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What snapped the streak: The intangibles

Emily Brustoski - Video Editor
Emily Brustoski - Video Editor

A new pregame playlist. Purple nail polish. Sticks in trash cans. Shorter hair. Longer hair. Josh Melnick on top of the net. A tennis ball scrimmage. The song "Donald Trump" by Mac Miller.

"Guys are willing to do whatever it takes to get things figured out," senior defenseman Grant Hutton says.

The game of hockey is more nuanced than scoring the first goal, killing penalties and a goaltender standing on his head. Last Saturday night, statlines and all the intangibles converged for a much-needed victory for Miami hockey.

"Whatever happened on Saturday, guys need to keep doing what they're doing because we needed the win and we got it," Hutton says.

The RedHawks needed a win to snap a nine-game losing streak and a 15-game winless streak. They got it by way of a 4-2 victory over the University of Nebraska Omaha.

Saturday marked the latest episode in an unusual saga - the last time Miami hockey had been winless for more than 15 games in a row was during the 1990-91 season. The preparation was equally unconventional.

It started with a new pregame playlist.

Senior defenseman River Rymsha, a graduate transfer who played the last four seasons at Dartmouth, has been the RedHawks' DJ since last summer.

"I remember the beginning of the year, before the season started, no one really wanted to play music, so I said, 'I'll play some music,'" Rymsha says. "I guess the guys liked it, and the rest is history."

Hutton remembers he liked Rymsha's confidence. The guys like that Rymsha takes requests.

Pre-practice playlists are often lighter, and usually have country songs on them. Pregame playlists are more intense, featuring EDM and rap songs. Saturday's playlist was brand-new.

"I didn't know a single song on the playlist, but we all liked it, so we're going with it," Hutton says.

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Then came the pregame speeches.

Head coach Enrico Blasi doesn't sleep between Thursday and Saturday nights. He sneaks hour-long naps in every couple of hours, and thinks about what it takes to win, how to avoid another loss and how to talk to his team.

"You're always looking to say it a different way, but the message is always the same," Blasi says.

So, he said much of the same on Saturday: "Play the right way. Play as a team. Focus on the process. Pay attention to details. Win your battles."

Each week, Blasi addresses the team an hour and a half before puck drop. Then Human Performance and Wellness coach Ben Eaves says a few words, and the team scatters to finish their pregame rituals.

On Saturday, Hutton put on his gear left to right, as he always has.

Rymsha laced his feet into his skates, covering up the purple nail polish on his right, big toenail. He borrows the superstition from his dad, who used to play professional hockey.

Andy Rymsha had been struggling when he went to the nail salon with River's mom and spontaneously asked for his right, big toenail to be painted purple. The nail polish pulled Andy out of his slump, and River's been using the same trick since he was 13.

"It usually only comes out once a year," Rymsha says. "It's always purple."

Other RedHawks have their own variation of purple nail polish.

Junior goaltender Ryan Larkin's superstition is to never change his routine: Sit behind the net and visualize the game before warmups. Listen to music. Don't talk to anyone.

Other players tape their sticks differently. Some put their sticks in trash cans in hopes of scoring "dirty" goals. Senior forward Josh Melnick refuses to cut his hair during the season, even though it curls well below his helmet. Hutton finally cut his last week.

"I wasn't going to [cut it], but then we didn't win for like five weeks," Hutton says. "So I said, 'I'm cutting it.' And we won."

Though they have opposing beliefs about haircuts, co-captains Melnick and Hutton share a similar warmup pattern, one they shared Saturday.

An injury sidelined "Melly" for much of the losing streak, though he returned to his team when it had lost six in a row. Hutton was happy to have his warm-up partner back, and the RedHawks welcomed the return of the player who completes the 'Hawks' pre-puck drop ritual.

The Brotherhood always swarms the net before puck drop and Melnick always jumps up to lay across the back, giving the last pregame speech, trying to inspire his team.

His fourth pregame speech after injury came on Saturday.

"Especially when we're going through tough times, like we have for the past month or so, it's good to think about each other and why we're actually playing the game," Larkin says. "Melly is always good about, 'Play for the guy next to you.'"

Melnick was asking his team for the same energy Blasi had tried to inspire on Jan. 21.

On that Monday, Blasi asked the team to put their sticks at center ice, and had junior forward Gordie Green blindly move sticks to either side, picking teams for a scrimmage.

Once players had found their sticks and donned the appropriate red or white jersey, "puck drop" came from former player Bryce Hatten, who released a tennis ball to begin play.

Every team doesn't need the "tennis ball scrimmage," but Blasi knew it was time when his team had lost four games in a row and gone winless for 10.

"The 'have fun' Monday is sometimes when you're in a little bit of a hole," Blasi says. "You don't want the guys to not be happy and having fun when they come to the rink."

On that Monday, smiles and laughter filled the Steve "Coach" Cady Arena after ridiculous goal celebrations during the hour-long game.

"Obviously," Blasi said, smiling wryly, "It didn't work because we lost two games that weekend."

And they lost five more after that.

But last Saturday, the pregame playlists, speeches, purple nail polish, haircuts and lack thereof paired with hard work to culminate in a victory.

"You're not just going to get lucky, just to get lucky," Hutton says. "You're going to have to earn it."

And after 15 games without a win, Rymsha blasted the RedHawks' victory song, "Donald Trump" by Mac Miller.

simansec@miamioh.edu

@EmilySimanskis

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