Restoring tradition: Miami hockey seeks first winning season since 2014-15

Sophomore goaltender Ludvig Persson was Miami's MVP last season as a freshman. The RedHawks open the season Saturday at Ferris State. Miami University Athletics photo
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Sophomore goaltender Ludvig Persson was Miami's MVP last season as a freshman. The RedHawks open the season Saturday at Ferris State. Miami University Athletics photo

Nobody knows better than the folks inside Miami’s ice hockey program that the last few seasons have not lived up to the heritage.

The RedHawks are a combined 13-39-7 overall and 10-33-5 in the National College Hockey Conference going into Chris Bergeron’s third season as coach. They haven’t finished above .500 since the 2014-2015 season.

Bergeron and the holdovers from last season are hoping that an infusion of new blood will help get the program back on the track that led to the 2009 national championship game and a 2010 national semifinal.

“What’s going on here has not been good enough,” Bergeron said during a Monday media session. “We have to change the momentum. For the 18 or 20 guys who are back, it’s been hard to live through the losing. We have to stop the momentum from going the wrong way and start it going the right way.”

The RedHawks hope to start reversing the trend when they open their season Saturday with the first of two weekend games at Ferris State. They also are scheduled to play at Michigan State on Oct. 15-16 before opening their home season on Oct. 22 against Bowling Green.

The 2021-2022 Miami roster includes four freshmen and six transfers, players who haven’t experienced first-hand the struggles of the past few years. The transfers include senior defenseman Will Cullen, who played previously at Bowling Green, and senior forwards Michael Regush from Cornell and Chase Gresock from Merrimack.

“All Regush did at Cornell was win for two years,” Bergeron said. “Cullen was part of a winning team. Gresock was a two-time captain at Merrimack. They bring leadership and expectations. I’m a true believer in leadership and expectations.

“Everybody has higher expectations. Ten new faces have brought a new outlook to the whole thing. The overall energy around the whole team is better. Ten new faces can help that. One-third of our group is new and doesn’t know what the couple of years have looked like. At the same time, people who have been here are saying, ‘What’s going on is not good enough,’ and they want to help turn that around.”

“All of them are great guys,” said sophomore goaltender Ludvig Persson, an NCHC All-Rookie pick who also was named Miami’s Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year after leading all NCHC goalkeepers in save percentage and conference rookie goalkeepers in average goals against. “I really feel like the freshmen and the older guys are taking on a huge part. They bring a lot of energy and are working hard.

“We have a great group of guys. Everybody is contributing to what we want to be and stand for.”

Persson is one of several team award winners returning for Miami. Junior defenseman Alec Captick was last season’s Most Improved Player, senior forward Matt Barry was the Most Outstanding Offensive Player and senior defender Derek Daschke was the Most Outstanding Defensive Player.

Bergeron hopes to take some pressure off Persson in two ways – better defense to help him face fewer shots and more scoring so that giving up a goal isn’t so devastating.

“What we look for from him is to be the best version of himself,” Bergeron said. “He doesn’t have to be Superman or take on the weight of the world. He’s a good player, but he’s one of 30. He’s in a good place, but we need to be better in front of him.

“We need to defend and keep pucks out of our net. We want to play from our net out. I want us to fight for every inch of ice. Those are things we can control. They have nothing to do with our opponent. We can decide to fight for every inch of ice.”

The RedHawks play seven of their first eight games on the road, including encounters with Michigan State on October 15 and October 16 for the first time since the 2012-2013 season. The series is part of a concerted effort on Miami’s part to rein in traveling expenses by trading air travel for bus trips.

“It’s massively important on so many levels to try to bring consistency to that,” Bergeron said of scheduling. “We have not done a good enough job. All you can do is ask and, hopefully, people are willing to play you. We have no problem traveling, but we’re trying to stay closer to home because of the amount of travel in our league. It puts a lot of pressure on our budget, especially post-COVID. It’s something to consider.

“It’ll be nice to play Michigan State again for the first time in a long time. It was once a pretty good rivalry.”