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October 14, 2013 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

The Past Influencing the Present

Miami Eyes a Return to the Frozen Four

by Avash Kalra/Senior Writer

Riley Barber scored four goals Saturday against Ohio State as the Red Hawks swept their weekend home-and-home opener.

Riley Barber scored four goals Saturday against Ohio State as the Red Hawks swept their weekend home-and-home opener.

A successful season for Miami last year – by many program’s standards – ended abruptly with two stinging losses in the Red Hawks’ final three games. First, there was a 6-2 loss to Michigan in the CCHA semifinals, a game that spiraled out of control after a rapid four-goal outburst in the second period that chased goaltender Ryan McKay – one half of Miami’s vaunted netminding tandem – from the game.

And then there was a 4-1 defeat at the hands of new NCHC colleague St. Cloud. That game, at the NCAA Midwest Regional last spring, propelled St. Cloud to the Frozen Four.

But perhaps there’s no reason to dwell. After all, for Miami, the doctrine – coach Enrico Blasi’s doctrine – is very much focused on the present tense, with no concerns for phrases like “last year.”

Said Blasi, “Our focus on our program has always been making sure our team is better than it was yesterday. We’re not focused on polls. We do have a saying in our locker room, ‘Leave the program better than you found it.’ We’ll continue to focus on that.

“I think we’re a process oriented program. If you’re going to do that, you’ve got to live it — and living it means focusing on today.”

But the fact is, Miami has been in these moments before – in the NCAA tournament, in the national championship – and has failed to parlay that experience into a better result the following year. Now, entering the 2013-14 campaign, the Red Hawks return a roster most notable more than anything for its youth – with 17 underclassmen compared to just two seniors.

And a large sophomore class in particular, featuring right-winger Riley Barber, defenseman Matthew Caito, and the aforementioned goaltending duo of McKay and Jay Williams, returns with the invaluable experience of, well, losing.

And while normally Blasi shies away from any comments about the past, even he now seems to suggest that, while the Red Hawks are very much focused – always – on the process, the fact is that the present is always, inevitably, influenced by the past.

“There’s no replacing playing games in those kinds of atmospheres,” admits Blasi. “When your blood’s flowing and you know there’s something big on the line. That’s when you grow the most. Our team did that last year.

“Now, a year later, a little bit older, it’s an opportunity for us to take it a step further.”

Does that mean the team is more mature as a result?

“I still think we’re young,” continued Blasi. “Just because we’re a year older – I mean, we’re still sophomore- and junior-oriented. We’ve got two seniors on the team. So, you never know. But I feel good about what we have.”

Those two seniors are Max Cook and Bryon Paulazzo, leaned on certainly to be leaders for the young but talented Red Hawks. The same, certainly, will go for the returning top scorer for Miami and a Hobey Top 10 finalist a season ago, Austin Czarnik.

Czarnik is the captain for the 2013-14 Red Hawks, and he already had a three-assist game — all setting up Riley Barber — in Saturday's win against Ohio State.

“He is the spokesperson for the team,” said Blasi of Czarnik’s added responsibility. “It’s a job. It’s a responsibility that he has that we take very seriously. It’s like another coach. It’s not something that’s a popularity vote. It’s another extension of not only the coaching staff to the players but the players to the coaching staff.

“It’s something that’s very, very important in our locker room. Czarnik will be that guy this year.”

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©2014 Avash Kalra. All Rights Reserved.