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In a year like no other, Miami hockey looks for first winning season since 2014-15

<p>Hockey will travel to play Minnesota Duluth again this weekend on Feb. 5 and 6.</p>

Hockey will travel to play Minnesota Duluth again this weekend on Feb. 5 and 6.

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) announced plans in October for a 26-game season for its eight members, including the Miami RedHawks. 

To limit team travel and reduce the chances of exposure to COVID-19, the NCHC decided to play the first 10 games of the season in a bubble-like environment in Omaha, Nebraska. The remaining 16 games will take place at the members’ usual home venues.

Miami head coach Chris Bergeron expressed enthusiasm for the conference’s plan.

“I do think that our league has done a great job of putting this together and having a plan on paper,” he said. “Our guys are excited about that.”

Bergeron enters his second season as head coach feeling more comfortable in his role but acknowledges his program isn’t yet where it needs to be.

Last year, the RedHawks finished 8-21-5. The season was abruptly shut down due to COVID-19 before the postseason began.

“We have a lot of work to do when it comes to on the ice, based on last year,” Bergeron said. “We’re preparing to be a team that’s more difficult to play against on a more consistent basis.”

Miami enters the 2020-21 season relatively inexperienced. It rosters seven freshmen and three new transfers. The team is looking for someone to step up after losing its top contributors, forwards Gordie Green and Karch Bachman, to graduation. 

“We are looking for a group of guys to lead the way, both on the ice and off,” Bergeron said. “If the first couple weeks is any indication, the leadership has been good.”

Up front, the RedHawks return multiple weapons, including senior center Casey Gilling, who scored nine goals and tallied 31 points last year. Ryan Savage is also expected to take a step forward after a freshman season when he put up 14 points in just 29 games.

The team is excited about the contribution they could see from freshman Joe Casetti who put up 19 points in 22 games for the Waterloo Black Hawks of the United States Hockey League (USHL) last year.

On the blue line, Miami will lean on junior Derek Daschke for offensive production after he put up 23 points and played a major role on a power play that ranked 10th in the country in 2019-20. The team also returns senior defenseman — and shot-blocking guru — Rourke Russell.

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In the goal, the RedHawks bring back sophomore Ben Kraws and senior Grant Valentine. The duo will look to improve on 2019-20 seasons that saw each save around 90% of shots that came their way. The team also brings in Swedish freshman Ludvig Person, who was top five in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) in goals-against average and save percentage in 2019-20.

Bergeron is proud of his players for their resilience after the painfully-abrupt end to last season and throughout this odd and uncertain offseason and preseason. 

“I’ve complimented our players more than once on their patience, their willingness to adapt and to change,” Bergeron said. “I’m proud of them for that.” 

The puck will drop on a new RedHawks season Dec. 1 or 2 in Omaha. The official schedule for the conference has not yet been released.