Can the RedHawks contend for the National Title without Andy Miele? (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Over these next 3 days we will be previewing the MAC affiliates in college hockey. Part I of our series looks at the Miami RedHawks.
Ah, its that time of year again. The leaves are turning all sorts of colors, the temperatures are getting in the 60's and 50's, and Halloween is just a few weeks away. Nope, I'm not talking about football season, I'm talking hockey. Crazy, I know. The only ice you see is the stuff that you get out of the freezer, but for a handful of schools, its time to sharpen those blades, dust off the Zamboni, and hit the rink. And while the NCAA D-1 season has already started (Lake Superior State went to Alabama-Huntsville and won 3-2 and 2-1 back to back), the MAC schools with hockey start their respective seasons this weekend.
Enough with the lame set-up. They say lead with your best foot forward, and right now there may be no team in the nation better than the Miami RedHawks. Miami comes into the 2011-12 season as the defending CCHA Champs after beating Western Michigan 5-2 in Detroit last year. However, their success quickly faded in the NCAA tournament, when they lost as a #1 seed to host New Hampshire in the first round last year. However, coach Enrico Blasi has the RedHawks again in contention for their first ever National Championship, as we'll see later on with their staff.
Another thing to note about the off-season is the conference shift. After the Big Ten Hockey Conference was announced, Miami joined up with five of the best WCHA teams to create the National (later to be joined by WMU and St Cloud State). This is Miami's 2nd-to-last season in the CCHA, and with all the recent changes, things could get chippy between each of the departing sects.
We look at the RedHawk players after the jump.......
Miami has a monumental task in replaying Hobey Baker award winner Andy Miele this year. The man only averaged a whopping 1.82 points per game, including 1.21 assists per game. Those type of numbers don't exist often in today's game. Miami also loses Carter Camper, a great winger on Miele's line. But they do return Reilly Smith, a great Center, and Hobey Baker candidate. Smith will be in the spotlight on offense now, and should shine great.
As for recruits, I must say with all honesty that I don't follow hockey recruiting. However, all the people that do are raving about this recruiting class for Miami, all around. Enrico Blasi may have lost 2 great players, but he seemed to reload with more good players to learn the ropes.
This is a VERY experienced defensive group. All but two players are seniors or juniors, and the other two are part of that excellent recruiting class. To help with the blue-line groups are two GREAT goalies. If Connor Knapp and Cody Reichard aren't the best 1-2 combo in hockey at the goalie position, I don't know who is. The goalie-by-committee works well for Miami, as both are brick walls. They will have to continue to be top-notch if Miami wants to contend for a National Title
This is a very talented squad. There is youth, but there is great, great experience to learn from. Enrico Blasi has built this program into a feared power. For the CCHA, it's going to be a two-team race for the regular season title between Miami and a Notre Dame team that was very young last year, and still finished 2nd. I think Miami, while they have everything, still probably has too much youth in their 3rd and 4th lines, and their blue-line groups will have more pressure now that Miele isn't flying around the rink and throwing the puck at the net or setting up the play. I see a 2nd place finish for the RedHawks, and a trip to Detroit. As for the NCAA, a Frozen Four trip to Tampa (I don't get it either) should be reachable, but a National Title might have to wait.
Part two tomorrow looks at Bowling Green