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RedHawks hockey team hits the road to take on the Pioneers

The Miami RedHawks hockey team is back in action this weekend, facing the No.3 ranked Denver University Pioneers
The Miami RedHawks hockey team is back in action this weekend, facing the No.3 ranked Denver University Pioneers

The Miami University RedHawks hockey team is back in action this weekend, facing the No.3 ranked Denver University Pioneers in another National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) matchup. 

The last time the RedHawks took the ice was against the then-ranked No.16 St. Cloud State University Huskies at home. They lost both games on the weekend, and Miami head coach Chris Bergeron was unhappy with the team’s effort, especially given the team’s efforts in previous series.

“I didn’t think our effort was as good over the course of the six periods as it had been,” Bergeron said. “I’m not sure if we thought, ‘[Vitolins] and [Barbolini] are back so we can take our foot off the gas,’ and sometimes that happens. It’s unfair to those two boys in particular. That wasn’t the intention; that wasn’t the focus of our group.”

The one part of the game that the RedHawks found trouble with that they’ll need to be ready to fix heading into this series is getting more shots on goal and testing goaltenders that may be uncomfortable.

“Overall, our shots on goal are better than they have been in the past,” Bergeron said. “We can still do more, and we still want more. Typically, our shots on goal are based on our effort, our forecheck, our puck play; not necessarily guys not wanting to shoot or guys choosing to pass. Usually, when we’re right with effort and puck play, that leads to more pucks on net.”

First-year defenseman Rihards Simanovičs spoke about what he and the other defensemen in the lineup can do to help contribute to the shots on goal total.

“I would say try to be more poised with the puck and take our chances where we can,” Simanovičs said. “If we have a shooting lane, just get it on net and go from there instead of rimming pucks around too much. Some of those times, I feel like we could try to do something a little more, just try to see where the opportunities are and get the pucks on net when we can.”

But there are other vital areas the RedHawks need to focus on if they want to have a chance at beating one of the best teams in the nation. For starters, they can be smart with the puck on breakouts and in the offensive zone while playing structured through all 60 minutes because of how much the Pioneers possess the puck.

“We have to get out of our own zone,” Bergeron said. “We have to stay above things from a forecheck perspective in the offensive zone, and we have to possess the puck more than we have against this team before. They possess it a bunch, and they make shifts difficult.”

When looking at the Denver roster, there are so many threats through the lineup, and it starts with two junior forwards: Florida Panthers prospect Jack Devine, the third-highest scorer in the nation with 44 points in 30 games, and Philadelphia Flyers prospect Massimo Rizzo, the fourth highest scorer in the nation with 44 points in 28 games.

However, they don’t only receive their offense from those two players. They also find offense through their backend, primarily led by the first-year and top prospect for the 2024 NHL Draft, Zeev Buium.

Through 28 games this season, Buium has 36 points in 28 games played, which is tied for 17th overall in the nation in scoring. He is also second in the country in scoring by a defenseman, behind only Boston University’s Lane Hutson, a sophomore Montreal Canadiens draft pick and teammate of Buium’s at the World Junior Championships, where they won the gold medal for the U.S.

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Bergeron mentioned that this Denver team is a bit younger, but watching out for their older players is essential because winning is ingrained in them.

“The one thing about this year’s Denver team, yes, they’re led by their top people, but they’re a little bit younger,” Bergeron said. “It’s still the Rizzo, [Sean] Behrens, and the older Buium boy; those guys [know] nothing but [winning]. That’s all they’ve done. They won national championships as freshmen, I believe.”

Bergeron expected goaltender Logan Neaton and sophomore forward William Hallen to be back by this upcoming series, which would have been big for a lineup only practicing with 13 forwards. However, neither will be returning, as their injuries are still present. 

Bergeron also provided updates on the longer-term injuries to Michael Feenstra and Frankie Carogioiello.

“No different, unfortunately,” Bergeron said. “Neaton and Hallen I thought would be back this weekend; that’s not the case. Michael Feenstra had surgery, so his season is over, and I think all indications are Frankie [Carogioiello]’s season is over.”

The Pioneers are a lethal offensive team that the RedHawks have struggled against in years prior. However, considering what they could do at home versus the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks, there’s no reason they can’t steal a game on the road.

“We know they’re a good team,” Simanovičs said. “Every team here is good. It’s college hockey; it’s one of the best leagues in the world. And we’re a good team, too. We don’t have to be scared of them. We’re going to go out there and give it 100%, and hopefully, we get the result, and it works out for us.”