Before Miami hockey practice, unintelligible chirps fill the air at Goggin Ice Center. During practice, senior forward Josh Melnick grins when he scores and someone cheers from the blue line. Between drills, senior goaltender Jordan Uhelski throws his head back, laughing. After practice, head coach Enrico Blasi jokes before his first press conference of the 2018-19 hockey season.
Co-captains Melnick and senior defenseman Grant Hutton play with a soccer ball outside the media room as Blasi states the obvious:
“I sense a very enthusiastic, energetic group that likes coming to the rink every day and that makes it fun for all of us. The passion and the love for the game starts to kind of come out a little bit. Then the execution and all those things start to come into play. It’s been a lot of good days.”
Good days are long overdue after a 14-win 2017-18 season marred by a 6-14-4 National Collegiate Hockey Conference record.
But Miami hockey is looking forward to this season.
“I mean, first thing I do is smile thinking about it,” Melnick said, indeed, smiling.
Melnick and his teammates next door in the weight room wear shirts bearing the motto, “Earn the ‘B.’” Earn the Brotherhood.
“I mean, obviously, we haven’t been where we want to be the past few years,” Melnick said. “I think guys know it’s time to get the program back where it needs to be. It’s not necessarily a rebuilding, but just reshaping what the Brotherhood means and making sure we do the right things everyday.”
Melnick, Hutton and the two other seniors welcomed back 15 underclassmen who now share the responsibility of reshaping Miami hockey. And, for only the second and third time at Miami, the RedHawks added two graduate students: defenseman River Rymsha and goaltender Uhelski.
The former Dartmouth College and University of Alabama-Huntsville players bring an appreciation for the Brotherhood and Miami’s facilities – something the team forgets in the heat of defeat.
Rymsha and Uhelski have already matched the energy of this year’s team.
“I think [Rymsha] fits in nicely with the type of characters that we have in our locker room,” Blasi said.
As for Uhelski:
“He’s chirping all the time,” Blasi said, smiling. “He’s chirping me on the ice the other day. I’ve got no idea what he was saying, but I’m like, ‘Are you talking to me?’ And he’s like, “Yeah, you gotta play better defense.’”
Blasi’s laughing now.
“I’m like, ‘I don’t even know what you’re talking about.’ But he’s always involved and he’s getting the guys going.”
First-year associate head coach Peter Mannino and assistant coach Joel Beal are tasked with helping Blasi turn the RedHawks’ energy into productivity. After they finished recruiting for the summer, the coaching staff refocused to avoid a fourth consecutive under .500 season.
“Personally, I had to do a lot of reevaluating this summer and maybe take a step back and just get back to what I believe in as a coach and what I believe in is as a teacher of these young men,” Blasi said. “Just going back to some of those things has been very important to me. Just making sure that we’re inspiring them and developing them.”
There’s still three more days left until Miami open its season and tries to translate its off-ice cohesion into goals and wins. There isn’t a hint of nervousness on and off the ice.
The RedHawks have taken to lingering on the ice after every practice – some take trick shots, some talk with coaches and others tear off helmets and sit on the bench, just talking. The players stay out consistently longer than last season, energized just thinking about this one.
“It’s an opportunity for a fresh start and that’s the most important thing,” Hutton said. “I’ve said it a couple times: it’s exciting. Guys are just excited and we’re ready to get out there and play.”
Ready for a better season and a reason to keep chirping, smiling and laughing.
Correction: This story originally contained incorrect information about 15 newcomers joining the Miami hockey program, and the program trying to avoid a fifth consecutive under .500 season. It was updated for accuracy at 4 p.m. on Oct. 2, 2018.