.

Williams also tied a school record with five shutouts.

Williams2

“Jay has been able to grow as a goaltender and as an individual off the ice, and I think all of those things came to fruition for him a year ago,” Blasi said. “He looks great right now, and it’s a tough decision again (who to play), but that’s also something that we want, we want that competition. It brings out the best in all of them.”

McKay, also a senior, went 6-6-1, 3.09 and .898 last season. While his numbers weren’t great, he posted a .946 save percentage as a freshman and has the second-leading save percentage on the school’s all-time leaderboard (.920). He is also fourth in career shutouts with eight.

“Goaltending is difficult, let’s face it,” Blasi said. “You’re under a lot of pressure and sometimes it doesn’t go your way. I thought Ryan, as a young man, matured a great deal for us and obviously for himself. I think he understands what might have gone wrong for him last year, and he’s had a great attitude and he’s worked really hard to get himself back into a spot where he can compete for to be the starter and contribute on our team.”

Williams ended up logging the majority of minutes last season, but both should play a significant amount this year.

“It’s awesome, the two-headed monster has always been key for us, and I know both guys are going to step up for us and have great years,” Caito said.

Those two should eat up all of the minutes in net for the RedHawks, and freshman Evan McCarthy will serve as the team’s third goalie. McCarthy, who is expected to compete for playing time next season, went 9-8-3.05 for NAHL Kenai Valley in 2014-15.

“Obviously it was a good year – I think the most important thing is our success as a team,” Williams said. “It was pretty exciting to be able to win the NCHC. Things obviously didn’t work out in the end, but looking at the whole body of work and the guys we have coming back, I think we have a lot to be excited about to build on to get this year started right away.”

#10 Miami v. #7 Providence

Yep.

We’re back. And, we are the three best friends any Miami hockey fan could ever have as the Tremendous Trio of John, Mike and Doug will conspire to bring you even better coverage this year than in past years.

But, more on that later. Enough of the offseason previews and fancy media day pressers. It’s time for the first weekly preview of the season and we couldn’t be happier.

When we last saw you, Miami, minus it’s top two goal scorers, played a first round NCAA tournament game against eventual national champion, Providence. Well, those two goal scorers have since moved on, so once again, Miami will face Providence without its top two goal scorers from a season ago.

For Miami, it was heartbreak as the RedHawks fought back from a 6-2 deficit to make it a 6-5 game on the strength of three extra-attacker goals.

Then, this happened.

And, you really felt like Miami would find a way to tie the game. Alas, Providence finally found an empty-net goal and won the game 7-5 en route to the program’s first national championship.

But, this is a new season and both squads will line up differently than they did in March.

Providence

One of these days Miami will pose for a picture like this. (Maddie Meyer)

Last season’s Providence Friars were built from the net out as they relied heavily on their goaltender and an impressive group of blueliners. Lost among all that defense was a solid, if unspectacular, group of forwards with the talent to put enough pucks in nets. That squad engineered a four-game winning streak at precisely the right time that included victories over three consecutive NCHC squads — Miami, Denver and Omaha — en route to a championship win over fellow Hockey East foe Boston University.

This season, Providence returns 19 letter-winners including a group of experienced forwards looking to end their college careers with back-to-back national titles including last season’s top scorer Nick Saracino (14-24-38) who contributed two assists in the win over Miami. In addition, Trevor Mingoia (15-16-31) and Brandon Tanev (10-13-23) who both contributed 1-1-2 in the 7-5 win return as do Mark Jankowski (8-19-27) and the top scorer from the blueline Tom Parisi (5-19-24). In short, the Friars are loaded with veteran talent looking to prove that last season’s improbable run to a national title was no fluke.

The only real question mark for Providence is in net where two juniors, Brendan Leahy and Nick Ellis, along with freshman Hayden Hawkey (I swear I did not make that up) will vie to fill the vacancy created by Gillies’ early departure. Last season, the two of them played a combined 193 minutes with Ellis getting 189 of them meaning the Friars are extremely inexperienced in net. It would seem that the race for the starting goaltender job is wide open.

During his weekly press conference, Miami head coach Enrico Blasi talked about the challenge of facing the Friars.

“Everything that they do is a challenge (to play against),” Blasi said. “They’re well coached…they have a D-corps that is very mobile and veteran, they have forwards that have contributed to their national championship run that are back, high-end forwards – their power play is very good, so we’re going to make sure that we stay out of the box. We’re going to have to play good team defense, and they do a real good job in transition. They’re as good as anybody that we’re going to see all year, and we’ve got to be ready for them.”

Miami

Miami would love to “sing a song” again this season. (Jim Rosvold)

Considering the challenge in facing the defending national champions and the team that just ended your season, Miami senior netminder Jay Williams had this to say about the need for additional motivation for the season’s opening weekend.

“Absolutely not,” Williams said. “But at the same time it’s important that we not over-hype it and approach it like we have every day and be consistent and not let the emotions take over too much. Because then you become a bit of a wild card. But certainly we’re excited to play them.”

Predicted to finish third and sixth this season by USCHO writers Matthew Semisch and Candace Horgan respectively, and fifth by the media’s preseason poll, Miami enters the 2015-16 season looking to replace its top two goal scorers (Blake Coleman, Riley Barber) and its captain, Austin Czarnik from a squad that finished second in the NCHC and claimed the conference’s second-ever tournament championship on the strength of victories over Denver and St. Cloud en route to a #1 seed in the national tournament. In fact, Miami must replace five of its top nine scorers from a year ago. You can read more about Miami’s roster makeover from BOB’s John Lachmann here.

Senior captain Sean Kuraly netted a career-high 19 goals last season, and along with junior Anthony Louis, will be expected to carry the offensive load while a large class of freshmen forwards including first round NHL draft pick Jack Roslovic (Winnipeg) adjust to the college game. In net, seniors Jay Williams and Ryan McKay are back for one more season of “goalie

Jack Roslovic is an Ohio native and first round draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets. (Miami Athletics)

Jack Roslovic is an Ohio native and first round draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets. (Miami Athletics)

carousel” as it’s anybody’s guess if one or the other will seize the bulk of the playing time. In fact, in last weekend’s opening 6-1 exhibition victory over Western Ontario, the two seniors split 60 minutes about as evenly as they possibly could with Williams surrendering the only goal against on the evening.

“This is the national champion from a year ago, but at the same time we’ve got a lot we’ve got to work on,” Blasi said. “Providence, although they have a lot of guys coming back, they have some different looks. For us, for our culture and the way we develop, and the way we try to educate our players, is you have get up for every game in college hockey. Providence happens to be our first opponent, and we’re thrilled that we’re coming, and we’ve got a lot of respect for them and their coaching staff.”

“We want to play the best, and Providence is certainly the defending national champions and they have a lot of weapons,” Blasi said. “We’ve got to be ready and we’ve got to prepare well during the week.”

The Prediction

This is a difficult series to pick because while we know Miami will be leaning on its defense and veteran goaltending, we simply do not know a lot about the newcomers and the lack of roster depth is concerning. That’s not to say there won’t be roster battles as there will be a few skaters sitting each weekend, but with only 24 skaters on the roster it’s more important than ever that the coaching staff dresses the right guys every night.

Considering the emotional way Miami’s season ended a year ago, and the need to prove themselves early in the year, I’ll pick a split, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Providence get a sweep as they return so much from last year’s title team.

Both games can be heard via TuneIn Radio and seen via the NCHC.tv package. Greg Waddell (PxP) and Drew Davis (analysis) return to call all the action.

From the League Office

• After NCHC teams went 6-1 in exhibition games last weekend (Omaha didn’t play), all eight NCHC teams open the 2015-16 regular season this weekend with non-conference games. Two series feature a pair of top-10 teams as No. 11/10 Miami hosts defending national champion and No. 7/7 Providence for two games, while No. 10/11 Omaha travels to No. 6/9 Minnesota State for two games. The Friars eliminated Miami from the NCAA Tournament last season while the two Mavericks also opened last season against each other, splitting two games in Omaha.

• Two other NCHC teams are traveling to opposite ends of the country to open the season at tournaments. No. 4/4 North Dakota drops the puck on 2015-16 at the Ice Breaker Tournament in Portland, Maine, while No. 17 St. Cloud State begins at the Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage, Alaska.

  • UND officially begins the Brad Berry era on Friday as he begins his first season at the helm of his alma mater after nine seasons as an assistant coach at UND. He is the only new head coach in NCAA men’s hockey (D-I) this season.

• St. Cloud State senior forward Kalle Kossila is the active career leader in points in the NCHC with 99 and sixth among active NCAA players. His 65 career assists are second among active NCAA players.

• Omaha returns 91.4 percent of its goal-scoring from last season and 90.1 percent of its points from a year ago, both of which are the highest percentage of any NCAA team this season. 

• Omaha junior forward Austin Ortega, who set the NCAA single-season record with 11 game-winning goals last season, is the active NCAA leader in career game-winners with 12. Miami senior forward Sean Kuraly is tied for second among active players with 11 career game-winning tallies. 

• North Dakota senior forward Drake Caggiula has played in 123 career games, the most of any active NCAA player. Miami senior defenseman Matthew Caito and Denver seniors Nolan Zajac and Gabe Levin have all played in 119 career games, which is tied for third among active players.

• NCHC teams have a combined 44 NHL Draft picks on their rosters.

•  In the NCHC Preseason Poll, Minnesota Duluth was picked as the favorite to capture the Penrose Cup, earning 17 of 30 first-place votes. UND, the defending Penrose Cup champions, Denver and Miami also received first-place votes in the poll.

Top 10 stats to track 2015-16

For the stats geek of any team and in any sport, it’s fun to watch players vault themselves onto all-time team leaderboards

With the success of the Miami hockey program the past decade, many skaters and goalies have muscled up the ranks in numerous categories.

The Blog of Brotherhood takes a look at some team and individual numbers to watch 2015-16.

1. Miami’s win total – According to its media guides, Miami has 679 all-time wins and needs 21 to reach 700. The RedHawks have recorded at least that many victories in nine of their last 10 seasons. Coach Enrico Blasi has 351 of those wins, and he has coached the team for 16 of its 37 seasons.

2. Sean Kuraly’s GWGs – Kuraly set a school record in 2014-15 with nine game-winning goals.

Sean Kuraly.

Sean Kuraly (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

He is already in a six-way tie for fifth all-time at Miami with 11 for his career, and he needs just two to move into third on the career leaderboard. Ryan Jones owns to RedHawks’ mark with 21.

3. Jay Williams’ wins – With a breakout 19-win season, Williams is now tied for sixth in the school record book with 36 victories. He needs to just five to crack the top five and is 24 off the Miami mark, held by 2003 graduate David Burleigh (60).

4. Coach Enrico Blasi’s win total – This is now one to watch each year, as Blasi is already 30th in Division I history with 351 wins. Remember that Blasi took over the job at age 27 and won’t turn 44 until next February. With 10 of the school’s 12 NCAA Tournament appearances occurring on his watch, including its only two Frozen Four berths, and nine trips to the NCAAs in the last 10 years, Blasi should remain in Oxford for a long time.

Enrico Blasi.

Enrico Blasi (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

A number of coaches immediately ahead of Blasi are still active, so moving up the ranks the next couple of seasons will be difficult, but he has a legitimate shot at 400 by the end of 2016-17, which is a pretty big milestone in college hockey, especially since teams play just 35-40 games per campaign on average. By the way, Boston College’s Jerry York holds the NCAA record with 984 wins.

5. Anthony Louis points – Miami fans have been spoiled over the past five years with Andy Miele, Carter Camper and Austin Czarnik all posting over 150 career points and shooting into the top 10.

Anthony Louis.

Anthony Louis (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

This is more of a 20-16-17 tracker alert, as Louis will be a junior this fall, but he already has 21 goals and 40 assists for 61 points, and with 36 points last season, he could become the 51st member of the 100-point club. Barring injury and other factors, he could move pretty far up the 100-point club list next season.

6. Matthew Caito defenseman points and assists – The senior has slowly been moving up the ranks, and he is just four out of the top 10 in points by blueliners. He is averaging 20 points a season, and 20 more would give him a career total of 81, placing him eighth in school history for defensemen. His 49 assists have him one out of the top 10 behind Cameron Schilling. If he hits his average of 16 he would also end his career eighth that category among defensemen with 65.

Matthew Caito (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Matthew Caito (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

7. McKay/Williams shutouts – Jay Williams tied a school record with five shutouts in 2014-15, giving him seven for his career, and he is still one behind Ryan McKay for the active lead. McKay has eight and Williams is at seven, ranking fourth and tied for fifth in school history, respectively. The record is held by Connor Knapp (13), and Cody Reichard and Burleigh are tied with 12, so both would have much work to do to move up, but they have had exemplary careers in Oxford and either could challenge the record, especially if one takes over the starting reins exclusively.

Jay Williams.

Jay Williams (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

8. More Jay and McKay – Speaking of goalies, despite an off-year, McKay is second in the qualitative career save percentage category at .920. Williams moved into the top 10 and is sitting at .911, good enough for sixth all-time. Jeff Zatkoff is the RedHawks’ leader at .927.

9. Even more Jay and McKay – And then there’s goals-against average. Williams moved ahead of McKay and into fourth place in this qualitative stat at 2.29 vs. 2.31. Williams has the fourth-best mark in Miami history, McKay is fifth. Connor Knapp holds the school GAA mark at 1.94, and that would take a major effort to topple, even if one started almost every game and went well below 2.00 this season.

10. Caito’s games-played total – Among the seniors at Miami, Caito is the clear leader in games played in his three seasons with 119, having missed just one contest (the 2014-15 opener vs. Bowling Green…Miami lost that game…coincidence?). He needs to play 39 games this season to tie for ninth all-time, and his advancement in this category depends on his continued health and earning the right to dress (a near given to this point with him) as well as the team’s success. Only five Miamians have played 160 career games, but he has a shot to join that exclusive club.

#11 Denver at #9 Miami

Joey LaLeggia leads a tough Denver team against Miami in Oxford.

After a week spent licking its wounds following an embarrassing sweep at the hands of then seventh place St. Cloud State, 9th ranked Miami (14-8, 7-5 4th NCHC) jumps into the final stretch of the regular season with a challenge from #11 Denver (13-7-1, 6-5 5th NCHC) in Oxford. For Miami, these are the first home games since December 5-6 when they split a league series against Omaha.

After five meetings last year, these are the first of the 2014-15 campaign and first since Miami’s 4-3 loss to Denver in the NCHC championship game in Minneapolis last March. Last season, Miami and the Pioneers split four regular season meetings before Denver prevailed in the title game propelling DU to the NCAA tournament where they were routed by Boston College in the first round of the Dance.

This weekend’s NCHC series against DU is the start of a brutal final month-plus of the regular season as Miami will next face Western Michigan (@Kalamazoo, @Chicago/Hockey City Classic) followed by Colorado College (road), Minnesota-Duluth (home) and Denver again (road) before finishing the regular season with a home series against North Dakota on March 6-7.

The Series

Miami trails the all-time series with the Pioneers 7-6 including a 1-1 mark against Denver in NCAA tournament games.

The Coach

Maine alum Jim Montgomery is in his second season behind the DU bench after replacing legendary head coach George Gwozdecky before the start of last season. Overall, Montgomery is a modest 33-23-7 in his season and a half with the Pioneers and the program is still really looking for the spark I feel they lost in making a mistake by firing Gwozdecky.

The Team

Having seen Denver twice in person, they are a smooth skating, puck-moving team with decent size and goaltending. In a 4-1 victory over outmanned RPI, Denver was dominant. However, in a humbling 3-1 loss to North Dakota, the Pioneers were exposed by speed and stretch passes as UND dominated from start to finish.

Denver was soundly defeated by North Dakota last month. Miami should attempt to replicate UND’s formula for success this weekend.

So, a mixed bag, perhaps. What I will say is that Miami needs to get out in space and challenge the DU forwards to backcheck. It was either an off-night or the Pioneers don’t care much for defensive play so perhaps Miami can use that to its advantage.

Offensively, the Pioneers are led by freshman Danton Heinen (9-16-25) and last year’s leading scorer, sophomore Trevor Moore (9-11-20). On the blueline, junior Joey LaLeggia (8-12-20) leads a stellar group of puck movers and is a player Miami must keep tabs on, particularly on the powerplay.

In net, the Pioneers have split minutes between sophomore Evan Cowley (2.09 GAA, .924 SV, 14 GP) and freshman Tanner Jaillet (2.01 GAA, .920 SV, 12 GP) to almost identical results. Cowley was thought to have been on the short list to make this year’s US WJC team, but was one of the final cuts before the team skidded to a 5th place finish. Frankly, I thought Cowley should have gotten the nod before Brian Halverson who saw little action backing up Boston College’s Thatcher Demko.

Overall, this is a big, fast Pioneer team and Miami will have its hands full. Expect to see both Crash Cousins in the lineup this weekend as Enrico Blasi attempts to get favorable line matchups with the final change.

The Prediction

This is a series Miami needs to sweep. The first two home games in well over a month. Coming off that embarrassing sweep. Despite the fact the students are still on break, I say Miami shows its heart and finds a way to get a tough NCHC series sweep over the Pioneers.

#4 Miami 8, #12 Nebraska-Omaha 2

Thoughts after last night’s 8-2 whipping of #12 Omaha.

Overall, it was a thorough beat down as Miami rattled off seven consecutive goals after actually surrendering the first goal of the game just 4:14 in. Six different RedHawks combined for the 8 goals with senior Cody Murphy notching a natural hat trick (3 consecutive goals) while Kevin Morris, Matthew Caito and Michael Mooney found the net for the first time this season. For Mooney, it was his first career goal, shorthanded, while the Omaha net was mysteriously vacated by Omaha head coach Dean Blais, despite trailing 7-2. Bit of a bush league move if you ask us. Senior captain Austin Czarnik recorded four assists, including his 100th and gave up an opportunity to record his first goal of the season when he passed the puck to Mooney on a 2-on-1 break. On the year, Czarnik has a 0-16-16 line in what can only be described as a bizarre start to his senior season.

Miami captain, Austin Czarnik, is now 13th on the RedHawks all-time scoring list. (photo: Miami University)

Thinking more about Czarnik’s scoring line, I wonder if it’s something having to do with last season when this team seemed to be all about individuals rather than the greater good. I wonder if it’s a sign of maturity as a leader on this club that Czarnik isn’t trying to do to much. That he’s more comfortable with the ‘C’ on his sweater? While I still have some leadership concerns with the ‘C’ I think the formal addition of Sean Kuraly and Blake Coleman as assistant captains was an appropriate move.

Coleman was a bit out of his mind last night, but you have to like the combination of skill and snarl he brings. He’s tough to play against and will make his presence known to the opposition when he doesn’t like something.

Other thoughts and notes:

Depth: This team has it. It didn’t last year. I believe Tim Bray said 14 Miami skaters have tallied goals this year and that, amazingly, does NOT include senior captain Austin Czarnik who entered 2014-15 with 37 career goals.

Goaltending: Jay Williams was good, not great last night. I’m sure he’d like to have the first goal back scored off an ugly rebound of a harmless point wrist shot that hit him square in the chest. But, with this offense (and really any offense), two goals or less should get a W and Williams now has 11 of them this year. Those 11 wins are just one short of his career high set his freshman year, the last year of existence for the CCHA. Despite his success, I could see Miami head coach Enrico Blasi give Ryan McKay a start tonight since he hasn’t played in a few weeks. However, this is another important league game. I’d rather see Williams again tonight and then give McKay a start in the Florida College Hockey Classic on either December 28 or 29. There’s certainly no fatigue issue with Williams, or shouldn’t be, because Miami is coming off a bye week, and will have two off-weeks for exams and Christmas before heading south.

Attendance: 2,006? For a matchup of top-15 top-12 squads? I really don’t know what’s going on in the SW Ohio area. The Reds don’t draw. The Bengals don’t draw. And now, Miami hockey doesn’t draw.

Admittedly, I live in Denver and my partner-in-crime Miamibeef04 lives in Columbus. However, Beef was there last night making the two hour drive south. Just because it’s no longer Michigan and Ohio State is no reason that building isn’t full. Here’s a rundown of Miami’s home attendance this year. Because capacity has never really been settled — is it 3,200? 3,642? 4,000? — I’m going with 3,200 to qualify as a sellout.

vs. Bowling Green – 1,860

vs. Ohio State – 3,554 (sellout)

vs. St. Lawrence – 2,589 and 2,663

vs. Colorado College – 3,153 (sellout) and 2,878

vs. Western Michigan – 2,633 and 2,470

Frankly, this is pathetic. You have a top-5 team again. It was one bad season last year. That there aren’t at least 3,000 butts in seats (seriously, it’s not a big building to fill) each night is embarrassing. I don’t want to hear about the new seat licenses, though surely that hasn’t helped. Tickets are available. If you don’t want your season tickets anymore, fine. Walk up and buy a ticket. Good seats still available.

I can guarantee you I will be at Magness Arena here in Denver and World Arena in Colorado Springs when Miami visits the Centennial State twice in February.

Get to the games, people!

Highlights: Here is a link to the highlights from last night courtesy of NCHC.tv

http://www.nchc.tv/omaha/video/omaha-miami-vs-omaha-highlights—12-5-14

And, check out John Lachmann’s analysis at http://www.wcpo.com/sports/redhawkey

Tonight: Miami and Omaha will complete their NCHC weekend series, and the season’s series, tonight at 7:05 PM at Steve Cady Arena in Oxford.

#4 Miami vs. #12 Nebraska-Omaha

Miami captain Austin Czarnik hopes to have more success this season than last against Ryan Massa and Nebraska-Omaha. (Michelle Bishop, USCHO.com)

After a week off following a sweep of Western Michigan, the #4/5 Miami RedHawks (10-4, 6-2 1st NCHC) prepare to face another ranked NCHC team as Dean Blais and the #12/13 Mavericks of Nebraska-Omaha visit Oxford for a two game series. To date, six of Miami’s first eight opponents are either currently ranked, or were when the RedHawks played them awarding MU the 5th toughest schedule in the country.

And, if that weren’t enough, this weekend’s series against Omaha (7-3-2, 3-2-1-1 4th NCHC) is huge in more than one way.

First, six NCHC league points are on the line.

Second, Miami owes the Mavericks for putting a line of 0-3-1 on the RedHawks last season as UNO owned Miami, especially in Omaha where I had the displeasure of watching both whippings live and in person.

Lastly, Omaha is just above Miami in the PairWise rankings checking in at #3 while the RedHawks currently rank #4 in the all-important table that largely determines the participants in the national tournament at the conclusion of the regular season.

Simply put, this is a monster series to conclude the first half of the conference season.

The Series

This is a rekindling of an old CCHA rivalry as Miami and Omaha are once again conference mates with the formation of the NCHC after college hockey’s realignment. Overall, Miami has had success against the Mavericks going 17-10-4 but are a dismal 0-4-1 in the last five against them.

The Coach

Dean Blais brings his Omaha Mavericks to Oxford to battle Miami. (Omaha.com)

Thinking about Miami’s recent run of poor play against Omaha, it certainly corresponds with the arrival of legendary head coach Dean Blais. Blais, who coached North Dakota for 10 seasons guiding the green and white to two national championships before departing for the CBJ of the NHL, has also led Team USA to World Junior Championship gold in 2010 and will once again wear the red, white and blue later this month as Team USA plays for the title in Canada — ironically the same country where Blais last struck gold for the US. Needless to say, the man can coach and has Omaha’s program pointed in the right direction.

The Team

Surprisingly, this team is built from the net out as senior goaltender Ryan Massa has been nothing short of outstanding so far. Massa, who entered 2014-15 having never had a GAA lower than 2.60, leads the NCHC with a ridiculous .943 save percentage and owns a minuscule 1.68 GAA. Of course, Miami can counter with junior Jay Williams, his 10-1 record, 1.56 GAA and .928 save percentage. What a goaltending battle we could have this weekend.

Offensively, the Mavs are led by uber-pest/sophomore Austin Ortega (5-8-13) and classmate Jake Guentzel (5-6-11). Ortega was particular chirpy following UNO’s 4-1 victory over UMD three weeks ago saying, “Tonight we were able to get up on the board; we really showed we’re a scoring team,” Ortega said. “Kind of sending a message to North Dakota that we can score on any goalie out there.” Um, of course, UND took four of six points from UNO last weekend in Grand Forks with the Mavericks securing a shootout win on Friday to avoid a series sweep. During the weekend, the Mavericks scored just four goals so it wasn’t like they were proving to be a true “scoring team.” We’ll see what happens this weekend against Miami’s 12th ranked scoring defense.

On the blueline, Omaha is powered by junior Brian Cooper (2-5-7) and Ian Brady (2-3-5). They aren’t flashy, but the team defense numbers speak for themselves as they are obviously helping Ryan Massa in a big way.

Overall, this is one of the smaller teams that Miami will face in NCHC play. I’d like to see them throw their combination of speed and size at Omaha to wear down the defense and make it very tough on smaller Maverick forwards like Ortega (5’8″ = Hobbit?), Guentzel, Dominic Zombo, Tyler Vesel and Jake Randolph who are all under six feet tall. Let’s get the Crash Cousins on the forecheck and Scott Dornbrock, and possibly, Colin Sullivan in our zone taking the body and making it hard to get to the scoring area, force turnovers and lead to transition opportunities.

Yeah, that’d be my approach if I were Miami head coach Enrico Blasi.

The Prediction

Omaha has been very good on the road this season going 5-1-2 so far. But, Miami is 7-1 at home. I think Miami owes Omaha a little “adjustment” and I really like how we match up against a younger, smaller opponent. I think we get some revenge this weekend.

Miami sweeps.