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2018-19 Miami preview Part III: Defensemen

OUT (3): Louie Belpedio (graduated), Scott Dornbrock (graduated), Bryce Hatten.

IN (4): Derek Daschke, Andrew Sinard, Brayden Crowder, River Rymsha (graduate student).

RETURNING (5): Sr. – Grant Hutton; Jrs. – Grant Frederic, Chaz Switzer; Sos. – Alec Mahalak, Rourke Russell.

NOTES: Four of Miami’s starting six defensemen are back from last season, but the two who graduated were key contributors on the blue line.

Louie Belpedio was team captain for two seasons and Scott Dornbrock logged 139 career games, but Miami adds four to its blueline corps and will have nine D-men to battle for six starting slots each night.

Miami defenseman Grant Hutton (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

“I think we’re a lot deeper, bigger, stronger,” Miami head coach Enrico Blasi said. “I think whe you add some of the size that we did and just sheer bodies, it’s going to be equally hard to come up with six (starters) on a game-to-game basis.”

All-planet senior Grant Hutton will share the captaincy with Melnick after leading college hockey in defenseman goals with 13 and tying for the Division I lead in power play goals by a blueliner (8).

He has also been arguably the team’s best shutdown D-man the past three seasons.

Alec Mahalak dressed for 36 of 37 games as a freshman and seemed to gain confidence in every facet as last season progressed, finishing 1-8-9. His size (5-feet-9, 165 pounds) worked against him defensively at times but he proved he can make smart plays, carry and pass the puck.

Rourke Russell is a shutdown defenseman who was in the lineup 34 times his rookie season. He got tougher to play against later in the season, blocking 51 shots, and Chaz Switzer, who played 32 games, showed improvement in his second campaign with Miami and finished with 47 blocks.

Miami’s Grant Frederic (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Grant Frederic only saw the ice 15 times but also seemed more confident in his second go-around, using his big body to defend more. If Frederic continues to make the case for a lineup spot as well as the four other returning blueliners, that would leave just one spot for four freshmen.

And Derek Daschke is considered the defensive blue chipper of this incoming class. He has logged 232 USHL games in four seasons and went 8-21-29 in 2017-18. The 6-feet-2 blueliner played under associate head coach Peter Mannino in Chicago en route to a Clark Cup title two seasons ago.

At 6-feet-6, Brayden Crowder will join Michael Findorff and Brian Sipotz among the tallest Miami D-men.

Andrew Sinard will also join that list of trees on the RedHawks’ blue line, as he is also 6-6 and listed at 185 pounds. He did not score a goal in 96 NAHL games but did pick up 21 assists in that span.

Dartmouth graduate River Rymsha joins Miami for his senior season. He is also a big body at 6-3, 205 pounds, and dressed for 28 games and picked up a goal and two helpers at that Ivy League institution last year.

“So we obviously added some size with Sinard and Crowder, and those are two guys that are really difficult to play against, from what we’ve seen out of them in practice, and a guy in Daschke who can really move the puck,” Hutton said. “All of the guys that have come in on defense have made an impact and an impression so far in practice, and obviously we have our returners that we’re going to look to for experience and help show the younger guys the way. We’ve all had the privilege of having guys like that in our freshman years that we’ve looked up to and learned a lot from. I’m excited about the group.”

This corps helped Miami hold opponents to 27.2 shots per game in 2017-18, but too many were high quality. They also need to help tighten up a penalty kill unit that killed just 78.0 percent of its chances, ranking 46th in the NCAA.

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2018-19 Miami preview Part II: Forwards

OUT (6): Conor Lemirande (graduated), Kiefer Sherwood (turned pro), Carson Meyer (transferred), Austin Alger, Alex Alger, Willie Knierim.

IN (5): Jonathan Gruden, Noah Jordan, Monte Graham, Brian Hawkinson, Scott Corbett.

RETURNING (10): Srs. – Josh Melnick, Ryan Siroky, Zach Lavalle; Jrs. – Gordie Green, Karch Bachman, Carter Johnson; Sos. – Casey Gilling, Ben Lown, Phil Knies, Christian Mohs.

NOTES: Gordie Green hit his stride midway through his freshman year and has gotten better seemingly every game since, as he led the team in goals (15) and points (33) as a sophomore.

Newly-named captain Josh Melnick makes everyone around him better and finished with nine goals and a team best-tying 21 assists for 30 points in 2017-18.

Phil Knies was last season’s freshman goals leader with 11, including six in a four-game road trip in January, he finished with 20 points, and fellow college rookie Casey Gilling added 19 and was one of the team’s best in the faceoff circle.

Ben Lown (4-11-15) was the other significant contributing freshman up front.

Speedster Karch Bachman nearly tripled his rookie points output, posting 16 points including seven goals after earning six as a freshman. The Florida Panthers draft pick netted three goals the final four games.

Senior Ryan Siroky is the only other returning regular starter from last season. He dressed for 33 games and was of the team’s best hitters and played solid defense, contributing two goals and a pair of assists.

Zach Lavalle, Carter Johnson and Christian Mohs logged a combined 46 games, and Johnson locked down a lineup spot the second half of the season with his energetic play.

Not counting Johnson, that’s only seven every-night forwards back, meaning five other slots would be open each night. Even if all 10 veterans start that leaves two openings for newcomers.

Miami forward Josh Melnick (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

“If you look at those guys, they took huge strides last year, especially toward the end,” Melnick said. Obviously those guys have to step into bigger roles now, and I think they’re ready for that. It’s easy for me to say they’ve been really good this preseason, but it’s 100 percent true. Also, the guys that are coming in are really exciting – you’ve got some really skilled and dynamic players all throughout the forward lineup.”

Of the freshmen, Jonathan Gruden is a near certainty to claim one of those lineup spots. Playing for the U.S. National Team the past two seasons, the Ottawa Senators’ fourth-round pick rolled up 34 points in 25 games vs. USHL competition last season as a 17-year-old while going plus-28.

Monte Graham has serious NHL pedigree, as he is the cousin of Wild center Charlie Coyle and former NHL forward Tony Amonte. A New Englander, the former Boston College commit boast plenty of juniors experience, as he has played two full USHL seasons.

Noah Jordan is 6-feet-5 and skated for North York in Ontario Juniors last season. He scored 18 goals in 2017-18, and the Toronto-area native led his team in playoff points.

Brian Hawkinson has three seasons of USHL experience and is known for his grit and leadership. He was the captain for Tri-City in 2017-18, where he notched 16 points.

Scott Corbett is another Carmel, Ind., product, the same hometown as former defensemen Cameron Schilling and Grant Hutton. He is known as more of a playmaker and has good size at 6-1 and 187.

“I think we’ve got like guys that are (solid), guys that need to take another step in terms of their production, and then we’ve got some guys that understand they’re playing a certain role, and they have to perform,” Miami head coach Enrico Blasi said. “I like the depth we have, it’s going to be a struggle each weekend to see who’s going to play, and that’s a good thing – that breeds competition in practice, and everybody has to elevate their game.”

Though Miami was below average offensively last season, the RedHawks finished ninth in Division I on the power play (23.2 percent).

Then again, MU’s defensive duo accounted for 13 of those 35 PPGs and managed just two markers in last season’s final 11 games on the man-advantage.

Depth was an issue among centers and wings, as only eight forwards were able to generate seven or more points last season.

“When we came here in the summer just to work on stuff, we actually started to get a lot better then,” Melnick said.

2018-19 Miami preview Part I: Overview

Since 2014-15, Miami has won just 36 games, its lowest three-season total since 1989-92.

As a result, the RedHawks parted ways with two assistants and 11 players this off-season and they hope the influx of new talent – both on the ice and the bench – will vault them to more victories.

Coach Enrico Blasi (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

With all of the moving parts within the program, game-action anticipation has never been greater. Fortunately for the RedHawks, opening night is Saturday vs. Alabama-Huntsville.

“I think you’re always excited to start a new season,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. “But I think with the last five months the way they played out, just focusing on games and getting better as a team and moving forward, I think everyone’s excited, I’m excited, we’re ready to go.”

Peter Mannino was hired as associate head coach at the end of March, and Joel Beal was named assistant in June.

Mannino, a former NHL goalie and NCAA Tournament champ with Denver, was an assistant at in-conference rival Nebraska-Omaha last season after winning a Clark Cup as the assistant of the USHL’s Chicago Steel.

Beal was an assistant at Sacred Heart the past five seasons and an associate head coach since 2016, and on the ice he starred at Union in the early 2000s.

“Peter is very outgoing, energetic, very positive, kind of throws a lot of things at you and makes you think about 10, 15 things at once, and Bealer is very systematic, very cerebral, thinks about things, makes sure that we’re not missing anything,” Blasi said. “Both are very positive – Bealer’s a very positive guy – both are hardworking guys, trustworthy guys you can count on. That’s what you want in a staff and that’s what you want out there recruiting for your program. The dynamics of the three of us – we all bring something different to the table and yet…we mesh together. With both of them, my conversations were very similar in the fact that I felt like we could connect right away and build from there. And I think we see the game the same way, I think we see the type of team we want to be, where the game is going, the way we want to develop our players and inspire our players and the process in which to do it. Those are all things that will continue to grow as we go through the days, and the games, and the practices, but we get along really well.”

Melnick

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

Senior co-captain Josh Melnick said the energy the duo has brought to the program has been contagious.

“They’re obviously two younger guys and they bring sort of a different perspective to the locker room,” Melnick said. “As a whole, they’ve settled in really well, and I think they’re getting a good feeling of what our program’s about and also helping re-establish the things that we want to work on to get the program back to where it was in the past.”

Miami’s roster, which was not completed until late July, features five new forwards, four on defense and two in net. Two of the 11 are graduate students completing their fourth years of hockey eligibility.

“I think we’ve brought in some guys that will know their role – they were recruited to it,” Blasi said. “I think they’re a little bit older, we’ve got some Clark Cup championship-caliber players who have been through it, understand how to win a championship, guys that have been captains on their teams, and we have one (Jonathan Gruden) that played on the U.S. Development Team, played in the Worlds, and played with (the forward) that’s probably going to be the first overall pick in this (2019’s) NHL draft (Jack Hughes) and played on the same line with him. These are all positive things, and then you add two postgrads to the new faces, and we’ve got guys that are real positive and a tight freshman group.”

Grant Hutton (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Both Melnick and defenseman fellow co-captain Grant Hutton love what they’ve seen from the newest Hawks.

“I think it’s everything we’ve expected and more,” Hutton said. “A lot of these guys are a lot of key, role players that know they’re here for a reason. You see it a lot in college hockey where guys may be goal scorers or big points guys in juniors or whatever it may be, and they get to college and they’re kind of shell-shocked. Gruden is our only true freshman at 18 years old and a lot of older guys that are coming in are mature, and I think that’s the biggest thing. Usually you talk about college hockey being a place where players have the opportunity to mature and develop, but it’s a huge plus when you get players that come in and have some of that maturity, some of that development. We’re pretty lucky with the group we have coming in, and I think it adds more excitement.”

Said Melnick: “They all assimilated right into things quickly – they’re all great people off the ice, and I think a lot of the reason we have high energy is because those guys have a lot of energy. They came here ready to work, and they know what the program stands for and what it’s been like in the past, and they’re ready to help get it back to that point.”

During the summer before the new players arrived, the returning players reached out to the freshman class to welcome them to the program, Melnick said.

The off-season didn’t start well for Miami. Within days of the RedHawks’ final game, it was announced that assistant coaches Brent Brekke and Nick Petraglia would not return as well as four players.

Two other prominent forwards also left the team early in the off-season, with one turning pro and the other transferring.

That’s on top of Miami not qualifying for the NCAA Tournament or even making it out of the NCHC quarterfinal round for the third straight season after qualifying for 10 of the previous 12 national championships.

“This is something that, I don’t look at this as a job, this is my life,” Blasi said. “When your life isn’t going the way you think it should go in terms of guys not playing up to their capabilities or even some of the things I might’ve done in the last couple of years that were wrong decisions. You assess, you evaluate, you try to be better – we all have opportunities to be better every day, we’re no different and I’m no different – and if I told you I wasn’t frustrated or disappointed in certain occasions, I’d be lying to you. But I can also tell you that I’m very proud of some of the things that have happened in the past couple of years. I believe in my heart that these are necessary steps that need to happen to move forward and become better. When we built the program, we went through some tough times, but nobody talks about those because nobody remembers those, everybody just remembers the wins and the Frozen Fours and the championships. I can tell you there were times where we had the same frustrations, the same disappointments, but they were necessary disappointments and necessary things that we needed to get through to get to the next level, and that’s what we’re going to do right now.”

Some positive things happened this off-season well. Multiple prior Omaha recruits switched to Miami following Mannino’s hiring, including defenseman Derek Daschke.

“Obviously at first it was a little difficult with having to (deal with) some difficult situations, to be honest with you,” Blasi said. “Once we started to kind of shape our team around the guys we have coming back, finishing off the recruiting and finishing off the staff, and getting together as a staff and kind of formulating our plan and getting to know each other on a different level, and then obviously have our team come back and work with them and kind of creating their identity. It’s been a lot of fun. ‘Reenergize’ is a work that we’ve been using a lot lately.”

Miami’s Ryan Siroky (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

And both Melnick and Hutton, both seniors and destined for lucrative professional careers, announced they were returning this fall.

“I give Hudson, Melly a lot of credit, them and the senior class – Lavs (Zach Lavalle) and (Ryan) Siroky – that helped shaped the spring and the summer to make sure when these new guys came in, that our program was in a good place and we were going to hit the ground running.”

Miami played some quality hockey down the stretch last season, and Blasi said his team will seize that momentum and carry it into this campaign.

“Those are some of the things we were really proud of,” Blasi said. “To stick with it and to keep fighting, that’s a character trait that you can’t teach. And that’s something that’s in our locker room, that’s something that’s in our culture. I was very, very proud of the team and the way they played. Now, do we want to win at the end? Of course. Everybody does. But at the same time, you have to take a step back and assess the situation, and I believe that how we played was really important for the guys coming back in the spring and the summer and for our recruits, to say hey, we’re not that far off. We just need to maybe work a little harder, improve one or two percent. If everybody can do that, then we have something. When you’re in the moment, it doesn’t seem like it, and I know it probably doesn’t seem like it to the general fan – and we have great fans and great supporters, some of which have expressed their support and some of them haven’t, and that’s OK too – but when you take a step back and you see all the developments that have happened over the past couple of years, I think you’ll look back and say, hey, maybe if we didn’t go through that we don’t get to that next level.”

He pointed out that Miami was ranked as high as No. 14 in the PairWise after its big January home win over powerhouse Denver.

“It just shows that we have a group that isn’t rolling over, we’re not going to quit,” Hutton said. “We’re here because we want to be here, we’re here because we love each other, we love Miami, and we want to be the best possible hockey team that we can be every single night and ultimately reach our goal of bringing a championship back to Oxford.”

Blasi said that he, as well as both assistants, have been actively involved in recruiting this off-season and has hit the road with one or both on several occasions as Miami tries to fortify its roster for the coming years.

“I think the culture of the program is still very strong in terms of what we believe in and the way we do our business from day to day,” Blasi said. “We may tweak some things here and there but I think The Brotherhood and the family and the relationships and the process is still something that we still focus on, it’s still all about developing these young men to play at the next level or develop them to be better people on a day-to-day perspective. But at the end of the day, recruiting is your bloodline – that’s never going to change – and so recruiting is very important, and our team is very important. We have to make sure we’re focused on both equally and we’re doing what we need to do to help these men that we have get to the next level and win games and play at a high level, maybe reach levels that they thought they couldn’t reach. That’s part of what we do as coaches is inspire them and push them in a good way to make them play better than even they think they can.”

Though the season doesn’t start until Saturday, Melnick he noticed a marked difference in the locker room already.

“A lot of the times when people ask what’s most exciting about this year and what’s different, I think it’s the energy, and it’s just coming from everyone,” Melnick said. “It’s honestly kind of crazy to be around, because everybody’s so positive and confident and we just can’t wait to get out there.”

Check back for a positional breakdown of the RedHawks.

Q&A with associate head coach Mannino

He was the starting goalie during Denver’s 2005 NCAA championship season and played six NHL games before turning to coaching, and behind the bench he has already won a Clark Cup title in the USHL as an assistant with Chicago.

Peter Mannino (used with permission of Miami athletics)

On March 29, less than three weeks after Miami relieved both of its assistant coaches of duties, Peter Mannino was hired into the associate head coaching role.

Mannino moved to Oxford along with his wife, Alyta, daughter, Sienna, 3, and son, Luca, 1.

BoB: You were named associate head coach this off-season, so what would you want Miami fans to know about you from a coaching philosophy perspective?

Mannino: I’m a very approachable, honest coach. One that really dives into the experience I had when I played. I try to bring that to the table because I never want to forget those days. My brain is at the same level as what they’re going through. That’s just the way I approach things, the way we ask (the players) to every day – be honest, work hard and be approachable, have a two-way communicative relationship. That’s what I really, really want the players to know, is that we care about them. We’re here to push them, on and off the ice, take care of them when we need to, push them when we need to and make them earn everything that they’ve deserved up to this point. Kind of all those little attributes, those words kind of pile up together and that’s the way things go with me and the players.

BoB: You played at Denver and have coached at Nebraska-Omaha, so you seem like a perfect fit at Miami in terms of a coach who understands this conference and these teams’ styles as well as the type of player teams need to recruit to win in this league.

Mannino: Absolutely. It was the same way when I played – I played in the USHL, I played junior hockey, I went through the different steps and levels, and what I’m really excited about is I was able to coach two years in the USHL with the Chicago Steel and work my way up. Because you see those players define their levels of college or next step in life, and I went through that for several years. I had a lot of success my second year and I was able to distinguish that level change for (those players) as they developed and when I went to UNO last year, first hand I was a part of it, from practicing to recruiting to game-like speed. I’m very familiar with the NCHC, which is so identical to the old WCHA when I played.

BoB: Stepping back to your NCAA career, you were in net for every game of Denver’s title run in 2005 culminating in a Frozen Four played at Nationwide Arena in Columbus. Can you reflect on that experience, winning a national championship as a freshman?

Mannino: Obviously the cliché: It was special. It was kind of unique too because (Denver) had won it the year before. So when I went in everybody was like, oh, you jumped on the bandwagon. No, no, no, I committed before they won, so actually we had a bullseye on our backs. We had to play honest every night because people wanted to get us. We were the defending champions but really it was kind of awkward because our freshman group wasn’t a part of that, but we were meshed into it. So it was really unique to be a part of a very special time at Denver hockey where they had just won – and it was an iconic Frozen Four – to then step foot into my position, there was a lot of what could’ve been looked like as pressure.

But our group from seniors to freshmen, we meshed right away. We pushed each other, we held each other accountable and it just showed, game by game all the way to that championship, we all relied on each other and we all needed each other, it wasn’t just (Paul) Stastny, it was Matt Laatsch our captain – it was awesome. You have to have a team approach to win in the NCAA because it gets so hard, so tight, and one goal can change your career. It’s an eternal memory that I am obviously am very fortunate to have from when I played and moved on to play professionally, but now as a coach I cherish those memories because I can dive into those and talk to guys about them and hopefully help them.

BoB: Your 2005 run is quite a story, because your dominant final stretch that postseason was preceded by a pair of games in which you allowed five goals each. You then posted three straight shutouts and obviously went 4-0 in the NCAA Tournament. What turned you around so quickly that season?

Mannino: It’s that freshman year, right? You go into it, it’s a new team, new feel, new level, and my game was adjusting. I had ups and downs – I remember my first game getting pelted by Boston College then turning around and playing Wisconsin and having a really good win on the road. That’s what I tell the guys – you’ve got to use those (struggles) and get through them, and it’s the big picture. Just like you said: No one looks at those back-to-back five-goal games, but that was my journey. I needed to embrace that and get better and over it, and then in the end you look at the big picture and (the title) was the end result. You were just asking me about that year and the first thing I think of is the ups and downs. We had a tough start, we played some games in which we struggled as a team but those struggles are so important rather than just the back-to-back (titles). We needed to struggle to get to that point, to stay the course at the national tournament, so yeah, that was part of the journey.

BoB: For those like myself who grew up dreaming of playing in the NHL but lacked the necessary talent, you made it to the NHL and played six games. What do you take from that chapter of your life in which you were able to play hockey at the highest level, albeit for a brief time?

Mannino: A dream come true. Everything you do from when I was went to that first NHL game I wanted to be in that arena, be part of that crowd, and I remember telling my third- or fourth-grade teacher that I want to play in the NHL. That was my goal. The thing you learn is just how hard it is to get there. You said I played six games, but I was up for 50 games. No one ever knows that, but it’s so hard to get there, and then to play a game – guys get called up and sit around and they never get that shot. It is so hard but that’s what it’s so special, because of that, and it’s the group and the teams – everything around you from your parents to coaches to opportunities people give you. I could spend hours telling you: This guy believes in me, this guy believes in me, this guy called me and let me play here, this guy allowed me to get seen here. It’s all about finding people that you trust and taking advantage of opportunities. I did that for the most part and that’s what got me six games, but I’m fortunate for everything – I’m thankful to my parents, I’m thankful to every coach, every teammate, every team that I was a part of, because everybody played a part of it.

BoB: You were a coach at Omaha, and the Mavericks have been slightly better than Miami in recent years, so what was the hook that brought you to Oxford?

Mannino: You and I know and we have this conversation with so many people that last year, from where we were at Omaha, (we could’ve finished) anywhere, 4-through-8, the last few four weekends, and it was very stressful. In Omaha we were able to piece together a nice little finish there with some splits and some wins. The boys dug deep, we had a nice senior class, everybody played a big part of that, and we were able to stay in that mid-pack, and unfortunately Miami kind of flipped, right? That just shows you how special our conference is. In any given year – three years ago Miami won the NCHC. There’s so many differences in the year-by-year.

For me it’s not about that, it was more opportunity, relationship-based: Rico Blasi the head coach and one of the founders here, George Gwozdecky, was my coach at Denver. So when I played in college, which is a special part of anybody’s career, when you’re there for four years, it establishes a culture, a mindset and just a belief in coaching and the whole philosophy. I’ve gotten to know Rico over the years, I know Jeff Blashill, I know the whole group that sort of mingles with George Gwozdecky, Rico and myself. There’s a trust – there’s a circle that you really know.

So when things kind of finished up and I received a call from Rico, it was not like talking to a person for the first time, it was listening to a person who was offering up an opportunity that was incredible. The history here – 20 years that Rico has been at Miami, he’s been to the top. What he’s built here, the Brotherhood, everything about it is so special. I’ve played with Andy Miele, players like that, that are part of the Brotherhood, I’ve seen it firsthand from an alum in the pro levels. Played in the game here, you know that game Denver vs. Miami (in the Ice Breaker to open Cady Arena in 2006), that was me, I was in that game. So I wanted to work under and with somebody that’s had such a special coaching career and players can attest to that, the success of the program. I wanted to be a part of that, and that was a special thing to get offered that and to be a part of (this program) here today with Miami.

And obviously that goes along with the school, everything from our AD to the president. This is such a beautiful campus, this whole setup, to live here with my family in Oxford – I’m from Michigan, my wife is from Illinois – you have that kind of hockey side of it and you have the personal side of it, and it just lined up, it made sense. I had to go through the process myself which was very tough because Omaha was a special place, great people – same thing, from ADs all the way down. But it was the right choice, 100 percent, this is where I needed to take that step and I’m very happy and very fortunate for this opportunity.

BoB: You mentioned you were the goalie for Denver in the first game at Cady Arena. As I recall, Miami won that game.

Mannino: Yeah, Rico sticks that to me every time. 5-2, I didn’t play very well, I probably overhyped the game because of all of the fans and the crowd and the students in the front of the building – I saw them while I was stretching. I hear it every day and every recruit hears it here too. But like it or not I’m kind of a part of the history here, and that kind of holds a special place because I didn’t play here but I did get a chance to play here, against them and feel the environment first-hand, and I think that’s an important piece to have when I talk to the players, to recruits coming in, is that I actually did play here, I know what this is like.

BoB: You were hired in late March, and coaches and players were leaving left and right, then Miami was still piecing together its roster this summer, so how tumultuous has this off-season been as you transition here?

Mannino: It was similar with Omaha, I think we had 10 or 11 players coming in – it’s the way it goes any time there’s change. When there’s change, you bring change because it’s time to kind of hit reset. There’s tough decisions, there’s players that move on. But in any of those situations or any losses that happen, a (Kiefer) Sherwood leaving early, losing a four-year player like (Louie Belpedio) and just other players moving on, it’s part of it. That’s the way things are today in college hockey. It’s a very, very quick-changing game with freshmen leaving, sophomores, people leaving just because they want to move. It’s a very loose field today, and it’s okay – that’s what we’re here for as coaches is to understand, players that sign early, move onto other places or can’t afford it, whatever might be.

This is a life here, it’s not just that you’re going to play hockey. There’s money invested, not everybody’s on a full scholarship, there’s so much stuff that happens. I understand that, Rico understands that, (assistant) Joel (Beal) understands that – that’s part of it, it’s forever changing. We’re thrilled obviously – like you said, there were a lot of changes that needed to be made and gaps that we had to fill – and we’re really excited about that, bringing in a lot of experience, a lot of great character personalities and success levels before they got here. That’s what we do, we’re piecing it together. I was in the same boat last year and everybody does it because you lose a lot of players because (college) is a level where players are moving on.

BoB: You were hired on March 29, and at that point most potential recruits’ seasons were winding down. So what has your primary focus been in the months since you accepted this position?

Mannino: Initially, (Miami’s) season was obviously over, so I got to fly in and sit in on all the end-of-the-year, start-of-the-spring-season meetings. So I got to listen in on a lot of guys talking about where they were, where they wanted to go. We broke it down as a staff. That was very crucial.

I know a really good amount of (Miami’s players), either coaching against them, USHL…I have a pretty good feel for most of the guys. Obviously I watched tape to get a good feel and then was just able to catch up in different sessions.

You already know them, you pre-scouted against them last year and obviously coached against a lot of them when I was in the USHL so I have a good feel there. As a coach, as a recruiter you have to understand what you’re getting into, and I knew right away what I was getting, what you inherit as a group.

That was a big thing because now it shifts to when I was hired, it was recruiting, getting to know the committed players, verbally and signed players. I got to know them right away. Get out there and see them if I haven’t – which is probably 90 percent of them anyway – and start the work for Miami right away. What are our holes, what are our needs? And we did that: We brought in defense, we brought in forwards to add depth in every area. With (goalie) Jordan (Uhelski), bringing a nice little competitiveness in the back end, that was the idea is making sure we’re hitting on all of our needs.

So that was kind of it off the hop: Identifying the current, identifying the future players and then going after them from a recruiting standpoint. Rico and I hit the road a good amount and then when Joel came aboard all three of us were running. And then it was sit down, strategy, plan out and kind of prepare from there.

Now we’re in practices, myself and Joel are working the penalty kill, working the goalies, working the systems. It’s a constant group effort, which is a big reason I wanted to come to Miami from the coaching side.

BoB: How difficult of a situation is this to come into, with Miami having not gone to the NCAA Tournament three straight years after a long run of success?

Mannino: Yeah, I think that’s it. We will see a different approach, a real good team approach, a hard-working, really good-skating, better mindset of defending. We’re going to see a really good goalie performance, whoever that is – I know Larks (Ryan Larkin) has carried the load here, and Jordan’s going to come in here and push which is all good competition. And we can say that throughout the lineup because we have depth. We’ve added pieces all around. We’ve added three Clark Cup (USHL) champions, you’ve added guys from the U.S. National Team or USHL, and those are pieces that are very, very important because that creates that culture and that championship mindset that we all want.

Knowing (defenseman) Derek (Daschke), we won with him (in Chicago), and that’s the mindset of all of our players is you know that they can come in and contribute right away in all areas, up and down the lineup. And that’s all you can ask for is experience like that and maturity.

So I think we’re going to have a very good year. It’s a stepping stone, every year, you wish you had one more here, one more there, but once again, that’s the way it is in college. Every team is looking at their board and they’re not complete. That’s just a fact.

BoB: You mentioned Derek Daschke. He is a highly-touted defenseman who was committed to UNO after playing for you in Chicago but switched to Miami this off-season after your hiring. He has a solid reputation and a two-way blueliner who can score, move the puck, run a power play and defend well. Can you talk about him since he’s a player you’re so familiar with?

Mannino: I know a lot of the guys, like Karch Bachman I coached in Chicago, recruited Bray Crowder, recruited Scott Corbett, recruited Monte Graham. I coached against (Phil) Knies when we were in the Clark Cup championship. It goes on and on and on. So I’m very familiar – this isn’t just one player. I know Larkin when he was in the USHL, I watched him in all of those festivals. I’ve seen all these guys, give or take a handful. (Derek) would be that mature, junior-experienced player that has had success and has gone through the gauntlet and prepares for it. His mindset is just like our other freshmen and sophomores moving forward, we feel like across the board we have a group that wants to be a group.

BoB: It’s been fun watching Karch Bachman get better and better, as he started finishing those chances toward the end of last season.

Mannino: You can say that about all of them, right? Everybody that’s still here is here to develop and continue to work toward that next level, and if not they’ve moved on to other levels or they’ve graduated. Kind of the fun part about college: It’s a very developmental stage. These guys have holes in their game that they want to work on every day and they have those strong attributes, like Karch can skate, he can shoot the puck, so what do you do with it? He’s been great – he understands it, identifies it and attacks it. Go after it, get better.

BoB: The former assistants had specific in-game roles, like Coach Brekke handled the defensemen. Being a former goalie, will you handle the netminders, and do you and Coach Beal know what your duties will be once the puck drops?

Mannino: Defense, PK, Joel and I will be working hand in hand in those areas, because if one of us is on the road we want to be up to par there. Obviously the goalies are a special nook – that’s one thing I’m going to be working with every day.

What I will say is going into it with Rico is he’s been awesome and receptive, asking Joel and myself whatever it is. We’re open on all cylinders here, drills, practice flow, plans for scheduling – that’s the fun part is learning under Rico and all contributing in all different ways, because that’s what we ask our guys to do. I think it’s a productive environment behind the scenes that we can all be on the same page too.

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

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