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Melnick: Working overtime for success

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.

Josh Melnick scores the first 3-on-3 overtime goal in NCAA history on this shot (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

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.

And Melnick and teammates Sean Kuraly (center) Michael Mooney celebrate (phto by Cathy Lachmann/BoB)

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.

Melnick scores in overtime to beat St. Cloud State on Jan. 6, 2017 (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

“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.

Melnick’s game winner vs. Colorado College on Nov. 3, 2017 (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

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.

Melnick scores this goal in a 3-on-3 on Dec. 1, 2018 to earn an extra point for the RedHawks (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

“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.”

Melnick scores from a bad angle earlier this season vs. Colgate (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

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.

And Melnick celebrates his goal vs. Colgate (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

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.”

2018-19 Miami preview Part IV: Goalies

OUT (2): Chase Munroe, Evan McCarthy.

IN (1): Jordan Uhelski (graduate student).

RETURNING (2): Jr. – Ryan Larkin; So – Grant Valentine.

NOTES: Miami had four goaltenders on its roster last season but finished with a team save percentage of .874, its worst rate in Coach Enrico Blasi’s tenure.

Ryan Larkin (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Only four teams in Division I allowed more goals than the RedHawks, who surrendered 128 for a per-game average of 3.46.

It was a down year for Ryan Larkin, who stopped 91 percent of the shots he faced in 2016-17 but posted an .886 save percentage last season.

The junior faced a lot of A-plus shots last season but he also let in a number of soft ones from outside.

Larkin was on the ice for all but 85 of the RedHawks’ minutes, going 12-18-5 with a 3.12 goals-agaisnt average. His GAA was up 0.35 from his freshman season.

Jordan Uhelski completed his degree at Alabama-Huntsville and is joining Miami for his final year of eligibility. He has over 3,000 minutes of college experience and a career .906 save percentage.

Grant Valentine, now a sophomore, saw just nine minutes of action and allowed one goal on three shots. With Uhelski coming in as a senior, Valentine has a chance to prove worthy of more time in net the next couple of seasons.

“I expect to have results from our goaltending,” Blasi said. “Ryan has had a great summer, Jordan as an older guy has come in and, I guess I would say I’m impressed the way he’s pushed Larks yet still been very focused on his game, so he’s ready to go if called upon. The two of them have gotten along really well and Val, our third goalie is right there every day and pushing them as well. I think it’s been a good competition for all of them. When you get to know Jordan, he’s very charismatic and he’s always on – he doesn’t take any days off in terms of his attitude and the way he works.”

With all three goalies being different classes, the Zatkoff Effect officially ends, meaning Miami has broken its cycle of having a freshman duo between the pipes every four years.

That trend started in 2008 when primary starter Jeff Zatkoff left following his junior season the same off-season as Charlie Effinger, forcing the RedHawks to bring in both Cody Reichard and Connor Knapp the following fall.

Four years later it was Jay Williams and Ryan McKay, and four more after that Larkin and Chase Munroe were freshmen, but Munroe did not return to the team this season.

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.

Such as…

– 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.

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

– 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.

Other thoughts…

– 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.