Tom Downey, Columnist

No one can deny that the Miami University hockey team lost a lot of talent and production after last season.

It lost one of the best players in college hockey in Reilly Smith, who joined the NHL’s Dallas Stars. He accounted for nearly a fourth of the ‘Hawks goals last season.

It lost two of the best goalies in Miami history in Connor Knapp and Cody Reichard.

The Red and White lost their top two defensemen in Will Weber and Chris Wideman.

The RedHawks also lost senior leaders. Guys like Alden Hirschfeld, Reichard, Weber and the rest of the seniors that made up one of the greatest hockey classes in Miami history will be missed on the ice as well as in the locker room. The team lost players like Matt Tomassoni, Patrick Tiesling and Cameron Schilling; they were never needed to put up huge stats, but did the little things right.

Despite all the personnel losses, the cupboard is by no means dry. Head Coach Enrico Blasi has been able to get top-tier talent to come to Oxford year in and year out.

This year’s team will likely rely on an incredibly talented sophomore class as it plays its final season in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. The class is strong as it is, but would have been even stronger had Tyler Biggs not left to begin his NHL career with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Forwards Austin Czarnik, Jimmy Mullin and Alex Wideman are not the biggest guys on the ice, but all three of them have shown a rare talent for making big plays happen.

Blake Coleman returns as the team’s leading goal scorer, with 12 goals. Cody Murphy returned from a nasty leg injury early in the season and showed flashes of his talent. Junior forward Byron Paulazzo will also be counted on to provide some offense.

The team also brought in more offensive talent, most notably freshman forward Riley Barber. Barber was selected in the sixth round of the NHL Entry Draft, adding to the list of current RedHawks who have been drafted.

For the first time in four years, the Red and White will be breaking in a new goalie. Highly touted freshman Ryan McKay will be counted on to fill some rather larger shoes in his first year as a RedHawk.

Miami hockey faithfuls should expect some growing pains this season, as this is a young team with 17 underclassmen and only eight upperclassmen. The Red and White only have five seniors that played last year and four of them are defensemen. Forward Curtis McKenzie and defensemen Joe Hartmann, Garrett Kennedy, Steve Mason and Steven Spinell will have to set up as senior leaders if the ‘Hawks want to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

This team certainly won’t be ranked No. 1 entering the year like it was last year, but that won’t change its goals. As long as Coach Blasi mans the bench for this team, it will continue to shoot for an NCAA title.

RedHawk faithful are still waiting for that first NCAA title, and it will come under Blasi’s leadership. The RedHawks have too much young talent to consider this a rebuilding year, but they are reloading.

By the end of this season, expect them to be firing on all cylinders and being a team that no one wants to face in the post-season.