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NCHC preview: Western Michigan

In 2016-17, Western Michigan finally reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the NCHC era.

Last season the Broncos regressed to four games under .500, posting their second-lowest winning percentage under coach Andy Murray.

But WMU could surprise, as the team returns its top eight points-producers and a talented eight-man freshman class that includes the Broncos’ second-highest NHL draft pick ever.

WESTERN MICHIGAN

NCAA titles: 0.

COACH: Andy Murray (9th season, 118-116-34, .504).

2017-18 RECORDS: 15-19-2 (10-13-1 NCHC, 7th place).

POSTSEASON: Swept at Minnesota-Duluth in the first round of the NCHC Tournament.

RINK (capacity): Lawson Arena (3,667).

MIAMI VS. WESTERN MICHIGAN LAST SEASON: 2-2.

ALL-TIME SERIES: Miami leads, 68-63-11.

SCHEDULE VS. MIAMI: Jan. 11-12 – at Western Michigan; March 8-9 – at Miami.

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: F Dawson DiPietro, F Wade Allison, F Hugh McGing, D Cam Lee, D Corey Schueneman, G Ben Blacker.

KEY NEW FACES: D Matthias Samuelsson, F Paul Cotter, D Jared Kucharek.

KEY LOSSES: D Paul Stoykewych, D Neal Goff.

NOTES: All three of Western Michigan’s 30-point skaters were sophomores last season, and with its top eight points leaders back again this fall, the Broncos’ offense looks formidable.

Dawson DiPietro dressed just once his freshman year but led WMU in assists (22) and points (35) in 2017-18. Wade Allison led the team in goals with 15 and notched 30 points.

Hugh McGing racked up 21 helpers and 30 points overall.

Colt Conrad was another key contributor up front, finishing 9-18-27, and Austin Rueschhoff notched 10 goals as a freshman.

Paul Cotter enters his freshman season after being selected by Las Vegas in the fourth round of this summer’s NHL draft. He was named to the USHL’s all-rookie team in 2017-18 following a 39-point campaign.

Three of the Broncos’ returning defenseman tallied at least 15 points last season, led by Corey Scheuneman’s 26. He scored five times – all on the power play.

Cam Lee picked up six goals and 18 assists, and Luke Bafia racked up 15 assists in addition to his lone goal, which was a game winner.

Mathias Samuelsson, son of former Pittsburgh Penguin Kjell Samuelsson, is expected to make an immediate impact on the blue line. He was drafted by Buffalo with the opening pick of the second round this June, the second earliest any Bronco has ever been selected.

He has played 105 games for the U.S. National Team.

Another newcomer for Western Michigan is Mike Joyaux, the youngest of the three Joyaux brothers. Both Chris and Matt played for Miami.

Following a stellar freshman season, goalie Blacker struggled in 2017-18, going 12-13-2 with a 3.17 goals-against average and .893 save percentage. Neither backup impressed in limited action.

Like many NCHC teams, Western Michigan scored plenty but also gave up its share of markers. The Broncos were No. 11 in the NCAA in goals per game but fourth last in average goals allowed.

NOTE: BoB previewed each opposing NCHC team leading into the 2018-19 season. This is the seventh and final installment.

Here are the links for the remaining snapshots:

Colorado College
Denver
Minnesota-Duluth
Nebraska-Omaha
St. Cloud State
Western Michigan

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NCHC preview: St. Cloud State

March was an exhausting month for the St. Cloud State hockey program.

The Huskies won the NCHC regular season title and earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Within a week and a half of the bracket layout, SCSU had been bounced by four seed Air Force and lost head coach Bob Motzko to in-state foe Minnesota.

Despite the turnover behind the bench, the Huskies return nine of their top 10 scorers from 2017-18, with their lone loss from that corps being early pro signee Mikey Eyssimont.

ST. CLOUD STATE HUSKIES

NCAA titles: 0.

COACH: Brett Larson (first season).

2017-18 RECORDS: 25-9-6 (16-4-4 NCHC).

POSTSEASON: Lost to Air Force, 4-1 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

RINK (capacity): Herb Brooks National Hockey Center (5,159).

MIAMI VS. ST. CLOUD STATE LAST SEASON: 1-4.

ALL-TIME SERIES: Miami leads, 17-16-2.

SCHEDULE VS. MIAMI: Nov. 30-Dec. 1 – at Miami; Feb. 1-2 – at St. Cloud State.

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: F Robby Jackson, F Ryan Poehling, F Blake Lizotte, F Easton Brodzinki, D Jimmy Schuldt, D Jack Ahcan, G David Hrenak.

KEY NEW FACES: F Sam Huntges, D Nick Perbix, D Spencer Meier, D Brendan Bushy.

KEY LOSSES: F Mikey Eyssimont, F Judd Peterson, D Will Borgen.

NOTES: Larson has been an assistant at St. Cloud State for six of the past 10 seasons, and his only high-level head coaching experience was two years at Sioux City of the USHL.

But where the Huskies lack in head coaching experience they account for on the ice, as they return all but three players from that top-seeded 2017-18 squad.

Robby Jackson is back after leading the team in points with 42, and the two-way forward also netted three shorthanded goals.

Montréal draftee Ryan Poehling also returns up front following a 30-point campaign.

Three other returning St. Cloud State forwards eclipsed 20 points – Blake Lizotte posted eight goals and 19 assists for 27, Patrick Newell also finished with 27 points, including 21 assists and Easton Brodzinski scored 14 goals en route to a 24-point season.

The Huskies hope newcomer Sam Huntges can help the forward corps as well, as the Minneapolis native was selected by his hometown Wild in June.

Talk about an experienced D-corps: Four returning blueliners played in at least 36 games for SCSU last season.

Team captains Jimmy Schuldt and Jon Lizotte are both seniors and dressed for all 40 contests in 2017-18.

Schuldt led the team in assists with 28 and scored 10 times for 38 points, the second-best total on the team. He led the Huskies with eight power play goals.

Lizotte’s five goals, 12 assists, 17 points and plus-20 rating were all career highs.

Undersized junior Jack Ahcan also skated in all 40 contests last season and rolled up 22 points, including 19 helpers.

Mike Ilvonen also returns for his fifth year as a graduate student.

St. Cloud State also added three freshman on the back end, all massive, in-state products. Tampa Bay draftee Nick Perbix and Spencer Meier are both 6-feet-4 and Brendan Bushy weighs 225 pounds

Both pieces of the Huskies’ goaltending tandem from last season also return.

Sophomore David Hrenak was selected by Los Angeles this summer after posting a 2.11 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage and three shutouts in 25 games for SCSU.

Senior Jeff Smith went 11-2-4 in 19 games and has played over 2,500 career minutes.

SCSU’s 3.60 goals per game last season was fourth in Division I. The Huskies were second in the NCHC and 10th in college hockey in drawing penalties, going to the power play 174 times, and they scored 39 times on the man advantage.

St. Cloud State’s also tied for second in college hockey with seven shorthanded goals.

Since 2006, this program has been stuck in a holding pattern. The Huskies have qualifying for the NCAAs eight of the past 12 years including four of the last five but despite all their regular season success have only advanced to the Frozen Four once and was bounced in the regional semifinal that year.

The next step for St. Cloud State is an extended NCAA Tournament run, as this program has never been to a championship game.

This season’s team has the weapons to make that happen but enters 2018-19 with a rookie head coach.

Q&A with assistant coach Joel Beal

Miami assistant Joe Beal (used with permission of Miami University athletics)

Joel Beal was named Miami’s assistant coach on June 2 after five seasons at Sacred Heart, three as an assistant and the final two as associate head coach. He recorded 101 points in four seasons as a playmaking forward for Union and coached there for two seasons before joining Sacred Heart.

Beal moved to Oxford along with his wife, Jessica and his daughter, Mackenzie, 3. His son, Parker, was born on Sept. 4.

BoB: Coach, first of all, welcome to Miami. What would you want Miami fans to know about your coaching philosophy?

Beal: I think when I went through the interview process with (Coach Blasi) and (Coach Mannino) here a couple of months ago, we talked a lot about my coaching philosophy. As an assistant coach I think I have two roles within our staff here, and that’s to recruit the best possible players to Miami and then once those student-athletes get here to help them develop. I think that’s a huge piece of being an assistant coach is helping our players develop to play at the next level and to become great people, great hockey players, great students. Any way we can assist them whether it be through coaching, through video, through skills, even just lunch, breakfast, just being an ear for those guys, really being a support system for our players in key. And the way we’re going to do that is a lot of communication and make sure we have great relationships and work ethic. Those are the three things that I’m going to focus on here in terms of helping our players develop. And then obviously the recruiting piece is huge, being an assistant coach.

BoB: You grew up in Brantford, Ontario, and obviously anyone who knows hockey knows that’s the hometown of Wayne Gretzky. During your playing career did you find expectations on you were higher because you hailed from the same place as the best player ever to play hockey?

Beal: Not really. Any time I introduce myself I and they ask where you’re from and I say, Brantford, Ontario, and immediately they say, oh, isn’t there a famous hockey player from Brantford? (I say) absolutely, and that’s come up, and it’s a great topic of conversation with recruits, with families. Growing up in that town – it’s obviously a big hockey town – I played minor hockey at the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre which is on Wayne Gretzky Parkway, and I played in the Wayne Gretzky Tournament at Christmastime. And Walter (Wayne’s father) is always at the rink. They’ve actually changed the name – it used to be the Wayne Gretzky Tournament, it’s now the Walter Gretzky Tournament because he’s the guy who’s there, who’s handing out the certificates and the trophies, signing autographs, doing all that stuff. My whole family’s from that town, my dad grew up there, he’s got five brothers and one of the brothers is the same age as Wayne, so my grandmother used to be able to go to Wayne’s baseball games in the summertime as well as the hockey games in the winter. She was close with Walter all those years, they’d say ‘hello’ at the rink…so it was pretty cool growing up in that town. But in terms of expectations on me or future hockey players, not really. There’s only one Wayne, right?

BoB: Has your path ever directly crossed with Wayne in your lifetime?

Beal: Yeah, once – and this is going way back – might have been the NHL lockout in the 90s. He was off for a couple weeks and he just showed up at the rink, and immediately, all in the sudden the rink was packed with people. His dad was still working with the team, and he jumped on the ice with the guys and he was in and out of town in like a half hour, but that was the only time our paths have actually crossed. Again, Walter is the guy you see around Brantford.

BoB: So you played at Union and racked up 101 points. You have the best single-season assist total in school history with 29 and are second all-time in career helpers with 74. Any time someone has 100 points in the NCAA it’s a great career, so can you talk about your NCAA playing days?

Beal: Union was a great spot for me because it brought – similar to Miami – a great academic tradition and history. That was really important for me. I wanted to make sure I was getting a good degree, I was a mechanical engineering major at Union, so that aspect was very important. At the time when I went to Union they weren’t as relevant on the national stage as they are today, so it was a good fit me for in terms of getting in and getting those opportunities to play. I got to play for two great coaches, who, 18 years later, are still coaching today. Kevin Sneddon, who’s (the head coach) at Vermont, recruited me to Union, and two years into my Union career he took the job at UVM, and Union hired Nate Leaman who has since moved onto (the head coaching role at) Providence. I was really lucky in that I got the opportunity to play for two great coaches and I got to learn from them. Two different experiences. I find myself in my coaching life very lucky to have played for two guys that are very different but also very successful in their own right. I think the on-ice experience was great for me. (Union’s) a great school and a great place and I do so a lot of similarities between Union and Miami in terms of the education and the athletics.

BoB: You were officially named assistant coach here on June 2. Can you talk about the process that lead to you landing the job here?

Beal: I didn’t have a previous relationship with either Rico (Blasi) or Peter (Mannino). Peter had been hired pretty quickly after the staff changes were announced, and two or three weeks before the coaches’ convention in Naples (Fla.), which is in April every year following the Frozen Four, I put in a call to Rico, I left him a voicemail to let him know that I was interested in the position and I was looking forward to hopefully hearing back from him. Rico was busy – he was doing a lot of work at that time before the coaches’ convention. The season had just ended and he was putting together a staff, and we ended up meeting for the first time in Naples. We had a conversation over coffee for about an hour and just kind of got to know each other and he got to pick my brain a little bit and I got to pick his brain a little bit. That was a really good conversation. I wasn’t sure where it was going to go from there, and then about a week later I had a phone conversation with Coach Mannino, who was somebody else I hadn’t met before. So there really was no previous relationship or previous history between the three of us. And it was just a series of phone calls and conversations that I thought were really positive, and I thought what they were trying to build here, I could be a good fit. It’s obviously about a fit – you want to be able to build your staff so that you have certain people that are able do certain things to really fulfill all of the jobs that we need to do here. That was going really well and I think Rico had some relationships with some coaches that I had played for before or worked with – I know him and Coach Leaman at Providence talk a lot and they value each other’s opinion, and I think Coach Leaman was willing to make a phone call to Rico and kind of put in a good word for me – I think that went a long way. Two or three weeks after that I was on campus for an interview. I loved it, I loved everything about it. The philosophy, The Brotherhood, the culture, the facilities, the school, the town, it all was really a good fit for my family and Rico offered me the job a couple days later. I think I wasn’t off the phone for an hour, I called my wife and I called him back and said we’re in.

BoB: Before that interview had you ever been to Oxford?

Beal: I’d never been to Oxford, no. So in reality it was a cold call from me to Rico that got the process started. It just so happened, and this is in life, any time that you’re trying to get a job, that there were some people that I knew that were willing to really put in a good word to Rico for me. And I really think that went a long way in terms of us not having a previous relationship. There are some people that he really trusts in the hockey world that I had known and had relationships with – Coach (Rick) Bennett at Union and Coach (C.J.) Marottolo at Sacred Heart – Rico knows those guys and those guys have all been around a long time, and the hockey world is small, so I think that really helped. And I’m very grateful to those guys that they were willing to help me out.

BoB: You didn’t get hired until the beginning of June, so what have you been able to do in the 3½ months since you’ve been hired at Miami to prepare for this season?

Beal: We’ve been really focused on recruiting. Peter and I have talked a lot about players that we both know. Players that I might know he might not know. What are needs are going into the future. We’ve watched a lot of video, both on recruits that were committed by the previous staff, so the guys that are coming to Miami that maybe I wasn’t as familiar with, and I think that’s really important is to understand what we’ve got coming in. We’ve been watching video on our current team because I think that’s important to have an idea of what our needs, what our holes might be as we look forward to the future, and then obviously there were a lot of phone calls that I had to make with some recruits and some prospects that I think might be a good fit for Miami in the future. There wasn’t a lot of crossover in the recruiting that I’d done at Sacred Heart with the recruiting that we’re doing at Miami in terms of the player pool – it’s a different player pool. So In think for me it was a lot of catching up with the player pool that we’re targeting. I think it’s a more elite, younger player that we’re targeting at Miami than I was previously at Sacred Heart. I’ve been trying to do a lot of homework in that aspect as well, and besides that getting my family moved out here to Oxford. It was a quick turnaround: I had to sell a house, buy a house, my wife was actually pregnant – she just gave birth (on Sept. 4) – so she was like seven months pregnant when we moved out here. I had to get the doctors and the hospitals sorted out on that side as well. But Rico and Peter are just amazing in terms of making sure that the family’s taken care of and family first. And it’s not just something that we say to our team – family first – the Brotherhood here and the staff embodies it and they put into practice, and I had first-hand experience with that from Day 1. Those guys were awesome.

BoB: Miami had a run of success with players from Chicago and to a smaller degree from Columbus, and recently it has taken on a more Michigan-centric feel. Being from Canada and having coached on the east coast, do you see this team taking on players from different regions than it has in the past?

Beal: A little bit. At Sacred Heart I’ve done a little more work in the Ontario loop – both the Toronto area and the Ottawa area – and then in British Columbia. I think we’re going to target some of those areas. We’re going to target areas where we think we can get the best possible players, and those are some areas that have produced some good players not only in our league but across the country. I did talk to Rico a little bit about the recruiting process, and some of the recruiting that I’d done in Ontario and British Columbia and Alberta and some of those places, and the lack of presence of those areas on the current roster was something that – hey, let’s look into that, let’s see why we haven’t been able to get some of the top players out of those areas and let’s go to the well and see what we can do.

BoB: Miami has a solid history in all of those spots, as Dan Boyle (Ottawa), Curtis McKenzie (Golden, B.C.) and Reilly Smith (Toronto area) have all worked out really well for Miami.

Beal: I have a few relationships with some of those (juniors) coaches and just like anything it’s all about relationships and knowing some people. I think that will help a little bit but in the end we’re not going to say ‘no’ or say ‘yes’ to anyone just because of where they’re from. We’ve done pretty good in our own back yard – Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois – and we need to make sure that we’re actively targeting those players in our backyard, but after that, yeah, let’s go find the best.

BoB: You’ve been a Division I assistant for quite a while. I remember just a few years ago it seemed like players weren’t allowed to interact with coaches at all until the week before opening night. What has changed in recent years from an NCAA perspective in terms of handling players?

Beal: In terms of the actual coaching, the NCAA has bumped it up from two hours to four hours a week for our on-ice skill instruction. So basically in the past those two hours were broken up into three 40-minute sessions – three practices a week – where now we’re able to go four practices a week at an hour long. There’s certainly a lot more involvement on ice, coaching our players in September, and hopefully that’s going to better prepare not only us but every team in the country and you’ll see a lot higher quality (play) in October, which is what everybody wants. I think it’s definitely been a benefit.

BoB: How about the dealing with recruits prior to the season?

Beal: One thing that’s changed is every league will basically have their showcase in September. All that means is they’re going to bring in all the teams from their league into one city and they’re going to play a series of games back-to-back. For us, as coaches recruiting, if we’re able to fly into Calgary or Toronto or Pittsburgh for two days and see 12 or 14 teams to give us a really good base of knowledge on the league, the teams and the players going into the season going forward. One, it saves a lot of money because you’re going to see a lot of teams in a quick weekend, but two, we get a really good feel for the leagues and the targets going into the season so that we can be a little more active and pinpoint who we want to be, who we want to (pursue) going into the year. Those showcases – every league does it now – so it’s just a matter of spreading ourselves out and using our time wisely and making sure we’re hitting all these leagues and all these teams and targets in September so that we’re ready to go when the season starts. Because when our games start, it’s always a little harder to get out and to be seeing as many players because a lot of these leagues are Friday-Saturday leagues as well.

BoB: How tough of a situation is this to come into? RedHawks fans were accustomed to annual NCAA berths and now the team has a .399 winning percentage the past three seasons and expect an immediate reversal, and yet the players you’re inheriting aren’t guys you recruited.

Beal: Me personally, I love the expectations. I think that having high expectations means you have a history of tradition, a history of success and you have the support of the institution, the administration to help build that success. For me personally it hasn’t been tough at all. I think it’s a terrific group of players that we have in the locker room, I think our culture’s outstanding right now, I think our work ethic’s outstanding and I think our team is genuinely excited to get on the ice and to play that first game. I think they really want to see what we have because we feel really good about it right now, which I think is a great start. Obviously we’re going to hit adversity at some point, we’re going to battle through some adversity like every team does, but I think we have a really strong culture in place right now, and we’re going to see the success and we’re going to see the results and hopefully we can live up to those expectations. Peter and Rico and I, we’re not coming into the season thinking these aren’t our players, it’s a rebuild time. We’re going to work every day to have success, that’s our goal.

BoB: Last season Miami seemed like it was close to being a contender in the NCHC but fell just a little short, and they seemed to lose a lot of close games. You’ve seen enough film at this point and know the guys well enough, so at this point what do you think this team needs to do in order to flip some of those losses to wins?

Beal: I think you’ll see that throughout college hockey is that it’s tight, and especially in this league there’s a lot of parity, there’s not a lot of difference from the top of the league to the bottom of the league. I think when you look at any league and you look at the teams at the top and the teams at the bottom, the two things you can look at are your special teams and your goaltending – you’ve got to be great in those two areas, and those are two areas that we’re going to focus on. If it’s a 3-2 game, you get another goal on the power play or your penalty kill keeps one out, that’s the difference between winning and losing. I don’t think I’ve given you any super-secret methodology of how to be successful, that’s a tried-and-true formula and recipe for success not only in our league but any league. Hopefully we can be great in those areas because I know our work ethic and our culture and our attitude is great.

BoB: Coaches Petraglia and Brekke both had specific in-game responsibilities. Coach Mannino was a goalie and you were a playmaking forward, so do you know what your specific game-night coaching duties will be?

Beal: We haven’t talked a lot about that yet up to this point, so I don’t really have a good sense. I can tell you right now Peter and I have working a lot with the penalty kill. We’ve trying to have that ready for the start of the season. We’ve been spending some time – Peter, obviously – working with the goaltenders, and that kind of goes hand-in-hand with the penalty kill and we’ve been working with the defensemen. That’s kind of what we’ve been focused on. Moving forward, in terms of game-day responsibility, I don’t think that’s something that our staff has worked out yet. We’re just trying to get our team ready for that point.

BoB: The NCHC is arguably to best league in Division I, and as a result the annual conference schedule is brutal. How does a coach help prepare a team for such a difficult slate of games and how do you keep the players focused throughout?

Beal: We focus on really setting a standard of how we want to practice every single day, and we’re not looking too far ahead – I know it’s a cliché, but we’re going to take it day by day here – beyond taking it day by day is we want to set a standard for our execution, our work ethic every day in practice. That’s kind of the first step we’re focusing on. In terms of having a murderer’s row, we’re going to trust our process for how we’re going to go about doing things. How we’re going to prepare, what our work ethic is going to be and how we’re going to execute. And if we go into every weekend, every game with a focus on how hard we’re going to work, and we’re prepared and we’re going to execute…we’re going to have success. And again, it’s going to be about managing some of that adversity and controlling our emotions and not getting too high and not getting too low because there’s going to be good nights and there’s going to be bad nights, but I think if we’re focused on trusting the process, setting that standard every single day I think we can have confidence going into every weekend that we can compete, and we’ll see what the results are.

BoB: Even though you weren’t here last season the team finished well and took Duluth to overtime in Game 3 of the NCHC semifinals. In your limited time with limited exposure to the players do you think that somewhat positive ending to 2017-18 will carry over to this season?

Beal: Yeah, I think so. It’s a really strong leadership group we have in the locker room. (Grant) Hutton and (Josh) Melnick – terrific captains, terrific leadership and I think they kind of saw at the end of last season what we could have going forward to this year, and I think that’s part of the reason they decided to come back for their senior years – they obviously had some options to sign but they decided to come back because they had something to prove and they kind of saw what we had building in the locker room. And then I think we’ve got a lot of young guys – freshman to sophomore year is a huge year where a lot of guys can make jumps, you see some big gains from that freshman year to that sophomore year. We had some really good freshman performances last year, so we feel really confident about that. I wasn’t here in the spring, but talking to performance coach (Ben) Eaves and Rico, the spring workouts were phenomenal. So I think there’s been a lot of great energy and big growth and I think that carries over – to what you just said – some success the last two weekends and getting these guys coming back, great leadership group, we had a great spring, guys came back this summer, they’re training together, and then we’ve had a really good start to our fall workouts and on-ice sessions together. I definitely think there was a carryover from last year and I think you saw that with the leadership group deciding to come back and the great spring workouts that we had. We’re hoping some of that will carry over into the start of the season, and we’ll see how it goes.

NOTE: BoB will publish its interview with associate head coach Peter Mannino in the coming days.

NCHC preview: North Dakota

For the first time since 2001-02, North Dakota failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

Coach Brad Berry won the national championship in his first season with the Fighting Hawks in 2015-2016, but the team won just 21 games the following campaign – its worst total in 15 years – and posted just 17 victories last season.

Four NHL draftees join the Fighting Hawks, who enter 2018-19 trying not to become the first UND squad since 1996 to miss to national championship tournament back-to-back years.

NORTH DAKOTA FIGHTING HAWKS

NCAA titles: 8 (1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997, 2000, 2016).

COACH: Brad Berry (4th season, 72-35-17, .649 winning percentage).

2017-18 RECORDS: 17-13-10 (8-10-6 in NCHC).

POSTSEASON: Lost to St. Cloud State in an NCHC Tournament semifinal.

RINK (capacity): Ralph Engelstad Arena (11,634).

MIAMI VS. NORTH DAKOTA LAST SEASON: 1-1-2.

ALL-TIME SERIES: North Dakota leads, 13-6-3.

2018-19 SCHEDULE VS. MIAMI: Nov. 9-10 – at Miami.

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: G Peter Thome, D Colton Poolman, F Grant Mismash, F Rhett Gardner, F Nick Jones.

KEY NEW FACES: F Gavin Hain, F Jasper Weathersby, F/D Jonny Tychonick, D Jacob Bernard-Docker, G Adam Scheel.

KEY LOSSES: G Cam Johnson, D Christian Wolanin, F Shane Gersich, F Austin Poganski.

NOTES: North Dakota averaged fewer than three goals per game for the first time in the NCHC era, as the Fighting Hawks ended the season fifth in the league in scoring, their lowest finish since the conference’s inception.

And three of UND’s top three four goal producers from 2017-18 have joined the pro ranks.

Fortunately for the Fighting Hawks, leading sniper Nick Jones is back after the Ohio State transfer led the team with 15 markers and ranked second on the team in points with 30.

Nashville second-round pick Grant Mismash returns after posting nine goals and 13 assists as a freshman, and he is expected to take a major step up this season.

North Dakota’s other returning 20 point-producing forward is Rhett Gardner, who went 7-13-20.

Three other Fighting Hawks reached double figures in points – Jordan Kawaguchi, Joel Janatuinen and Cole Smith.

Islanders draft pick Collin Adams was limited to 26 games in 2017-18 but scored five goals and could make a significant leap.

NHL draftee forwards USNDT product Gavin Hain and 6-feet-3 Jasper Weathersby enter their freshman seasons.

On defense, captain Colton Poolman scored seven times and picked up 22 assists last season while being whistled for just four penalties.

UND’s blueline is deep – five other defenseman logged at least 25 games last season.

Hayden Shaw dressed for all 40, going 3-10-13 and Gabe Bast tallied 10 assists in just 27 games. Matt Kiersted, Casey Johnson and Andrew Peski all played in the majority of the Fighting Hawks’ contests.

And North Dakota added the Ottawa Senators’ first- and second-round picks from 2018 in Jacob Bernard-Docker and Jonny Tychonick. The Alberta-raised tandem has played together since age 10.

Columbus draft pick Peter Thome posted a 2.14 goals-against average and .910 save percentage – showing how strong UND’s defense was last season – and he remains the favorite to start the majority of games this season after playing in 29 as a freshman.

Freshman Adam Scheel should be Thome’s primary backup after a strong showing in the BCHL in 2017-18.

North Dakota set a program record with 10 ties last season, which is part of the reason the team struggled to reach 20 wins. Eleven more of its contests were decided by one goal.

Despite the Fighting Hawks’ downturn the past two seasons, in May coach Brad Berry signed a five-year deal that will run through 2022-23.

NOTE: BoB is previewing each NCHC team leading into the 2018-19 season. This is the fifth of seven installments.

Here are the links for the other snapshots:

Colorado College
Denver
Minnesota-Duluth
Nebraska-Omaha

NCHC preview: Nebraska-Omaha

Last season, Mike Gabinet inherited a team that had gone .500 the previous season and a game over that mark in 2015-16.

Despite the coaching change, Nebraska-Omaha proved itself the master of consistent mediocrity, finishing 17-17-2 in 2017-18.

It’s been a tough follow-up to the Mavericks’ first-ever NCAA semifinal round berth in 2015, as none of their subsequent seasons have produced return trips onto college hockey’s highest stage.

The loss of assistant coach Peter Mannino to in-conference rival Miami, as well as the resulting departure of multiple recruits to the RedHawks this off-season will not make it any easier for UNO to qualify for the NCAAs in 2018-19.

NEBRASKA-OMAHA MAVERICKS

NCAA titles: 0.

COACH: Mike Gabinet (17-17-2 in 1 season).

2017-18 RECORDS: 17-17-2 overall, 10-13-1 in the NCHC (6th place).

POSTSEASON: Lost to North Dakota in NCHC semifinal round.

RINK (capacity): Baxter Arena (7,898).

MIAMI VS. UNO LAST SEASON: 0-2.

ALL-TIME SERIES: Miami leads, 20-17-6.

2018-19 SCHEDULE VS. MIAMI: Nov. 2-3 – at UNO; Feb. 8-9 – at Miami.

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: G Evan Weninger, F Zach Jordan, F Tristan Keck, F Steven Spinner, F Fredrik Olofsson, D Ryan Jones.

KEY LOSSES: F David Pope, F Tyler Vesel, F Jake Randolph, D Joel Messner.

KEY NEW FACES: F Tyler Weiss, F Chayse Primeau, F Taylor Ward, D John Schuldt.

NOTES: In addition to losing Mannino and two top-tier recruits, Nebraska-Omaha graduated four of its top five points producers from 2017-18.

Forward Zach Jordan is the team’s top returning points producer, as he posted 28 points including 16 goals last season.

Also up front, Tristan Keck, Fredrik Olofsson and Steven Spinner reached the 20-point mark in 2017-18.

Teemu Pulkinen netted eight goals and Mason Morelli dished for 10 assists.

The Mavericks expect 150-pounder Tyler Weiss to contribute immediately, as he is a USNDT product and Colorado Avalanche draftee. Same goes for 6-feet-3 Chayse Primeau, whose father Keith played in the NHL.

No returning UNO defenseman tallied more than two goals last season, and Ryan Jones is the Mavericks’ top returning points-getting among blueliners with 13.

D-man Lukas Buchta, Jalen Schulz and Dean Stewart are also back after turning in solid seasons for UNO in 2017-18.

Freshmen John Schuldt and Jason Smallidge look to make an immediate impact on the Mavericks’ blueline, but key defense commit Derek Dashcke bolted for Miami.

Goalie Evan Weninger is back after logging over 80 percent of UNO’s minutes between the pipes. His numbers weren’t great – his save percentage was .899 and goals-against 3.35 – and Philadelphia Flyers draftee and North Dakota transfer Matej Tomek could eat into Weninger’s ice time.

UNO needs serious improvement on the back end – the team was dead last in Division I in goals against per game and 49th on the penalty kill in 2017-18.

Conversely, the Mavericks finished seventh in goal average and were seventh on the power play.

Nebraska-Omaha’s tendency toward high-scoring affairs was exemplified by its series sweep vs. the RedHawks in Omaha that saw 25 goals including an 11-7 weekend opener.

That set extended UNO’s unbeaten streak vs. Miami to six games, as the Mavericks are 5-0-1 against the RedHawks the past two seasons.

NOTE: BoB is previewing each NCHC team leading into the 2018-19 season. This is the fourth of seven installments.

Here are the links for the other snapshots:

Colorado College
Denver
Minnesota-Duluth

NCHC preview: Minn.-Duluth

Minnesota-Duluth entered the NCAA Tournament just five games over .500 but pulled off four straight one-goal wins to earn its second Division I title.

And the goalie that was in net for every minute of the Bulldogs’ playoff run, Hunter Shepard, returns for his junior season.

MINN.-DULUTH BULLDOGS

NCAA titles: 2 (2011, 2018).

COACH: Scott Sandelin (340-300-85 in 18 seasons).

2017-18 RECORD: 25-16-3.

POSTSEASON: Won NCAA Tournament.

RINK (capacity): Amsoil Arena (6,726).

MIAMI VS. UMD LAST SEASON: 1-3.

ALL-TIME SERIES: Minn.-Duluth leads, 15-4-2.

SCHEDULE VS. MIAMI: Jan. 18-19 – at Miami; March 1-2 – at Minn.-Duluth.

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: G Hunter Shepard, F Parker Mackay, D Scott Perunovich, D Nick Wolff, F Riley Tufte, D Mikey Anderson, D Dylan Samberg, F Peter Krieger, F Joey Anderson.

KEY NEW FACES: F Jackson Cates, F Noah Cates, F Cole Koepke.

NOTES: A couple of pieces may be gone from last season’s championship team, but Minn.-Duluth’s back end looks as good as any in college hockey.

Shepard logged 41 games and posted a 1.91 goals-against average and a save percentage of .925, and four returning defenseman recorded at least 13 points in 2017-18.

Shepard was second in Division I with 25 wins, 10th in save percentage and sixth in GAA. He won all four of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Tournament games this spring.

Blueliner Scott Perunovich led the team in plus-minus (22), assists (25) and points (36), and Mikey Anderson went 5-18-23.

Nick Wolff and Dylan Samberg finished with 13 points apiece, with Wolff hitting the net seven times and leading the Bulldogs with 81 penalty minutes.

Wolff and Samberg combined for 150 blocked shots.

Minn.-Duluth brings all that experience back after allowing just 2.09 goals per game last season – the fourth-best clip in the NCAA – and surrendering just 57 even strength tallies.

UMD also returns its top three points-producing forwards from its title year.

Peter Krieger led all forwards with 30 points and netted a team-best five game-winning goals. Riley Tufte finished with 29 points including a Bulldogs-high 16 markers, and Nick Swaney went 6-16-22, posting a plus-11 rating.

Newly-named captain Parker Mackay is also back and is a two-way stud up front.

The Bulldogs still have not released their 2018-19 roster, so it’s unclear how many freshmen they will bring in, but three players from that incoming class participated in NHL development camps this summer – Cole Koepke, Noah Cates and Jackson Cates.

NOTE: BoB is previewing each NCHC team leading into the 2018-19 season. This is the third of seven installments.

Here are the links for the other snapshots:

Colorado College
Denver

Down 3, Miami salvages tie vs. DU

Miami didn’t win on Saturday, but it did come back from three down to eke out a tie in its regular season finale.

That was on the road vs. the fifth-ranked team in college hockey.

After falling behind, 3-0 less than five minutes in, the RedHawks rallied for a 3-3 tie at No. 5 Denver on Saturday and earned the extra point in the NCHC standings with a 3-on-3 win.

Despite earning seven conference points in its final four games, Miami finished last in the eight-team NCHC.

The RedHawks enter the playoffs having won just two of its last 15 games (2-10-3). They will travel to No. 2 St. Cloud State next week to open the NCHC Tournament in a best-of-3 series.

RECAP: Just 4:19 into the first period, Denver had already taken a 3-0 lead.

Henrik Borgstrom centered one from behind the net to Jarid Lukosevicius in the slot for a one-timer 73 seconds into the game.

Eighteen seconds later, Ryan Barrow went in alone and beat Miami goalie Ryan Larkin on the forehand.

In another three minutes, Adam Plant found the net from the outside edge of the faceoff circle on a wrister through traffic.

Then the comeback.

The RedHawks converted on a 2-on-0, with Gordie Green tapping home the centering feed by Kiefer Sherwood with 3:15 left in the first period as a Denver defender collided with goalie Tanner Jaillet.

Jaillet finished the period but did not play the balance of the game.

New Pioneers goalie Dayton Rasmussen was beaten on his first shot. After Zach LaValle won a battle along the boards, the puck found Karch Bachman, who skated in and fired one home from a bad angle.

Bachman tipped home a blue-line shot by Louie Belpedio to tie it.

In the 3-on-3 overtime, Phil Knies stole the puck and wired one home over Rasmussen’s shoulder.

STATS: This was the 16th straight game in which the team that scored first also scored second.

That means either Miami or its opponent has taken a 2-0 lead or more in every contest since Jan. 5. The odds of that happening at random are over 65,000 to 1.

Miami forward Karch Bachman (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

— The RedHawks snapped a seven-game streak without a power play goal, and they also scored in the first period for the first time in eight contests.

Miami’s first-period goal total and its PPG total have been identical in nine straight games.

— It was the first multi-goal game of Bachman’s career. The sophomore has already tripled his rookie goal-scoring input, as he has six markers this season vs. two in 2016-17.

— Sherwood extended his team-best points streak to four games. He is 2-3-5 in that stretch and picked up a pair of assists in this contest.

THOUGHTS: What a crazy ending.

A Miami team that went 0-3-1 on a four-game road trip vs. Nebraska-Omaha and Colorado College and was 1-8-1 in its previous 10 contests broke even in its last four against North Dakota and Denver.

Crazier is that the RedHawks’ opponents that took a 3-0 lead the past two weekends finished 0-1-1 in those games.

Craziest: In Miami’s last 16 games, the team that has scored first has also netted the next goal. So RedHawks games have had a 2-0 score at some point in every contest since early January.

These games were irrelevant to Miami from a seedings perspective, but a 1-1-2 record in its last four regular season contests vs. North Dakota and at Denver should at least inspire hope.

— A big positive to take away from this game is Bachman’s scoring. He has been partly inaccurate, partly snakebitten while being placed on skill lines this season, and with his speed if he can start to find the net regularly his final two years could be very lucrative.

LINEUP CHANGES: Just one: At forward, Carson Meyer was reinserted and Christian Mohs did not dress.

It was just the second game Meyer has missed this season.

FINAL THOUGHTS: These games were irrelevant in terms of the RedHawks’ place in the tournament world but had to give them momentum heading into the NCHCs.

They hung with one of the top dogs in D-I for 125 minutes on the road.

It’s the beauty of March: A poor regular season can be reversed with a conference tournament win.

And desperation can be a strong weapon. St. Cloud State will play in the NCAAs, and any subsequent opponent in the NCHC field would likely be in that boat as well.

There is no future beyond next weekend if Miami doesn’t win this series.

Four years ago the RedHawks were in the same predicament and also faced St. Cloud in the first round. Miami won that series and ultimately fell a goal short in the NCHC championship game.

The odds of an NCAA berth for Miami are long, but a desperate RedHawks team again faces an elite SCSU team that will play on college hockey’s biggest stage regardless of this weekend’s outcome.

Slow start vs. Denver dogs Miami

Denver had three power play chances in the first period and scored on two of them.

The Pioneers added another goal early in the second period for a three-goal lead it would not relinquish in Friday’s 6-3 DU win over Miami at Magnuss Arena.

The RedHawks (11-18-4) did pull to within a goal in the closing minutes but No. 5 Denver punched in a pair of late markers to seal the win.

Miami has lost 10 straight March games and is 0-9 in this month the past three seasons. The RedHawks are 0-7-1 on the road since their last victory outside of Oxford on Dec. 8, and they have a 2-10-2 overall record in their last 14 games.

RECAP: It was the Dylan Gambrell show early.

The DU forward scored on the backhand from the slot to open the scoring, and his shot from the same area was tipped in by Jarid Lukosevicius to make it 2-0.

Rudy Junda extended the DU lead to three when he took a behind-the-net feed from Kolin Olischefski, was denied by Miami goalie Ryan Larkin and batted home the rebound.

The RedHawks cut the deficit to two when Kiefer Sherwood knocked home a one-time pass from Phil Knies on a 3-on-1.

With 10:14 left in the second period, Logan O’Connor centered a pass to Henrik Borgstrom, and the puck hit off Borgstrom’s skate and into the net, making it 4-1.

Miami trimmed the lead to two with five minutes remaining in regulation when Conor Lemirande penetrated the zone and had his pass into the slot hit a Denver player and carrom in.

The RedHawks’ Casey Gilling’s feed also hit a Pioneers defender, deflecting off a stick and into the net with 3:57 remaining.

But a seeing-eye shot from the blue line by Adam Plant found the cage with 2:23 left to make it 5-3, and Colin Staub capped the scoring with an empty netter.

STATS: Slow starts have been the norm for Miami in recent weeks, as the team has been outscored, 9-0 in the first period its last seven games.

Miami’s Rourke Russell (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

The RedHawks also have not scored a power play goal in that seven-game span, going 0-for-22 on the man advantage.

Denver (18-8-7) had five power play chances, scoring on two of them. Miami was on the man advantage once.

— It was the first career multi-point game for Rourke Russell, who picked up two assists.

— Sherwood has scored in consecutive games for the second time this season and has a team-best three-game points streak.

— Gilling scored for the first time in seven games. Lemirande had not scored in his last 25 contests.

THOUGHTS: Did we mention the early power play goals for Denver?

An opponent just can’t give the Pioneers three chances in the first period and expect to win, especially on their home ice.

Then it was 3-0, and that pretty much sealed Miami’s fate for the night.

To the RedHawks’ credit, they battled until the end, trimming a 4-1 Denver lead to one before ultimately surrendering a fifth goal followed by an empty netter.

Being an early no-show has been a theme for Miami this season and is a tough way to make a living in the ultra-competitive NCHC.

— Both early goals were scored because Denver was allowed to control the slot. Gambrell skated laterally to get in there for his goal, and he did the same from the opposite direction on goal No. 2, which was tipped in by Lukosevicius – a player allowed to camp out at the top of the crease.

— It was a strange night for redirected pucks. Miami had one go in off a skate and another hit a stick, as both completely changed direction en route to the net.

One could argue the RedHawks got somewhat lucky in getting back into the game, since those consecutive goals took the score from 4-1 to 4-3.

To be fair, Denver also scored one – its fourth of the night – when a centering feed hit Borgstrom’s skate before finding its mark.

LINEUP CHANGES: Up front, Christian Mohs dressed for just the eighth time this year, and Zach LaValle was in the lineup for only the second time in eight contests.

Carson Meyer was the notable scratch, as the Columbus Blue Jackets draftee has struggled this season. It’s the second time he has not played this season. Willie Knierim was also out of the lineup.

No changes on defense.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Officially these games mean nothing for Miami, which has one clear route to the NCAA Tournament: Beat St. Cloud next week and win the NCHC Tournament.

But it would’ve been nice if there were more positives to be taken from this game.

The RedHawks did battle after falling behind by three, which is admirable in an essentially meaningless game, and Sherwood continues to shine after a sub-par first half.

That’s the boom from this one.

The negatives: Opponents didn’t pay a price in the slot – a recurring theme – the team got off to a slow start, etc.

Ideally, it would be nice to have momentum heading into the opening round of the conference tournament. Denver and SCSU are the elite of the elite in this conference, and Miami needs to show it can compete on the road against Division I’s best.

Unfortunately, this game did little to inspire confidence.

Photos: North Dakota at Miami

Images from the series played between North Dakota and Miami University at Cady Arena in Oxford, Ohio, on Feb. 23-24, 2018. All photos by Cathy Lachmann/BoB.

Miami loses late lead, ties NorDak

OXFORD, Ohio – On Friday, Miami battled back from three down to win.

One night later, No. 12 North Dakota was the team overcoming a multiple-goal deficit.

But unlike the RedHawks, the Fighting Hawks were only able to salvage a tie after evening the score on a pair of third-period goals for a 2-2 draw at Cady Arena on Saturday.

Miami (11-17-4) earned the extra point in 3-on-3 play after the game was officially ruled a tie, giving the RedHawks five of a possible six points on the weekend.

Despite the strong showing this weekend, Miami clinched last place in the NCHC. Three teams are tied for fifth, six points ahead of the RedHawks. All have two regular season games remaining.

So it is possible for MU to tie at least one of those three, but Miami cannot win a tiebreaker against any of them.

Melnick

Miami’s Josh Melnick (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

After the completion of this game, St. Cloud clinched the conference title, so the RedHawks will travel there for their first-round NCHC Tournament series in two weeks.

RECAP: The teams were scoreless after the first period, but Miami’s Josh Melnick gave Miami the lead when he stole a puck at his defensive blue line and skated in for a breakaway, pounding the puck into the pads of North Dakota goalie Cam Johnson.

At first it appeared Johnson had made the save, but the referee by the net ruled it a goal, a shorthanded tally at the 4:23 mark of the middle stanza.

The RedHawks made it 2-0 just 26 seconds into the third period when Carter Johnson slid a pass through the slot that Kiefer Sherwood rifled home.

Miami forward Kiefer Sherwood (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

But at the 4:20 mark of the final frame, a shot by the Fighting Hawks’ Hayden Shaw from a bad angle hit the glove of Miami goalie Ryan Larkin and trickled in.

Exactly three minutes later, UND’s Nick Jones redirected a blue-line shot by Colton Poolman to tie the score.

After five minutes of 5-on-5 overtime, Sherwood found the net in the 3-on-3 to give Miami the extra league point.

STATS: It was the ninth goal of the season for Melnick, and Sherwood scored his seventh. Melnick led Miami with three points on the weekend.

— It was just the second time in 14 games the RedHawks allowed fewer than two goals.

— Make that six straight games with neither a power-play nor a first-period tally.

— And Miami still hasn’t won a Saturday game since Nov. 18.

— Both Melnick and Louie Belpedio reached 80 career points this weekend. Melnick has 27 goals and 53 assists, while Belpedio has scored 25 times and dished out 55 assists. Belpedio is a senior while Melnick is a junior.

That duo is tied for the team lead in active career points, and Sherwood is two back with 32 goals and 46 assists for 78 points. He’s also a junior.

THOUGHTS: Torn again.

Happy with a 1-0-1 weekend against North Dakota? Of course. Is Jack Johnson still hated in Oxford?

For the most part it was a very well-played series by Miami in a down year against a national power.

Cady Arena was rocking and these were two extremely entertaining games to watch.

But it’s hard to be happy about yet another third-period collapse. Winning the 3-on-3 skills competition point does nothing to assuage that.

When the final chapter is written about RedHawks Version 2017-18, near the top of the list of what went wrong this regular season will be the inability to close out games.

And this has been a problem for a number of years.

Miami has shown glimpses of excellence this season, but it cannot afford to continue flipping wins to ties and losses.

— Not happy with the penalties in this game on multiple fronts. Karch Bachman was taken down in the second period by a player also committing interference and possible a felony or two and there was no call.

A too-many-men call was missed. Miami had one power play, North Dakota (14-11-9) three including a major. That’s a night after concurrent minors against the RedHawks resulted in the Fighting Hawks’ second goal on Friday.

Penalty minutes were 19-2 on Saturday.

— That said, Rourke Russell’s minor penalty was undisciplined, and Carson Meyer’s major was deserved.

Russell had just turned the puck over and took a blatant chop at the steal-ee. Meyer saw numbers on the back of jersey and barreled into his guy anyway.

That’s a major in the NCAA.

— Speaking of the Meyer hit, someone decided to make that the hit of the game on the scoreboard at Cady Arena. A dangerous hit from behind. A major penalty and ejection.

Wise up, Cady staff.

— Miami looked extremely tired in the third period. Second game in two nights, of course, but that’s true of every team in college hockey in the third period every Saturday.

It was unusually humid and warm for this area in February, but again, both teams had to deal with that.

— With this being the final home game, I think it’s time to lobby for some additional players’ numbers to be added to the Zamboni end walls.

Andy Greene has been out of Oxford for 12 years. It’s time his name goes up. Ryan Jones graduated in 2008. Same goes.

A decade plus on both. What in the world is everyone waiting for?

The first two are no-brainers, but I’d add Andy Miele to that list as well.

He won the Hobey Baker seven years ago. That’s long enough.

In two years, add Austin Czarnik. He’s already been gone since 2015 and he epitomized Miami hockey values both on and off the ice as much as anyone else on that wall.

GRADES

FORWARDS: C. Sherwood finished with seven shots and Green had six. It’s so nice to have Sherwood playing as well as he did in 2016-17. Melnick created his own goal with the steal in his own zone, and Sherwood’s came after Miami won board battles, so both markers came off of hard work.

DEFENSEMEN: C+. North Dakota controlled the puck more than Miami, so it’s sort of comme ci, comme ca to point out that Grant Hutton, Alec Mahalak and Chaz Switzer all blocked three shots, and Scott Dornbrock added two blocks. Russell took two penalties and one of those chances resulted in a North Dakota goal.

GOALTENDING: B. Hard to fault a guy for a tip-in from the slot, but the first one was all Ryan Larkin. He should’ve gloved the puck but it bounced out and into the net. But he was 28 of 30 and made some outstanding saves.

LINEUP CHANGES: None. This looks like the 19 that coach Enrico Blasi will ride into the NCHC Tournament.

FINAL THOUGHTS: It was senior night, and overall a 1-0-1 weekend vs. North Dakota is a great send-off for Louie Belpedio, Scott Dornbrock and Conor Lemirande in their final home series.

Unfortunately, this class made the NCAA Tournament just once, and that was their freshmen seasons.

Miami will finish last in the NCHC for the second time since the league’s inception in 2013-14 and will head to the road for the fourth time in five years to open the league tournament.

In the eight-team conference, the RedHawks have finished eighth, second, fifth, seventh and now eighth again since joining the league.

Next weekend, Miami heads to Denver for a series that means zilch to the RedHawks in terms of points/seeding/NCAA Tournament qualifying.

The focus now is all on their series at St. Cloud State in two weeks.