Chris Bergeron enters his third year at the helm of the Miami RedHawks still looking for his first winning season.
It hasn’t been an easy task for Bergeron, taking over a team that finished seventh or lower (of eight) in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) in the the three seasons preceding his hire.
The NCHC is arguably the best conference in Division I hockey. From 2016-2019, four straight NCHC teams won the Division I national championship. Last year, another was the runner-up. Playing perennial powerhouses like North Dakota, Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud, a rebuilding team hardly stands a chance.
But with his third full recruiting class in Oxford, and a team full of bright spots and young talent, a turnaround could be on the horizon.
“The bottom line is that we’ve gotten our rear end kicked for two years, and we need some guys to say ‘ok, that needs to stop.” Bergeron said in an interview with “The Rink Live.”
For many RedHawks, including sophomore goaltender Ludvig Persson, it will be their first time playing in front of fans at Steve “Coach” Cady Arena, since spectators weren’t allowed to attend games last season due to COVID-19.
“I know that the fans in this league can be crazy, so I’m really looking forward to playing in front of fans, especially at home,” Persson said.
The ’Hawks will have to replace some offensive production this season. Forward Casey Gilling, who chipped in for 15 points in 23 games last year, transferred to Minnesota-Duluth, and former captain Phil Knies left for Bentley University after recording nine points in 25 games in 2020-2021.
That said, Miami returns many key contributors. Matt Barry is back after leading the team with 17 points as a junior. Matthew Barbolini had an excellent freshman season with five goals and eight assists. Derek Daschke, a big blueliner and this season’s captain will provide offensive value and help shut down opponents top offensive players.
Arguably the most exciting returner for the RedHawks is Persson. In his freshman season, Persson far outpaced expectations, finishing the campaign with a 2.67 goals against average (GAA) and a 92.5% save percentage. He was in net for all five Miami wins in 2020-21.
The stellar campaign was good enough to earn him a Hoby Baker (the hockey Heisman) nomination last season and a spot as this year’s first team NCHC preseason all-conference goaltender.
Persson has earned high expectations for the 2021-22 season. He tries not to worry about it.
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“I don’t really know,” said Persson, “… Last year, I had a good season, but I just have to work hard. Start from zero again. I always like to compete.”
The RedHawks should also get a boost from one of the most talented recruiting classes in recent history.
Red Savage, captain of the 2020-21 United States U18 team and a recent fourth round pick of the Detroit Red Wings joins his brother Ryan in Oxford. The slick two-way center finished last season with 20 points in 22 United States Hockey League (USHL) Games.
PJ Fletcher, a big forward, comes to Miami after recording 34 points in 44 games as the captain of the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL last season.
Bergeron also brought in an exciting group of transfer players. Michael Regush, a junior center, scored 11 goals and added seven assists in 2019-20 at Cornell. Chase Gresock, a native of Powell, Ohio, finished with 22 points in 28 games in 2019-20 at Merrimack, where he spent his sophomore and junior seasons as the captain.
Will Cullen, a senior defenseman, scored at nearly a point per game pace last season with Bowling Green. And Logan Neaton, a goaltender from UMass-Lowell, will look to reclaim what led the Winnipeg Jets to select him in the fifth round of the 2019 NHL draft after two disappointing seasons with the River Hawks.
The name of the game for Miami this season will be making Persson’s life easier in net. The RedHawks will have to improve their offensive output after scoring less than two goals per game last season and finishing in the bottom-ten of scoring offense among Division I teams.
The defense will also need to be better in front of Persson. Last year, he was facing upwards of 30 shots per night, and once set a Miami record with 55 saves in a loss to Minnesota Duluth.
“We’re going to start from our net out,” said Bergeron. “Ludvig Persson was our most consistent player last year, but we put way too much on his plate … that’s not fair to the kid.”
Bergeron stresses the importance of internal competition and hard work. For him, winning follows good culture. He believes he’s starting to see signs of that in Oxford.
“It’s time for us to be more competitive”
“We want to be a team where … people are going to be like ‘oh shit, we have to play Miami.’ We want to be that team that everyone hates,” Persson said.
The RedHawks hit the ice for the first time on October 2 against Ferris State in Big Rapids, Michigan. After another weekend series at Michigan State, Miami finally returns to Cady Arena for its home opener against cross-state rival Bowling Green on October 22.