Miami opens its season on Friday, and when it takes the ice it will feature its first defenseman captain since 2012-13 in junior Louie Belpedio.
Belpedio, an assistant last season who netted four goals and dished for 13 assists to lead all RedHawks blueliners in points with 17 last season, is just the second defenseman to hold that title since Cady Arena opened. Steven Spinell (2012-13) is the other).
Captaincy is a cumbersome role at Miami, and the transition was not easy for the past two captains. Austin Czarnik took over in 2013-14 after having never been in that capacity at any level and it took time for him to learn leadership off the ice, and Sean Kuraly earned the ‘C’ in the summer of 2015 but struggled on the ice the first half of last season.
“I think this year is a little different than in years past, with 14 freshmen,” Belpedio said. “For me, a lot of good examples were set by both Austin and Sean that I can take with me into this year and next year so I’ve got to thank those guys for really leading the way and showing me the ropes and what it takes. Those are probably two of the best guys to learn from. But obviously it’s an honor, and you look at the list of guys that have worn the ‘C’ before me, it’s obviously a pretty exciting list, and a lot of them are playing pro hockey right now and I look to follow in their footsteps. But right now, it’s a good personal accomplishment for me, but it comes with a lot of responsibility and I’m ready to take on that role.”
Belpedio said the high number of freshmen could have made his job even more difficult, but the players came in over the summer to work out rather than when school started, making their transition into their first regular season smoother.
“Honestly it hasn’t been to tough so far,” Belpedio said. “Everyone’s bought in and is abiding by what The Brotherhood stands for, and I think that makes it easier on the coaches, myself and even just the team in general. I’ve got to thank those guys for stepping right in and doing what they’re supposed to, and we’ve got (opening) weekend coming up, so it’ll be a big test for us and we can kind of see where we stand.”
Coach Enrico Blasi said that Belpedio having been an assistant last season had aided in his transition to wearing the ‘C’.
“He’s been in that role with other teams and I think his comfort level is pretty good at this point,” Blasi said. “He’s got a good surrounding cast around him, so I think he’s been adjusting well.”
Also earning assistant captain status are senior forward Anthony Louis as well as junior forward Conor Lemirande and sophomores forward Josh Melnick and defenseman Grant Hutton.
“It’s obviously a huge honor and I’m very fortunate to be in that position,” Melnick said. “I’m really not trying to think about it too much, and I’m really not looking to change up anything in terms of play last year. Like I said about Louie, trying to show everyone the way and model the way on the ice and know when there’s a good time to speak my mind and let everyone know. Obviously there’s always a time to lead and a time to follow, so just focusing on that.”
It’s unusual for a sophomore to earn a letter, much less for a team that will have half its team entering their first season in Oxford.
“It was a little overwhelming at first, I think, but from top to bottom, coaches, staff and all the returning guys, we never had any doubts – and still don’t – that we wouldn’t be able to execute this year and play at a high level,” Melnick said. “I think it was really helpful to get the guys in here this summer and get to know them, and we had to establish early what our program was about, and I think we did a pretty good job of that.”
Melnick called Belpedio a great fit for captaincy.
“Throughout the whole spring last season and the summer this year, he’s been a great leader both on and off the ice, showing the new guys the way and pulling everyone along with him as well as saying the right things, keeping high spirits,” Melnick said.
With 14 freshmen, Blasi said the only way to cope with that is for them to play games and gain experience. Opening night is Friday in Providence, which went 1-0-1 against the RedHawks in Oxford last season and knocked them out of the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
“For us it’s about process, and we’ve got to make sure we navigate that process correctly and we’re teaching and yet we’re holding them accountable to a certain standard,” Blasi said. “I think our culture’s in a good place where our older guys have done a nice job of implementing responsibility and that ownership for who we are.”
Blog of Brotherhood takes a quick glance at each position.
First-round pick Jack Roslovic turned pro this off-season after tying for the team lead in points last season with 26 and standout Sean Kuraly graduated, but two of Miami’s other 25-point producers return this fall in Melnick and Louis.
The RedHawks averaged just 2.39 goals per game last season, and although it was an exhibition, MU took a step forward in that department by lighting the lamp eight times vs. Waterloo on Saturday.
“Last year we struggled in that area a little bit, and obviously losing Jack doesn’t help us, but we got off to a great start the other night, and I think it was great to see every line contributing,” Melnick said. “That confidence is something I think we need, and we carried it into practice (this Monday) as well. We’ve had that confidence for the past couple of weeks, so that was definitely a confidence booster as well, and that should help us the next few weeks.”
Melnick did everything at a high level in 2015-16 and went 9-16-25. Kiefer Sherwood, also a sophomore, had an outstanding second half and finished with 11 markers and seven assists and Miami hopefully has a serious scoring duo for the next three seasons.
Louis finished with 11 goals as well in addition to 15 helpers and needs just 13 points to become the next member of the RedHawks’ 100-point club.
No other returning player had more than 10 points last season, although freshman Carson Meyer pumped in 32 goals in his first full season in the USHL in 2015-16 and Karch Bachman, a Florida Panthers draftee, scored twice in the exhibition as well as Alex Alger.
Gordie Green and Willie Knierim are also expected to contrinute right away after successful seasons in Dubuque, with Green playing more of a playmaker role while Knierim is a true freshman wide body who will hopefully continue to get better as he develops into his 6-feet-3 frame.
“I think we’ve got a lot of dynamic forwards, a lot of guys who can make plays and score goals,” Belpedio said. “That opens up the offensive side for us, but at the same time I think the defensive zone is the most important part, and those guys aren’t going to get to use their skills unless we take care of business in our end. Luckily, we’ve got some guys that are two-way and care as much about D as they do offense, so the offense will definitely come.”
Overall Miami has seven newcomers at forward, and add four sophomores for a total of 11 with one year of experience or less.
“We’ve been focusing on finishing in practice and doing everything we can to bear down in those tough areas where we need to bury the puck,” Melnick said. “Just focusing on those scoring habits, and I think our line chemistry is really good right now, so it will be really interesting to see how we do the next couple of weeks.”
Said Blasi: “I like the way we’re balanced – we have a little bit of everything – and we’ve just got to continue to get better.”
Out are standout Matthew Caito and shutdown blueliners Chris Joyaux and Taylor Richart, which means Miami must replace half of its starting D-corps from 2015-16.
But obviously Belpedio will anchor the blue line, and senior Colin Sullivan, junior Scott Dornbrock and Hutton return and should be solid in their end.
Belpedio played 34 of 36 games and went 4-13-17, Dornbrock also logged 34 games and picked up six assists, Hutton dished for five helpers in 35 games and Sullivan scored a goal in 15 contests.
Assuming those four start each night, that leaves two spots for four freshmen.
“I think we’re got a good group of guys to step right in and fill those shoes,” Belpedio said. “This past weekend (in the exhibition vs. Waterloo) everyone got to dress, everyone played really well and it’ll be interesting to see what happens from here on out. But I think we have a strong D-corps, and even though we lost those guys I think we’ve got some good new faces.”
Grant Frederic is one of the favorites to land ample playing time, having captained USHL Green Bay last season. Frederic, a 6-feet-3 St. Louis native whose brother was drafted in the first round by Boston this June, went 2-12-14 with a plus-20 rating for the Gamblers and has a reputation as a big hitter.
Chaz Switzer, Jared Brandt and Bryce Hatten are the other three rookie blueliners. Hatten was injured much of last season and may still need time in 2016-17 to return to 100 percent. Hatten and Switzer are 19 while Brandt turns 21 later this month.
The rawest position for Miami, the four RedHawks goalies have logged a total of nine minutes, and the netminder who did play in a game – Evan McCarthy – is out with an undisclosed injury.
“In terms of goaltenders, it’s such a unique position,” Blasi said. “I think having three freshmen goalies battling it out every night, sometimes it’s nice to see the energy and the commitment and the passion that they have to prove themselves.”
Ryan Larkin played the first two periods of the exhibition, which is interesting because in the past when Miami has had split situations – which it has had most of the past decade – the top two goalies have played 30 minutes each.
Larkin, the cousin of Detroit Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin, was limited to four games last year because of injury and went 3-1-2.13 with a .917 save percentage. He had a .919 save percentage in 2014-15 in his only full season in the USHL.
Chase Munroe stopped all nine shots he faced in the third period on Saturday and finished 19-15-2.22-.912 with Minnesota of the NAHL in 2015-16.
Munroe has plenty of juniors experience, coming to Oxford at age 21 having played three full seasons in the NAHL.
“Obviously on any team, goaltending’s extremely important, like a backbone for a team as a whole,” Belpedio said. “Chase and Ryan are outstanding goaltenders and I think they’ll be able to step right in for us and make an impact immediately.”
The late addition to the team is Andrew Masters, who is also 21 and dominated in the Ontario Junior Hockey League, posting a .934 save percentage last season.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
A look back:
The ‘Cats were picked 7th by media, 6th by coaches in 2010-11 and finished 6th. However, in their 1st round playoff series at home against Bowling Green – who had only won 8 games prior to that series – they were taken down 2-0 in game 2 and 2-1 in a 2OT thriller in game 3, ending NMU’s season early.
Where they stand:
NMU’s Top 3 scorers return as seniors, and one of them, Tyler Gron, was just named to the Preseason All-CCHA 2nd-team. Gron was not named as one of the captains of the team by head coach Walt Kyle (NMU class of 1981), however and those honors go to seniors Justin Florek, Andrew Cherniwchan, and junior Scott Macaulay. Kyle has a rather surprising record of 176-153-39 in his 10 seasons in Marquette, and will likely ride Reid Ellingson as the ‘Cats primary goaltender this year.
A look ahead:
The Wildcats start the season without an exhibition, but with 2 games in the Kohl Center vs. the Wisconsin Badgers. Although the Badgers won’t be there, this will be a small taste of the WCHA, and they’ll get a full dose starting in the newly reconfigured WCHA starting in the 2013-2014 season. A strong start could get this young team (16 underclassmen) on the right track.
Predicted Finish: This year looks to be more of the same from the Wildcats. In the CCHA preseason polls released 9/28, the coaches tabbed NMU at 6th and the Media in a tie for 7th.
With former Miami captain and assistant coach Chris Bergeron taking the reins, last season the Bowling Green State University Falcons finished in the basement of the CCHA winning just three league games and ten overall. However, the ten wins were a dramatic improvement from 2009-10 when they won just five games in an absolutely forgettable season.
With the continued uncertainly surrounding the Falcons once proud hockey program, this off season hasn’t been anything to write home about. And, without a conference affiliation for 2013 and beyond (they have been extended an invitation to join the WCHA but have not yet accepted), the Falcons saw their best player, junior Jordan Samuels-Thomas, transfer to Quinnipiac. Samuels-Thomas led Bowling Green in scoring each of his two seasons in the orange and brown. Sadly, the program once again looks unsteady even with recent improvements made to their home rink and having professed a desire to be included in the new NCHC with MAC brethren Western Michigan and Miami.
The latest rumor surrounding the Falcons was first published by Bruce Ciskie, the voice of the defending champion UMD Bulldogs on his Twitter feed, and then again on his blog. Ciskie is reporting the Falcons have asked the WCHA for more time as they consider the league’s invitation, but that they have met with four Atlantic Hockey schools, Canisius, Mercyhurst, Niagara and Robert Morris, about potentially starting yet another new college hockey league. In addition, the Buffalo Bulls, who currently field a club hockey team, could be convinced to move to Division I, and perhaps even UAH could be included in discussions. If this pans out, this league would actually make a ton of sense for all involved. First, the Falcons would have a far greater chance of competing, the geography and travel would be much better than making trips to Minnesota and Alaska, and it would not only save a program (Alabama-Huntsville), but even add one in the University at Buffalo. More on this as the story develops.
On and off the ice, the story continues to be somewhat bleak as BG lost their best player, then had two incoming freshmen declared non-qualifiers by the NCAA and the recruiting pipeline does not appear to be loaded with top-end talent. But, they do return junior goaltender Andrew Hammond who posted respectable numbers (2.67 GAA, .915) and three of their top five scorers. However, those three combined for just 48 points (Hobey Baker winner Andy Miele had 71 for Miami last season), but it’s something.
Generally speaking, BG’s recent recruiting classes feature kids from second tier junior leagues and do not possess the depth as top tier teams that are pulling the best from the USNTDP, USHL, BCHL and the east coast. Of course Bergeron has been working with the specter of their program folding, marginally renovated facilities and now the problem of not having a conference. Looking at their incoming recruits, at first blush, there doesn’t appear to be a ton in the tank, but hopefully for the Falcons, some of these guys are late bloomers. On the positive side, Bergeron’s first recruiting class seems to have landed more size for the Falcons, which would follow the trend of when he recruited larger players at Miami to fit a tough, physical style that both he and Enrico Blasi utilized successfully behind the RedHawks’ bench.
Overall, I think 2011-12 is going to be another tough season in northwest Ohio.
Ceiling — 9th
Floor — 11th