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MAC Hockey Season Review: Miami RedHawks

The NCAA hockey season is coming to a close, and all three of our teams are done for the season. We look at each of the three teams' seasons as we put a close on what was a fantastic season.

Well, now we continue up the ladder to Miami. The RedHawks lost a lot of talent from last year's team, including Hobey Baker winner Andy Miele, but also brought in a ton of talent via recruiting. Include in the two-headed goalie tandem in 2009 CCHA PotY Cody Reichard and Connor Knapp, and this RedHawk team was predicted to finish in the top 2 by almost every national poll.

It took Miami a bit, but once they found their stride, it seemed like they were that top team everyone thought they were, but nevertheless, they sit now at home while Ferris State and Boston College fight for the national title.

Season Review: Miami started the season ranked #1/#2 in the polls, so it probably is safe to say they started out awful. Like scary awful. They lost 6 of their first 8 games, including 4 CCHA losses. October was not nice to the young RedHawks. They were heavily penalized, and Reichard could do little to weather the storm coming at him.

Then November hit, and it brought a huge breath of fresh air. In 6 conference games, they lost just 3 points (a SO win against UM and a SO loss to BG). Then they even got a nice win against Denver in there too. They went 6-0-2 in November, and things looked like they were back to normal. Reichard won Goalie of the Month, and Reilly Smith was showing his power as a star.

December kind of brought Miami back down to earth, with 2 losses at NMU and then splitting a home-and-home with then top in the conference Ohio State. But whatever Miami did over the winter break, it would sky rocket them back to the top of the nation............

Miami would come out winning 5 of their first 6 games in 2012, including a huge sweep over WMU. They would hit another hiccup in a 4 game span where they won just 1 game (a 6-0 thrashing against NMU), including getting swept by Michigan. Then, they just didn't lose. They won their next 8 games, including their 2nd round match-up against 5-seed Michigan State. In those 8 games, only 1 was decided by 2 or less goals, a 3-1 win over lowly Alabama-Huntsville.

It was Connor Knapp who was leading the RedHawk charge this time though. He was a stone wall, and the RedHawk offense was helping him by scoring almost at will. While BG was doing their thing, this set-up a match-up in Detroit with Western Michigan in the CCHA semi-finals. Western, a team which they demolished in the regular season 4-0 and 3-1. The CCHA title and a 1-seed was all theirs. All they had to do was win............

And then the roof collapsed. Western found the only RedHawk flaw, defense, and pounced on it to the tune of a 6-2 thrashing. Coupled with the UM win over BG (which gave Miami a game against a team not under consideration in the Pairwise), Miami was given the highest 2 seed, and was matched-up with UMass-Lowell out East.

There, they just fell apart early on. The RiverHawks jumped out to a 3-0 lead after 2, before Miami came back to send it to OT, where they were just inches from the Regional Final. Yet, it was UML who score the winner and went on to face Union in the East final (where they would lose). Miami's season was over, and the careers of Reilly Smith, Connor Knapp, and Cody Reichard were over too.

Season Record: 25-15-2
Conference Record: 15-11-2-1 48 pts
Conference Standing: 4th of 11

Departures: Argue with me on this, but I guarantee I'm right on this: The biggest departure(s) for Miami is the goalies. Losing one great goalie but keeping the other is survivable. But losing two, one a CCHA Player of the Year and the other the reigning CCHA Goalie of the Year is just tough. Smith will be missed, but he can be replaced, trust me. Czarnik looks like he will step up and be the next star for the RedHawks.

Recruiting goalies can be hit-and-miss. Look at last year. The top goalie recruit according to INCH was C.J. Motte of Ferris State. Yeah he started out good, but he never gained the starting job and did struggle a bit when he was called upon. Now look at unranked Frank Slubowski of WMU (they only rank 10, so........). He was on CHN's All-Freshman Team. What's even worse is that the 3rd goalie for MU is also a senior. So good luck RedHawk fans.

Other departures include Will Weber (D), Alden Hirschfeld (F), Chris Wideman (D), Cameron Schilling (D), Trent Vogelhuber (F), Patrick Tiesling (F), and Matt Tomassoni (F/D). That's right. That defense is gone as well. Enrico Blasi has a LOT of work to do this off-season to keep this RedHawk squad top of the CCHA.

Key Returnees: Easily Austin Czarnik is the top returnee. As a Freshman he had 37 points and was +25. Now, that could be partly attributed to him being on Smith's line, and Smith scoring 30 goals BUT he still has silky smooth moves and is a rising star on offense. He has the skill set to be the next star.

Along with Czarnik you have to include fellow rookies Blake Coleman and Jimmy Mullin who had a combined 23 goals and 26 assists. That is one scary line if put together with Czarnik (basically, I think Coleman was on the Czarnik and Smith line, but I could be wrong and it could be Mullin).

Tyler Biggs and Curtis McKenzie round out a nice offense that returns next year. The lone defender with serious time is JR Steven Spinell. He will be the leading D-man next year. Joe Hartman played 40 games, but had a lowly +8 +/- and is the only true defensive d-man statistically. After them though it really drops. Ben Paulides only played 23 games, but had a +13.

2012-13 Outlook: Replacing that much defense will be tough. Not only do you lose most of your d corps, but you lose your entire goalie corps? Ouch man. On top of that, Smith's early departure will not help the transition process, and as the only proven goal scorer, his goals are now gone for the young guns.

This team will be YOUNG next year. That doesn't mean they won't have talent. Enrico Blasi is a great coach, and will get players to step up next year to somehow contend for the last Mason Cup before heading into the death trap that is the NCHC.

That said, the way this team struggled early on before Knapp and Smith completely took over worries me. Knapp and Reichard won't be there, so you are basically putting the entire team on a young man's shoulders. If they struggle again early on, it wont be as easy as turning the team over to another Senior, it will be putting the team in a rookie's hands. I think they will be a bit higher than Bowling Green will, only because of their talent. They may finish as low as the 8/9 seed spot, but can top out around the 3-seed next year.