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Miami hockey shows promise with a solid start to the 2023-24 campaign

<p>Miami University hockey won&#x27;t mandate neck guards for players, but the staff has provided them to players and encourages their use.</p>

Miami University hockey won't mandate neck guards for players, but the staff has provided them to players and encourages their use.

For Miami University students and Oxford residents alike, the experience in this tiny college town on the southwest side of Ohio is enhanced when the sports teams are doing well. College football is always a big draw, but there’s something special when the RedHawks hockey program is on the upswing.

The program has left much to be desired as of late, not having recorded a winning season since 2015-16. If that’s not believable, just attend a game and listen to the chorus of ‘boos’ every time head coach Chris Bergeron is introduced over the public address system.

In 2022-23, the RedHawks finished dead last in the NCHC standings with a conference record of 3-18-3 and an overall record of 8-24-4. Everyone surrounding the program, including Bergeron, knew that kind of performance wasn’t acceptable.

Fast forward to the new 2023-24 campaign, and the RedHawks look to be a formidable opponent at home and on the road, sporting a record of 4-3-1 after the first eight games of the year.

Despite two tough losses coming in different fashions to St. Cloud State University over the most recent weekend of hockey, the RedHawks have plenty to be optimistic about early in the season. 

“I think we need to keep perspective here,” Bergeron said. “We’re 4-3-1. We went on the road at a very difficult place to play, where Miami hasn’t had much success over the course of its time in the NCHC. We played close Friday night, and the second half of Saturday night went sideways.”

The Miami hockey team has had many more ups than downs this season. Compared to last season, it looks like a completely different team. 

For example, in the Friday night game against Arizona State University the weekend before Miami played St. Cloud, the RedHawks were down 4-1 in the third period. 

Last season, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see the team fall apart fundamentally and lose any chance at making the game interesting. However, that wasn’t the case that night. 

The RedHawks, who had played a solid game except for a few bad mistakes, battled all the way back. They scored two late goals to tie the game, and sophomore forward Johnny Waldron netted an overtime winner against a ranked opponent. 

Not only was that game a huge testament to the kind of resolve the RedHawks have as a unit, but it also helped solidify that the wins against the Canisius Golden Griffins at home in the second week of the season weren’t a flash in the pan. 

And if it wasn’t for a bad first five minutes of the second period on that Saturday, Miami could have won the second game as well.

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Not only are we seeing the RedHawks take a step forward in terms of the scoreboard, but the way they’re doing it is an essential piece of this puzzle. 

The RedHawks sit last in the NCHC in shots on goal. However, their shooting percentage is third (tied with Western Michigan University) behind the Denver University Pioneers and their upcoming opponent Colorado College. 

Of course, it’s hard to ignore that there might be a bit of luck involved. For the most part, though, the RedHawks have done a fantastic job at creating lanes to the middle of the ice, both through the neutral zone in transition and in the offensive zone when they maintain possession of the puck. 

Naturally, what follows is a slew of high-danger chances and the possibility for juicy rebounds. 

So, while the numbers might indicate that the RedHawks are getting a little lucky, noting where they are taking shots from would suggest that they prioritize quality over quantity. 

Introduce a goaltending tandem with the third-highest save percentage on the second-highest number of shots in the NCHC, along with a power play that seems to be to be more threatening than last season, and there is plenty for fans, coaches and players to like about what they see on the ice.

The 2023-24 NCHC season has just begun, but if the RedHawks can continue to play their style of game, then there’s reason for optimism for this program. The RedHawks next game will be on November 10th against Colorado College.