Miami Searching for Renewed Identity in Puzzling Season
by Avash Kalra/Senior Writer
The 2013-14 season for the Miami RedHawks started off well enough – early season wins against Ohio State, North Dakota, St. Cloud State, and Wisconsin had many in Oxford, Ohio, expecting what has become the standard for Miami’s program this century, now with at least 23 wins in eight consecutive NCAA-bound seasons.
Some time in November, though, things seemed to change quickly.
Since sophomore goaltender Ryan McKay shut out Wisconsin 2-0 on November 15, the RedHawks have won just three times in a 15-game stretch, plummeting to a tie for last place with Colorado College in the NCHC standings and in need of a magical stretch run – starting this weekend at North Dakota, with eight games to play in the regular season – to keep any NCAA hopes alive.
On paper, the puzzle of this season’s edition of the RedHawks is not easy to solve. After all, beyond their coach – the well-established Enrico Blasi, the winningest coach in program history – Miami boasts two of the top offensive talents in the country. Riley Barber and Austin Czarnik both rank in the top 10 in the nation in scoring, leading an offense that scores over three times per game.
The results, though, haven’t come. In its latest 3-10-2 stretch, Miami has allowed 3.5 goals per game after keeping opponents to just two per contest during the first 11 games of the season.
“It’s not about bounces or anything like that,” explains Blasi. “We need to get better in a lot of areas. We’re slowly trying to do that with a young team and unfortunately sometimes you go through things like that.
“You have to keep fighting.”
Heading into the season, those optimistic for a national title run might have pointed out that Miami didn’t lose a large senior class – but in retrospect, though the Red Hawks didn’t lose much scoring, they lost plenty in experience, especially on the blue line, where defensemen Steven Spinnel, Joe Hartman and Garrett Kennedy played a combined 111 games last season, in their senior years.
And that experience would be invaluable now – with Miami suffering from injuries that has left its lineup somewhat depleted from night to night. Among the walking wounded are Blake Coleman (upper body), Jimmy Mullin (lower body), and defensemen Johnny Wingels and Trevor Hamilton, both of whom are out with reported upper body injuries.
“You have to put things behind you and make sure that you play your game, manage the puck well, take care of the things you can control,” Blasi said.
Miami, for years, has been near the top of the nation in team defense, goaltending, and special teams, especially its penalty kill. This season, despite a pair of talents in sophomores Ryan McKay and Jay Williams – who continue to alternate starts – the results just haven’t come.
A week ago against Western Michigan, McKay was pulled from the first game after allowing three goals in 11 minutes. Williams played the rest of the weekend.
“You have to put things behind you and make sure that you play your game, manage the puck well, take care of the things you can control,” said Blasi, a former National Coach of the Year winner who has taken Miami to two Frozen Fours and a national championship game over the last eight seasons.
“I don’t think [alternating goaltenders] is anything unusual for our team. We’ve done that for a long time, so I don’t think that’s anything to look into – they’re the same as anyone on our team right now. We’ve got to get better in a lot of areas, including the play of our goaltenders and our defensemen and our forwards.”
Whether or not there’s reason for optimism may very well depend on the results in Grand Forks against North Dakota this weekend. On the positive side, heading into the series, Czarnik – along with sophomore Matthew Caito and freshman Anthony Lewis – are on a three-game point streak. And Miami is suddenly converting on 40 percent of its power-play opportunities (6-for-15) over those last three games.
“As long as we can continue to focus on the things that we do well and try to execute, I think good things start to happen,” said Blasi. “I think you have to look at your own team.
"I think we fully understood how hard the new league was going to be on a night to night basis, but any time you graduate a senior class and have new leadership, new young guys come in, you have to find an identity.
“Right now, we’re still in the process of that.”