OXFORD, Ohio – Ryan Siroky was asked about his Miami experience, and 10 minutes later and after he had left the room, the same question was posed to Zach LaValle.
The first five words out of both of their mouths were identical: Best years of my life.
The senior forwards didn’t know each other at all before joining the RedHawks in the fall of 2015, which is not surprising considering Siroky was born and raised near the beaches of Los Angeles and LaValle grew up in the much more traditional hockey hotbed of the Twin Cities.
But since the start of their freshman year, they have been almost inseparable, and they have played on the same line much of this season.
“I think both of them are the types of guys that guys follow and respect because of the type of people that they are,” RedHawks coach Enrico Blasi said. “In terms of the type of impact that they’ve had, they’ve been good leaders for those young guys and good models and good representatives of our culture and Brotherhood.”
On the ice, they have been mainstays on the grind lines for four years.
Both have played over 100 maximum-effort games over their four-year careers, and while their impact may not always appear in statistical columns, they have been invaluable to the RedHawks in numerous ways.
“I think they have been huge leaders for our class in particular and for the guys coming in,” captain Josh Melnick said. “They have both matured in our time here. I think their leadership qualities at times goes unnoticed, but they do a great job of bringing guys together both on and off the ice.”
Their chemistry on the ice carries over away from the rink and vice versa. Their GPAs are even exactly the same: 3.35.
And they share at least one personality trait: Their gregariousness.
“Zach’s the easiest person to talk to: He never shuts up,” Siroky said. “We became really close friends right off the bat and still are. He’s one of my best friends on the team. We clicked right away.”
Said LaValle: “(Ryan’s) a hilarious guy. He’s always got jokes, he’s always smiling. I give him a hard time now because I’m actually older than him but he acts like he’s way older than me – he’s a grumpy old man nowadays. But he’s got a great smile, he’s got funny one-liners that get people fired up.”
Siroky, from the coastal Los Angeles suburb of Manhattan Beach, saw hockey on television at age 4 and wanted to try it and despite having parents who were raised in the west and not traditional hockey markets.
He did come from athletic pedigree, as his father, Charles, was a star swimmer in college and his mother, Tammi, had a volleyball background.
Siroky won back-to-back championships with his L.A. Selects team (losing a third title on an overtime goal) and was drafted by Green Bay of the USHL in the second round, where he began his junior career at the end of 2011-12.
At age 13, he broke his femur in two places during a game in Texas and was unable to touch his skates for 10 months. He considered quitting the game, as he enduring stints in a full cast and wheelchair.
But his difficult rehab paid off, as he thrived when hitting the ice for the Gamblers, spending two full seasons there. He scored 25 goals and picked up 11 assists in 118 games, and he even attended a couple of Packers game during his stay.
“It was a cool experience,” Siroky said. “It was kind of a culture shock coming from L.A. to a smaller town in Green Bay, but it was really good, I really enjoyed my two years there a lot.”
In his overage year of juniors, Siroky started with Bloomington – where he was named captain – and was later traded to join a Muskegon team that advanced to the Clark Cup finals.
“(In Muskegon) I got to play with a lot of really good players, got a lot of playing time and it really helped with my confidence before coming in here,” Siroky said.
After a visit set up by former Miami coach Brent Brekke, Siroky committed to Miami while still in Green Bay, but prior to that he had his doubts about coming here.
“I told my grandma I’d never come here because of the name: It would be too hard to explain to everybody,” Siroky said.
But the campus quickly sold him.
“It’s funny,” Siroky said. “Me and my dad flew out here, we flew into Columbus right at the end of January, and it was an ice storm. It was a two-hour drove, and there’s not a lot between Columbus and Oxford, and I kind of looked at him and I was like, ‘what the hell are we getting into?’ But then you enter onto campus and it’s all of the red brick and the trees and it’s a beautiful campus.
(During the season), we get to go to a lot of different schools, and obviously we see their campuses, see their facilities, and I still think nothing compares to Miami. The people here, the culture of The Brotherhood, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Siroky dressed right away for the RedHawks, playing in their first 16 games of 2015-16 and 31 contests overall that season.
His defensive prowess was immediately evident, as he either shut down or physically punished most opposing forwards that entered the Miami zone during his shift.
“When he’s playing his game, he’s obviously physical and effective in doing that,” Blasi said. “When he’s moving his feet he’s hard to play against and he blocks shots. He’s done a little bit of everything for us, he’s played center and wing, so he always find himself in the mix every week.”
As a grinder, Siroky logged 99 games his first three years with exactly four points in each campaign.
“I’m not the most offensive-gifted player so in order to stay in the lineup and stay effective for the team I had to focus on something, and obviously defense is one of the most important parts of the game,” Siroky said. “It’s really important to know your structure, be able to play defense to be able to play on offense, blocking shots, getting pucks out of the zone. It’s just always been a goal of mine to be as defensive-minded as I can to succeed.”
Of his seven goals in that span, two were in NCHC Tournament series, both at Minnesota-Duluth.
Siroky has seven goals this season alone and nine points, including his first-ever two goal game in Denver on Friday. He also netted the game winner in that contest.
And he has punished more opponents with his hitting than ever and played a better-shut down game.
“I’ve always liked to hit people, I’ve always liked to play physical,” Siroky said. “You’re allowed to – you can’t really in real life – but ever since I was a little kid I’ve liked to throw the body around, and it’s kind of translated into my role as a player.
“It’s always nice scoring goals, especially in my last year. I’ve been getting rewarded, I think I’ve been playing pretty well this year so it’s always good to get rewarded on the scoresheet as well.”
It took LaValle just four games to find the net for Miami.
He banged home a rebound off a power play shot by Kiefer Sherwood against Ohio State at a sold-out Cady Arena.
“It was such a cool feeling, scoring there and the crowd erupts,” LaValle said.
Later that freshman season, LaValle netted a goal and picked up two assists in a win at Nebraska-Omaha that saw Conor Lemirande record his lone career hat trick.
LaValle was raised in the St. Paul area and played high school hockey at Hill-Murray School, captaining that team his final two seasons. He scored 73 goals and dished for 95 assists for 168 points in 99 games.
He also played baseball and quarterbacked the football team.
LaValle struggled his first season of juniors. He played for Chicago of the USHL in 2013-14 but managed just four points in 40 games.
“It was hard first year away from home – I think it’s like that for a lot of people,” LaValle said. “I didn’t have the best hockey year, kind of wasn’t playing a role that I had normally played and it wasn’t a great fit.”
The following season he did not make the USHL, so he skated for NAHL Janesville with current teammate Grant Hutton.
There he regained his offensive touch, piling up 20 goals and 41 assists for 61 points and a plus-24 rating in 56 games.
He added three tallies and six helpers in nine playoff games.
“We had an awesome team, and everybody was close and we were having fun, and I think there’s a direct correlation between having fun in hockey and success in hockey,” LaValle said. “If you’re just miserable going to the rink, you’re not going to play well. We made a good run and I met a lot of cool people on that team.”
With no definitive plans beyond juniors, LaValle had visited Miami during the Saturday the RedHawks beat Denver, 4-1 in early 2015.
The next fall he was a RedHawk, having fallen in love with the building and the energy of the crowd that night.
“I didn’t go on any other visits, I kind of went back and forth with my parents to see if I could make it work financially and that’s why I chose it, just because I fell in love with it right away,” LaValle said. “They wanted me, which felt good. They were like, we want you for who you are.”
Once in Oxford, he finished 3-6-9 his freshman year, playing in 31 games despite breaking his jaw when Matthew Caito dumped a puck into the offensive zone and hit him in the face.
After a slow start to 2016-17, he put up nine points the final 18 games to end up with a 2-9-11 line and was playing with Sherwood and Gordie Green on the top line by season’s end.
“End of my sophomore year they kind of put me in a role I like playing, that I’d played my whole life,” LaValle said. “It was fun to play offense and get things going with (Sherwood and Green) – those guys are such unbelievable hockey players.”
LaValle has dressed just 40 times the past two seasons, but he has been in the lineup for seven of Miami’s last nine games as he winds up his Division I career.
“It’s tough sometimes because you want to contribute, you want to do more, but I make the most out of what I’m given and if I’m in the lineup I’m going to work my butt off,” LaValle said.
Like Siroky, LaValle also found the net this past weekend. He scored his second goal of the season by poking a loose rebound home on Saturday.
He has played in 105 games, scoring seven times and setting up 19 more goals.
“He’s a super-skilled guy,” Melnick said. “The thing about him is he may not be as hard-nosed or as aggressive as Ryan, but I think the things he does, he does really well, and he does those things to the best of his ability, and I think that whatever what situation he’s put in, he’s going to excel.”
Siroky has played in at least 30 games each season, and for his career he has dressed 129 goals, recording 12 goals and seven assists.
“He’s super-tough to play against and I think over the years he’s done a great job to embrace that role,” Melnick said. “He’s skilled and he can score, but he’s so gritty and he’s so big and so strong that 90 percent of the time when he goes into the boards for a battle, he’s coming out with that puck. Especially in the past couple of weeks, you’ve seen it in games, and it’s a little bit of a kick-starter for us. He brings some momentum for our forwards and when I see him go out and be able to possess the puck down low, I think that lets other guys know that they can do the same. His hard work and determination has given him success on the scoring sheet as well.”
Both have plenty of praise for each other’s game as well.
“(LaValle’s) playmaking ability, his ability to pass the puck, he sees, he’s got good vision, good awareness out there so he can see a lot of plays before they happen, and he’s been really successful at that,” Siroky said. “Especially when he gets on his hot streaks, he’s hard to stop.”
Said LaValle: “I’m super proud of (Ryan). He had a rough start to last year and kind of came into his role. He used to be more of a goal scorer and now he throws the body around and parks himself in front of the net. He really came into that role this year and he’s dominating. Scoring goals when he’s on the power play – I thought he was playing awesome. We needed that out of him and he stepped and I think he did really well there. He’s still doing really well.”
Playing together as often they have over the past four years is a huge plus when they’re together on the ice.
“It’s fun – we kind of feed off each other and I know where he’s going to be and how he’s going to play,” LaValle said. “I know that he’s going to go in the corner and get the puck and I know how to support him. Once you have that chemistry and you know how a player plays, you just kind of know where to go to help them.”
The RedHawks lost in the first round of the NCHC Tournament each of their first three years and are currently in seventh place in the NCHC, but both have nothing but praise for Oxford, for the school and for the hockey program.
Set to graduate this spring, Siroky and LaValle are quick to highlight how integral the relationship building has been at Miami.
“I’ve met amazing people, made so many cool relationships and just had a blast in such a fun little town,” LaValle said. “It’s kind of like a bubble – I don’t think I’ll be able to live like this ever again. It’s so tight and compact and the community is so close, it’s awesome.”
Said Siroky: “The people that I’ve met I’ll cherish for a lifetime. We talk about The Brotherhood and I think that is real here: The comradery between teammates and friends. In terms of hockey, we’ve had a lot of ups and downs, so I think it’s really developed me as a player and a person, knowing and learning how to win games but also knowing and learning how to lose games and then how to come back and develop from that. We’ve gone through a lot of adversity here but we always seem to come through it together, so I think that’s big. Overall it’s been the best four years of my life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Atypical path to D-I for Dornbrock
OXFORD, Ohio – A season before joining the Miami hockey team, Scott Dornbrock considered quitting the sport he loves.
After spending one year with Minot of the NAHL, he was told prior to 2013-14 that he would be playing in the USHL, the primary feeder league to the NCAA.
But when the defenseman inquired about living arrangements, he was informed he had not made the team since its allotment of 20-year-olds was used up.
That meant accepting returning to Minot as an overager.
“It was kind of an uneasy situation when I called and asked for housing information when they said, yeah sorry, you’re not coming here,” Dornbrock said. “When I made that phone call I was kind of heartbroken, and I didn’t know if I wanted to keep doing it just because I felt like I’d worked so hard to get back into the USHL.”
The NAHL is a slightly lower-level league than the USHL and doesn’t see as many players join NCAA teams on scholarship.
Rather than sulk, Dornbrock returned to Minot where he was named assistant captain. He scored seven goals and notched 17 assists for 24 points, his best numbers to date in all three categories.
That season vaulted him to a starting job at Miami, and the senior has dressed for 132 games in his four seasons in Oxford, tallying 34 points including six goals.
“I didn’t have any problem going back to Minot, but in the end it really helped me realize that playing in the USHL wasn’t the only way you could move forward,” Dornbrock said. “Going back for my second year in Minot helped out a lot more than it would’ve if I went to the USHL.”
Dornbrock, from Harper Woods, Mich., on the northeast side of Detroit, started skating when he was three and playing organized hockey by five.
He tried baseball, basketball and golf – even freshman football for half a season – but decided to concentrate on hockey.
Unlike most Miamians who go the midgets-to-juniors route, Dornbrock played three seasons with his high school team, skating with former standout Andy Miele’s brother, Shawn Miele.
“It made me realize how much I wanted to play hockey after high school and after junior hockey,” Dornbrock said.
He was already weeks from his 18th birthday when he suited up for Omaha of the USHL. Dornbrock logged 35 games there, dishing for five assists and compiling a plus-13 rating.
“It was unbelievable,” Dornbrock said. “I stayed with a great family and it was like here – a small group of players – and there were three of us that went to high school together, so we were a really tight-knit group. It was just a very good experience.”
Dornbrock hoped to return, but his style didn’t mesh with the new coaches’ system, and he was one of the last players Omaha cut that preseason.
So he took a demotion to Topeka of the NAHL. Dornbrock played 12 games and picked up three assists there before being traded to Minot, where he added 11 more helpers.
“I would say that I definitely developed there,” Dornbrock said. “I got a lot of power play time and it just developed me offensively.”
Combined with his 7-17-24 line his overage season, Dornbrock finished his 91-game Minot career with seven goals, 28 assists, 35 points.
“I loved Minot, I try to go back almost every summer to visit the billet family that I lived with there,” Dornbrock said. “It was a great experience. Pretty cold, but I loved it up there. I would say that besides Omaha that was my favorite place that I’ve been.”
During that pivotal 2013-14 season, Dornbrock visited Oxford, and having been teammates with Shawn Miele, he talked to his brother Andy Miele, who was having photos taken on campus with his recently-won Hobey Baker trophy.
After that conversation, Dornbrock decided to commit to Miami, where he was roomed with fellow current senior Conor Lemirande.
The two had never met.
“Obviously through mutual friends we figured out who each other were,” Lemirande said. “And you get to know him really quick when you’re in the same dorm with him.”
The tandem has roomed together all four years at Miami.
“Scotty’s a good guy, he likes to have a lot of fun,” Lemirande said. “We’ve had a lot fun times.”
They also previously roomed with captain Louie Belpedio. Belpedio now resides across the hall from the duo.
“(Scott’s) probably the funniest kid I’ve ever met – he’s hilarious,” Belpedio said. “He’s a dummy, too – I mean that in a good way. I look at him and laugh, and that’s all I’ll say about that. He’s awesome. Another one of my best friends, and I spend of time – the three seniors, we have to stick together – and never a dull moment.”
Upon arriving in Oxford, Dornbrock was thrust into the lineup immediately. He played in 36 games as a freshman, notching two goals and earning six assists.
“He really took initiative coming in and said ‘I’m going to make the most of my opportunity’, and he really did, he grasped that,” Lemirande said. “Being that simple, puck-moving defenseman that we need him to be, and his presence on the ice when he’s at the top of his game is there. And we really rely on him to make those plays.”
While it took Dornbrock until his third season of juniors to score a goal, he found the net 10 games into his freshman campaign vs. Colorado College.
But he has established his niche as a shut-down defenseman who can carry the puck and rip a glass-shattering slap shot when necessary.
“He’s a shut-down defenseman, he skates really well too,” Belpedio said. “He’s smart, you can use him in all situations, honestly. He’s not looked to as a power play guy but he’s been on our power play a couple of times. He’s pretty versatile with the things he’s able to do, and I think if he keeps it up he’ll have a good rest of his career here at Miami and carry that into his pro career.”
Belpedio is also a physical blueliner, but he is listed at 6-0, 198 pounds, three inches shorter and 32 pounds lighter than Dornbrock.
“I think it’s different between he and I – he obviously can use his body a lot better than me – he’s a lot bigger than I am,” Belpedio said. “So I think I have to use my stick and use my skating and try to be as physical as possible to try and separate the guy from the puck. Where as Scott, if you have your head down he’s probably going to kill you. That’s awesome to have a guy like that on your team, especially because it creates energy.”
Dornbrock would score twice and pick up six assists his freshman campaign to accompany a plus-4 rating, That season, Miami finished second in the NCHC and won the conference championship.
“That was definitely one of the best teams I’ve ever been on,” Dornbrock said. “Obviously we had a lot of high-end guys that decided to come back, like (Austin) Czarnik, (Blake) Coleman, (Riley) Barber. You know, that was just a really fun experience and that was probably my favorite hockey moment so far.”
In his collegiate career, Dornbrock has missed just 10 games. He went 0-6-6 as a sophomore and tallied three goals and 10 assists his junior year – his best as a RedHawk offensively.
But his calling card is his physical style of defense. As a forward, Lemirande often matches up with the 6-feet-3, 230-pound blueliner in practice.
“I get to battle with him in practice a lot, and that’s a lot of fun – having another big guy battling in front of the net,” Lemirande said. “He’s hard to play against and that’s what makes it fun. You’re working to get better, he’s working to get better, so pushing each other is something that I’ll always remember about Scotty.”
He was second on Miami in blocked shots in both his freshman and sophomore years, rejecting a total of 88 those seasons, and he led the team in 2016-17 with 47.
And while Dornbrock plays a physical brand of hockey, he has kept his penalty minutes to a minimum. He was whistled for 37 PIM as a freshman but has just 49 the last three seasons combined.
“Being a bigger guy, refs always have their eye on you,” Lemirande said. “The game’s not stick lifting, big hits anymore, you’ve got to play simple, you’ve got to play smart and he’s real good at that – staying out of the box – which is crucial.”
Said Belpedio: “He’s really smart with that. I think the only time it really gets iffy is because he’s so big it looks worse than it actually is. But he’s not the type of kid that would try to hurt you in a dirty way. Obviously he wants to run you through the boards, but he’s clean about it, he’s smart about it, and he’s really good at it, so it’s something you’ve got to be aware of every time you’re on the ice with him.”
In his time with the RedHawks, Dornbrock has gotten much smarter about positioning, cutting down the angles at which opposing would-be offensive threats approach the net.
“He’s definitely smarter – I think that comes with the role he’s in – he’s definitely played a lot more as he’s progressed,” Belpedio said. “I think, just from that experience he’s grown a ton – I guess you could say that about anyone as you get older, I guess – but Scott’s done a really nice job with it.”
Through 26 games this season, Dornbrock has a goal and six helpers, giving him a line of 6-28-34 in his four years at Miami. He has 170 blocks.
After hanging up the skates, Dornbrock said he’d like to coach or follow his restaurant-owning uncle’s path and become an entrepreneur.
Another possibility is consulting. Specifically, said he would like to help former hockey players find career paths after retirement from the game.
Dornbrock will graduate in May with a degree in sports leadership and a minor in management – he has a 3.0 grade-point average – and he has made life-long friends at Miami.
“He’ll be standing up at my wedding, that’s for sure,” Lemirande said.
On the ice, he has logged over 130 games played including an NCHC championship game and NCAA Tournament contest.
All that less than five years after nearly giving the game up.
“It’s been amazing – it’s the best experience that I’ve ever had in my life,” Dornbrock said. “Being able to have so many close teammates, I haven’t had that anywhere else where I’ve stayed in contact with pretty much every single one of my teammates. Being able to pick up the phone and call a teammate and (pick up) right where you left off.”
Later this week we feature the career of F Conor Lemirande.