Miami hockey off to strong start

Miami University’s men’s ice hockey team is off to its best start since the 2018-2019 season, and coach Chris Bergeron is hoping a weekend off is just what the RedHawks needed to build on it.

Miami is  2-1-1 with a season-opening tie and win over Ferris State followed by a split at University of Massachusetts at Lowell that dropped Lowell to 19th in the United States College Hockey Online poll and 20th in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine rankings.

The RedHawks won, 3-1, on Oct. 7 before losing, 4-2, on Oct. 8.

“I thought the team’s play was good,” Bergeron said. “It was definitely not bad, but it also was definitely not great. We got popped by a really good team that lost on Friday. Instead of gathering ourselves and playing better, we showed our youth and started going the other way.”

The RedHawks are at Canisius for a pair of non-conference games thsi weekend. They return home to meet defending NCAA-champion Denver on Cot. 28-29 in their National Collegiate Hockey Conference opener at Steve Cady Arena.

Denver is ranked fourth in both the United States College Hockey Online and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls.

Miami is coming off a 7-27-2 2021-2022 season and hasn’t finished over .500 since going 25-14-1 in 2014-2015. Bergeron, a former Miami player and assistant coach in his fourth season at the top of the program, brought in 10 new faces – including nine freshmen – in hopes of getting back on the track that produced six NCAA Tournament appearances and consecutive Frozen Four appearances in 2009 and 2010.

“I really like how our  freshmen are looking so far,” senior forward Ryan Savage said. “They keep moving and playing the way ‘Berg’ wants us to play.”

The newcomers supplemented a roster that included seven of Miami’s top 10 scorers from last season, including the first line of juniors Matthew Barbolini and PJ Fletcher and sophomore forward Red Savage – Ryan’s brother. Also back is junior goaltender Ludvig Persson, who returned for his third season in Oxford after setting the program’s single-season saves record a year ago.

Persson’s performance against UMass-Lowell led to him being named the NCHC Goaltender of the Week for a second consecutive week.

Senior forward Joe Cassetti leads the RedHawks with three goals and is tied with freshman forward Max Dukovac for the team lead with five points. Cassetti had a goal and two assists in the Oct. 7 win at Lowell.

“We had a good weekend against a really good team on the road,” Bergeron said. “That’s going to happen in the NCHC. I think, if you look at these four games, we’ve done everything that we wanted to at this point in terms of being put in situations where we’ve been hit in the mouth physically with adversity, and I feel like we’re progressing. I feel positive about where we are right now. It’s all within reach. We hope to get healthier and get people eligible to play.”

The RedHawks were unable to build positively on their 3-1 start to the 2018-2019 season, finishing 11-23-4. Bergeron is hoping that their work during the week off will pay higher dividends.

“The weeks off have always been the same,” he said. “It lets us rest, mentally and physically, and gives us a chance to do things in practice which we don’t always have the chance to do – like training camp things. We can take advantage of the extra practice time that we don’t normally get a chance to do.

“From a positive standpoint, what we think we’ve seen over the last six or seven weeks is a team that gets up and down the ice and a team that is competitive. We’ve been trying to put that type of team together since we’ve been here. Has it been consistent? No. Have we been exposed for having youth and young players in substantive roles? Yes, but we keep raising the bar for ourselves for what we can be or the best version of our team.”

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