Enrico Blasi and Bryan Price have more in common than one might think could be shared between a college hockey coach and a Major League Baseball manager.
The most obvious connection? Both are shepherding herds of young players through growing pains they hope will lead to better days. Blasi, Miami’s 19th-year hockey coach, can start gauging his progress this weekend when the RedHawks open the season against Providence at Steve “Coach” Cady Arena in Oxford.
Friday’s game is scheduled to start at 7:35 p.m., Saturday’s at 8 p.m. and Blasi and his RedHawks are ready to play a game after five weeks of practice.
“I think this is a good week for us to be getting a routine,” he said. “I like our energy level. It’s early, so there will be some execution that needs to be cleaned up. They’ve had a good five weeks getting themselves ready to this point. Now we can work on cleaning up some things.”
Blasi goes into his 19th season as Miami’s coach having weathered the worst two-year stretch of his career while trying to develop a combined 20 freshmen. After going 25-14-1 overall and 14-9-1 in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference during the 2014-2015 season, the RedHawks went a combined 24-38-10 and 14-27-7 in the NCHC over the next two seasons.
Last season was a classic example of youthful inconsistency. Miami had stretches of going 3-0-2, 0-7-3 and 5-0-0 before limping home with a 1-12-2 record.
Many of those freshmen now are sophomores (nine) and juniors (six), with one redshirt freshman, 5-foot-11, 181-pound forward Christian Mohs. The roster lists just three seniors – 6-foot, 198-pound defenseman and captain Louie Belpedio, 6-3, 230-pound defenseman Scott Dornbrock and 6-6, 250-pound forward Conor Lemirande. Belpedio is a pre-season All-NCHC pick.
Three juniors are serving as assistant captains – 5-10, 177-pound forward Josh Melnick, 6-foot, 196-pound forward Kiefer Sherwood and 6-3, 208-pound defenseman Grant Hutton. Blasi expects them to help ease the transition of this year’s seven-deep freshman crop.
“When you talk about freshmen coming in, there’s a lot to grasp in terms of systems and the pace of play,” said Blasi, who is 375-268-67 in his career. “How much they can impact the team remains to be seen. The older guys have done a good job of letting them know what they need to know and what they need to come to the rink with. The captains have done a good job letting, not just the freshmen, but the team know what to expect on game day.”
Miami returns 82.4 percent of its goals from last season, led by Sherwood, who tied NCHC Forward of the Year Anthony Louis for the team lead with 14 goals and finished second to Louis with 38 points. Every second of goalkeeper play also returns in the forms of 6-1, 207-pound sophomore Ryan Larkin, who went 8-16-7, and 6-4, 204-pound classmate Chase Munroe, who finished 1-4-0.
This is the third consecutive season Miami and Providence have opened the season against each other. The Friars, 22-12-5 last season, are ranked 11th in the USCHO.com preseason poll and fifth in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine pre-season poll. The RedHawks snapped a six-game losing streak against Providence with a 2-1 win in the second game of last season’s series but trail 5-7-3 in the overall series.
“First and foremost, they’re really good,” Blasi said. “They’re well-coached. Their forward group is intact from a year ago. Their goaltender is back, and they have three returning defensemen who are high level. They won a national championship a few years and come in here with a lot of confidence and experience.
“Our games are always hard battles and played the right way. Providence gets us prepared for what we’ll face in league play.”