Okay, just for a second, forget that the RedHawks ended the 2005-06 season on a two-game downer, with a 2-1 loss to Michigan State in the CCHA championship game and a 5-0 loss to Boston College in the NCAA Northeast Regional semifinal.
And forget that Miami said goodbye to Andy Greene and Matt Davis.
Remember, instead, that Miami is the defending CCHA regular-season champion, having earned that title in the sweetest of all possible ways, a 6-3 Valentine’s Day win over archrival Ohio State.
And remember, too, that the RedHawks return a loaded team, including their goaltending duo of Charlie Effinger and Jeff Zatkoff, who split time in Miami’s net almost equally last season.
Head coach Enrico Blasi — Mr. Spencer Penrose, 2006 — said Effinger and Zatkoff typify what he and his staff are trying to build in Oxford. “Their relationship, as good as it was last year, has become even better. I’m amazed at the type of people they are. They’re the best of friends.
“It’s helped us as a staff, and it’s a great example in the locker room. I feel like a proud father.”
And forget that Blasi is just a shade over 30 … going on Red Berenson.
Blasi, entering his eighth season at Miami, has from the start tried to instill genuine family values in his RedHawks. It’s not just that Blasi, a Miami alum, wants his team to bleed Red and White; he really sees his job as much as mentor, teacher, and it’s a job he takes seriously.
“This is the business that we’re in,” said Blasi. “We’ll take the wins and losses … [but] we want to graduate them. We want them to leave here with a set of values they can take with them for the rest of their lives.”
Blasi is no saint, and Mayberry aside, but this philosophy — coupled with Blasi slow-and-steady approach — is paying off in ways that are tangible on the ice.
The key for the RedHawks is to pick up where they left off last year — well, not right where they left off — and continue to play as a top-tier team, a task that’s proved consistently impossible in the last decade of play for everyone in the league save Michigan and Michigan State, and even they have shown how hard it can be.
“The team is more focused than any team I’ve been around,” said Blasi. “The way they came back in mid-August and the way they’re approaching their daily workouts is very encouraging. Every time we walk into our building right now, you cannot not feel excited.”
It doesn’t hurt that the RedHawks are carrying the 2005-06 regular-season championship into their brand-new, state-of-the-art, $34.8-million, 3,200-seat facility.
Blasi described the Steve Cady Arena in one word, which may also describe Miami’s team this season, before it’s all over: awesome.
The RedHawks have compiled a roster filled with household CCHA names, but one they lost may prove difficult to replace. While Andy Greene was Miami’s third leading scorer and the RedHawks’ best defenseman and all-around player, Blasi said that Greene’s “legacy” was that “Andy Greene did not take a day off.” Greene may be difficult to replace on the ice, but Blasi believes that Greene set an example that all RedHawks can and will follow this year.
In addition to Greene’s lasting gifts, Blasi said the new arena is a hedge against complacency. “Sometimes when you come off a championship season, you get complacent because you forget about the daily grind and you forget about the posse, so to speak. We don’t have to do anything to get that [drive] going because we go there every day.”
Of course, you’re only as good as your last game, and after Miami clinched the regular-season championship, so uncharacteristically early for the CCHA, the RedHawks let down against the very hot Michigan State Spartans, looked okay against Bowling Green to end the regular season, and needed overtime against a desperate Western Michigan team in the second round of the CCHA playoffs.
On paper, the RedHawks have all the ingredients to repeat last year’s finish: offense, team speed, team defense, great goaltending, a new arena, and a grounded coaching staff that believes that this year’s squad is capable of great things.
“Our focus a year ago was to improve daily,” said Blasi. “That’s going to stay part of our mantra, and we’re not going to change that. We’re a close team, maybe even closer than a year ago.”
A Fourth R: Ryan Jones
As a sophomore last year, Jones was second on the team in scoring and plus/minus. He’s a smart player, defensively smart as well as offensively dangerous, and a pest. But can he overcome the new goalie obstruction rule?