Emily Brustoski | Video Editor
For the first time in five years, Miami hockey opened its season with a sweep. It came in dominant fashion over the University of Alabama-Huntsville via a 5-1 Saturday night win and a 4-0 Sunday afternoon victory.
The RedHawks showed marked improvement in all three zones and couldn’t have started off the 2018-19 season any better, especially after finishing 14-20-5 last season (6-14-4 National Collegiate Hockey Conference).
“I think with everything that’s happened, I thought it was important for our guys to go out there and play well,” head coach Enrico Blasi said. “For the most part, I think they did that, led by our seniors, and everybody else followed suit.”
Over the course of the weekend, it was impossible to tell the difference between the RedHawks’ four seniors and everybody else. Senior co-captain Grant Hutton finished the weekend with three points (1 goal, 2 assists). The defenseman was joined by junior forward Karch Bachman (2g, 1a), graduate transfer defenseman River Rymsha (1g, 2a) and freshman forward Brian Hawkinson (3a) at the top of the stats sheet.
Fourteen of the 21 RedHawks who played this weekend finished with a point, and no one finished with a negative plus/minus. The explosive offensive production was a bright spot for the ’Hawks, who only averaged 2.78 goals last season.
Half of the team’s points last season came from five players, and the strong showing this weekend from both veterans and rookies bodes well for the future success of the program.
“What we want, as coaches, is everybody on point because it makes it real tough for us to pick who’s going to play on the weekend,” Blasi said. “The competition for positions, the competition where guys are forcing each other to be better only elevates everybody’s game.”
No position will be more contested than the spot of starting goaltender. Graduate transfer Jordan Uhelski stopped 17 of the 18 shots he faced on Saturday. Uhelski’s performance paired with long-time starting goaltender Ryan Larkin’s shutout on Sunday showed promise for a RedHawk team that finished with 3.46 average goals allowed last year.
“Feels like the old days when we had goaltenders that could play – a two-headed monster,” Blasi said. “I think the competition is healthy, including in that position.”
In front of the goaltenders, passes were cleaner and communication clearer on Sunday. The Chargers were limited to 11 shots on Sunday after taking 18 on Saturday. And the RedHawks’ put the puck on net 45 times on Sunday, compared to its already impressive 38 shots on Saturday. The day-to-day improvements were what Miami’s coaching staff hoped to see.
“Everything that was supposed to happen, happened in terms of learning to play with each other and stay in the structure and making sure we stay focused in that structure,” Blasi said on Sunday.
Disciplined play was a side-effect of the RedHawks’ structure, as they only spent 10 minutes in the penalty box and benefitted from 23 minutes on the power play. The man-advantage went 2-for-11 on the weekend, while the penalty kill finished 5-for-5.
“I thought the power play was good, we had some good chances. A lot better, a lot more deliberate,” Blasi said on Sunday.
The NCHC recognized the RedHawks’ all-around success over the weekend, naming Rymsha NCHC Defenseman of the Week and Larkin NCHC Goaltender of the Week.
“It was great,” Rymsha said. “Everyone’s working really hard. Two months, no games, just battling against each other, and having the success that we did, it’s really exciting and it’s promising for what’s going to come ahead.”