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Preview: Denver at Miami

WHO: No. 13 Denver Pioneers (12-7-5) at Miami RedHawks (9-11-3).

WHERE: Cady Arena, Oxford, Ohio.

WHEN: Friday–7:05 p.m.; Saturday–7:05 p.m.

TV: Friday–CBS College Sports (DirecTV Ch. 221); Saturday–Fox Sports Alternate (DirecTV Ch. 608-1).

DENVER RADIO: Friday–KEPN-AM (1600), Denver, Colo.; Saturday–KKFN-FM (104.3).

MIAMI RADIO: Both nights–WMOH-AM (1450), Hamilton, Ohio; WKBV-AM (1490), Richmond, Ind.

NOTES: Miami has six home games left on its schedule with four to be played in the next nine days.

The RedHawks are coming off a huge sweep at then-No. 7 Nebraska-Omaha and have won three straight games after a 6-11-3 start.

But Denver is also on a hot streak, unbeaten in its last eight contests (5-0-3), as the Pioneers have surged into third place in the NCHC.

DU goalie Tanner Jaillet was pulled last Friday after surrendering two goals on seven shots, and the Pioneers came back to win with Evan Cowley in net. Cowley is 73 of 74 since, so there’s an excellent chance he’s in net for the series opener, especially since Jaillet has an .897 save percentage vs. Miami.

No one on Denver’s roster has scored 10 goals, but seven skaters have five or more makers.

Dylan Gambrell – a freshman – leads the Pioneers in points with 24 on seven goals and 17 assists, and Trevor Moore leads the team in assists with 18 and has 21 points.

Danton Heinen has a team-best nine goals and has nine assists for 18 points.

The Pioneers have two blueliners who create offense as well. Will Butcher, a Colorado Avalanche draftee, has five goals and 11 assists, and Nolan Zajac – younger brother of NHLer Travis Zajac – has notched a goal and 12 helpers.
Freshman forward Josh Melnick has recorded points in four straight games, and senior forward Sean Kuraly and junior forward Anthony Louis have points in three consecutive tilts. Kuraly has notched six points during his run, including five assists.

Jay Williams.

Jay Williams.

Senior Jay Williams has been in net for all three of Miami’s wins during its current run. Classmate Ryan McKay has been scratched for all those games, and it’s unclear if he will return to the lineup this weekend.

These teams are 9-9 all-time against each other. They split their four regular season games in 2014-15, and Miami beat Denver in the NCHC Tournament. The Pioneers ended the RedHawks’ 2013-14 season by winning in the NCHC final.

Secondary scoring huge for Miami

Miami broke out with seven goals on Saturday, and its scorers had a combined nine markers this season entering that game.

While it’s obviously insane to expect that kind of offense from second-, third- and fourth-line forwards on a regular basis, the RedHawks – at least for one night in a 7-3 win vs. Nebraska-Omaha at Baxter Arena – appeared to be over the forcefield-across-the-threshold-of-the-net blues that plagued them for many of their first 22 contests.

The reaction from 800 miles to east, behind a computer screen in a cozy back room, was 50 percent what-in-the-world-is-going-on-but-this-is-awesome and 50 percent it’s-about-time-some-of-those-shots-that-had-been-whistling-just-wide-or-off-posts-the-past-four-months-finally-found-twine.

The obvious question no one has the answer to is: Is the drought finally over or was this a three-hour reprieve?

Miami entered this weekend 53rd out of 60 in Division I in offense. The RedHawks aren’t that bad.

Miami's Anthony Louis (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Miami’s Anthony Louis (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Miami scored seven times on Saturday, and only one of those was by a usual sniping suspect: Anthony Louis.

The RedHawks aren’t that good. No team is.

The word of the night, and the series, and the past nine days for that matter dating back to the Bowling Green win, is encouraging.

Two more words could determine how the rest of this season goes for MU: Secondary scoring.

Team leader Jack Roslovic, who had nine tallies this season, has one goal in his last 10 games. Josh Melnick is second overall with six but has one marker in 11 tilts.

Miami has still won three straight.

This team has seven excellent defensemen and two fantastic goalies. It doesn’t need to lead the NCAA in goals.

The RedHawks are now at 2.38 per game, up to 49th, and an average of 3.17 during their current 4-1-1 run. If they can come close to that clip, the back end should take care of the rest, and this could be a fun couple of months.

Only once in the past 11 games has Miami allowed more than three goals, so three should be enough most nights.

Back to the secondary scoring.

Could Kevin Morris could find the net a few more times during the stretch run like he did in both ends of this series?

Or is it a reach to suggest that Zach LaValle, who seems to get better every game, could start pumping in the occasional goal?

How about an occasion tally – not three a night, obviously – from wide-bodied Conor Lemirande, who showed an ability to use his hands to find the net and was able to tip in a shot while in the goalie’s face (with help from linemate and cousin Andrew Schmit, who picked up primary assists on two of his goals)?

Miami's Sean Kuraly (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Miami’s Sean Kuraly (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

The biggest question of this set is Sean Kuraly, since he has the potential to generate the most offense of this group.

Can he continue to play at the level he has the last three games, during which he has six points?

These don’t seem like outrageous questions to anyone who has seen this team frequently, and if the answer is “yes” to most, that goals-per-game average should continue to improve along with the team’s win total.

It was just one game, of course, but that’s on top of two other wins vs. highly-ranked teams, which has to have a confidence carryover for the entire team heading into a crucial four-game homestand and the second half of the NCHC slate.

Other thoughts…

– Miami did get a little sloppy with the big lead and could’ve finished better. Amazingly, the RedHawks were actually outshot overall, 30-27 after netting six goals on 12 shots in the second period.

– It was comical that when UNO scored late, the scoreboard operator initially gave the score to Miami, as the top of the screen read 8-2. Force of habit from the previous period, perhaps.

– Coach Enrico Blasi’s starting 19 were the same on Saturday as Friday. Evan McCarthy was still listed as the backup goalie.

– Speaking of Blasi, let’s give some credit to the coaching staff as well for this mid-season turnaround. Two weeks ago Miami was 6-11-3 and one point away from the NCHC cellar. Somehow they got this team to turn it around and win a couple of close games, followed by this not-to-close game.

– Segueing again, if Louis doesn’t score with two seconds left to beat Bowling Green last weekend, does Miami go into Omaha Friday and Saturday and pound the seventh-ranked team in Division I back-to-back nights on its own rink? Probably not?

Miami scores 7, sweeps UNO

Miami took out a half season of offensive frustrations on Nebraska-Omaha.

The RedHawks, who had not scored more than four goals in any game this season, struck for six in the second period alone in a 7-3 win over the No. 7 Mavericks at Baxter Arena on Saturday, completing a series sweep.

That extended MU’s winning streak to three games. Miami beat UNO, 3-1 on Friday following a 2-1 victory vs. Bowling Green last weekend. The RedHawks have lost just one of their last six games (4-1-1).

Miami's Conor Lemirande (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Miami’s Conor Lemirande (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Sophomore forward Conor Lemirande, who had netted one career goal entering this contest, recorded the first Miami hat trick of the season.

Miami opened the scoring when senior forward Andrew Schmit passed a puck off the boards behind the net, and the carom came to Lemirande, who buried it from the side of the net with 4:02 left in the first period.

The net seemed to double in size once the middle stanza began.

Senior center Sean Kuraly centered a puck from along the boards to classmate and forward Kevin Morris, who one-timed one home from the slot 42 seconds into that frame.

Kuraly made it 3-0 just over two minutes later when he slammed home a one-touch pass from Morris at the inside edge of the faceoff circle.

The Mavericks cut the lead to two when Ryan Galt played a puck on net, and when RedHawks senior goalie Jay Williams did not handle it cleanly, Mason Morelli jammed it home with 11:54 left in the period.

Lemirande answered, taking a pass from senior forward Alex Gacek from the corner and beating UNO goalie Kirk Thompson on the stick side midway through the period.

Lemirande completed his hat trick with 6:58 to play in the frame, tipping home a Schmit shot from the blue line to give Miami a 5-1 lead.

The RedHawks would add two more tallies in the next three minutes. Junior forward Anthony Louis ripped a cross-crease pass from Kuraly past Thompson, and Kuraly set up a goal by forward Zach LaValle.

Kuraly slid a pass from behind the net to the wide-open freshman in the shot, and LaValle wired it past Thompson on the blocker side to cap off Miami’s scoring.

Nebraska-Omaha did add a pair of scores on slap shots from the blue line to cut the final deficit to four.

It was the first six-goal period for Miami since Feb. 26, 2010 vs. Ohio State.

Kuraly finished with a career-best four points (1-3-4), and his three assists tied a career high.

Lemirande became the only active RedHawk with a hat trick in his career. This season, no one on the team had scored more than one goal in any game.

In its last six games, Miami has scored 18 second-period goals vs. UNO, including 12 in its last four. The last time the RedHawks netted at least seven goals in a game was Dec. 5, 2014 vs. Nebraska-Omaha in Oxford.

Lemirande now has six career points, with four coming against the Mavericks.

LaValle finished with a goal and two assists, Morris notched a marker and an assist and Schmit ended the night with a pair of helpers.

LaValle had never recorded more than one point in a game, and it was the second career two-point tilt for Schmit.

With the three points on Saturday and six for the weekend, MU vaulted Western Michigan and moved into a tie for fifth with UNO at 16 points in the NCHC standings. The RedHawks also improved to 20th in the PairWise rankings.

Miami opens a four-game homestand with a two-game series vs. Denver on Jan. 29-30.

Analysis: Loss follows Miami MO

OXFORD, Ohio – Just a microcosm of the season.

Miami was every bit as good as Minnesota-Duluth in the first period but found itself down two, then four in the middle frame as the Bulldogs eventually went on to win, 5-2 at Cady Arena on Saturday.

An unlucky bounce for Miami – or a lucky one for UMD, depending on your perspective – resulted in the Bulldogs’ first goal.

Poor coverage in the slot ended up in Nos. 2 and 3, and as has been the case so often this season, those were two of the only breakdowns in front of the net for Miami (6-11-3), and the puck ended up in the back of the cage.

A bad play by senior goalie Ryan McKay made it 4-0, and that was essentially the night.

With past teams, a four-goal deficit would be a huge uphill climb but not insurmountable, but this RedHawks team has scored four goals in a game once, and the final tally in that contest was into an empty net.

This loss was crucial because Miami had a chance to pull within two points of UMD (8-7-4), which is in third place in the NCHC. Now the RedHawks are eight behind the Bulldogs.

Miami is now at the halfway point of its league schedule and has just 10 points in conference play, and earning two of six points this weekend made any ascent of the NCHC standings significantly more difficult.

With three points awarded for each game, 1½ points per game should put a team in the 4-5 seed range. That’s 36 points.

Miami needs to win nine of its final 12 league contests to reach that mark, and the RedHawks would likely need more than that to catch the fourth-seeded team.

All that comes back to the same axiomatic point: Miami needs to win more.

Other thoughts…

– McKay was pulled after the fourth goal, and he was visibly angry while departing. He launched his goalie stick down the tunnel, and it hit the edge of the stands and almost made its way into the seats. He also yelled something while leaving the bench. McKay did not come out with the team for the third period, and he also was not on the ice for practice Monday. That almost certainly means Jay Williams will be in net this Saturday. Freshman Evan McCarthy is the team’s third goalie, so we’ll see on Saturday if he is elevated to backup status on the interim.

– Miami ended its six-game power play drought as sophomore defenseman Louie Belpedio scored in the final second of a man advantage in the second period. The RedHawks were 0-for-16 in their previous six games with two shorthanded goals allowed.

– Let’s try to invoke some positives: For all of the problems Miami’s offense has had, senior forward Alex Gacek has one of the team’s best forwards in previous weeks. He is skating as well as he has his entire career and has been great in all three zones, although his points total doesn’t reflect that (it’s tough to pile up points when Miami scores three goals in a weekend).

– And classmate and captain Sean Kuraly looks like he is close to breaking out. Even with his struggles on offense, he has been solid on defense and in the faceoff circle, and he has been more active in the offensive zone in recent games as well.

GRADES

Miami freshman Ryan Siroky scored his first career goal on Saturday (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Miami freshman Ryan Siroky scored his first career goal on Saturday (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

FORWARDS: D. This corps managed just 10 shots on goal, and Miami had only six the final 40 minutes. Freshman Ryan Siroky, who is steadily improving, scored his first career goal on a laser from the outside of the faceoff circle, but that was one of the lone highlights for this group. Minnesota-Duluth did an excellent job of taking the Anthony Louis-Josh Melnick-Jack Roslovic line out of the game.

DEFENSEMEN: C. UMD was held to just 22 shots, more than a dozen fewer than on Friday, and Belpedio found the net. Players were left alone in front of the net on the Bulldogs’ second and third goals, but it’s unclear without replay ability whether that blame lies here or on the forwards.

GOALTENDING: C. McKay’s only real mistake was on the ENG after his bad clear on the fourth goal, and Williams was 6-for-6 in relief. With this team’s lack of offense, if the goalies’ grade isn’t a ‘B’ or better, Miami has little chance of winning.

LINEUP CHANGES: Up front, freshman Kiefer Sherwood was scratched in favor of senior Michael Mooney. It’s unclear why Sherwood sat, since he seemed pretty solid on Friday. On defense, freshman Grant Hutton did not dress for the first time this season, and junior Colin Sullivan returned to the ice. Hutton is having a solid rookie campaign but did struggled on Friday, and Sullivan continued to play well in limited action. He has to be one of the top seventh defensemen in all of college hockey.

Miami, McKay shut out St. Lawrence

In its first four games, Miami’s goals against totals were seven, two, two and one. The natural progression was a shutout.

Miami goalie Ryan McKay (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Miami goalie Ryan McKay (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Senior Ryan McKay stopped 26 shots, including 14 in the third period as the RedHawks blanked St. Lawrence, 1-0 at Appleton Arena on Friday.

It was the third straight win for No. 15 Miami, and it extends the team’s unbeaten streak to four games.

After a scoreless first period, RedHawks freshman forward Jack Roslovic whipped a backhand pass from senior forward Sean Kuraly into the net 4:52 into the middle frame for the game’s only goal on the power play.

Miami (3-1-1) held the Saints (3-2) to just two shots in that stanza.

The RedHawks had to kill five penalties in the third period, including over a minute of 5-on-3 time.

The shutout for McKay was the ninth of his career, as he ranks fourth all-time at Miami for his career. He has allowed just five goals in four starts this season.

Roslovic has four goals in five games to open his tenure in Oxford, and he has all three of the RedHawks’ game winners. The assist for Kuraly was his first point of 2015-16.

Miami improves to 2-0 on the road this season, with both wins coming by a goal.

Both teams had seven power plays. The RedHawks were 1-for-7, giving them three goals on the man advantage in two games. St. Lawrence was 0-for-7, as Miami has gone three consecutive games without allowing a PPG.

The RedHawks have killed all 14 man-advantage chances during their winning streak and are 22 of 23 for the season.

The teams finish their two-game series at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

Analysis: MU succeeding without vet scoring

OXFORD, Ohio – A 2-1-1 record to start the season with one point from Anthony Louis and Sean Kuraly you say?

As Miami fans, yeah, we’ll take it.

The RedHawks’ two top returning scorers are off to slow starts offensively, but the RedHawks (2-1-1) swept Ohio State this weekend, 3-2 in Columbus and 3-1 in Oxford the following night with five of its goals coming by freshmen.

Rookies have potted seven of 11 Miami goals for the season. Four of the five freshmen forwards have found the net in the team’s first four games.

Miami's Jack Roslovic (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Miami’s Jack Roslovic (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Beyond Jack Roslovic, it was unclear entering the season how much newbies would contribute offensively to a forward corps that had lost Austin Czarnik, Riley Barber and Blake Coleman among others. But at least for two weekends, the answer is significantly.

Overall, Miami hasn’t set the world on fire from a scoring perspective, averaging 2.75 goals per game. But the RedHawks missed several Grade A scoring chances in the first period alone on Friday and had multiple chances on Saturday it should’ve cashed in.

MU finished the finale with 41 shots on goal and missed the net a number of times.

There is cause for optimism regarding this team’s offensive potential. The RedHawks are holding their own during what most knew would be a transition process with numerous new faces taking over the jobs of established studs.

If they have been able to hold their own during their growing pains without contributions from Kuraly or Louis, just wait until those two hit their strides.

And they will hit their strides, hopefully very soon.

Other thoughts on Saturday:

– This was the best all-around game Roslovic has played. He engaged in battles along the boards and was generally more of a presence on the ice than in the previous games. Roslovic also showed more of ability to make defenders look silly as he can seemingly skate around them at will, a feat made even more amazing considering he is still just 18. That won’t fly at higher levels, or even against better college opponents, but he is certainly showing everyone why he was a first-round pick this summer.

– Sherwood seems to get better every game. He blew up in the USHL last season, scoring 29 goals after netting 13 the previous season, so hopefully that will translate at this level – it certainly did on Friday when he picked the top corner on his first college goal. And it looks like he could do more, as he engages physically and appears capable of playing both ways. Josh Melnick and Roslovic have been the obvious standouts early, but Sherwood looks like he may develop into a very good player for Miami as well.

– The power play was 1,000 percent better on Saturday than Friday. Yes, Miami went 2-for-5, but beyond that, the puck movement was outstanding and the communication appeared much improved. The first unit could be devastating to opponents this season with Roslovic-Melnick-Louis-Kuraly-Belpedio, and its makeshift second unit scored the final goal on Saturday, with Zach LaValle finding the net.

– Miami’s four-game road stand will be difficult but should provide a bonding opportunity and could make the team better overall. At least the RedHawks get their feet wet on a real road trip – not like Ohio State, which was an up-and-back drive with more Miami fans than OSU fans in attendance – before opening conference play in two weeks.

GRADES

FORWARDS: B+. At this point of the season, improvement is more vital than results, and the improvement is there. The freshmen are getting better. Louis played well but only had a point, and many more will follow. Kuraly has struggled at times early but appears ready to break out. If either Kevin Morris or Alex Gacek ever find the net they may be unstoppable – both have done everything right except finish in the first four games. Overall, this unit fired a ton of shots and missed the net a bunch more. They played pretty well defensively as well, but the competition will get a lot stiffer very soon.

DEFENSEMEN: A. This unit made mistakes the first three games, and many were costly. That really didn’t happen on Saturday. We mentioned Louis and Kuraly and how they will get going eventually, and Louie Belpedio belongs on that list as well. His best hockey is yet to come. Senior Matthew Caito was outstanding, as he shut down seemingly every OSU threat on his watch, and classmate Chris Joyaux is playing some of the best defense of his career right now. Like with the forwards, the process is in place, which is very encouraging, and the opponents will get better from this point forward.

Miami goalie Ryan McKay (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Miami goalie Ryan McKay (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

GOALTENDING: A. Senior Ryan McKay hasn’t played a lot of back-to-back nights, but he shined in this one. He appeared to be screened on the only goal against, and he had to shut down a couple of high-percentage chances, including a breakaway. McKay finished 27 of 28 (.964) on the night and 52-for-55 (.945) on the weekend. This team’s prospects are a lot higher if McKay can continue to play at this level.

LINEUP CHANGES: Senior Michael Mooney was back in at forward on Saturday, replacing junior Devin Loe, who did not have a point in his first three games. On defense, sophomore Scott Dornbrock was scratched for the second time this season, as junior Colin Sullivan returned to the lineup sheet. McKay started for the third straight game.

Analysis: Yeah, it was bad, but it was 1 game

OXFORD, Ohio – Miami has built a reputation for being one of the toughest teams to score on in college hockey.

Providence appears to be the RedHawks’ defensive kryponite.

The Friars beat Miami, 7-3 at Cady Arena on Friday, giving them 14 goals in two games vs. Miami, which likely can’t wait to play anyone else after losing to PC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to end its 2014-15 season.

With the lopsided score, it’s easy to say the defense and goaltending let the RedHawks down, and oh by the way, that’s supposed to be the team’s strength heading into this season, and while that isn’t completely untrue, as much credit belongs to Providence in this game.

The Friars were seemingly able to pick the corner of the net at will, and when they had opportunities, they did not miss.

Maybe it’s just because of the optimism of opening night, but this game seemed more like a team that is better right now played a nearly perfect game than Miami laid an egg on home ice to start 2015-16.

The first and third goals the Friars scored were perfect shots in the corner of the net. The second was on a penalty shot that was awarded even though it didn’t look like PC’s skater had a clear step breakaway.

The RedHawks got back to within one, but Providence put up four more in a row, as Miami sometimes has a tendency of not being able to stop the bleeding in games like this.

Overall this still looks like a good MU team. One loss doesn’t change that, even though it was lopsided, and of course it’s magnified because it was the season opener.

A few other thoughts on the game, trying to stay in line with the insert optimism theme:

– OK, one negative that needs to make it into prose is that Captain Kuraly didn’t play particularly well in this game. Sean looked like he may have been banged up or fighting an illness, as he appeared out of breath at times and hunched over. Defenses will pay much more attention to him this season with Czarnik-Barber-Coleman gone, and the 19-goal scorer from 2014-15 will need to step up if he hopes to match that goal total this season.

– Obviously Jack Roslovic, a first-round draft pick, was studly. He scored the first goal of the season, whipping it jai alai style into the net off a power play centering feed. Clearly Roslovic is going to be an offensive beast this season.

Miami's Jack Roslovic.

Miami’s Jack Roslovic.

– There’s a ton to like about Josh Melnick, who may have been better than Roslovic in this game. Melnick set up the Roslovic goal, scored one of his own and made a couple of great plays on the penalty kill. It speaks volumes about how much confidence Coach Enrico Blasi has in him that he’s on the first power play and first PK unit. From a purely Miami hockey fan perspective, Melnick not being drafted means he will likely spend four years in Oxford, and that will be fun.

– None of the other freshmen forwards stood out, bad or good. That’s OK. It was their first game. The chemistry will come. None looked lost on the ice. Roslovic and Melnick will obviously make up some of the void left by the departing forwards, and in theory the veteran defense and goaltending should make these players’ transitions easier, as the coaches can concentrate on helping develop them, and the team shouldn’t need to score as much to win. Friday didn’t exactly advance that theory, though.

It a tough way to start the season, but it was only one game. Time to move on. Some good things happened Friday, and it will get better.

GRADES

FORWARDS: B. It was a pretty good night for this group. Melnick was awesome, Roslovic is going to be excellent, and senior Alex Gacek and junior Devin Loe also played really well. The latter two are what Miami needs: Veteran players who weren’t studs to step up. Gacek played his best hockey the second half of last year, and Loe has looked very good at times when given the opportunity, and with a short stash of reserves, he should have a chance to earn plenty of ice time this season.

DEFENSE: C-. As usual, this is the hardest area to grade, and with the lamp getting lit seven times, it makes it tougher to grade higher. Freshman Grant Hutton did some really good things and looks like he has a lot of potential, but he also let a player cut in for the breakaway on which he was called for the penalty shot that resulted in the second PC goal. He allowed another player to cut in for an odd-man chance later in the game. But he looks big, strong, smart and agile for his size, and he should turn into a solid defenseman. Colin Sullivan’s goal was a thing of beauty, which gets the grade above the ‘D’ range.

GOALTENDING: D. Like we said, Goals 1 and 3 for PC were just wired. The second goal was a penalty shot, and except for a big rebounds, Providence had very good looks on the rest and did not miss. Not a fan of ever allowed a goalie to give up seven, whether it’s his fault or not, so it would’ve been nice to see him lifted earlier to his confidence doesn’t take a bigger hit. Ryan McKay stopped one shot in relief and will almost certainly start the series finale.

LINEUP: The odd men out for this game were forwards Andrew Schmit and Justin Greenberg, and defenseman Chris Joyaux. Greenberg is banged up, and we’ll see how the defense is handled moving forward. Joyaux played well at the end of 2014-15, so we’ll see how much patience Blasi is going to have with Hutton. Knowing Blasi, he’ll probably rotate which blueliner sits, with Louie Belpedio, Matthew Caito and Taylor Richart likely being the three with job security at this point.

2015-16 Miami season preview

Miami lost 10 players from its NCHC Tournament championship team in 2014-15, including its top three points producers, but six regulars on defense plus both goalies return this fall as the RedHawks chase their 10th NCAA Tournament berth in 11 years.

So with the loss of Austin Czarnik, Blake Coleman and Riley Barber plus others up front, Miami will need more offensive production out of its returning forwards and its newbies.

The RedHawks entering the NCAA Tournament as the top seed in the Northeast Region last season but lost in the opening round, 7-5 to Providence. Miami hosts the Friars this weekend to open 2015-16.

The Blog of Brotherhood takes a look at this season’s RedHawks by position.

FORWARDS

Czarnik, Barber and Coleman netted 49 of the team’s 130 goals and finished with 45, 40 and 37 points, respectively, and are all in the pros this fall.

Senior Sean Kuraly is the returning leading goal scorer with 19 goals and 10 assists last season. He was also named team captain this off-season, taking over the reins from Czarnik, who had held that post for two years.

Sean Kuraly.

Sean Kuraly.

“Huge honor,” Kuraly said. “It’s not just given away, I think it’s something that’s earned, and obviously it’s a great honor for me to wear that (‘C’), it’s not something that I take lightly, I know it comes with a lot of responsibility.”

Kuraly is the first son a former player, as his father, Rick Kuraly, is the team’s all-time leading scorer with 101 career goals. Sean Kuraly has 37 in three seasons and needs 65 to top his dad.

“I’m going for 70,” Sean Kuraly said.

Junior Anthony Louis finished with 36 points last season, fourth on the team and tops among all RedHawks back this fall. His 27 assists were second on the team.

After that, the dropoff is substantial, as seniors Alex Gacek and Kevin Morris both went 5-9-14 in 2014-15.

However, Gacek played the best hockey of his RedHawks career the second half of last season and has become a strong defensive forward. Morris also plays good defense and scored all of his goals on the power play, finishing plus-6.

Junior Justin Greenberg, senior Andrew Schmit and sophomore Conor Lemirande also logged significant minutes last season, but Devin Loe and Michael Mooney – who combined to play 21 games – are the only other returning forwards that saw the ice last season.

Jack Roslovic is the team’s top incoming forward. The former U.S. National Development standout, who played on that team’s top line last season, was drafted in the first round, 25th overall by Winnipeg in this summer’s NHL draft. He has two assists in the exhibition last weekend.

Ryan Siroky, Zach LaValle, Josh Melnick and Kiefer Sherwood are the other freshmen forwards. Melnick found the net vs. Western Ontario on Saturday.

“I think every so often we go through a transition where we lose some real good guys, and you have to allow the young guys that you’ve brought in, to trust them and to allow them to grow into those roles, and we feel like we’ve done that,” Blasi said. “Those guys have to step up and play their role, and it might take a little time, but this isn’t anything that we haven’t been through before. Everyone wanted to question when Ryan Jones and Nate Davis left, and Andy Greene, and then everyone wanted to question when (Andy) Miele and (Carter) Camper and (Pat) Cannone) and Reilly Smith left, and I get it. But that’s what we’re paid to do is bring in guys that can play.”

With only nine returning forwards from last season and Roslovic a near lock to dress every night, the new forwards should have plenty of opportunity to his the ice.

“Obviously I think we have a lot coming in, but Czarnik, Barber, Coleman, (Cody Murphy, Alex Wideman), it’s a lot to replace, so we’re going to have to prove that we can score some goals, step up,” Sean Kuraly said. “I think we’re going to be relying a lot on our senior goalies and basically senior defensemen. It’s going to be a learning curve for sure, but I think the guys have what it takes, and we always replenish what we lose.”

DEFENSEMEN

Miami only lost Ben Paulides from last season’s team on defense, returning six regulars.

“That means we’re going a lot of faith in our defensemen to step up in big situations, and guys are progressing, so with the experience, (this group) should be very good,” senior Matthew Caito said.

The top pairing of Caito and sophomore Louie Belpedio lead this group after ending last season plus-19 and plus-15, respectively.

Matthew Caito (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Matthew Caito (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Caito had a career-best 24 points, including 20 assists, and will move into the top 10 all-time in Miami defensemen scoring this season. His 64 blocks led the team, and he has missed just one game in three years.

Belpedio, the Minnesota Wild’s third-round selection in 2014, posted a team blueliner-high six goals as a freshman, and also added 13 helpers.

Senior Taylor Richart earned most improved player honors, going 1-5-6. Sophomore Scott Dornbrock scored in last week’s exhibition and went 2-6-8 in 2014-15.

Senior Chris Joyaux ended last season with six assists in 38 games, and junior Colin Sullivan was limited to nine games because of an injury and the RedHawks’ team depth, but the former Montréal Canadiens draftee played well when he was in the lineup.

“Really, all year, (the defensemen) were unbelievable in front of me, blocking shots and limiting second and third opportunities, getting pucks out of dangerous areas,” senior goalie Jay Williams said. “We really started firing on all cylinders from a systems standpoint and executing last year, so that was a huge help.

“You’ve all the trust in the world and all the confidence in the world in them. They’re experienced and they know what to do. I would think (goalie) Ryan (McKay) would saw the exact same thing – knowing that they’re going to be there and they’ve got our back.”

The only freshman on the team is Grant Hutton, who is 6-feet-3 and went plus-26 for NAHL champion Janesville in 2014-15.

“That’s the great thing about it, is every day is a competition and guys are always battling for spots, and it helps them get better, which is great,” Caito said. “That’s what we have on D – we’ve got the depth that will make practice very competitive and very fun.”

With only 24 players on the roster this year, Mooney has experience on defense and could jump in there if Miami has injury issues.

“The luxury of having our veteran ‘D’ and goaltenders is nice, and we can focus on the younger guys up front,” Blasi said.

The blueline corps, which found the net just 16 times all of last season, scored three of the team’s six goals in the exhibition.

“It’s the effort to get more pucks on net, and we’re going be moving up in the play a lot more and helping our forwards out on the rush, so that’s how you get three goals, when you’re doing that stuff,” Caito said.

GOALIES

Like the defense corps, Miami has an all-veteran starting corps here.

Williams had his best season as a RedHawk in 2014-15, going 19-8-0 with a 2.04 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. His 38 career wins rank him fifth all-time in Miami history.

Williams also tied a school record with five shutouts.

Williams2

“Jay has been able to grow as a goaltender and as an individual off the ice, and I think all of those things came to fruition for him a year ago,” Blasi said. “He looks great right now, and it’s a tough decision again (who to play), but that’s also something that we want, we want that competition. It brings out the best in all of them.”

McKay, also a senior, went 6-6-1, 3.09 and .898 last season. While his numbers weren’t great, he posted a .946 save percentage as a freshman and has the second-leading save percentage on the school’s all-time leaderboard (.920). He is also fourth in career shutouts with eight.

“Goaltending is difficult, let’s face it,” Blasi said. “You’re under a lot of pressure and sometimes it doesn’t go your way. I thought Ryan, as a young man, matured a great deal for us and obviously for himself. I think he understands what might have gone wrong for him last year, and he’s had a great attitude and he’s worked really hard to get himself back into a spot where he can compete for to be the starter and contribute on our team.”

Williams ended up logging the majority of minutes last season, but both should play a significant amount this year.

“It’s awesome, the two-headed monster has always been key for us, and I know both guys are going to step up for us and have great years,” Caito said.

Those two should eat up all of the minutes in net for the RedHawks, and freshman Evan McCarthy will serve as the team’s third goalie. McCarthy, who is expected to compete for playing time next season, went 9-8-3.05 for NAHL Kenai Valley in 2014-15.

“Obviously it was a good year – I think the most important thing is our success as a team,” Williams said. “It was pretty exciting to be able to win the NCHC. Things obviously didn’t work out in the end, but looking at the whole body of work and the guys we have coming back, I think we have a lot to be excited about to build on to get this year started right away.”

#10 Miami v. #7 Providence

Yep.

We’re back. And, we are the three best friends any Miami hockey fan could ever have as the Tremendous Trio of John, Mike and Doug will conspire to bring you even better coverage this year than in past years.

But, more on that later. Enough of the offseason previews and fancy media day pressers. It’s time for the first weekly preview of the season and we couldn’t be happier.

When we last saw you, Miami, minus it’s top two goal scorers, played a first round NCAA tournament game against eventual national champion, Providence. Well, those two goal scorers have since moved on, so once again, Miami will face Providence without its top two goal scorers from a season ago.

For Miami, it was heartbreak as the RedHawks fought back from a 6-2 deficit to make it a 6-5 game on the strength of three extra-attacker goals.

Then, this happened.

And, you really felt like Miami would find a way to tie the game. Alas, Providence finally found an empty-net goal and won the game 7-5 en route to the program’s first national championship.

But, this is a new season and both squads will line up differently than they did in March.

Providence

One of these days Miami will pose for a picture like this. (Maddie Meyer)

Last season’s Providence Friars were built from the net out as they relied heavily on their goaltender and an impressive group of blueliners. Lost among all that defense was a solid, if unspectacular, group of forwards with the talent to put enough pucks in nets. That squad engineered a four-game winning streak at precisely the right time that included victories over three consecutive NCHC squads — Miami, Denver and Omaha — en route to a championship win over fellow Hockey East foe Boston University.

This season, Providence returns 19 letter-winners including a group of experienced forwards looking to end their college careers with back-to-back national titles including last season’s top scorer Nick Saracino (14-24-38) who contributed two assists in the win over Miami. In addition, Trevor Mingoia (15-16-31) and Brandon Tanev (10-13-23) who both contributed 1-1-2 in the 7-5 win return as do Mark Jankowski (8-19-27) and the top scorer from the blueline Tom Parisi (5-19-24). In short, the Friars are loaded with veteran talent looking to prove that last season’s improbable run to a national title was no fluke.

The only real question mark for Providence is in net where two juniors, Brendan Leahy and Nick Ellis, along with freshman Hayden Hawkey (I swear I did not make that up) will vie to fill the vacancy created by Gillies’ early departure. Last season, the two of them played a combined 193 minutes with Ellis getting 189 of them meaning the Friars are extremely inexperienced in net. It would seem that the race for the starting goaltender job is wide open.

During his weekly press conference, Miami head coach Enrico Blasi talked about the challenge of facing the Friars.

“Everything that they do is a challenge (to play against),” Blasi said. “They’re well coached…they have a D-corps that is very mobile and veteran, they have forwards that have contributed to their national championship run that are back, high-end forwards – their power play is very good, so we’re going to make sure that we stay out of the box. We’re going to have to play good team defense, and they do a real good job in transition. They’re as good as anybody that we’re going to see all year, and we’ve got to be ready for them.”

Miami

Miami would love to “sing a song” again this season. (Jim Rosvold)

Considering the challenge in facing the defending national champions and the team that just ended your season, Miami senior netminder Jay Williams had this to say about the need for additional motivation for the season’s opening weekend.

“Absolutely not,” Williams said. “But at the same time it’s important that we not over-hype it and approach it like we have every day and be consistent and not let the emotions take over too much. Because then you become a bit of a wild card. But certainly we’re excited to play them.”

Predicted to finish third and sixth this season by USCHO writers Matthew Semisch and Candace Horgan respectively, and fifth by the media’s preseason poll, Miami enters the 2015-16 season looking to replace its top two goal scorers (Blake Coleman, Riley Barber) and its captain, Austin Czarnik from a squad that finished second in the NCHC and claimed the conference’s second-ever tournament championship on the strength of victories over Denver and St. Cloud en route to a #1 seed in the national tournament. In fact, Miami must replace five of its top nine scorers from a year ago. You can read more about Miami’s roster makeover from BOB’s John Lachmann here.

Senior captain Sean Kuraly netted a career-high 19 goals last season, and along with junior Anthony Louis, will be expected to carry the offensive load while a large class of freshmen forwards including first round NHL draft pick Jack Roslovic (Winnipeg) adjust to the college game. In net, seniors Jay Williams and Ryan McKay are back for one more season of “goalie

Jack Roslovic is an Ohio native and first round draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets. (Miami Athletics)

Jack Roslovic is an Ohio native and first round draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets. (Miami Athletics)

carousel” as it’s anybody’s guess if one or the other will seize the bulk of the playing time. In fact, in last weekend’s opening 6-1 exhibition victory over Western Ontario, the two seniors split 60 minutes about as evenly as they possibly could with Williams surrendering the only goal against on the evening.

“This is the national champion from a year ago, but at the same time we’ve got a lot we’ve got to work on,” Blasi said. “Providence, although they have a lot of guys coming back, they have some different looks. For us, for our culture and the way we develop, and the way we try to educate our players, is you have get up for every game in college hockey. Providence happens to be our first opponent, and we’re thrilled that we’re coming, and we’ve got a lot of respect for them and their coaching staff.”

“We want to play the best, and Providence is certainly the defending national champions and they have a lot of weapons,” Blasi said. “We’ve got to be ready and we’ve got to prepare well during the week.”

The Prediction

This is a difficult series to pick because while we know Miami will be leaning on its defense and veteran goaltending, we simply do not know a lot about the newcomers and the lack of roster depth is concerning. That’s not to say there won’t be roster battles as there will be a few skaters sitting each weekend, but with only 24 skaters on the roster it’s more important than ever that the coaching staff dresses the right guys every night.

Considering the emotional way Miami’s season ended a year ago, and the need to prove themselves early in the year, I’ll pick a split, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Providence get a sweep as they return so much from last year’s title team.

Both games can be heard via TuneIn Radio and seen via the NCHC.tv package. Greg Waddell (PxP) and Drew Davis (analysis) return to call all the action.

From the League Office

• After NCHC teams went 6-1 in exhibition games last weekend (Omaha didn’t play), all eight NCHC teams open the 2015-16 regular season this weekend with non-conference games. Two series feature a pair of top-10 teams as No. 11/10 Miami hosts defending national champion and No. 7/7 Providence for two games, while No. 10/11 Omaha travels to No. 6/9 Minnesota State for two games. The Friars eliminated Miami from the NCAA Tournament last season while the two Mavericks also opened last season against each other, splitting two games in Omaha.

• Two other NCHC teams are traveling to opposite ends of the country to open the season at tournaments. No. 4/4 North Dakota drops the puck on 2015-16 at the Ice Breaker Tournament in Portland, Maine, while No. 17 St. Cloud State begins at the Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage, Alaska.

  • UND officially begins the Brad Berry era on Friday as he begins his first season at the helm of his alma mater after nine seasons as an assistant coach at UND. He is the only new head coach in NCAA men’s hockey (D-I) this season.

• St. Cloud State senior forward Kalle Kossila is the active career leader in points in the NCHC with 99 and sixth among active NCAA players. His 65 career assists are second among active NCAA players.

• Omaha returns 91.4 percent of its goal-scoring from last season and 90.1 percent of its points from a year ago, both of which are the highest percentage of any NCAA team this season. 

• Omaha junior forward Austin Ortega, who set the NCAA single-season record with 11 game-winning goals last season, is the active NCAA leader in career game-winners with 12. Miami senior forward Sean Kuraly is tied for second among active players with 11 career game-winning tallies. 

• North Dakota senior forward Drake Caggiula has played in 123 career games, the most of any active NCAA player. Miami senior defenseman Matthew Caito and Denver seniors Nolan Zajac and Gabe Levin have all played in 119 career games, which is tied for third among active players.

• NCHC teams have a combined 44 NHL Draft picks on their rosters.

•  In the NCHC Preseason Poll, Minnesota Duluth was picked as the favorite to capture the Penrose Cup, earning 17 of 30 first-place votes. UND, the defending Penrose Cup champions, Denver and Miami also received first-place votes in the poll.

Top 10 stats to track 2015-16

For the stats geek of any team and in any sport, it’s fun to watch players vault themselves onto all-time team leaderboards

With the success of the Miami hockey program the past decade, many skaters and goalies have muscled up the ranks in numerous categories.

The Blog of Brotherhood takes a look at some team and individual numbers to watch 2015-16.

1. Miami’s win total – According to its media guides, Miami has 679 all-time wins and needs 21 to reach 700. The RedHawks have recorded at least that many victories in nine of their last 10 seasons. Coach Enrico Blasi has 351 of those wins, and he has coached the team for 16 of its 37 seasons.

2. Sean Kuraly’s GWGs – Kuraly set a school record in 2014-15 with nine game-winning goals.

Sean Kuraly.

Sean Kuraly (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

He is already in a six-way tie for fifth all-time at Miami with 11 for his career, and he needs just two to move into third on the career leaderboard. Ryan Jones owns to RedHawks’ mark with 21.

3. Jay Williams’ wins – With a breakout 19-win season, Williams is now tied for sixth in the school record book with 36 victories. He needs to just five to crack the top five and is 24 off the Miami mark, held by 2003 graduate David Burleigh (60).

4. Coach Enrico Blasi’s win total – This is now one to watch each year, as Blasi is already 30th in Division I history with 351 wins. Remember that Blasi took over the job at age 27 and won’t turn 44 until next February. With 10 of the school’s 12 NCAA Tournament appearances occurring on his watch, including its only two Frozen Four berths, and nine trips to the NCAAs in the last 10 years, Blasi should remain in Oxford for a long time.

Enrico Blasi.

Enrico Blasi (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

A number of coaches immediately ahead of Blasi are still active, so moving up the ranks the next couple of seasons will be difficult, but he has a legitimate shot at 400 by the end of 2016-17, which is a pretty big milestone in college hockey, especially since teams play just 35-40 games per campaign on average. By the way, Boston College’s Jerry York holds the NCAA record with 984 wins.

5. Anthony Louis points – Miami fans have been spoiled over the past five years with Andy Miele, Carter Camper and Austin Czarnik all posting over 150 career points and shooting into the top 10.

Anthony Louis.

Anthony Louis (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

This is more of a 20-16-17 tracker alert, as Louis will be a junior this fall, but he already has 21 goals and 40 assists for 61 points, and with 36 points last season, he could become the 51st member of the 100-point club. Barring injury and other factors, he could move pretty far up the 100-point club list next season.

6. Matthew Caito defenseman points and assists – The senior has slowly been moving up the ranks, and he is just four out of the top 10 in points by blueliners. He is averaging 20 points a season, and 20 more would give him a career total of 81, placing him eighth in school history for defensemen. His 49 assists have him one out of the top 10 behind Cameron Schilling. If he hits his average of 16 he would also end his career eighth that category among defensemen with 65.

Matthew Caito (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Matthew Caito (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

7. McKay/Williams shutouts – Jay Williams tied a school record with five shutouts in 2014-15, giving him seven for his career, and he is still one behind Ryan McKay for the active lead. McKay has eight and Williams is at seven, ranking fourth and tied for fifth in school history, respectively. The record is held by Connor Knapp (13), and Cody Reichard and Burleigh are tied with 12, so both would have much work to do to move up, but they have had exemplary careers in Oxford and either could challenge the record, especially if one takes over the starting reins exclusively.

Jay Williams.

Jay Williams (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

8. More Jay and McKay – Speaking of goalies, despite an off-year, McKay is second in the qualitative career save percentage category at .920. Williams moved into the top 10 and is sitting at .911, good enough for sixth all-time. Jeff Zatkoff is the RedHawks’ leader at .927.

9. Even more Jay and McKay – And then there’s goals-against average. Williams moved ahead of McKay and into fourth place in this qualitative stat at 2.29 vs. 2.31. Williams has the fourth-best mark in Miami history, McKay is fifth. Connor Knapp holds the school GAA mark at 1.94, and that would take a major effort to topple, even if one started almost every game and went well below 2.00 this season.

10. Caito’s games-played total – Among the seniors at Miami, Caito is the clear leader in games played in his three seasons with 119, having missed just one contest (the 2014-15 opener vs. Bowling Green…Miami lost that game…coincidence?). He needs to play 39 games this season to tie for ninth all-time, and his advancement in this category depends on his continued health and earning the right to dress (a near given to this point with him) as well as the team’s success. Only five Miamians have played 160 career games, but he has a shot to join that exclusive club.