2018-19 Miami preview Part III: Defensemen
OUT (3): Louie Belpedio (graduated), Scott Dornbrock (graduated), Bryce Hatten.
IN (4): Derek Daschke, Andrew Sinard, Brayden Crowder, River Rymsha (graduate student).
RETURNING (5): Sr. – Grant Hutton; Jrs. – Grant Frederic, Chaz Switzer; Sos. – Alec Mahalak, Rourke Russell.
NOTES: Four of Miami’s starting six defensemen are back from last season, but the two who graduated were key contributors on the blue line.
Louie Belpedio was team captain for two seasons and Scott Dornbrock logged 139 career games, but Miami adds four to its blueline corps and will have nine D-men to battle for six starting slots each night.
“I think we’re a lot deeper, bigger, stronger,” Miami head coach Enrico Blasi said. “I think whe you add some of the size that we did and just sheer bodies, it’s going to be equally hard to come up with six (starters) on a game-to-game basis.”
All-planet senior Grant Hutton will share the captaincy with Melnick after leading college hockey in defenseman goals with 13 and tying for the Division I lead in power play goals by a blueliner (8).
He has also been arguably the team’s best shutdown D-man the past three seasons.
Alec Mahalak dressed for 36 of 37 games as a freshman and seemed to gain confidence in every facet as last season progressed, finishing 1-8-9. His size (5-feet-9, 165 pounds) worked against him defensively at times but he proved he can make smart plays, carry and pass the puck.
Rourke Russell is a shutdown defenseman who was in the lineup 34 times his rookie season. He got tougher to play against later in the season, blocking 51 shots, and Chaz Switzer, who played 32 games, showed improvement in his second campaign with Miami and finished with 47 blocks.
Grant Frederic only saw the ice 15 times but also seemed more confident in his second go-around, using his big body to defend more. If Frederic continues to make the case for a lineup spot as well as the four other returning blueliners, that would leave just one spot for four freshmen.
And Derek Daschke is considered the defensive blue chipper of this incoming class. He has logged 232 USHL games in four seasons and went 8-21-29 in 2017-18. The 6-feet-2 blueliner played under associate head coach Peter Mannino in Chicago en route to a Clark Cup title two seasons ago.
At 6-feet-6, Brayden Crowder will join Michael Findorff and Brian Sipotz among the tallest Miami D-men.
Andrew Sinard will also join that list of trees on the RedHawks’ blue line, as he is also 6-6 and listed at 185 pounds. He did not score a goal in 96 NAHL games but did pick up 21 assists in that span.
Dartmouth graduate River Rymsha joins Miami for his senior season. He is also a big body at 6-3, 205 pounds, and dressed for 28 games and picked up a goal and two helpers at that Ivy League institution last year.
“So we obviously added some size with Sinard and Crowder, and those are two guys that are really difficult to play against, from what we’ve seen out of them in practice, and a guy in Daschke who can really move the puck,” Hutton said. “All of the guys that have come in on defense have made an impact and an impression so far in practice, and obviously we have our returners that we’re going to look to for experience and help show the younger guys the way. We’ve all had the privilege of having guys like that in our freshman years that we’ve looked up to and learned a lot from. I’m excited about the group.”
This corps helped Miami hold opponents to 27.2 shots per game in 2017-18, but too many were high quality. They also need to help tighten up a penalty kill unit that killed just 78.0 percent of its chances, ranking 46th in the NCAA.
Analysis: MU unable to finish chances
OXFORD, Ohio – Friday’s game can be summed up in two themes.
One, Miami was unable to capitalize on its ample scoring chances.
Two, Minnesota-Duluth netted devastating, timely goals right after RedHawks surges to kill their momentum.
The final result: A 3-1 Bulldogs win over Miami at Cady Arena in the series opener.
The RedHawks hit four posts, missed multiple additional A-plus chances from in close and finished with 29 shots on goal in addition to those that drew iron.
Hunter Shepard, the No. 14 Bulldogs’ goalie who stopped 28 shots and played exceptionally, turned three SOG aside during a Miami power play, during which the RedHawks seemed to have the puck deep in their offensive zone for the duration.
Sixty-one seconds after that man-advantage ended, Miami was picking it out of its own net.
Then came Glassgate, when a pane of glass in the corner of the rink shattered and needed to be replaced. A UMD goal and a 15-minute delay later, any momentum the RedHawks still had was long gone.
That was late in a first period that saw Miami dominate, 11-4 on the shot counter (although the Bulldogs’ first two shots in the opening minutes were never counted).
Minnesota-Duluth (6-5-2) shut down the RedHawks’ offense in the second period, holding them to three shots.
But Miami (4-6-1) controlled play early in the third period, as Carson Meyer tied it on a power play.
The majority of play the first three quarters of that final stanza were played in the Bulldogs’ zone.
Then MU’s Casey Gilling was whistled for boarding. Then UMD scored. Then UMD scored again.
– It’s encouraging that Miami was able to dictate play for large parts of a game against a ranked team. Though the RedHawks need to win a majority of these games, obviously, this was a good litmus test for MU and shows they can compete against ranked teams.
Miami is certainly better than Connecticut and swept that series. Dare we say the RedHawks appear stronger than Colorado College although the teams split that set. North Dakota is, well, really good, and MU went 0-1-1 there.
Duluth, on the rankings bubble with a lot of its key players from 2016-17 gone but boasting a strong freshman class and a lot of solid returnees? It’s intriguing to see how Miami fares against a team like that.
Process still matters, and the RedHawks largely passed that test on Friday, but the end result was obviously not what fans/players/coaches would’ve wanted.
– Game time: 2:40. That has to be one of the longest non-overtime contests in some time.
– Miami won 37 of 62 faceoffs, or 60 percent. This has been an area of weakness in recent years for the RedHawks, so the turnaround is welcome. Gilling was 11-6, Kiefer Sherwood 11-8 and Josh Melnick 7-6.
FORWARDS: D+. Chances are great but Miami needed to score more than one goal. Faceoffs, as mentioned, were a strong suit. Four members of this corps took penalties (Sherwood, Gilling, Ryan Siroky, Conor Lemirande), and the PPG off the Gilling boarding call was devastating (and yes, that was the right call – he had a player lined up and pounded him with the numbers/letters showing). Sherwood turned it over on a clearing chance in the first period, and UMD put it in the net. Melnick had a pass picked on the PK and that ended up being the Bulldogs’ second goal.
DEFENSEMEN: B. This is a curious group, with several members appearing to be given the green light to jump into the offensive zone and others not. But it seems to be working, evidenced by a Bulldogs shot total of 19. Louie Belpedio is putting points up, but his defense is way better than last season (not sure how healthy he really was in 2016-17). Scott Dornbrock is also playing at a noticeably higher level, and his positioning is much improved. No opponent around Grant Hutton, whose defensive play is still underrated. Alec Mahalak did throw a puck along the boards on a failed clearing attempt that resulted in UMD’s third goal.
GOALTENDING: C-. This seems to be Ryan Larkin’s MO recently: He makes a couple of spectacular saves but allows a goal or two he could’ve stopped. The second UMD shot was a quickly-developing one-timer that he had no chance on, but he got glove on the first shot, which deflected over the goal line, and the third goal seemed to slide under his pads from well outside the top of the faceoff circle. His save percentage for season is still just .880, and this 16 of 19 performance did not help that.
LINEUP CHANGES: Up front, Sherwood, a healthy scratch in the North Dakota finale, was back in the lineup. He replaced Zach LaValle, who had played in nine of the first 10. Willie Knierim dressed for the second straight game, as Austin Alger was out for his second consecutive contest. It sounds like Alger may miss some time after suffering an undisclosed upper-body injury. On defense, Rourke Russell was back on the lineup sheet after missing his first game last Saturday. That sent Grant Frederic to the stands after he had played two games in a row.
Analysis: Mad or glad over finale?
Saturday was one of those games that created conflicting emotions.
Should fans be happy that Miami scored in the final 90 seconds to pull out the tie, or should they be upset that the RedHawks had a 2-0 lead and let it dissolve?
Or maybe some of both following a 3-3 final at North Dakota’s Ralph Engelstad Arena?
Yeah, that last one.
REA is one of the most intimidating rinks in the NCAA for opponents, and jumping out to a two-goal lead there is impressive. So is tying the score in such a hostile environment with time running out.
The three goals allowed in between, a little less remarkable.
Teams like North Dakota (7-2-3) are more than capable of blowing up a two-or-more goal lead – as the Fighting Hawks proved last night – and elite teams are able to fend off such surges most times.
Then again, a lot of teams that bent like Miami did, falling behind a goal with under four minutes left, would have broken rather than battle back for a tie.
Things change quickly during a college hockey season, but at this snapshot – 10 games into 2017-18 with a 4-5-1 record – the RedHawks (4-5-1) are clearly not at elite status in Division I.
But they’re definitely not a bottom feeder either.
– Josh Melnick is building one of the best clutch goal-scoring resumes of anyone to wear a Miami hockey sweater. He scored the tying goal with under two minutes left on Saturday and had the winner vs. Colorado College on Nov. 3.
The RedHawks have won four games in overtime since Melnick joined the team in the fall of 2015. Melnick has three of the game winners in those contests.
– Grant Frederic had logged two games this season and was 0-3-3 with 31 shots in 30 games for his career prior to this series. He fired nine SOG and picked up a pair of assists for the weekend. Meanwhile, fellow blueliners Grant Hutton and Louie Belpedio – who were lighting up the scoreboard – combined for just five shots in the two games.
– Really like the progress we’ve seen from Ryan Siroky this season in every aspect of his game, and he had one great play and one not-so-great one in this game. Siroky backhanded one for his first goal of 2017-18 in what was not an easy play. But he lost his glove in the defensive zone later in the game, and rather than play without it he took a stride forward to reach for it, losing his opponent in the process and ultimately resulting in a goal. He has a goal and an assist in the past three games.
– Coach Enrico Blasi had stood pat with his starting 19 in recent games, but he made substantial changes this weekend. Two moves stood out, and it’s unclear if they were healthy scratches or injured.
On Friday, D Scott Dornbrock did not dress for the first time in over two years and Saturday F Kiefer Sherwood missed just the third game of his two-plus season career.
Frederic dressed on defense both nights, as Dornbrock was not in the lineup on Friday and Rourke Russell sat for the first time this season on Saturday.
With Sherwood and Austin Alger both out up front on Saturday, Willie Knierim saw his first action of 2017-18, and Christan Mohs played for the first time in six games.
Miami downed by North Dakota
After a scoreless first period that saw Miami outshoot North Dakota, 9-4, the Fighting Hawks clicked off three straight crucial goals in the middle stanza.
That was more than enough offense for UND, which beat the RedHawks, 4-1 at Ralph Engelstad Arena on Friday.
One of those early Fighting Hawks shots was a 5-on-3 slam-dunk one-timer that Miami goalie Ryan Larkin was somehow able to keep out of the net.
But North Dakota (7-2-2) broke through seconds after a later RedHawks power play ended. Nick Jones, who had just been released from the penalty box, took an outlet pass and went in for a breakaway, skating around a sprawling Larkin for a tap-in goal four minutes into the second period.
Rhett Gardner made it 2-0 when he skated behind the Miami net and tucked the puck inside the post on a wraparound with 3:43 left in that frame.
Less than two minutes later, UND extended the lead to three when Jones located a loose puck at the top of the crease and banged it home.
Karch Bachman got the RedHawks (4-5) on the board off a rebound when he poked a loose puck in the crease around a defender and into the net with 13:34 left in regulation.
But the Fighting Hawks regained their three-goal lead with 8:34 left. Grant Mismash poked at a loose puck that was under Larkin, and it crossed the goal line to make it 4-1.
Bachman’s goal was his second of the season, and both defensemen Grant Frederic and Alec Mahalak picked up their first assists of 2017-18. It was the first point of Mahalak’s career.
Despite the final three-goal disparity, Miami outshot North Dakota, 28-26, thanks largely to a 9-4 advantage in the first period.
The RedHawks have now logged 10 conference road games without a win, going 0-8-2 in that stretch. MU’s last away victory was at North Dakota in January.
These teams will wrap up the weekend series at 8:07 p.m. on Saturday.
Analysis: Blowouts in college common
It’s always tough to watch a team you root for get blown out.
In certain sports with significant parity, it does happen to even the best teams.
So in the ultra-competitive world of NCAA Division I hockey, there’s no reason to panic after Miami fell behind five goals in the first period in a 6-3 loss to Maine on Saturday.
Not at all dismissing this pounding, but it’s still very early in the season and the RedHawks did earn a split on the road, which is rarely a bad thing.
There were a number of positive things to take from this game for the Miami fan.
– Miami did fight back after falling behind by five early. Sometimes in hockey we see blowouts snowball, and at least the RedHawks battled down the stretch, cutting the final deficit to three.
– The power play is unreal. With Grant Hutton taking an active role on the man-advantage and Gordie Green joining the first unit full-time, Miami was 7-for-10 (70 percent) this weekend. And 3 of 5 in the finale, showing that even after the RedHawks lit the lamp four times on the man-advantage on Friday, Maine was unable to adjust.
– And I know it’s not always popular to say, but the chippy-ness we saw in this game can generate momentum and galvanize a team. There were two skirmishes on Saturday, and in the first Green was targeted along the boards after a stoppage. He not only stood up for himself, Rourke Russell came to his defense and was engaged with opponents the entire time, and Carson Meyer got involved as well. The my-teammate-has-my-back mentality is a bigger factor in hockey than almost any other sport, and such an incident can only help a young team.
– The other altercation: Captain Louie Belpedio ended up in a scrum midway through the third period and was tossed from the game. Sometimes captains have to get involved in these things. Again, this shows the team youngsters that the captain has everyone’s back.
– And good for the officials, Jack Millea and Kevin Keenan, about whom I know nothing other than they handled the after-the-whistle antics very well. No reason to suspend anyone, instead choosing the 10-minute misconduct option to address the possibility of repeat offenders.
– So Ryan Larkin. Again, blowouts happen. At one point, Patrick Roy let nine in for the Canadiens. Admittedly, he’s not exactly dominating, but let’s remember that this was a player who was named team MVP as a freshman at the team’s awards banquet. That’s a rarity. He had a .910 save percentage in 2016-17 despite getting pelted with Grade-A chances. The smart money is on him rebounding, and soon.
– Follow up to that point: Larkin did have a .792 winning percentage for the weekend, and it’s interesting that Grant Valentine backed him up on Saturday. Valentine logged nine-plus minutes and stopped 2 of 3 shots, giving up a low between-the-pads goal. Chase Munroe played the entire exhibition game in Plymouth, Mich., last weekend, and he allowed five goals. He was the backup down the stretch in 2016-17, so it looks like coach Enrico Blasi prefers Valentine as a backup at this point. But as long as he is healthy, it’s obvious the net currently belongs to Larkin, and if that’s the case through 2019-20, Miami will likely thrive.
– The RedHawks pulled the goalie down by four late, which typically indicates a coach thinks his team has played well enough that it deserves a chance to play on what’s essentially a power play. Hutton scored on the 6-on-5 to make it a three-goal game. Really, if you’re going to lose, who cares if it’s 3-2 or 13-2? Coach Blasi doesn’t, and I’m in agreement.
– It wasn’t a great night for Chaz Switzer. He was beaten, 1-on-1, resulting in Maine’s first goal, and his penalty on that play ultimately resulted in a 5-on-3 for another Black Bears goal. He was also on the ice for Maine’s third goal.
– Some perspective about Hutton’s scoring rate: He has 14 goals in 40 games since the start of 2016-17, and 10th place on BoB’s unofficial all-time career defenseman goal leaderboard is Josh Harrold with 15. With five goals in five games already this season, Miami could be looking at one of its top-scoring blueliners of all-time.
– Veli-Antti Tiuraniemi, a Black Bears defenseman, was committed to Miami last season and appeared to be headed to Oxford this fall. Instead he had a goal and an assist vs. the RedHawks.
– Thanks to the University of Maine for its free high-quality online stream. The game experience in Orono is supposed to be fantastic, and BoB wishes the Black Bears nothing but success in the future, especially since subsequent wins by Maine will affect the PairWise!
LINEUP CHANGES: F Zach LaValle was scratched after dressing for the first three games. Alex Alger played for the first time this season in his place. F Ryan Siroky replaced Ben Lown for both games this weekend. On defense, Alec Mahalak sat for the first time in 2017-18, as Grant Frederic logged his second game of the season. Fs Willie Knierim and Carter Johnson, plus D Bryce Hatten are the only Miami players not to log ice time this season, although Knierim played in Plymouth.
Analysis: Win Saturday is a must
OXFORD, Ohio – Surely Miami’s winless streak has to end on Saturday, right?
If the RedHawks can’t at least earn one win on its home ice against Colorado College, MU will have to beat a top-20 team to snap its skid, since every one of its remaining opponents is ranked.
The RedHawks skated to their 10th straight non-win on Friday, tying the Tigers, 1-1 at Cady Arena. It was Miami’s third consecutive NCHC deadlock, and the team has yet to win in conference play (0-4-3).
After its series finale vs. CC on Saturday, MU is off the next two weeks, then it’s off to Ohio State. The Buckeyes are ranked No. 10 in the USCHO poll.
Here’s the remaining schedule with team rankings.
at No. 10 Ohio State
No. 17 ST. CLOUD (2)
at No. 8 North Dakota (2)
at No. 20 UNO (2)
No. 18 W. MICHIGAN (2)
at No. 17 St. Cloud (2)
(then it really gets fun)
No. 2 DENVER
at No. 1 Minn.-Duluth
No. 8 NORTH DAKOTA
Now back to this series.
The Tigers entered this weekend having lost seven straight and had allowed 31 goals in that span. Only one of their first 14 opponents had been held to one goal, yet Miami was unable to get out of the binary range.
Considering both teams’ woes, it’s sort of fitting that neither team would come away from Friday with a win.
But this can’t happen for Miami on Saturday if it wants to salvage this season.
The RedHawks’ finale against CC is their 17th game of the season. A win would put them at 4-8-5, and they would probably need to go at least 12-5 for get into PairWise-at large consideration.
A tall order, certainly, but a loss in this one would force a 13-4 finish or better. Reference the above remaining schedule to see Miami’s chances, or any NCAA team’s odds of winning 13 of 17 against those opponents.
Twelve wins in 17 would give Miami 43 points with a win vs. Colorado College and 40 with a loss. That could be the difference between an all-important fourth seed and home-ice advantage in the first round of the NCHC’s or a fifth seed and a road trip in a hostile rink to extend its season like in 2015-16.
The RedHawks have a ton of work to do if they hope to get back into NCAA consideration but that workload increases substantially if they can’t pick the only low-hanging fruit remaining on their schedule.
– This game was actually pretty boring, which can be expected when two teams that aren’t playing well show why their records are where they are. But just based on Friday’s 65-minute sample, it doesn’t look like Colorado College has the talent to compete in this league, while Miami is underachieving among other issues. Heading into the second half of the year, the RedHawks are in the better position to turn things around.
– Coach Enrico Blasi has been playing with the lines, and one interesting combination was Gordie Green, Josh Melnick and Karch Bachman. Green was a solid point producer in the USHL but he has just four this season and two since opening night. Bachman has blazing speed and a great shot but he hasn’t been cast into a role in which he can thrive. Green set up Bachman with a couple of great passes and Bachman nearly found the net. It’s a small line with a ton of speed and has a lot of potential.
– Speaking of Melnick, he was double-shifted nearly the entire second period, joining the fourth line as well as his own. Colin Sullivan was listed as a forward but played a significant amount of defense and Melnick absorbed much of his ice time up front.
– Can’t take credit for this line – heard it used by Mike Babcock but not sure if he was the originator either – but if Miami’s power play gets much worse the RedHawks want to consider declining penalties. In six minutes on the man advantage Miami generated one shot. MU has not scored a PPG in five games.
– The attendance for this one was a season-low 1,992 despite class still being in session. That’s the worst gate total at Cady since Jan. 9 during the J-term. If this team doesn’t get better expect a half-empty arena the second half of the year.
FORWARDS: D+. Colorado College isn’t an impressive lot yet Miami scored just one goal. The RedHawks had some dominant stretches but that should be a given against a team that is 3-11 and ranked in the bottom 20 percent of college hockey. Louis did have eight shots. Justin Greenberg continues to get better on faceoffs and may be the team’s best forward on draws at this point.
DEFENSEMEN: B. This corps kept the mistakes to a minimum, which has not always been the case this season. Grant Frederic quietly seems to get better every game. The strange thing with Miami’s defensemen is that three seasons ago only Matthew Caito appeared to have the green light to join the rush, and the other blueliners would act like they had bungie cords tied to them when they reached the blue line. Now all six/seven jump in all the time, sometimes even going behind opponents’ nets. Can there be a happy medium?
GOALTENDING: B+. Ryan Larkin was solid as usual but didn’t see a ton of high-percentage shots. He continues to do a fantastic job with positioning and controlling rebounds. Not sure what happened on the goal – it was a weird angle and seemed to surprise Larkin. It didn’t look like he saw it very well. What a goalie allows one goal his team should win most nights.
LINEUP CHANGES: Can this team ever get completely healthy? Jared Brandt missed his second straight game with an upper body injury but shouldn’t be out much longer. He has been a solid stay-at-home defenseman on a Miami team that has really needed a solid stay-at-home defenseman. The RedHawks played their other seven defensemen, with Sullivan listed at forward to start the game. At forward, Willie Knierim was a rare scratch and Alex Alger sat for the third straight game.
Miami skid reaches 25-year low
For the second straight night, Miami fell a goal short, and for the ninth straight game, the RedHawks came away without a win.
Miami dropped a 2-1 decision at Cornell on Saturday and is now mired in its longest winning drought in a quarter century, as the RedHawks are 0-7-2 since their last victory, which came on Oct. 28.
The last time Miami (3-8-4) suffered through a skid this long was in 1990-1991, when the RedHawks played 17 consecutive winless games.
The Big Red took the lead 10:53 into the first period when Dan Wedman whipped a shot from just inside the blue line over the shoulder of Miami goalie Ryan Larkin.
Cornell (7-3-1) made it 2-0 just 98 seconds into the middle period when a shot from along the wall was tipped by Jake Weidner, popped over Larkin and into the net.
The RedHawks’ lone goal came exactly three minutes into the third period. Josh Melnick won an offensive-zone faceoff back to Grant Frederic, who threw the puck off the end boards, and the carom was backhanded in by Carson Meyer.
Meyer has scored in both games since returning from an illness.
Frederic earned his third assist of the season and Melnick picked up his third helper of the weekend.
Miami outshot Cornell, 12-3 in the third period – and 26-20 overall, leading the Big Red in that department for the second straight night – but was unable to pull even.
The RedHawks were swept in a weekend series for the third time this season. Entering this weekend, MU had lost just one one-goal game, but in addition the slim losing margin in this game, it suffered a 4-3 defeat on Friday.
The RedHawks return home and will face Colorado College next Friday and Saturday at 7:35 p.m. and 7:05 p.m., respectively. Those will be Miami’s last home games of the calendar year.