It’s been another disappointing start for Miami University hockey in 2022.
This team has talent. It’s also extremely inexperienced. On paper, Miami, a squad that routinely dresses eight or nine first-year players, isn’t likely to compete in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC), which is colloquially known as “Hockey’s SEC.”
One pretty good way to evaluate college hockey matchups on paper is to see how many NHL draft pick skaters each team rosters. Miami has one. The rest of the NCHC? North Dakota has 12, Denver has 11, Minnesota-Duluth 9, and so on. St. Cloud State and Western Michigan each only have four, but they’re ranked No. 3 and No. 14 in the country respectively this week. Colorado College is even with Miami at one, but the Tigers still swept Miami earlier this season.
So yeah, the NCHC is pretty good. Week in and week out, Miami is playing college hockey’s best teams in some of the sport’s most hostile environments. It’s not a recipe for success for these young RedHawks.
But as Miami basketball Coach Travis Steele has said about his own youth-heavy lineup: they’ve got to sink or swim.
So far Miami hockey has done a lot more sinking. They’re 1-6-1 so far in NCHC play. Their one win was an impressive upset of North Dakota on the road at Ralph Engelstad Arena, which boasts one of the most passionate crowds in the sport. It came just one night after Miami lost 7-1 against the same team in the same building.
In those eight conference games, Miami is averaging just 1.5 goals. That’s simply not good enough.
Once again, Miami has leaned heavily on star junior goaltender Ludvig Persson. Persson has been spectacular, save for a few clunker games. Still, his overall stats look good. Miami allows the 10th most shots per game in Division I, so Persson has his work cut out for him every single night.
The RedHawks are third worst in the nation this year with 15.5 penalty minutes per game. They spend nearly a period per game in the box. It’s frustrating to watch their games because it feels like every time they seize a morsel of momentum, someone takes an avoidable penalty, and it’s gone. Fourth-year Head Coach Chris Bergeron’s teams have been more disciplined in the past, and if this year’s RedHawks want to have any chance of competing in the NCHC, they need to chill with the penalties.
It’ll be a tough task for Miami to get itself on track. The team just has so many areas needing improvement. It needs to score more and get scored on less. It needs to take more shots and allow fewer. It needs to take fewer penalties and convert more often on the power play. Maybe, it just needs to find a new conference.
Again, these RedHawks have talent. Their lineup is flush with players who have seen success in the top junior leagues in North America. When they’re at their best, they’re extremely fun to watch. They’ve proven that they can hang with any team in the country. They just haven’t been at their best very often so far.
One good thing (for the RedHawks at least) about the NCHC is that every team makes the playoffs at the end of the season. (This next sentence I’ve written many times in this same context. I figure if I write it enough times, Miami might just eventually prove me right.) If these RedHawks get rolling at the right time, there is no ceiling for where they could go.
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Miami has one more series before the winter break, against St. Cloud State at home next weekend, on Dec. 9 and 10. Once the break is over, the home stretch of the year comes quickly. Miami hockey needs to get rolling eventually, or this will be another lost season.