OXFORD, Ohio – Before coming to Miami, hockey opportunities were scarce for Grant Hutton.
No team in the USHL wanted him, and college offers were nearly non-existent.
“From his freshman year to now, potential NHL free agent signing, just his game, his defensive ability, his offensive ability has all come from his hard work and his willingness to do extra,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. “He’s bought into how he needs to play at this level.”
Hutton is from Carmel, Ind., the Indianapolis suburb that produced former RedHawk Cameron Schilling – who has played 10 games in the NHL – as well as current Miami forward Scott Corbett.
Hutton’s father, G.R. Hutton, logged a season with USHL Omaha and G.R.’s father also coached hockey. So as soon as Grant learned how to walk, his family threw him on skates.
After two seasons with the Indiana Ice Under-16 team, Hutton hoped to make the Ice’s USHL team, which had drafted him. He was excited about the prospect of playing for the team he watched growing up less than a half hour from his home.
Hutton didn’t ultimately stick with the Ice, as he dressed just four games with Indiana that season and spent the majority of the campaign with NAHL Corpus Christi, which had tendered him.
“It was just one of those deals where obviously I wanted to be in the USHL but I was still young and wasn’t quite there yet,” Hutton said.
Prior to the following season, Hutton, now 18, attended the camps of two USHL teams – Des Moines and Tri-City.
Both cut him.
So that fall it was back to Corpus Christi. In parts of two seasons there, Hutton scored 10 goals and assisted on 19 others in 85 games.
At the trade deadline, Tri-City – one of the USHL teams that snubbed him the previous off-season – traded for him and called him up. In 20 games there he went 1-1-2.
He returned to Tri-City for his final juniors season in 2014-15 but that team again cut Hutton as it was in a rebuilding process.
Then Des Moines – the other USHL team that had released Hutton – traded for his rights and he logged 11 games there.
Des Moines again told Hutton that things weren’t working out, and it was back to the NAHL.
“They even tried to play me at forward for one game, but that was a terrible idea,” Hutton said. “I had no idea what I was doing up there.”
Hutton joined Janesville, but unlike some of his previous stops, this one would prove fulfilling.
With current teammate Zach LaValle leading the team in points, Hutton racked up four goals and 10 assists in 32 games, going a remarkable plus-26 in just half a season.
His plus-minus was largely the effect of Janesville’s 49-11 regular season record, as the Jets advanced to the conference final that spring.
So a season that started with Hutton yet again being rejected by the USHL ended up being one of his best on-ice developmental experiences.
“I was super upset, it totally sucked, but it was one of those things now – looking back at it – it was 100 percent the best thing that could’ve happened to me in my hockey career,” Hutton said. “Obviously I ended up at Miami, and I’m super grateful for that, but just in terms of going to a place where I was a role player, I was used in all situations. I wasn’t sitting in the stands. We were on an unbelievable team…I’ve never been on a team like that in my life. Everyone was good hockey players and good people, and we just meshed really well, and I think I developed – in terms of my junior career, for sure I took the biggest step in Janesville, just maturing as a player and as a person.”
In three seasons of juniors, Hutton played for five teams in two leagues and was cut five times, with two teams releasing him twice.
“For me, I think I learned a lot about myself, went through a lot of adversity, and it’s helped me immensely in my career because I’ve gone through a lot of these experiences that some guys may not have had to go through,” Hutton said. “When hard times come around I feel like I’m prepared for that kind of thing.”
His struggle to find a USHL suitor is baffling considering he has missed three games in three seasons since coming to Oxford.
“I think a little bit of everything plays into that, right?” Hutton said. “First and foremost, you have to find a place where you fit in. All these teams I kept going to, other than Tri-City when I first got called up, had good right-handed defensemen. I always felt like I could compete with all of them at that level, but I think it’s hard in terms of confidence when you go into a new place and you aren’t really given a shot, and if you are given a shot, you make one mistake and you end up back in the stands.”
With three years of juniors service, Hutton, now 20, had only three Division I teams interested in him. Air Force was one but Hutton hadn’t considered that route, and Bentley wanted his services but he would have to walk on there.
Option three was Miami.
Though the RedHawks courted Hutton, there was certainly no guarantee ice time would be available for him entering his freshman year. The 2015-16 RedHawks featured five senior defensemen plus sophomores Louie Belpedio and Scott Dornbrock.
Hutton was the lone freshman on D, and he fully expected to sit most of his Division I rookie season.
But when the defensive pairings were announced for Game 1 of 2015-16, Hutton’s name was on the lineup sheet, and he earned an assist in his inaugural NCAA game vs. Providence.
“When I was in the lineup opening night I was totally shocked – this is absolutely crazy,” Hutton said. “Obviously all the hard work paid off, and I always believed in myself, but I was mentally prepared to have to take a step back and develop my game and learn from those guys, even if it meant being in the stands, which I was OK with.”
Hutton played in 35 of 36 games his first season, and with all of the veterans already on the Miami blueline he was able to gain experience in lower-leverage situations in adapting to the college game.
“It was one of those things where I think I was in an awesome situation to come in and learn from those guys,” Hutton said. “I wasn’t thrown into a role where I had to do too much. I was lucky enough I came into a situation where my role was: Play defense. Don’t let other teams score. And I love doing that, so it was super easy for me.”
Hutton, who is third in Miami hockey history in defenseman goals, did not score once as a freshman, picking up five assists. He earned NCHC defenseman of the week honors once and blocked 38 shots.
With all of the departed senior blueliners, Hutton relished the opportunity to move into a more offensive-oriented role and log minutes on the power play his sophomore season.
He was happy with his progress the summer before his second year, and from Game 1 the puck started finding the net. Hutton scored his first career goal in Providence on opening night 2016-17.
Hutton finished that season with nine goals, tops among Miami defensemen, and he tied Belpedio for first in points by a blueliner with 17.
“He wouldn’t shoot the puck his freshman year – I think he was afraid to get it off for some reason,” Blasi said. “Once he started shooting the puck, it started going in – obviously he’s got a hard shot – I think his confidence from playing and feeling good about what he does on a day-to-day basis has helped his overall game probably.”
Junior season, Hutton racked up five goals the first four games of the season. He ended up leading all college hockey defensemen with 13 goals, and he added 14 assists.
It was the fourth-most goals ever by a Miami blueliner.
“It’s no coincidence that he shoots extra pucks every day and then they end up in the back of the net, but he puts in the work to get what he deserves,” junior forward Gordie Green said.
Green joined the team after Hutton’s freshman season, so he doesn’t know life at Oxford without Hutton being a major scoring threat.
“I kind of joke with him: The Grant that I know wasn’t the Grant Hutton his freshman year,” Green said.
Immediately following 2017-18, both RedHawks assistants and six non-seniors left, and the pro game was beckoning the undrafted star.
Hutton said he pondered the decision during a family trip, and he and Josh Melnick – also a highly-skilled senior-to-be with pro aspirations – publicly announced via social media that they would return for their senior season.
“I love it here so much, ultimately that was what brought me back,” Hutton said. “Obviously I knew Mel was probably coming back and everybody knows how close we are. We were going to be in or out together. Once we mutually decided we were coming back it was a done deal, there was no more speculation. I know I called Rico right away once I made my decision and said hey, I’m coming back, just wanted to let you know first. I just didn’t want to have any regrets leaving this place – it’s amazing.”
Both Hutton and Melnick were assistant captains last season and they were named co-captains prior to 2018-19.
“He’s someone that everyone respects, and each follows his lead, no matter what that is,” Melnick said. “The best thing is he knows what to say at the right time, and that’s been the biggest thing for us this year. Whenever something may not be going the right way, he knows what to say and guys listen and respect that. On top of that he works extremely hard both on and off the ice, so he sets a good example as well.”
As captain, Hutton has seven goals and 13 assists this season, leading the team in blueliner goals. His 20 points rank fourth on the team.
“It’s been an awesome learning experience,” Hutton said. “For me, I just wanted to be able to bridge the gap between the coaches and the players – I think that’s the primary role of a captain. I think the biggest thing for the captain is you have to portray both sides, so whatever the players are thinking, you’ve got to be able to voice that to the coaches and if the coaches are thinking things, whatever they’re preaching you’ve got to be able to preach it to the players as well.”
For his career, Hutton has 29 goals, the third-most ever in Miami history among blueliners behind only Kevin Beaton and Dan Boyle.
He also has 41 assists for 70 points, the fourth-highest defenseman total in the Cady Arena era. Matthew Caito, Chris Wideman and Belpedio are the only others to record more in their RedHawks careers since the rink opened.
“He has grown so much as a player since we’ve gotten here,” Melnick said.
Both Green and Melnick talked about the advantage of having Hutton on the ice during their shifts.
“From a forward perspective, if you’re working hard in the corner you know you can get the puck up to him at the point and you’d better go to the net because you know it’s coming,” Melnick said.
Said Green: “He’s really smart when he picks and chooses when to step in the rush,” Green said. “It’s definitely just a comfortability thing, knowing that you’re on the ice with him, and especially on the power play, he’s our go-to guy. Anyone who has that hard of a shot and that accurate of a shot is a threat at all times.”
Hutton said he was recently talking to his father, G.R., about the magnitude of his four-year transformation from unwanted to Miami captain.
“Can you actually believe what’s going on?” Hutton said. “We were talking about preparing not to play freshman year, and it’s kind of taken off.”
Said Blasi: “He’s a very mature young man so he’s kind of taken that in stride. He knows he’s got a lot of work to do and every day is a challenge, but you just take it from there and whatever happens, happens and you control the things you can control and you go from there. The maturity and the growth is something that we as a program and a coaching staff really emphasize in terms of growing our players, whether we’re winning championships or not. That’s the most important thing that we do is to develop our players to become better at what they do, and a lot of the credit goes to the player and the individual and we just try to hold them accountable to the standard that they set.”
And when the RedHawks’ season ends, NHL teams will be drooling to sign a player of Hutton’s caliber, with a stature and skill set custom made for the pro game.
But if it wasn’t for Miami, that evolution may have never occurred, and Hutton has treasured his years in Oxford.
“It’s been the best four years of my life, by far,” Hutton said. “I tell people all the time, if I had 60 offers, there’s no way I’d go anywhere (else), knowing now what I know about Miami. It’s the best place in the world. We have amazing fans, we have an amazing support system, incredible facilities, the education is top-notch and the people that I’ve been able to meet here are going to be with me the rest of my life. It’s just such a surreal place. It’s almost hard to put into words, you almost can’t say enough good things about Miami University as a whole and the Miami hockey program. It’s such a special place – it means so much to me. I tell people all the time: You’ve got to come over here and check out Miami. I can’t imagine being anywhere else but here.”
OXFORD, Ohio – No one in the history of Miami hockey can match Josh Melnick’s clutch goal resume.
The NCAA still uses 5-on-5 overtimes, so scoring is relatively rare in those five-minute frames.
But Melnick has netted three OT winners in his career plus two more in 3-on-3s following the extra sessions.
“It never fails, right? It’s always him,” senior defenseman Grant Hutton said. “I think he gets rewarded for all the little things he does, and that’s why he seems to be so clutch, whether it be blocking shots or winning a small battle on the boards, he does the little things, and if you do the little things, you’re going to get rewarded all night long. I think that’s the best way to describe him being clutch is him doing the right thing over and over and over again. That’s not always flashy, it’s not always the highlight-reel play. But he makes the right play all the time, and at the end of the night when he gets that scoring opportunity in overtime, maybe a 3-on-3, a shootout, whatever it is, the puck goes into the net for him.”
Melnick was born and grew up in Annandale, New Jersey, about 50 miles west of New York City. He fell in love with hockey thanks to his step-father, David Crandall.
Melnick played prep hockey as well as soccer and lacrosse at Delbarton, a private New Jersey high school that was close enough for him to live at home.
He eventually dropped the other two sports and was dominant on the ice his final two years of preps. His junior season he scored 22 goals and picked up 25 assists in 28 games, and he racked up 62 points including 46 helpers in 26 contests as a senior.
The following season, Melnick, 18 at this point, headed to Youngstown of the USHL. His first season there he posted a 7-21-28 line in 52 games.
In 2012-13, he returned to the Phantom and his numbers ballooned. He notched 14 goals and a league-leading 48 assists in 60 games, including a five-point performance that included a hat trick vs. Fargo.
Melnick had intended to play Division I hockey for Princeton but decommitted within the final month of his final juniors season.
Within weeks Melnick had committed to Miami following a visit to Oxford.
“I fell in love with the campus right away, and everything that the program stands for,” Melnick said.
He also would be joining former Youngstown teammates, which he said factored into the decision, as he was close friends with Kiefer Sherwood, and Conor Lemirande and Grant Valentine also played with Youngstown during Melnick’s juniors career.
Melnick adapted to the college game with ease. He assisted on Miami’s first goal of 2015-16 and scored in that inaugural NCAA game as well, Oct. 9, 2015 vs. Providence at Cady Arena for a two-point night.
“We had a lot of seniors on our team my freshman year and I think that was huge, just getting guidance from them on a daily basis and being able to play with some of those guys right off the start was really good in terms of learning what it takes at this level,” Melnick said.
The next night he would become the first player in Division I history to score a 3-on-3 goal following the conclusion of overtime. College hockey had allowed conferences the option to adopt that format for league points the previous off-season.
Though PC was not in Miami’s conference, the teams skated three a side anyway following what was officially a 2-2 tie, and Melnick lit the lamp.
Two months into his sophomore season, Melnick found the net in overtime to beat Colorado College for his first official OT winner, and he did it in spectacular fashion.
Teammate Carson Meyer threw a wrister at the net, and it grazed off the side of Melnick, who batted it out the air and into the short side of the net.
Two games later, Melnick tallied the tying goal in the final minute vs. St. Cloud State. Then he scored the game winner in overtime.
Early in his junior season, he victimized Colorado College in OT again, this time burying a rebound on a loose puck at the top of the crease.
He added another 3-on-3 goal to earn Miami a conference point earlier this season vs. St. Cloud State on Dec. 1.
That gives Melnick three official overtime winners plus two 3-on-3s in supplemental OT, and he has six official career game winners. Over 15 percent of his career goals have gone in the GWG column.
“That doesn’t surprise me because he’s the first guy that we’re sending over the boards,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. “Everything that you would say about him is true. He’s the leader of our team in a lot of ways.”
Some perspective: No Miamian has ever even scored two career overtime winners since Cady Arena opened in 2006-07.
— Melnick is the only RedHawk with multiple OT goals in a season since at least 2000.
— The last Miamian to post two career OTWs in a career was Alec Martinez, whose first won the final game played at Goggin Arena, clinching the RedHawks’ CCHA opening-round tournament series.
— Chris Michael is the last Miamian to score an OT winner in consecutive seasons, doing so in 2003-04 and 2004-05.
“It’s just being in the right place at the right time, and when you go to overtime it’s a little more sense of urgency,” Melnick said. “And when you get the puck in those situations you’ve got to bear down.”
Freshman season he was voted the team’s rookie of the year by his classmates and was a finalist for Miami’s most valuable player award.
Named assistant captain as a sophomore, his points total jumped by two each of the next two seasons.
Junior Gordie Green has been his linemate for much of those campaigns. Green notched 21 points as a freshman but vaulted to a team-best 15 goals and 33 points last season.
“He’s a complete player – I think he’s probably the most complete player that we have,” Green said. “I’ve had the honor of playing with him for pretty much the last two years and he’s probably been the easiest player I’ve ever gotten to play with. He does everything right and you can count on him. He’s been a lot of fun to play with.”
In 2018-19 Green is again tops on Miami in goals with 11 and is second in points by just one.
The team leader is Melnick, who is also second on the RedHawks in markers with 10.
“He’s definitely a player that makes everyone around him better,” Green said. “That’s why it’s fun playing with him – we play against all of the top lines because our coach wants Melly out there to shut them down as well as generate offense against them. And he’s always out there for the penalty kills, he’s usually the first one to take that big draw.”
This season his points rate is at a career high, as he averages exactly a point a game with 26 in 26 contests. He missed six games with an upper body injury.
So in addition to his reputation for scoring in the clutch, Melnick has exemplified consistency in the points column. His season totals are 25-27-29-26.
That’s a total of 107 points, tied for the 45th with Blake Coleman on the all-time RedHawks’ leaderboard.
“Obviously it’s a great feeling, and I’m very honored to be recognized with some of the names that are there as well,” Melnick said. “But a huge portion of that credit goes to the players that I’ve been able and fortunate enough to play with in my four years here.”
As impressive as his offensive numbers are, Melnick has been one of the top defensive forwards on the team each season.
“I think that’s definitely one of my strengths as a player – being able to play in all three zones and being able to defend well,” Melnick said. “That’s something that I’ve focused on a lot through the years and continue to improve on. Obviously playing well in the O-zone is important, but you’ve got to be able to play on both sides of the puck.”
In addition to playing against opponents’ top forwards, he logs as much ice time on the penalty kill as any RedHawk. Miami has even played four forwards with him in a defense slot late in games this season.
“One of the things that makes Melly so special is his ability to make plays under pressure, and obviously his defense — 1-on-1 he can skate with anybody, he uses his body well, he’s not huge in terms of the size department, but he’s really good at protecting the puck and he makes really good decisions with the puck,” Hutton said. “When you get the puck back (in the defensive zone), you still have to get it out of the zone, you still have to transition to offense, and he makes that transition so easy. As a defenseman, if I go back and I’ve got to make a play, I know I can put the puck anywhere for him – on his feet, on his backhand, behind him – anywhere in the general vicinity – he’s going to get the puck and he’s going to get it out.”
After last season, there was uncertainty as to whether Melnick would have the opportunity to eclipse the 100-point mark. With both assistant coaches and six non-seniors leaving the program, it was unclear if Melnick would return for his senior year.
But early in the off-season, he and Hutton told the world via social media they would both be back for their final year.
“It was a tough decision, but in the end it was fairly easy decision,” Melnick said. “I talked with my family and thought about it, but at the end of the day, for me, I love it here, and I wanted to come back and spend my final year – getting my degree was also important to me – but spending another year with the people that we’re surrounded by every day and getting a chance to leave my mark a little bit more.”
And his game has further evolved this season, as he has improved drastically in the faceoff circle.
“He takes a lot of pride in that, and that’s becoming such an important part of the game because the game nowadays is more about puck possession,” Hutton said. “You win the faceoff, it’s much easier to start with the puck than to go get it. The coolest thing is he pulls the other forwards along with him. They see him taking faceoffs, well if Melly’s taking faceoffs and doing the extra work, then you’ve got to do it too, right? Not only has he gotten better but his teammates have gotten better because they’ve followed his lead.”
He has been resilient in his quest to improve his faceoff numbers, as he has been one of the last players off the ice during practice because of his work in the circle.
“That’s one of the things I focus on during the week, especially closer to game day,” Melnick said. “I feel like I’ve noticed it more as the years go by, but the more draws you can win, obviously that just means more possession for your team and it really shows in the long run of the game.”
He has won 55 percent of his draws in 2018-19. A faceoff win by Melnick directly led to a Miami goal last weekend.
“He’s not a natural centerman, so when we moved him to center way back when he really had to learn the position, positionally, and then he had to be effective taking faceoffs,” Blasi said. “That’s a credit to Josh and his hard work and his willingness to do whatever it takes to help the team. He’s the guy that everybody kind of looks to, to lead the way in practice and games. He’s out in every faceoff and special teams (situation). Obviously we really missed him as you can tell from our record without him in the lineup.”
The RedHawks went 0-6 earlier this season while Melnick was out.
“The kid’s unbelievable,” Hutton said. “He does things every week in practice where we’re like, what in the world? It doesn’t even make sense. Physically, there are things that he can do that (most) people can’t. He just has a special skillset and a special mindset, he’s a super-hard worker. He’s super honest with himself – he doesn’t try to be someone he’s not, and that’s the coolest thing about Josh. He’s so humble and so honest, it shows up in his game, right? He works his ass off every single day and everyone benefits from that.”
Melnick and Hutton were named co-captains this season, a fairly unusual move in hockey but one that has worked well for program.
“I think the relationship is very solid, and so anytime you do something like that the two guys have to get along, and have to kind of share the load,” Blasi said.
Hutton has been more vocal while Melnick has played a more lead-by-example role, and Melnick always leads the pre-game huddle speech when the team congregates around the net.
“For me it’s just continuing to be who I am and not really changing the type of player or the type of person I am,” Melnick said. “Making sure we’re holding guys accountable on a daily basis, but all the guys on the team are great and easy to get along with, so for the most part it’s been pretty smooth.”
Said Hutton: “He’s respected by everybody – you don’t have a choice because of how special he is as a player and as a person.”
That consistent level of excellence has carried over into the classroom as well for Melnick, who is a four-time member of the NCHC All-Academic Team.
Unfortunately for Miami, Melnick’s time in Oxford is running short, as the RedHawks play their final two regular season games this weekend.
And while he said his time as Miami has gone too quickly – with each season zooming by faster – Melnick has carved a permanent legacy into RedHawks hockey history.
“As an overall experience it’s definitely been the best four years of my life,” Melnick said. “Coming in, I think one of the biggest things for me was not only developing as a player, but developing as a person. I’ve grown so much over the past couple of years, again, as a player and a person, and I wouldn’t trade any of the experiences for anything.”
OXFORD, Ohio – Six years ago when a graduate senior joined Miami, it worked out so well that the RedHawks doubled down on that concept last summer, adding a pair of fifth-year players who had already earned their undergraduate degrees.
Goalie Jordan Uhelski and defenseman River Rymsha both joined the RedHawks for their final seasons of NCAA eligibility, and they have been godsends on a team that has battled depth issues, not only with their skills but their Division I veteran status.
“With only (four seniors), it was important for us to have a couple of extra guys to help those guys in terms of leading the way with their experience in college hockey,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said.
A player who has already earned his undergraduate degree does not have to sit out a year if he transfers, so Uhelski and Rymsha were courted last off-season when six skaters left Miami early for various reasons.
Uhelski was the starting goalie for Alabama-Huntsville and Rymsha logged four injury-plagued seasons on the Dartmouth blue line.
Forward Marc Hagel was the first transfer who came to Oxford for his fifth season after graduating. He earned his degree from Princeton before joining the RedHawks in 2012-13 and behind his 19 points, tenacious defense and leadership helped Miami advance to the NCAA regional final.
With more player movement than ever and the ability to avoid a missed season due to the NCAA transfer rules, college hockey could see an uptick in players shifting schools after competing their degrees.
Rymsha, the son of former NHL right wing Andy Rymsha, from the northern Detroit suburb of Huntington Woods, was a forward growing up.
While playing Bantam for Little Caesar’s, a line brawl broke out and the next game his team only had two defensemen eligible to play.
So Rymsha, who was undersized at the time, moved back to the blue line and has been there since as he ballooned to his current dimensions of 6-feet-3 and 205 pounds.
After one season of prep hockey at St. Mary’s, Rymsha was hoping to join USHL’s Fargo – which drafted him – but he was told he wasn’t going to make the team.
At the last minute, he talked to current Miami assistant coach Peter Mannino’s cousin and hooked on with Wenatchee of the NAHL, where he scored four goals and dished for 12 assists in 45 games.
After just one season of major juniors, Rymsha packed for New Hampshire and headed to Dartmouth, the school he had committed to at age 16 out of Fargo’s camp.
“Education has always been super-important to me, so going Ivy League was something that I’d always wanted to do and Dartmouth gave me that opportunity,” Rymsha said.
He turned 18 just two months before his freshman season, during which he dressed just six times.
“Freshman year, I went in too early,” Rymsha said. “I needed to develop more, needed to get bigger, needed to get stronger.”
As a sophomore, Rymsha played in 24 games, posting two goals and two assists while playing with a torn labrum.
“After sophomore year I got my left (shoulder) repaired, rehabbed over the summer, came back and then I tore my other shoulder,” Rymsha said. “After having double shoulder injuries, I decided it would probably be a good idea to redshirt, get an extra year.”
He did register an assist in five games as a junior, but through three seasons Rymsha had been in the lineup just 35 times.
Finally healthy heading into his senior season, Rymsha played in 28 games, registering a goal and two helpers.
He initially intended to spend his fifth season at Dartmouth, decelerating his program to remain a full-time student throughout.
But Miami called to see if he would be interested in spending his final year of eligibility with the RedHawks.
“That was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up,” Rymsha said. “Miami was a school that I loved watching and always wanted to play for growing up.”
So he beefed up his class schedule and took summer classes, graduating from Dartmouth last September.
“I met a lot of great people – the relationships that I built there are something that I’ll carry with me forever – and hockey-wise, they really developed me there,” Rymsha said.
Rymsha was in the lineup for both games opening weekend vs. Alabama-Huntsville, and after tallying just eight points in four seasons at Dartmouth, he scored and picked up a pair of helpers in that series.
“To go out the first week and have the kind of first weekend that I did individually was a really cool feeling,” Rymsha said.
Rymsha has played in 32 of Miami’s 34 games this season, and not all of his minutes have been spent on defense.
Because of injuries and other game situations, Miami’s coaches have tapped his upbringing as a forward and have used him both on the wing and at center.
The Thursday before the series at Omaha in early November, Miami’s centers were taking draws in practice. Rymsha had completed his drills but wasn’t ready to get off the ice, so he went up to Blasi, who was dropping pucks, and asked to take some faceoffs.
Rymsha won most of the draws.
“(Blasi) was a little bit surprised, and I was like yeah coach, I had a little bit of experience playing forward growing up,” Rymsha said.
That weekend a game misconduct left Miami short a forward, so Rymsha shifted to the front end.
“So it’s always been in the coaching staff’s back pocket that if they need me up front, it’s something that I can do and they can rely on me,” Rymsha said. “This is something that I told the coaching staff at the beginning of the year, that I wanted to help out any way I can.”
Due to injuries this season, Rymsha has done pretty much everything but put on goalie pads. He has logged time on the power play, penalty kill, both defensive positions, wing and center, even taking the opening draw at home.
“I think there were four games in a row where he was bouncing back from forward to D, and people don’t realize how hard that is to do at this level,” senior captain Grant Hutton said. “It’s hard to get into a rhythm.”
Rymsha has three goals and four assists for seven points – all career highs – and he is third on the team only to Rourke Russell and Bray Crowder with 41 blocked shots.
“He comes in every day and he works his hardest, so hard that he sets a tone for everybody else,” Uhelski said. “He’s got the skill, and he’s got the speed…he’s an unbelievable player, a well-rounded player.”
He has also been one of the most physical skaters on the team, dishing out punishing hits all season regardless of his position.
“He’s a swiss army knife,” Uhelski said. “He’s got every tool in the box. What’s been so cool and what I think a lot of guys coming up could learn from him is he’s there for the team. Coach wants you on forward, yeah, I’ve got you. Where do you need me? It’s not, oh man, I’m not playing my position. He’s going with a smile on his face and his hard hat on, ready to work.”
With one weekend series left in the regular season and the postseason looming, Rymsha feels like he’s playing at a higher level than ever.
“I think especially now, getting into playoffs, you have to be playing your best hockey and I think that’s what four and a half seasons of college hockey have prepared me for,” Rymsha said. “Looking back to my freshman year all the way up to now, every year I’ve gotten better. The hockey that I felt like I was playing my senior year at Dartmouth you could say was my best hockey and obviously that’s what attracted the coaching staff at Miami. I knew when I came in here that there was another level that I felt like I could go to, and they’ve helped me with that.”
Rymsha credits his father for guiding him during his ascent through the hockey ranks. Andy Rymsha was a fourth-round pick of St. Louis and played six games for Quebec and 11 total seasons in the pros.
“Honestly it’s hard to put into words,” Rymsha said. “He’s been there for me my entire life. The advice he gives me on a day-to-day basis has helped me become the player that I am today. He’s taught me what it’s like to be a pro when you’re (in) juniors and into college, the responsibilities and how to handle yourself on and off the ice. I can’t thank my dad enough for everything that he’s taught me along the way.”
Rymsha’s brother, Drake, is a Los Angeles Kings draftee currently playing in the ECHL.
Uhelski grew up in Flint, Mich., and hockey was an easy sell for him since his mother was a professional figure skater.
There was never a doubt about what position he was destined for.
“I always joke around that when I was young I was a little chubby so they stuck me in net right away,” Uhelski said. “So I was a goalie from the first time I played and I absolutely loved it.”
After two seasons with Belle Tire, he went to Muskegon of the USHL, where he posted a 2.66 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage in 18 appearances, notching a pair of shutouts.
“When I was growing up obviously I dreamed of playing college hockey – but here was the first time where I thought that, oh my gosh, this might actually happen,” Uhelski said.
After another year in Muskegon, Uhelski began his college hockey career with Alabama-Huntsville.
But as he would find out, being on a Division I team didn’t necessarily equate to playing time.
UAH had won two games the season before Uhelski joined the team, and he expected to make an immediate impact upon arriving in Huntsville. But Carmine Guerriero had an outstanding season in net and Uhelski did not see the ice for one second that season.
“Halfway through (freshman) year I was getting upset and I hadn’t played, and it can go one of two ways: I could shut down and this is no good, I’m sick of this or whatever, or you can just battle through it, take what you can for experience and try to learn and grow and develop,” Uhelski said. “That’s what I did.”
As a sophomore, it was the other UAH goalie – Matt Larose – that took over the starting job, and again Uhelski sat the entire season without logging a minute in net.
Uhelski did receive a red shirt for one of those seasons.
“It was something that I think has given me so much strength as a leader today,” Uhelski said. “Whenever you go a new place, you have all these ideas of, oh man, everything’s going to go exactly the way I want it.”
Finally, junior year arrived and Uhelski played his first game in 2½ years against a more talented Michigan Tech team, and UAH salvaged a tie.
From then on, Uhelski was essentially the No. 1 goalie for the Chargers. He was between the pipes for 23 games that season and 32 as a senior, finishing with a .906 save percentage.
“It was definitely an up-and-down, emotional experience but it’s one that I can look back on and draw a lot of confidence and know that I’ve really been through a lot and come out on the other side,” Uhelski said.
After four seasons with Alabama-Huntsville, many of Uhelski’s teammates were leaving and he was looking for a change.
“I knew wherever I went I wanted to be a part of something special,” Uhelski said. “I was really upfront with my coach (Mike Corbett) at Huntsville, and he said if you want to transfer, I’ll do whatever I can do to help you. We decided that’s what I wanted to do.”
So when Blasi talked to him about coming in for his fifth season, Uhelski couldn’t say yes quickly enough.
“I always joke around with him that it was the easiest commit that he’d ever even gotten,” Uhelski said. “He hadn’t even finished the sentence and I was ‘yeah, I’m coming, when do you need me there?’ Before graduation I was ready to pack up for Miami if I could. I was so excited to come here and be a part of this program and be a part of the rich history. It was an amazing opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
There was one problem for Uhelski: Miami already had a starting goalie in Ryan Larkin.
“I’ve been through a lot in my college experience, and I know that it’s just as important to be someone the team needs when you’re in the lineup as when you’re not in the lineup,” Uhelski said. “That was really my expectation: Just to come in and be a great team guy and try to leave a positive mark on the program.”
Uhelski didn’t have to wait long. Blasi tapped him to start the first game of the season.
The opponent? Alabama-Huntsville.
“When Coach (Blasi) said, yeah, you’re going the first game, I was so excited,” Uhelski said. “To be able to go against some of the old boys that I’d played with, it was awesome.”
The first shot he faced in his RedHawks career was an innocuous wrister from the blue line.
Somehow it snuck through and found the net.
“I was wondering what Coach Blasi was thinking, like who is this kid that I just picked up?” Uhelski said.
Uhelski had already had a cryptic conversation about the very subject prior to the game.
“One of my old roommates from Huntsville was texting me, he was like, if you let a shot in, I’m going to make fun of you the rest of your life,” Uhelski said. “(UAH) scored the first goal, and I was like, oh man. There’s no way that that just happened.”
But Uhelski settled down and stopped the next 18 shots he faced in a 5-1 win.
In his first 10 games his save percentage was .918. That has slipped to .902 after a pair of off-nights, but thanks to Uhelski’s pushing, Larkin is at .916 after posting an .886 save percentage last season.
“His personality and his character helps Ryan in terms of, he’s much more outgoing and very vocal,” Blasi said.
One of Uhelski’s season highlights was the St. Cloud series in Oxford. Larkin was banged up in the series opener, and Uhelski stopped 59 of 63 shots on the weekend to earn a pair of ties.
The Huskies were ranked No. 1 in the NCAA at the time.
“Jordan’s a great player,” Rymsha said. “Coming from Huntsville, he probably didn’t have a lot of help and if you look at his numbers, he’s put up some good numbers and that’s translated here. The work ethic, the energy that he brings to the rink, day in and day out, on and off the ice, it’s made a big impact on the team, and it’s made a big impact on me.”
Although both Rymsha and Uhelski have only spent one season here, they have loved every minute of the little time they’ve had in Oxford.
“It’s exceeded my expectations – it’s a great program,” Rymsha said. “Not to take anything away from the ECAC – it’s obviously a great conference – but the league that we play in is on another level. The coaching staff can tell you every day how hard it’s going to be every day, but not until you get into the thick of it can you really see how hard it actually is.”
Said Uhelski: “I wish I had four more. The year hasn’t gone how you write it up, but every storybook ending has a little adversity. My experience has been so amazing. I love every guy that’s on our team, and it’s been an honor to get to play for a program that has so much history and such support from the community and the fans. When you’re a little kid and you’re thinking about playing college hockey, this is what you dream about. I really wish I had four more years here because every person that I’ve met at Miami has been so loving and so real and amazing and heartfelt to me. I cannot say enough about my time here at Miami. I have people back home joke with me that every time I go out I’ve got something Miami on, it’s just because every day I get up to go the rink I’m so proud to wear that ‘M’ and be a part of something like this program and this school. It’s been truly amazing.”
Both teams scored five times in the first two periods.
But a Kobe Roth goal with 13:17 left in regulation was the difference maker in No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth’s 6-5 win over Miami on Saturday.
In a crazy game that saw the Bulldogs score twice in the first 90 seconds and ultimately fall behind by a goal in the second period, UMD (21-9-2) completed a four-game season series sweep of the RedHawks.
MU dropped its third straight game and is 0-11-2 in its last 13 games on the Bulldogs’ home ice.
RECAP: Just 86 seconds into the game, the Bulldogs led by two thanks to a pair of Nick Wolff goals scored on outside shots, 23 seconds apart.
Miami (11-19-4) went on a two-man advantage and powered home a pair of quick goals of their own, tying it on markers scored 55 second apart.
Josh Melnick whipped a wrister home from the high slot on the 5-on-3, and Jonathan Gruden grabbed a rebound off a Grant Hutton shot and backhanded it home to tie the score at the 5:42 mark of the opening stanza.
Riley Tufte tipped home a slap pass from the edge of the crease on the power play to give Minnesota-Duluth a 3-2 lead with 10:30 left in the first frame.
The RedHawks again answered with a man-advantage goal of their own, as Hutton ripped a shot from the high inside edge of the faceoff circle that found its mark with 3:34 left in the first period.
A blue line blast by Dylan Samberg put UMD ahead by one again, 4-3 less than three minutes into the middle stanza, but Gordie Green tied it for Miami with a one-timer from the slot off a centering feed by Ryan Siroky along the boards.
RedHawks forward Carter Johnson stole the puck behind the Bulldogs’ net, wrapped around and poked it into the net less than two minutes later to give the RedHawks their only lead.
But with 20 seconds left in the second period, Parker Mackay cleaned up a rebound off a blue line wrist shot by Scott Perunovich to tie the score at five.
The game winner also was scored on a rebound, as Roth banged home a Billy Exell shot from the side of the net 6:43 into the third period.
STATS: Hutton finished with a goal and two assists, tying his career high in points. It was his fourth-ever three-point game.
— Melnick and Green both found the net and picked up a helper. Green snapped a five-game goalless streak and Melnick recorded his third tally in five games.
With 107 career points, Melnick moved into a tie with Blake Coleman for 45th on Miami’s all-time leaderboard.
— Gruden broke out of a 12-game skid without a marker, and Johnson scored for the first time since opening night.
— The RedHawks were 3-for-5 on the power play, scoring three times on the man advantage for the first time since Jan. 12, 2018 in an 11-7 loss at Omaha.
Miami also gave up two PPGs on four chances. MU is 15 of 24 on the penalty kill in its last eight games, a clip of 62.5 percent.
— The RedHawks generated just 19 shots and have failed to put up more than 22 shots in five consecutive contests. They have been outshot by 94 in that span, or 19 shots per game.
THOUGHTS: Miami played much better overall than on Friday, especially considering the RedHawks went down two within the first 90 seconds.
MU was assisted by a 5-on-3 later in the first period, as the team scored twice to tie it.
The RedHawks actually led heading into the final minute of the second period but ultimately two Minnesota-Duluth rebound goals in the final stanza were the difference.
As tough as Miami has had it at Amsoil Arena, it’s looking more likely the RedHawks return there for their first-round NCHC Tournament series again.
MU has gone to Duluth two of the previous three years for the best-of-3 and its season has ended there both times.
— Gruden seems to be heating up at the right time. He made a highlight-reel pass to set up Phil Knies‘ goal on Friday and scored one of his own in this game.
— Funny how a game with the same officials as Friday played about at an equal level physically sees these teams combine for nine power play chances after racking up only two in the series opener.
Even the UMD broadcasters were commenting on that and how calls against both teams that weren’t made on Friday were minors on Saturday.
Miami and UMD combined to go 6-for-11 on the man advantage for the weekend (54.5 percent).
— Jordan Uhelski made the start and allowed six goals on 39 shots. It wasn’t one of his better games, and Ryan Larkin was not in top form on Friday.
LINEUP CHANGES: River Rymsha was back in the lineup after serving his league-imposed one-game suspension. He replaced Noah Jordan.
The only other move was Uhelski in net for Larkin.
STANDINGS: At 5-15-2 in the NCHC, Miami is locked into a seven or eight seed.
The RedHawks are tied with Omaha for seventh place but are technically behind the Mavericks because they lose the tiebreaker, which is goal differential in head-to-head meetings (UNO has outscored Miami, 12-11 in their four meetings).
MU is six points behind sixth-place Colorado College but cannot win the tiebreaker vs. the Tigers because of a 1-3 head-to-head mark.
St. Cloud State has locked up the No. 1 seed, and if the season ended today that’s where Miami would head. Minnesota-Duluth is likely to finish second, as the Bulldogs are four points ahead of Denver.
One of those three teams will host Miami in two weeks. SCSU is No. 1 in the PairWise, UMD is third and Denver sixth.
The RedHawks host Western Michigan next week while Omaha travels to North Dakota.
MU is No. 34 in the PairWise.
FINAL THOUGHTS: One weekend left in the regular season and all that’s left to decide is where Miami will head for the NCHC Tournament.
For whatever reason the RedHawks have had more success in Denver than Duluth or St. Cloud, but Denver is also the least likely opponent for Miami, as the Pioneers would have to rally from four points down to catch UMD.
However, Duluth heads to St. Cloud State next week while Denver hosts Colorado College.
Miami needs a strong finish to its regular season against Western Michigan next week to carry some confidence into the postseason.
For two periods, Miami remained competitive with the top-ranked team in Division I on the road.
The RedHawks were down just one goal after 40 minutes, but No. 1 St. Cloud State ran off three straight markers in the final frame to seal Miami’s 5-1 loss at the Herb Brooks Center on Friday.
Ryan Poehling, the Montréal Canadiens’ first-round pick in 2017, scored twice and added a pair of assists for the Huskies.
Grant Hutton netted the lone goal for Miami, which lost its seventh straight game and extended its winless streak to 13 (0-9-4).
RECAP: Just 38 seconds in the game, Jack Poehling slammed home a one-time feed from brother Ryan Poehling on a 2-on-1 to give St. Cloud State (19-4-2) the early lead.
Miami (9-14-4) appeared to have tied it midway through the period when Gordie Green stuffed a wraparound just inside the post, but it was ruled no goal on the ice and no conclusive angle showed the puck completely across the goal line.
The RedHawks legitimately evened the score when Hutton wound up at the top of the faceoff circle, pump faked and aimed a modified slap shot into the far corner of the net at the 2:22 mark of the second period.
But just 53 seconds later, the Huskies went ahead for good when Jimmy Schuldt ripped a one-timer inside the near post from the blue line on the power play.
Ryan Poehling made it 3-1 four minutes in the final stanza, as he played give-and-go with Blake Lizotte, who sent a return pass through the crease where it was shoveled into the back of the net by Poehling.
Ryan Poehling extended the Huskies’ lead to three when he skated through the Miami defense, went in alone and beat RedHawks goalie Jordan Uhelski glove side with 12:15 remaining in regulation.
Patrick Newell capped off the scoring with a turnaround wrister from the faceoff dot that hit off the inside of the far crossbar 1:16 to play.
STATS: Hutton’s goal was his second in three games. That moved him into third place unofficially on Miami’s all-time defenseman scorers list with 28 goals.
— Green snapped a string of five games without a point, as he picked up the primary assist.
— Josh Melnick, returning after a six-game injury absence, earned the secondary helper, giving him points in eight straight contests in which he has dressed.
It was career point No. 101 for Melnick, who tied Pat Leahy and Mitch Ganzak for 50th on the RedHawks’ career leaderboard.
THOUGHTS: Despite allowing a goal 38 seconds into the game, Miami played pretty well for 40 minutes, but St. Cloud State dominated the third.
The Huskies led for all but 91 seconds – the first 38 and 53 between Hutton’s goal and SCSU’s eventual game winner.
Defensively, the RedHawks have been sloppier lately, which has compounded the other woes that have culminated in this 2½-month winless streak.
St. Cloud State may be the most skilled all-around teams in Division I, and in the final 20 minutes the Huskies played like it.
— Green’s non-goal is tough for Miami, but there really wasn’t a definitive camera angle showing the puck completely across the line.
One suspects that the puck was completely on white ice at the furthest point goalie David Hrenak extended his glove, but that isn’t proof.
Had it initially been ruled a goal it almost certainly wouldn’t have been disallowed, so the call on the ice was going to the be final one either way.
Things like that seem to happen to struggling teams. At least Green picked up a point on Hutton’s goal.
— Melnick’s return was a blessing, as he did not appear any worse for wear due to his lower-body injury. Hopefully Miami’s offense will be rejuvenated with him healthy.
LINEUP CHANGES: Scott Corbett was scratched for the second time this season, and Brian Hawkinson sat for the first time in his career.
Melnick took one of those forward spots, and Zach LaValle dressed in the other after not dressing last Saturday.
It was Uhelski in net, making his fourth start in six games. He has played in six straight, relieving Ryan Larkin in both of his starts in that span.
FINAL THOUGHTS: The game was closer than the final score indicated, but a great college hockey team played great hockey and pulled away from a lesser squad.
Not much more to be said about this one.
It’s an unforgiving league, and one of the things BoB said was paramount to a solid Miami second half was not letting a losing streak snowball, and that’s exactly what has happened to the RedHawks since the start of 2019.
OXFORD, Ohio – The last series Miami played against Minnesota-Duluth, the RedHawks were shut out on the road, 4-0 in the opener and 3-0 in the finale.
The No. 5 Bulldogs repeated that feat this weekend by identical scores.
After beating MU 4-0 on Friday, UMD reeled off its fourth straight shutout vs. Miami, 3-0 at Cady Arena on Saturday.
The RedHawks have not scored against UMD in 257:08.
Miami (9-11-4) played without both captains – Josh Melnick and Grant Hutton – and starting goalie Ryan Larkin watched the game from the bench.
The RedHawks’ winless streak has reached 10 games, with their last win coming over two months ago.
RECAP: Minnesota-Duluth (14-6-2) opened the scoring when Scott Perunovich tipped home a wrister from the blue line by Nick Swaney on the power play at the 17-minute mark of the first period.
Midway through the second frame, Miami was on a two-man advantage when the RedHawks’ Jonathan Gruden had a shot blocked and UMD’s Justin Richards went in for a breakaway but was hooked from behind by Derek Daschke, resulting in a penalty shot as one skater returned to the ice.
Richards scored, going backhand to the stick side to make it 2-0.
The Bulldogs sealed it 4:13 into the third period when Noah Cates stripped Casey Gilling, and the loose puck ended up on the stick of Swaney, who was all alone at the top of the crease for a slam-dunk goal.
STATS: Overall, Miami’s scoreless drought has reached 141:26. The RedHawks set a school record by being blanked for over 240 minutes in 2017-18, which included its shutout weekend at Duluth.
— The RedHawks finished with the same faceoff percentage both nights (.333). They went 18-36 in the circle in this game after struggled to a 20-40 mark on Friday.
— Miami slipped to 1-8-1 in January games dating back to last season and is 4-16-3 overall in the second half the past two campaigns.
— For over two months, the RedHawks have been in pursuit of win No. 10. They are 1-19-6 since 2016-17 going after that elusive 10th victory.
— MU dropped to 1-13-1 in its last 15 meetings with the Bulldogs.
THOUGHTS: Like Friday, Miami was buzzing in the first period despite its lack of star power, but once again a late first-period goal by Minnesota-Duluth completely deflated the RedHawks.
The two-man advantage-turned-shorthanded-rush-turned-penalty-shot also represented a major momentum swing in the game, since it was an excellent opportunity for Miami to tie the score that went horribly, horribly wrong.
From there, it was obvious that Bulldogs goalie Hunter Shepard wasn’t going to give up a pair of late goals, as he was outstanding in shutting Miami out for the fourth straight time.
— Hutton was given a game misconduct and not a disqualification on Friday, so the decision to sit him was on Miami’s coaching staff.
It was a bad penalty for sure and I have no problem scratching him for a game, especially with the team mired in a deep slump.
Hutton is an exceptional talent and a wonderful young man, but as a senior he hasn’t taken that step forward that we’ve seen elite NHLers-to-be often take their final season.
One pro scout said he hasn’t seen an urgency in his game this year. Sometimes even elite players need a wake-up call, and hopefully a night in the stands will rejuvenate Hutton.
No Hutton, no Melnick and no Larkin against the No. 5 team was a tall order for the RedHawks, but sometimes a shake-up is needed when a team is struggling.
— Melnick is battling a lower-body injury and Larkin was pulled after allowing four goals on 22 shots on Friday.
Hopefully Melnick will return next weekend.
— The current review process has to stop. It’s ruining games.
Everyone wants calls to be correct. But there has to be a limit.
A UMD player went down behind the play in this game. After the next whistle, the officials went under the headsets for several minutes to see if a penalty was warranted.
On Friday the officials went to the booth to decide Hutton’s penalty, even know everyone in the building knew he was getting 5-and-10.
Coach Enrico Blasi asked for a review on UMD’s goal, citing the puck might have gone out of play prior to it going in. The original no-call was upheld.
The best is when a goal is scored and there’s a review to see if the play was off-side a minute earlier.
You know, because in baseball when someone hits a home run, they go back to see if that ball one call really should’ve been a strike five pitches prior.
I give credit to college hockey for being open to rules changes to better the game (except shootouts, but that’s for another day), so I have one:
Give teams two timeouts instead of one. Challenge anything you want. If you’re wrong, you lose a timeout, as it is now.
But no other reviews except inside five minutes of the third period and overtime.
You hired a second ref for each game, let the officials do their jobs.
— It’s too bad the weather kept a large number of fans away on Saturday.
The roads were brutal after the game, and many smartly stayed home.
The attendance was listed as 2,018 but I suspect that includes season ticket holders who have paid for their seats. Actual attendance was closer to one thousand.
A large number at the rink were in town for the whole weekend anyway.
I can’t express how much I hate to name drop, especially when it’s someone I’ve never met with a name as prestigious and sensitive as his, but when conditions are poor I’ll always think of that series nine years ago when Brendan Burke was killed.
For those not in the know, Burke and his friend died in a car accident on horrible roads northwest of Oxford the day of a Friday game vs. Lake Superior State.
Burke, the team manager at the time and son of former NHL general manager Brian Burke, was a pioneer when he came out as openly gay months before the wreck, gaining national attention.
That weekend’s weather could’ve claimed any of us who traveled to Oxford for those games.
Burke died on a Friday, and the team didn’t find out until later that night, but its members did The Brotherhood proud by scoring seven goals the first 29 minutes of Saturday’s game against a ranked Lakers team in a 10-4 win.
Not a team on the planet, including the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, could’ve beaten Miami for that period and a half.
— Back to Friday for a second: Blasi was caught yelling at associate coach Peter Mannino on the bench early in the second period.
If there’s a disagreement between coaches, that’s something that needs to be handled in private at intermission, especially when a team is struggling as Miami clearly is.
LINEUP CHANGES: Andrew Sinard stepped in for Hutton, as the RedHawks are down to seven healthy defensemen.
Grant Frederic and Chaz Switzer are both out with lower body injuries.
Uhelski got the start for Larkin after the senior’s strong performance in the second half of Friday’s game and stopped 36 of 39 shots in the loss.
His save percentage is now .922. Larkin is at .923.
Noah Jordan also started up front for the fourth time this season as Carter Johnson was scratched.
FORWARDS: D-. An upgrade from ‘F’ on Friday only because they generated better shots and Shepard was outstanding, but seriously, 13 shots and zero goals?
DEFENSEMEN: C. Too many shots allowed and this corps did zilch offensively. But with Hutton out, Sinard seemed to thrive with more ice time and Alec Mahalak showcased his defensive talents more with the additional TOI available.
GOALTENDING: B+. Uhelski had zero chance on the first and third goals and the other was on a penalty shot.
STANDINGS: Miami has fallen to 29th in the PairWise and is in sixth place in the NCHC with a 3-7-2 record.
The RedHawks trail fifth-place North Dakota by six points and are seven out of fourth, which is the last home-ice spot for the league tournament.
FINAL THOUGHTS: It’s necessary to take a step back and realize that this was always going to be a rebuilding season.
After three straight sub-.500 seasons and a 7-2 start, this 0-6-4 skid feels like a Lucy-again-pulling-away-the-football moment, but it’s important to realize that success this season was always going to be a tall order.
With six non-seniors and both assistants leaving, the RedHawks pieced this team together in the summer, and still – still – at 9-11-4 have exceeded expectations.
It’s just frustrating to see Miami play so well against No. 1 St. Cloud for 120 minutes and then get manhandled by the fifth-ranked team seven weeks later.
What we’ve seen in four months of the 2018-19 is a major step ahead in the process toward being an NCAA contending team.
But as Minnesota-Duluth showed this weekend, the RedHawks still aren’t there. At least not right now.
Fortunately for Miami, there’s still plenty of season left to turn that around.
No set of euphemisms can shield the obvious: Minnesota-Duluth has owned Miami the past few seasons.
The Bulldogs are 11-1-1 vs. the RedHawks since the start of the 2016 calendar year and 15-4-2 vs. MU overall.
If there’s good news for Miami it’s that the lone win during its current drought vs. UMD came on home ice last season.
And the RedHawks have defended their home rink well this season, going 6-2-2 at Cady Arena.
BoB takes a look at the upcoming series between these teams:
WHO: No. 5 Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (12-6-2) at Miami RedHawks (9-9-4).
WHERE: Cady Arena (3,642), Oxford, Ohio.
WHEN: Friday – 7:35 p.m.; Saturday – 7:05 p.m.
UMD RADIO: KDAL-AM (610), Duluth, Minn.
MIAMI RADIO: WKBV-AM (1490), Richmond, Ind.
NOTES: Duluth is one of the best defensive teams in Division I.
The Bulldogs allow very few shots, and the overwhelming majority of those are snagged by goalie Hunter Shepard.
Minnesota-Duluth is tops in the conference in goals allowed (41) and seventh in the NCAA defensively at 2.05 goals against per game.
Opponents average just 23.0 shots, and the Bulldogs’ defense corps consists of five sophomores and a junior with another junior between the pipes.
Second-round pick Scott Perunovich leads all defensemen in points (18) and the entire team in assists (16).
Blueliners Nick Wolff, the lone junior in this corps, and Kings draftee Mikey Anderson also have offensive ability, as Wolff is 2-7-9 with 62 penalty minutes, and Anderson has scored three times.
Jets second-round pick Dylan Samberg, Louis Roehl and Matt Anderson round out Minnesota-Duluth’s top six on defense.
Shepard led the Bulldogs to the national championship last season by allowing just five goals in four NCAA Tournament contests. He posted a 1.91 goals-against average in 2017-18 and is at 1.92 this season.
Shepard’s GAA is eighth-best in college hockey and he has a save percentage of .916. He has played all but 16 minutes in net for Minnesota-Duluth this season.
Up front, Justin Richards’ emergence has been a major storyline for the Bulldogs. He leads the team with 12 assists and 19 points, and he has also scored seven times, including a pair of game winners.
The sophomore had zero goals in 44 games last season and finished with nine helpers.
Parker Mackay is team captain and one of the top two-way players in the conference. He has a Bulldogs-best eight goals plus eight assists for 16 points.
Only three other UMD forwards have 10 or more points. Senior Peter Krieger is 2-12-14, Wild draft pick Nick Swaney has six goals and six assists, and Tampa Bay selection Cole Koepke has a pair of markers and eight helpers.
Minnesota-Duluth has two more NHL draft picks among its forwards. Riley Tuftes was Dallas’ first-round choice in 2016, and Noah Cates was taken by Philadelphia in 2017.
They have identical 5-3-8 lines.
The Bulldogs are the top penalty killing team in Division I at 92.0 percent, as they have surrendered just six power play goals.
This weekend series is the front half of a four-game homestand for Miami, which is mired in an eight-game winless streak.
With their record at .500 for the first time this season, the RedHawks need to start winning games if they hope to earn home ice in the NCHC Tournament and eventually qualify for the national championship tournament.
Gordie Green is starting to heat up, which is great news for Miami, as he has scored three goals in three games.
Grant Hutton has four points in four games and Brian Hawkinson recorded points in both contests last weekend.
Co-captain Josh Melnick missed both games last weekend with a lower body injury, and there’s no certainty he will play in this series.
Goalie Ryan Larkin did not play the finale in Kalamazoo last week but is expected to play against UMD.
In hockey, ties tend to be regarded negatively, but considering Miami’s situation with six minutes left in regulation, the RedHawks had to be thrilled to end up in the ‘T’ column.
No. 16 Miami scored twice late in the third period to salvage a 3-3 tie at No. 10 Providence’s Schneider Arena on Saturday.
And the tying goal, a snipe from the slot by Gordie Green, came 6-on-5 with just 42 seconds left in regulation. Green received the one-time feed from Josh Melnick, who earned his 100th career point with the assist.
Christian Mohs started the comeback by netting his first career goal with 5:21 left in regulation.
RECAP: Scott Conway gave Providence (12-4-4) the lead 5:35 into the first period when he batted a blue line pass from Spenser Young into the net on the power play.
The Friars extended their lead to two with another man-advantage goal, as a wrister by Ben Mirageas from just inside the blue line deflected off a Miami stick and in with 6:23 remaining in the middle stanza.
The RedHawks (9-7-4) trimmed the deficit to one when Jonathan Gruden threaded a pass through a pair of defenders across the slot to a wide-open Ryan Siroky at the side of the net, and he slammed it home with 14:02 to play in regulation.
That was also a power play goal, the sixth of the weekend for these teams.
Providence answered just 13 seconds later as Miami’s Bray Crowder tried to knock the puck away from Brandon Duhaime, but it ended up on the stick of Bryan Lemos in the slot for an easy score to make it 3-1, and it appeared that would wrap up a weekend sweep for the Friars.
But Mohs shot one from the top of the faceoff circle that hit a Providence sweater and found net with 5:21 left for his first career goal, and the RedHawks were again within one, 3-2.
With the extra attacker on, Melnick slid a pass from the wall through traffic to a wide-open Green in the slot, and his blast sent the game to overtime.
STATS: Lots to work with…
— Melnick. He’s the 52nd player in Miami history to reach 100 points, with the last being Anthony Louis in 2017.
He also extended his points streak to seven games, notching three goals and five assists in that span. That’s the longest stretch of consecutive games with at least one point by a Miamian this season.
— Siroky. He finished with a goal and an assist, setting three personal milestones. 1) It was the senior’s first career multi-point game, 2) it was the first time he had ever scored goals in consecutive contests, and 3) he is riding his first-ever three-game points streak, during which he is 2-2-4.
— Grant Hutton. Hutton picked up two assists, giving him three points for the weekend. He had not notched a point in his previous eight games.
— Mohs. It was his first career goal, although he did create a nice build-up by scoring in the exhibition vs. Guelph last Sunday.
— Green. He had not scored in 10 games but is still tied with Melnick and Karch Bachman for the team lead with seven markers.
— Miami is actually winless in its last six games with an 0-4-2 record, but the RedHawks skated to draws vs. No. 1 St. Cloud State twice and adds this quality tie – if there is such a thing – to its 2018-19 resume.
Miami did not have any stalemates in its first 14 games but has tied four of its last six contests.
— Special teams. The good: Miami is 4-for-13 its last three games, or 30.8 percent. The bad: The RedHawks were 3 of 6 on the PK this weekend and are now just 57.1 percent dating back to the New Hampshire series.
THOUGHTS: This is yet another major step for this program in the ‘reenergize’ movement, as Coach Enrico Blasi called it before the season.
Though it wasn’t a win, this moved the needed significantly in the RedHawks’ desired direction.
Turning a two-goal deficit at a top-10 team into a tie with six minutes remaining is a rarity and speaks to how far Miami has come this season.
Flipping a team from a sub-.400 three-year winning percentage to a national contender in college sports is a long process that requires patience from coaches, student-athletes and fans.
Countless hours of work by the former two and others immediately surrounding the program are starting to pay tangible dividends, with this tie coming on the back of a pair of draws vs. the top-ranked program in Division I that saw Miami trail six times on the weekend and battle back to even the score on each occasion.
This is no last-place NCHC team, this is not a team deserving of zero votes in national polls. Now in the meat of their schedule, the RedHawks are proving the college hockey world wrong every night.
— Miami certainly can’t blame officiating for its 0-1-1 weekend. Power plays for the weekend were 11-7 in favor of the RedHawks, with PC assessed 40 penalty minutes compared to 20 for Miami.
— Despite having little room to operate against the super-tight Providence defense, wings Knies and Ben Lown seemed to pass across the width of the ice to each other at will.
A healthy Knies will hopefully result in more offensive production from that line.
— The cost to watch this series via the internet was $10, but it was a quality telecast.
The picture was actually a little better for the internet-only feed on Friday than on Saturday, which was broadcast on NBC Sports Boston.
Mike Logan is a veteran play-by-play man, extremely fair and gives excellent play descriptions.
He was solo on Friday and was joined by Sonny Watrous on Saturday, a PC women’s hockey standout last decade.
She is very knowledgeable about the game and the tandem work well together in the booth.
Both were very complimentary of the Miami program and agreed with the officials’ calls on almost every occasion, despite the penalty disparity.
— Didn’t know this, but Logan said on Friday that this is the last time these teams are scheduled to play each other for the foreseeable future.
Since 2011-12, Miami and Providence have faced each other every season, typically early in the season.
The only time during that span they didn’t meet in the regular season was 2014-15 when Miami was sent to the Providence bracket of the NCAA Tournament and lost, 7-5 in the first round just minutes from the PC campus.
Despite the travel and the Friars’ 8-1-3 record vs. the RedHawks in the last 12 meetings, this has been a great series over the years, as Providence is always a well-coached team with tons of skill.
Hopefully Miami and PC renew the all-time series at some point.
LINEUP CHANGES: None. Blasi went the same 20 both nights and seems to like defenseman Andrew Sinard in that extra skater flex role.
UP NEXT: Sixteen games in nine weeks, all against NCHC foes.
Miami heads to Western Michigan next weekend, facing the Broncos for the first time this season.
WMU is second in the conference with 14 points and is ranked No. 17 in the USCHO poll, one spot below Miami.
Friday’s game will be televised nationally on CBS College Sports.
Then the RedHawks play four at Cady Arena – two vs. Minnesota-Duluth and a pair against Colorado College.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Miami Version 2018-19 further cemented its play-to-the-final-horn reputation, as the RedHawks have scored a tying goal in the third period in all of its recent QTs (quality ties).
Remember the comeback win against UMass-Lowell and the two clutch third-period goals against North Dakota that broke a tie.
One could see the RedHawks’ emotions as they gathered on the ice after the five-minute overtime, as this was certainly a bonding experience for the players.
That’s the type of experience that can only help Miami as it shifts back to conference play for the balance of the regular season.
OXFORD, Ohio – Ryan Larkin had one shutout in his freshman season and one more as a sophomore.
Six starts into 2018-19, the Miami junior has already blanked more opponents than in his first two years combined.
On Saturday, he recorded his third clean sheet of 2018-19, a 30-save effort in a 6-0 win over Colgate at Cady Arena that wrapped up a weekend sweep for the RedHawks.
It was the fourth straight win for Miami in the all-time series, as the RedHawks have outscored the Raiders, 18-2 during their winning streak vs. CU and 40-17 overall.
MU wrapped up its four-game homestand with three consecutive victories and is 5-1 on its home ice this season.
RECAP: Just 2:48 into the first period, Josh Melnick backhanded a pass to Gordie Green at the blue line, and Grant Hutton received a drop pass from Green, skated into the high slot and wired one home on the stick side on a 4-on-4.
It remained 1-0 until the 7:49 mark of the middle frame, when Green fed a pass to Melnick from the point to the side of the cage, where Melnick rammed in a bad-angle one-timer on the power play.
With 3:14 left in that period, a shot from the top of the right faceoff circle by Alec Mahalak handcuffed goalie Andrew Farrier, and Scott Corbett was there to knock in the rebound on the opposite side for his first career goal, making it 3-0.
Melnick and Green connected again, as Melnick threaded a pass through two defenders from the inside edge of the faceoff circle to a wide-open Green, who fired it into the vacant half of the net with five seconds left in a second period that saw MU score three times.
Midway through the final stanza, Casey Gilling fed a one-time pass to River Rymsha, who was crossing the blue line, and Rymsha found the top corner of the net as he stepped into a slap shot.
Hutton wrapped up the scoring as he eluded three defenders while carrying the puck from the blue line to the slot before backhanding one in to the stick side with 5:03 left in regulation.
STATS: Larkin leads all of Division I in shutouts with three. His save percentage of .966 is second in the NCAA and he is third in goals-against average (0.83).
His five career clean slates moves Larkin into a tie with Dan Kodatsky for seventh all-time on the Miami leaderboard.
Green finished with a goal and three assists for four points, the second-highest total of his career only to his five-point effort vs. Maine on Oct. 20, 2017.
It was his second three-assist game as a RedHawk.
Hutton ended the night with two goals and a helper, becoming the first skater to score twice or more in a game this season. It was his fifth career multi-goal game and the fourth time he has picked up three points.
Melnick also notched three points – the third time he has done so in a Miami sweater – on a goal and two assists.
Green has seven points in his last three games including six this weekend and Melnick picked up five points this series.
It was the third career multi-point game for Mahalak, who tallied two assists and wrapped up the series with three points.
Miami scored in all six periods this weekend and has goals in seven consecutive frames overall.
THOUGHTS: Miami played with maximum effort from the opening faceoff to the final horn, as the RedHawks were still bombarding the offensive zone in the closing minutes trying to add another score.
Too many times for too many years Miami has had trouble closing out wins, but at least for the first month of this season, the RedHawks have wielded a killer instinct late in games.
Colgate didn’t play poorly on Friday but fell behind early in this one and sort of threw in the proverbial towel the final 20-25 minutes on Saturday, and rather than sit back and play not to lose, Miami absolutely took it to the Raiders in the sixth period of the weekend, punishing them physically and on the scoreboard.
At this point, the RedHawks are better than Colgate. They aren’t 6-0 better though, but both teams got the outcomes they deserved: Miami didn’t let up the entire game and the Raiders did.
And good teams take advantage when that happens. That’s the difference between the first eight games of 2018-19 and their 110 contests the previous three seasons.
And that’s what makes this such a big win heading into NCHC play.
— Corbett returned to the Green-Melnick line and all three ended up finding the net. They combined for eight points (Green 1-3-4, Melnick 1-2-3, Corbett 1-0-1).
We heaped praise on this line for its play on Friday but it was even better in this game at both ends.
— This is as locked in as Larkin has been since coming to Oxford. In his last four starts he is 4-0 with a .981 save percentage, stopping 104 of 106 shots.
He’s second in the NCAA in save percentage at .966 only to a Lake Superior goalie whose last name is Mitens (how do you compete with that)?
And that’s been a big difference in Miami’s start: It’s virtually impossible to have a successful season when your team save percentage is .883 and your starter finishes at .886, which was the case in 2017-18.
Quality goaltending can help a decent team become a great one, and while there’s no way Larkin maintains his current save rate, he has the ability to steal wins for the RedHawks.
FORWARDS: A. The passing by this corps was so much crisper than in any other game this season. Yeah, Green and Melnick were studs, but their supporting cast was strong as well. Karch Bachman continues to generate chances with his speed. Gilling keeps winning key draws and impressing with his defense, plus he set up Rymsha’s goal. Sophs Ben Lown and Phil Knies continue to play above their size. Zach LaValle is earning playing time by stepping up. Corbett scored his first career goal and plays a high-energy, physical style. Etc., etc.
DEFENSEMEN: A. Hutton, Mahalak and Rymsha were the standouts among this group. This was Hutton’s best game at both ends, and probably the same could be said for Mahalak, who picked up two assists and earned some power play time. Rymsha’s goal was an absolute blast with pinpoint accuracy.
GOALTENDING: A+. About as perfect of a game as a goalie could play. He turned 30 shots aside and faced some Grade-A chances. He seemed more comfortable going side to side this weekend and gave up almost zero second chances.
LINEUP CHANGES: Corbett replaced Johnson, both on the first line and in the lineup, as Johnson was a scratch.
Defenseman Andrew Sinard dressed for the second time this season as Christian Mohs sat out.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Percentagewise, this equals Miami’s best start through eight games since 2010-11.
The locker room is much more unified than in recent seasons.
Goaltending has been phenomenal. Defense has been solid. The RedHawks are starting to score goals.
Even those in the stands are having a lot more fun, and hopefully more will show up as we enter the cold-weather months and super-skilled league opponents come to town.
Miami has a lot going for it, but the RedHawks also haven’t played a true road game yet, suiting up for six at home and two on neutral ice. They also haven’t started league play.
MU will tackle both of those obstacles next week in its NCHC-opening series at Omaha.
Maybe Miami, picked to finish last in the conference, ends up being the biggest surprise in the NCAA. Maybe the RedHawks do struggle in league play as was predicted.
But if they keep up the kind of effort they put forth this weekend, the dividends will eventually come for this program.
At least by playing the game the right way the foundation is now being laid for future success.
OXFORD, Ohio – It started off shaky but ended up a successful start in net for Jordan Uhelski.
The senior stopped 17 shots to earn the win in his Miami debut, a 5-1 victory over Alabama-Huntsville at Cady Arena on Saturday.
The fact Uhelski earned his undergraduate degree at UAH had to make the outcome that much sweeter. He is working on his Master’s degree and had one year of eligibility remaining, which is why he was able to join the RedHawks without sitting out a season.
RECAP: Miami junior Carter Johnson drove the net and went top shelf to open the scoring 4:48 into the first period.
But exactly one minute later, an outside shot by the Chargers’ Austin Beaulieu beat Uhelski on the stick side on the team’s first shot of the game, tying the score.
The RedHawks (1-0) answered 42 seconds after that marker, as Karch Bachman skated across the top of the crease and tucked one past sprawled out goalie Mark Sinclair.
Early in the second period, Johnson was driving the when UAH’s Kurt Gosselin delivered a head shot and was assessed a major penalty and game misconduct. Johnson eventually skated off under his own power but did not return.
Miami made the Chargers (0-1) pay on the power play, as Gordie Green slammed home a rebound off a Bachman shot with 15:18 left in the middle stanza.
The RedHawks made it 4-1 with 9:46 remaining in regulation as a Derek Daschke one-timer found the corner of the net off a feed by Green.
Miami capped off the scoring with 2:17 to play when Jonathan Gruden centered a pass from the side of the net to a wide open Grant Hutton in the slot, and Hutton buried it.
STATS: After allowing a goal on the first shot he faced, Uhelski stopped the next 17.
Hutton, Green, Bachman and Daschke all finished with two points on a goal and an assist apiece as 11 different RedHawks recorded at least one point.
Those were the first career points for Daschke, and Gruden, Brian Hawkinson and River Rymsha also picked up their inaugural Miami points, all on helpers.
THOUGHTS: One game is obviously a very small sample size, but there was an energy at the rink that had been recently lacking.
The attendance was 2,702 on a day when it was 90 degrees and the football team played at Akron in the afternoon.
‘Reenergize’ is a term Coach Enrico Blasi said the team is using a lot these days. That was an apt description of the Cady atmosphere as well, which is a welcome improvement.
— There was a lot to like among the newcomers.
After allowing a soft goal early, Uhelski settled in nicely and made a pair of high-quality saves, including one on a semi-breakaway.
Gruden’s pass to Hutton for the final goal was pretty sweet, Hawkinson played with a lot of grit, Rymsha dished out a couple of solid hits and for 6-feet-6, Brayden Crowder seems pretty cool handling and moving the puck.
We’re delve more into the newcomers after Sunday’s game.
– Gosselin’s hit on Johnson was everything that hockey is trying to get away and warrants a suspension. He was issued a game misconduct and not a disqualification, which would’ve carried an automatic suspension and is disappointing.
He had Johnson lined up and had ample time to target somewhere other than the head but did so anyway.
And Johnson has been a fantastic story, as his game surged the second half of last season and he scored in this game before getting hurt. Now who knows when he’ll get back on the ice?
Let’s keep in mind too: Gosselin is UAH’s captain. I always rooted for the Chargers when they wasn’t playing Miami, but it’ll be a little harder to do so now.
– On Tuesday, coach Enrico Blasi said Ryan Larkin was the starter, but he was in a suit on Saturday. He had no obvious sign of injury, so hopefully this is just a one-game thing that happens frequently the first game of a season.
— One thing about Coach Enrico Blasi: He’s totally unafraid of using freshmen in high-leverage spots, even in their first games. At one point three rookies manned the penalty kill.
— We saw a lot of line combinations, partly because of Johnson’s early injury. Definitely a feeling out process for all of the skaters, which is not unexpected considering the number of newcomers.
— Miami resisted the urge to pound Charger tail after the major on Johnson, and that resulted in a power play goal. It would’ve been tough to find fault with the RedHawks if they had gone after Gosselin though.
FORWARDS: B+. Liked Bachman in this one and Johnson stood out until his injury. Both scored early goals. Green scored as well and was his typical solid self. Faceoff stats were excellent: Monte Graham finished 11-5 and Josh Melnick went 9-6 to lead this corps.
DEFENSEMEN: A-. Helped hold UAH to 17 shots while combining for 16 themselves. Very few Grade-A chances against. Hutton and Daschke both went 1-1-2 and Alec Mahalak and Rymsha both earned assists.
GOALTENDING: B. Definitely could’ve used a mulligan on the goal allowed, but Uhelski turned aside the next 17, including a pair of high-percentage chances. A good debut for the former-Charger-turned-RedHawk.
LINEUP: Uhelski was a surprise in net but Blasi said earlier this week that Larkin was the primary starter. On defense, 2017-18 regular Chaz Switzer was scratched, as was part-timer Grant Frederic. Freshman Andrew Sinard was the other blueliner who did not dress. Up front sophomore Christian Mohs and freshman Noah Jordan were casualties. That means eight Miami players made their RedHawks debuts – six freshmen and graduates Rymsha and Uhelski.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Alabama-Huntsville doesn’t look ready to challenge for an NCAA title but it was still a good win to open the season for MU.
And by the way, the RedHawks’ last win in their season debut was 2013.
With so many making their Miami debuts – both on the ice and the bench – getting victory under the belt has to provide a confidence boost.
UP NEXT: Miami plays in the Ice Breaker Tournament in Erie, Pa., next weekend. The RedHawks open with Providence at 4 p.m. on Friday and will face either Mercyhurst or Notre Dame on Saturday.