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November 23, 2011 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

The Brotherhood's Youngest

Freshmen Spark RedHawks' Turnaround

by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer

OXFORD, Ohio — Amazing what a long road trip to Fairbanks, Alaska can do.

After winning just two of its first eight games of the season, Miami entered November in last place in the CCHA standings. Nothing — the defense, the offense, or the goaltending — seemed to be working, and the success to which RedHawks fans had become accustomed, with six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, seemed to be fading.

But slowly, beginning with a pair of 2-1 wins at Alaska, things have started to change. Now unbeaten in six, the RedHawks have improved to .500 in overall and league play, and perhaps the key to recent success in Oxford has been a group of freshman forwards — a group that's been forced to mature quickly.

"Every day you're just getting better," said the already media-savvy freshman forward Austin Czarnik on Saturday following the RedHawks' 4-4 tie against Bowling Green. "Guys are working harder and you're building around your lines. We're going to keep plugging away."

Of late, Czarnik, who has four goals and six assists in 13 games, has been centering a line featuring junior sniper Reilly Smith and sophomore power forward Bryan Paulazzo.

Said Czarnik, "It's easy to work around them because they make room for me and I make room for them. You've got [Paulazzo] down low who works really hard who gets the puck to me and Reilly. I think it's worked real well."

But it hasn't just been Czarnik.

Against Bowling Green, Miami coach Enrico Blasi placed one freshman on each of his four forward lines, and during the course of the weekend series, the rookies noticeably skated with poise beyond their years — and, on many occasions, brought the crowd at Goggin Ice Center to its feet with several creative one-on-one rushes up the ice.

Tyler Biggs, Jimmy Mullin, and Blake Coleman have all started to find the scoresheet regularly, with Coleman most noticeably scoring two goals during Friday's 4-0 win against the Falcons.

The freshmen have also followed suit and played better defensively as well — surely encouraged by six upperclassmen defensemen in the lineup each night — and as a result, senior goaltender Cody Reichard has been in net throughout this six game unbeaten streak.

Yes — Reichard with six consecutive starts and the apparent end to the rotation between Reichard and classmate Connor Knapp, who struggled early this season. A Miami goaltender hasn't started six straight games since Jeff Zatkoff did so in the 2007-08 campaign.

On Friday, behind a penalty kill that extended its streak to 27 consecutive penalties killed, Reichard recorded his 11th career shutout, second in school history and just one shy of the RedHawks program record.

"We've gotten back to being the team that we know we can be," said senior forward Alden Hirschfeld. "Hard-working, tenacious, getting pucks deep, going to work. And coming to work in practice every day. Obviously, when you start winning, guys get more confidence, and things start to roll from there. The last few weekends, we've come a long way, and we've been playing well.

Still, the RedHawks remain honest. Having lost the likes of Andy Miele (last year's Hobey winner) and Carter Camper to graduation, Miami has been left to replace a lot of offense. Miele and Camper, after all, had a combined 128 points last season, and this season, the RedHawks have struggled at times just to get pucks on net."

Said Hirschfeld, "We've been scoring more now than we were early on, but at the same time, we're not going to blow teams out. We're not going to score a ton of goals. We're not going to win high scoring games. But we are going to be a tight defense, take care of the puck, and capitalize on our opportunities.

"We'll win games by one or two. We're comfortable with that."

Again, it's perhaps the freshmen who are getting the most comfortable of all. And as a result, against Bowling Green, the RedHawks finally reached the four-goal mark in a CCHA game — not just once, but twice.

"They're talented players, and they've obviously gained some experience here over the last few weeks," said Blasi of his youngest players. "They're starting to feel good about their game. We're going to need everybody in our lineup to contribute, so it's nice to see those guys playing well."

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