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Quick thoughts on last night’s season opener

Ok, so it wasn’t a great opener for #10/#11 Miami as they dropped a non-conference game at unranked Bowling Green. Here are a few thoughts on the game. I didn’t have the opportunity to watch the game, but I was able to listen to most of the BG radio call.

1. The lineup – We knew the defense corps would look drastically different, but I did not expect to see regulars Matt Caito (upper body injury) and Matt Joyaux on the bench. That said, we talked about the depth on the blue line this year. They’re not all going to be able to play each night. I don’t know the severity of Caito’s injury, but hopefully he’ll be back in there on Sunday. From what I heard, it sounded like Miami got some physical play out of freshman Scott Dornbrock. Other than that, and the Paulides goal, there wasn’t much said about the Miami D except their continued struggles with the puck in front of their own net.

Up front, Blasi went with the jumbo 4th line last night and not surprisingly, BG head coach Chris Bergeron matched him with his first line including Adam Berkle and Dan DeSalvo. Not sure that’s what we want to see. Unless those guys can skate with first-liners, putting them out there on the road is going to almost always draw the other team’s first line. Blasi will be better suited getting those guys on the ice at home when he has the last change.

2. BG seemed to dictate play – The Falcons seemed hungrier and outworked the RedHawks, something that head coach Enrico Blasi said could happen earlier in the week. But, I think the coach has to be concerned that the overall compete level was not where he wanted it.

3. Ryan McKay was solid – Two power play goals against and a broken play goal that he could do little to stop. Other than that, McKay was really solid last night making 35 saves. It’s a great sign that he’s dialed in early and as Miami improves around him, we could be in for good things from the junior looking to revert to his form from his freshman year.

Enrico Blasi’s Postgame Comments

Here are Miami head coach Enrico Blasi’s short postgame comments in what can only be described as the BG dungeon of a “press room” following last night’s 3-2 loss in the season opener to the Falcons.

#10/#11 Miami v. Bowling Green

Former Miami captain and assistant coach, Chris Bergeron, brings an improving Bowling Green program into the 2014-15 regular season against his alma mater. (photo: Todd Pavlack/Bowling Green Athletics)

With the start of the 2014-15 season just a few days away, hope springs eternal in Bowling Green, Ohio where Miami man, Chris Bergeron, has the Falcon faithful dreaming of an NCAA tournament berth for the first time since 1990. Bergeron, 43, spent four years as a player at Miami in the early ’90s as a teammate of current Miami head coach, Enrico Blasi. Then after several seasons of professional hockey, he gave the program another 10 seasons as an assistant coach before leaving Oxford for the barren wasteland that is Bowling Green before the start of the 2010-11 season.

At Bowling Green, Bergeron has revitalized a once-proud program by guiding them to their first plus .500 season in a decade, and in the now lesser WCHA, has a reasonable chance to take the Falcons into the NCAA tournament. The Falcons finished 2013-14 with a respectable 18-15-6 record and played in the WCHA’s “Final Five” after sweeping a home playoff series against Michigan Tech before falling to eventual Broadmoor Trophy champion, Minnesota State 4-0.

The Series

Over the past decade, this series has belonged to Miami. The RedHawks have dominated the Falcons as the football team has done to them year after year on the gridiron. Yet, because of the former dominance of the BG program in the ’80s and early ’90s, the all-time series still favors Bowling Green 58-46-8 as the Falcons would routinely crush the then Redskins when Miami’s program was just getting started. At the same time, BG was winning national titles coached by legends such as Ron Mason and Jerry York, and was, well, relevant. And, because they showed us no quarter “back in the day,” I have no feelings of remorse reminding everyone that Miami has owned their longtime MAC rivals for the better part of the last decade. While the teams haven’t played since the 2012-13 season, the final season of the now defunct CCHA, Miami is 12-1-1 against the orange and brown in the past 14 and you have to go back to the 2007-08 season to find the Falcons last non shootout victory over the Red and White.

But, this is a new Bowling Green.

The Coach

They’re headed by a Miami man in Chris Bergeron who was a successful college star and helped lead Miami to back-to-back Frozen Four appearances as an assistant. He knows how to coach and he’s successfully turning the BG program. Around? Stay tuned, but they are certainly in a much better place today than how he and former Miami icer Barry Schutte, found them.

The BGSU Ice Rink, est. 1967, has been in need of improvement for years.

The BGSU Ice Rink, est. 1967, has been in need of improvement for years.

Along with more success on the ice, Bergeron has overseen substantial renovations at BGSU Ice Rink including new locker rooms. And, while (thankfully) the old curling parlor is still in use by the BGSU curling team, it has been largely changed over into another skating sheet to help save wear and tear on the main rink.

The Team

As for the team on the ice, Bergeron has nine of his top thirteen scorers returning from last year’s fourth place WCHA squad. Most importantly, both Falcon netminders are back including Tommy Burke who finished 2013-14 with an impressive 14-7-6 record with a 2.43 GAA and .912 save percentage. Burke figures to get the bulk of the work this year with back up Tomas Sholl (4-8, 2.68 GAA and .896 save percentage) relieving him from time to time.

Bowling Green returns their top goal scorer (14) from a year ago in junior Mark Cooper and top points man (32) in senior Dan DeSalvo whom Miami fans should remember from the CCHA. In addition, the Falcons return two other 10 goal scorers and their top returning threat from the blue line is Pierre Luc-Mercier, who just deserved to have his name typed because it’s so cool. Departed are clutch scorer Ryan Carpenter along with top defensive scorer Ralfs Freibergs and Marcus Perrier, but the Falcons appear to have some depth that should worry Miami this weekend.

On the recruiting trail, the Falcons are not loaded with top tier recruits, but have a large freshman class consisting of 10 players who are hoping to make an impact on the college stage. But then again, Miami won with lower-tiered recruits during Bergeron’s time in Oxford as the program has become a destination for the nation’s top junior players. I’m certain Bergeron is getting the type of player that he feels best fits his system as he builds their compete level and a culture of consistency in northwest Ohio.

The RedHawks

When taking about this year’s squad, these previews nearly write themselves.

As you’re well aware, the RedHawks will run out top end forwards Sean Kuraly, Blake Coleman, Riley Barber, Anthony Louis and Austin Czarnik and expect to get bounce-back seasons from junior goaltenders Ryan McKay and Jay Williams. Everyone in RedHawk nation must hope the defense corps will improve with the additions of super Freshman Louie Belpedio and Boston College transfer, junior Colin Sullivan. Returning RedHawks like Matt Caito, Trevor Hamilton and the Joyaux brothers must be improved or Miami will find the going tough once NCHC play begins on Halloween in Duluth.

Looking back at the weekend, some of Miami’s old defensive problems resurfaced in a 3-0 loss to the US Under-18 team and 11-0 thrashing of Simon Fraser (whom the Falcons also defeated 7-2).

The captains.

The captains.

In the exhibition opener, Jay Williams allowed all three goals playing the entire game, but Miami was unable to solve the younglings defense. On that team is incoming Miamian Jack Roslovic who contributed a shot on goal for the Red, White and Blue. Hopefully the US game was just a matter of Miami finding its legs, but the RedHawks have struggled against top-talented teams over the past year and some defensive letdowns were apparent.

 

The Prediction

Overall, Miami is much more talented than the Falcons. However, you know Bowling Green will be fired up to face another out-of-league school who also happens to be a longtime rival in their building on Friday night. I expect a close game with Miami winning 4-3 Friday and then taking it to the Falcons 5-1 on Sunday in Oxford.

Note: This is a Friday/Sunday series with Friday’s game starting at 7:07 PM EST at Bowling Green. Sunday’s affair starts at 5:05 PM at Steve Cady Arena. All games can be seen and/or heard via Miami All Access and you can watch Friday at WCHA.tv (which is a heckuva lot more expensive than the NCHC’s package which also provides superior hockey) and watch Sunday on Time Warner Cable or NCHC.tv.

Miami travels to the Frozen Tundra

Ok, not quite, but after a disastrous weekend in Omaha, Miami is back on the road for their final non-conference weekend of the season as they travel

Bemidji, Minn. is way "up north."

Bemidji, Minn. is way “up north.” (Google)

to Bemidji, Minn. to take on the Beavers of the WCHA.

As we know, Miami turned in one of their worst team performances in recent memory as they were swept out of Omaha last weekend by the Mavericks 6-3 and 3-1.

Nothing seemed to be working for the RedHawks as they suffered from horrific defensive lapses in transition, looked disinterested at times, and the offensive leaders — Austin Czarnik and Riley Barber — were remarkably quiet. In fact, you have to go back to November 8 at St. Cloud to find the last time Barber scored a goal, and Czarnik has only two in that same span.

Needless to say, Miami needs to begin to find their game as they have just one more series (December 6-7 vs. Denver) before the holiday break. The nice thing about this year’s schedule, however, is that Miami has an exhibition game against the US U-18 squad on New Year’s Eve in Oxford that will help them shake off some rust before embarking on play in the season’s second half. Still, after this weekend, Miami will play just three games from December 6 to January 10. And, as an aside, if Miami loses Riley Barber to the US U-20 WJC team again, which is an almost certainty, it doesn’t look likely that he’ll miss any games for the RedHawks while he plays for another gold medal.

The Beavers

Looking at Bemidji State, Miami (7-6-1, 2-4 t5th NCHC) has faced the Beavers (5-7-2, 5-4 2nd WCHA)) six times and has won four of the six matches.

Miami defeated Bemidji State 4-1 in the 2009 national semifinal. (nickgagalis.com)

Of course, none of the meetings was more famous than when the RedHawks defeated Bemidji State 4-1 on April 9, 2009 in Washington D.C. That was Miami’s first ever national semifinal appearance and the victory propelled them to their only national title game appearance where they fell to Boston University in overtime.

Offensively, the Beavers are led by a trio of skaters with 10 points starting with sophomore forward Markus Gerbrandt who is tied for the team lead with 8 goals on the season while junior forward Danny Mattson (2-8-10) is second on the team in helpers. Junior captain Matt Prapavessis (good luck with that one this weekend, Greg) anchors the Beavers’ blue line and leads the team with nine assists.

In net for Bemidji State is junior Andrew Walsh who has started all 14 games this season. He brings a line of 2.82/.907 and one shutout into the weekend and has been a workhorse for the Beavers.

Other skaters to watch include sophomore forward Cory Ward who is tied with Gerbrandt in team goal scoring with eight and sophomore defenseman Graeme McCormack who has a season’s line of 1-7-8 from the blue line.

The RedHawks

For Miami, finding their game this weekend could provide a huge boost as they move back into conference play next weekend at home against Denver. The RedHawks can ill-afford another listless weekend as they get ready for another conference test. If Miami wants to secure home ice advantage in the first round of the NCHC playoffs, they’ll obviously need to get things turned around over the coming weeks.

But, during his weekly press conference, head coach Enrico Blasi was confident suggesting folks not panic not get bent out of shape at the team’s recent struggles. And, for that, we agree completely. This season is far from lost. And, as the Miami program continues to grow, we’re learning every season that it’s not about how well you play in December. It’s about how well you play in March that counts. Let’s hope this team continues to improve throughout the season and saves its best hockey for when it really matters. Said Blasi,

“(We’re) turning the page (on last weekend). (We will) make sure we’re focused on what we do best and get after it. (There’s) no reason to worry about what happened in the past. There’s nothing we can do about it. Nothing has changed in the game plan (and we have to) make sure we’re all in this thing together and focused on what we need to do.”

Looking back at last weekend, and aside from the all-out play of sophomore forward Sean Kuraly, there were few highlights. The defense looked soft and slow-footed and Miami’s offense was settling for shots from the outside rather than getting to the hard areas of the ice where goals are scored. The RedHawks were without junior forward Jimmy Mullin and his return this weekend (if he returns) could help provide a boost of energy that seems needed. In net, things weren’t much better as Jay Williams, starting his first game since November 2, left Friday’s game with an injury (he may have

Sean Kuraly was the best RedHawk on the ice last weekend in Omaha. (Toledo Blade)

taken a skate to the head) and normal Friday starter, Ryan McKay, did not look comfortable in net as he fought the puck all night. And, on Saturday, he wasn’t much better. Though he made 40 saves, McKay appeared to still be fighting the puck.

All in all, let’s chalk last weekend up to a blip that happens to every team during the course of a long season. Hopefully Miami can rediscover its confidence and scoring touch and get back to playing solid team hockey that carried Miami to shutout victories over St. Cloud and Wisconsin earlier this month.

The Prediction

Until Miami shows they’re committed to team defense and two-way hockey, and until the offense starts humming, there’s no way I’m picking a series sweep. That said, I think Miami ends the three-game losing streak, but I’m saying split in Bemidji this weekend.

Greg Waddell will have the call of both games this weekend at Miami All-Access and over the air on AM 1450 and 1490 in the Oxford area.

Miami v. Minnesota State – NCAA Tournament, Round 1

The RedHawks will face the Mavericks of Minnesota State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament

Late last night, the Miami RedHawks (24-11-5) learned their NCAA tournament fate as they received an at-large bid to compete for a national championship in the 2013 NCAA Men’s Hockey Tournament. The RedHawks were seeded second in the Midwest Regional and will face third seeded Minnesota State of the WCHA on Saturday at 5pm EST. The game will be played in Toledo, Ohio at the Huntington Center, home of the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL. This is the eighth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance for Miami, and the 11th in school history. On the other hand, this is just the second appearance all-time for MSU in the national tournament, and first since 2003 when they lost a first round game to Cornell.

Read the rest of this entry

Miami to face Notre Dame in Hockey City Classic

Well, what we’ve known for some time became reality today as Miami, Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Minnesota held a joint press conference at Chicago’s venerable new Soldier Field to announce the inaugural Hockey City Classic. Aside from the egregious ripoff of Detroit’s “Hockeytown” mantra, the name and logo are both serviceable.

The RedHawks will face CCHA rival Notre Dame in the two schools final regular season meeting as conference mates on Sunday, February 17, 2013. As of now, I believe this is technically a home game for Miami as the teams will meet on Friday, February 15 in Oxford, then make the five hour bus trip to the Windy City to complete the two-game CCHA weekend series. This is the first outdoor game in program history for both Miami and Notre Dame.

Last year, Miami went 2-0 against Notre Dame as they swept an important home series by 3-0 and 4-1 scores as the RedHawks were streaking toward the playoffs.

Interestingly, Miami has yet to play a game inside Notre Dame’s new Compton Family Ice Arena which opened last season. Miami’s first trip there will either be a CCHA playoff series at the conclusion of this season, or in the years to come, as a non-conference tilt.

Here’s the full release at the newly redesigned MURedHawks.com (as an aside, the new design is hideous). Miami senior defenseman Steven Spinell was Miami’s player rep at today’s presser.

In the second part of the doubleheader, Wisconsin will meet longtime WCHA rival Minnesota in one of their final regular season clashes before bolting the league for the Big Ten Hockey Conference.

Alabama-Huntsville’s Program in Jeopardy?

College Hockey News is reporting the University of Alabama in Huntsville is in serious discussions about the future of their hockey program which includes the distinct possibility of dropping the sport altogether.

According to various sources, UAH’s athletic budget is under scrutiny and the school needs to raise at least $500,000 per year over the next three years in order to continue to support Division I hockey.

UAH has been without a conference since the demise of College Hockey America following the 2009-10 season and last year played as the only independent program in Division I. Currently, the Chargers are still without conference affiliation and, according to CHN, have not been included in any expansion discussions that have held the college hockey world’s attention this summer.

With athletic budgets under increasing scrutiny across the country, neither Atlantic Hockey, nor the WCHA, seem willing to incur additional expenses to add the Chargers to their conference. This even as the WCHA has been decimated by the departures of seven of their twelve members and has backfilled with leftovers from the CCHA. And, though the NCHC would seem to have no concern over travel costs, their “like-minded” commitments to hockey are probably not a fit for UAH who has been an afterthought throughout the program’s 32 year history.

With just 59 schools sponsoring Division I hockey in 2011, it would be a shame for the sport to lose even one program. However, UAH is the only school south of the Mason-Dixon line playing college hockey at the highest level and they have always been a bit of an outlier. In short, it’s going to be tough for UAH to continue to support the program without a conference home. Here’s hoping either Atlantic Hockey or the WCHA give them a shot.

Bowling Green Close to Accepting WCHA Invite?

Looks like the Bowling Green State University Falcons are inching closer to accepting the WCHA’s invitation to join the conference beginning with the 2013-14 season. Frankly, I’m not sure what the hold-up is.

If the Falcons try to wait out the NCHC for an invite, they could do themselves a disservice by turning off their benefactors with open arms — even if the man behind the invite, WCHA commissioner Bruce “Not Some Kind of Merger” McLeod has made it clear the CCHA teams are now subordinate to the WCHA.

Again, I like that Miami and Bowling Green are conference mates and in-state rivals in every other sport. And, it’s been fun beating up on the Falcons over the past ten years as they’ve ignored their once proud hockey program. But in saying that, I just don’t see what BG provides the NCHC, especially as they offer non-qualifiers, even if Notre Dame declines to join the league and they invite Western Michigan. I think it would be better for the NCHC in the near term to go with seven teams and keep searching for an eighth before I’d invite the Falcons in their present state. That in no way precludes the league from later extending an invitation to Bowling Green should their circumstances dramatically change.

For me, offering NQ’s right now wasn’t a smart move by former Miami captain and assistant coach, Chris Bergeron.

More on WCHA/CCHA Merger

Matt Wellens of the Mining Journal in Marquette, Mich. had a few more tidbits on the invite from the WCHA to the remaining five CCHA schools. Neither Western Michigan nor Bowling Green have accepted the invitation yet and both Lake Superior and Ferris State were, unsurprisingly, asked to update their aging hockey facilities. However, both Alaska-Fairbanks and Lake Superior accepted the WCHA’s invitiation yesterday to join the league starting with the 2013-14 season.

If the NCHC were to add Bowling Green, as much as I think it would be good for Miami, and for the league to have a doormat, it would be quite ironic that these teams would break from their current conference affiliations, finish the work the Big 10 started by destroying the CCHA and add a program like Bowling Green which seems it should be a program these “like-minded” schools wanted to distance themselves from.

If Notre Dame goes independent or to Hockey East I could still support the addition of Western Michigan, but I’m just not certain about Bowling Green. Right now, I don’t see the benefit for the NCHC to do so, and frankly, it seems a bit hypocritical if they were to add the Falcons.

The day the CCHA died

The CCHA was laid to rest today

Though the Big 10 officially announced its intention to start a hockey conference on March 21, 2011, today was the day the patient called the CCHA finally succumbed to its mortal wounds.

The news came earlier this afternoon the CCHA’s left-behinds Bowling Green, Alaska-Fairbanks, Lake Superior, Ferris State and Western Michigan were extended an invitation to join the WCHA beginning with the 2013-14 season. That means, the 40 year old league will in all likelihood conclude play with one final Mason Cup Tournament championship in March 2013.

It appears the only things left in the air are whether Bowling Green and Western Michigan actually accept the WCHA’s invitation. While Western is more likely than Bowling Green to receive an invitation to the newly formed NCHC, neither or both could be invited pending “The Decision” from Notre Dame on where their hockey future lies — with the NCHC, Hockey East or as an independent.

College Hockey News has the latest.