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Hockey to be tested in tune-ups vs Canisius: what to watch

<p>Senior forward Joe Cassetti wins a faceoff against a Minnesota-Duluth player last year.</p>

Senior forward Joe Cassetti wins a faceoff against a Minnesota-Duluth player last year.

Miami University hockey heads to beautiful Buffalo, New York this weekend with a chance to keep the good vibes going.

The RedHawks play the Canisius Golden Griffins at the Harborcenter in downtown Buffalo on Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m. You can listen to both games for free on RedHawk Radio.

Fourth-year head coach Chris Bergeron’s squad has had a fast and fun start to the 2022-23 season. They took one-of-two from Ferris State in front of a raucous Cady Arena crowd in the season-opening series, and then split with No. 15 UMass-Lowell the next week.

Spectacular? No. But solid. 

Miami outplayed Ferris State in both games in the opening weekend, even though they could only manage a tie Friday. Plus, a split with Lowell is no small feat — early season road series against ranked opponents are usually not kind to unproven teams like these RedHawks.

Miami hasn’t had a winning season since 2014-15. They’re off to a good start, but this is a big series. They haven’t proven much of anything yet, and 4-1-1 looks a whole lot better than 2-3-1.

What to watch:

Goaltending 

In his two years in Oxford, Ludvig Persson has been Miami’s most reliable player. 

In his first year he was marvelous. Last year, just steady. 

This season, so far, he’s back to his old self. He has a sparkling .938 save percentage through four games, and he looks like he could be one of the best puck stoppers in the country. 

These are important tune up games for Persson, because the National Collegiate Hockey Conference gauntlet starts next weekend, and reigning national champ No. 4 Denver is looming in week one.

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Defense

This RedHawk blue line is fun. It’s a diverse group, and they complement each other well. 

First-years Zane Demsey and Michael Feenstra make crisp passes and use their long reaches well on defense. Senior captain Jack Clement is a big, physical presence and a well-rounded defensive defenseman.

Junior Hampus Rydqvist has consistently produced offense so far, with three assists and twelve shots in four games. Bergeron has trusted Rydqvist as the distributor on his first power play unit, and Hampus has excelled. He also uses his speed and vision to push the puck up ice at even strength.

The RedHawks are at their best when Rydqvist runs free. For that to happen, this weekend and the rest of the season, the defensive specialists have to do their jobs too.

Forwards

Miami struggled to produce offense all of last season. They finished fifth-to-last in the NCAA in shots per game in 2021-22 with 23.9. So far in 2022-23, that hasn’t been the case.

Star sophomore center Red Savage has always been a slick skater with superb stick skills. This year though, he’s been much more creative in the neutral and offensive zones. He looks more confident. He’s shown off a searing slap shot (which he never used last year), and he looks much improved defensively. You better watch him while you can; it’s hard to imagine he won’t jump to the pro ranks next year with how he’s been playing.

Red has been skating on the first line with his brother Ryan, a senior, and PJ Fletcher, a junior. Ryan has a great shot and a nose for the net, and the chemistry between the brothers is obvious. Fletcher is a ferocious forechecker who will go in the corners while the Savages find space.

Senior center Joey Casetti has looked like an offensive force so far, with three goals and two assists in the four games. Junior winger Matt Barbolini flipped a switch at some point last season and has been a new player since. He’s a good penalty killer who can create something from nothing on offense. When he’s at his best, he’s fun to watch.

First-years Max Dukovac and Artur Turansky have made immediate impacts. Dukovac is tied for the team lead in points. William Hallén and Blake Mesenburg, also first-years, have looked solid centering the bottom two lines.

All of these players have laid the foundations for positive seasons so far. It will be crucial for them to continue this against Canisius, because again, Denver is coming.

Wrap-up

On paper, this is Miami’s best team in years. They’re deep up front and seem to have a top six that could produce offense. They have capable puck movers on the back end who will do their best each week to slow down the high-powered offenses of the NCHC. And when you have Ludvig Persson, you have a chance.

One great thing about sports is that each season is a chance to create a new narrative. Miami will look to continue making this one positive this weekend against Canisius.

@jackschmelznger

schmelj2@miamioh.edu

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