Miami hockey opens the 2017-18 season at home tonight at 7:35 p.m. with a non-conference game against the No. 5 Providence Friars. The RedHawks look to bounce back from last season’s 9-20-7 record (5-14-5 National Collegiate Hockey Conference) with the help of returning captain senior defenseman Louis Belpedio and seven freshmen.
The RedHawks are optimistic prior to puck drop, as history bodes well for the team that struggled last season. The NCHC preseason poll slated Miami to finish fifth, though the last two times Miami finished seventh or lower in conference standings, it would go on to win a conference title (2005-06) or conference tournament (2015 NCHC) the following year.
“I think it’s been a good week for us being able to get into a routine. I like our energy level,” Head Coach Enrico Blasi said in a press conference on Tuesday. “Obviously, it’s still early so some of our energy level needs to be cleaned up, but for the most part it’s been a good five weeks in terms of getting themselves ready to this point and now we can start working on some things that we can get better at.”
Belpedio was part of the conference tournament championship as a freshman and is a welcome return to the team. Many thought the third-round NHL draft pick would sign with the Minnesota Wild. Only playing 24 games last season due to injury, Belpedio tallied an impressive 17 points. He will be a crucial part of Miami’s defense against the Friars and as a leader to Miami’s still young team.
Nineteen of Miami’s 28 are underclassmen and seven of those 19 will make their college hockey debut tonight at the Steve ‘Coach’ Cady Arena.
“When you talk about freshmen coming in, there’s a lot for them to grasp early on in terms of systems and just the pace of play, so I think they’re adjusting really well,” Blasi said. “In terms of how and how much they’re going to impact our team, that remains to be seen.”
Miami returns 17 letterwinners, 82.4 percent of its goals, 81.7 percent of its points and every minute of goaltending from last year.
Notably, junior forwards Kiefer Sherwood and Josh Melnick lead the returning players in points with 38 and 27 last season, respectively. Sophomore Carson Meyer will look to replicate the success he had from last season with 26 points (10g, 16a) in 32 games. Impressive enough to be drafted in the sixth-round by the Columbus Blue Jackets in last season’s NHL draft.
On defense, the RedHawks will look to junior defenseman Grant Hutton whose nine goals were the most by a defenseman since Alec Martinez also scored nine in the 2007-08 season. Hutton led the Red and White in plus/minus last season and undoubtedly helped sophomore goaltender Ryan Larkin defend the net.
Larkin started 33 of 36 games for the ’Hawks last season, ending with 2.77 goals against average and a .910 save percentage. Larkin helped his team stay competitive last season — 26 of 36 games were decided by two goals or fewer.
“I think our older guys have done a good job of making sure our younger guys understand the standard we come to the rink with,” Blasi said. “From our senior class and our captain Belpedio, to our juniors and the rest of our captains in Melnick and Hutton and Sherwood, I think those guys have done a real nice job of making sure that, not just the freshman, but the team is ready to go for the task on any particular day.”
Opening their season against the Friars has become routine for the RedHawks — this will be the third season in a row the two teams face off to start the hockey season. Last year, the teams split the two-day series in Providence, RI and the year before the ’Hawks lost the two games at home. The Friars have a 7-5-3 series advantage over the RedHawks.
“First and foremost, [Providence] is a really good hockey team. They’re well coached, they’re going to play hard. They’re going to come into here with a lot of confidence, a lot of experience,” Blasi said. “Our games against each other are always hard fought battles and played the right way. That’s part of the reason why we really like Providence because it gets us prepared for what we will expect in our league play.”
Providence was 22-12-5 last season — its fourth consecutive season with 20-plus wins — and 9-7-2 on the road. It was also its fourth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Nineteen players return for the Friars and the RedHawks need to be mindful of four of the Friars’ five top scorers from last season. Senior forward Brian Pinho, junior forward Erik Foley, sophomore forward Josh Wilkins and junior forward Scott Conway all had 12-plus goals last season and will challenge Miami’s defense.
On the other end, Miami’s top forwards look to pass junior goaltender Hayden Hawkey who started all 39 games, had a 2.19 goals against average and a .913 save percentage.
Miami hockey will also honor a former Miami student and Miami hockey manager, Brendan Burke by hosting the You Can Play Series. The initiative’s motto reads “If you can play, you can play,” and advocates for LGBTQ rights in sports. Burke came out as openly gay during his time at Miami and then died tragically in an automobile accident. The RedHawks will wear specially designed jerseys to honor Burke both tonight and tomorrow.
The games can be watched on NCHC TV. Puck drop is at 7:35 p.m. tonight and 8 p.m. tomorrow night.