Miami looks to veterans to guide large freshman class

Miami welcomes a dozen rookies to its roster this season, including three goaltenders. What does that mean for RedHawks hockey? Perhaps two separate seasons, altogether in one.

“I’m fairly confident that the team you’ll see in January and February will be very different from the team that you’ll see in October and November,” coach Enrico Blasi said, “and our goal is to play our best hockey at the right time.”

The RedHawks have a knack for playing their best hockey at the right time. At the start of the 2011-12 season, Blasi likewise said that he wanted his team to be peaking when it was important. At the end of the first half of that campaign, Miami was in ninth place in the CCHA standings; at the end of the season, the RedHawks had managed a fourth-place finish for home ice and a first-round playoff bye.

How will Miami repeat that success this season with so many newcomers on the roster? Leadership, said Blasi.

“We’ve got a really good senior captain in defenseman Steven Spinell that will lead the way, not only on the ice but off the ice as well,” he said.

As senior classes go, you could do much worse than Miami’s. Yes, Reilly Smith and his 30 goals are gone, but defensemen Curtis McKenzie and Joe Hartman are as good as any in the league and they’ve been through a lot during their time with the RedHawks.

“They’ve been to the Frozen Four, they’ve won a couple of championships, they’ve been to the national tournament so they know what it takes to prepare at a high level,” Blasi said. “Spinell has done a real good job of teaching our younger guys just how to work. You can work hard but you’ve got to work smart. The one thing we can’t replace is experience and the only way to gain experience is to play the game.

“Curtis McKenzie, [sophomore] Cody Murphy are guys that need step up as well. Everybody that’s basically returning will need to elevate their game a little bit and play some key roles for our team. I think they can; they’ve proven it to us in the past.”

The specifics of what’s going to happen in the Miami net after the loss of the powerful tandem of Connor Knapp and Cody Reichard is as much a mystery to Blasi as it is to everyone else, but Blasi has no hesitation about the results.

“I think that the two young guys that we have in Ryan McKay and Jay Williams are really confident in their abilities and they’ve had good summers,” Blasi said.

McKay had three good seasons with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL; last year, his goals against average was 2.18 and hissave percentage was .920. Williams played for the Waterloo Black Hawks for two seasons in the USHL before playing a dozen games last year with the Sioux Falls Stampede, where his numbers (3.78, .884) weren’t quite as good as his first two years in the league.

“It’s hard for me to say who’s the guy and how comfortable everybody feels,” Blasi said, “but I can tell you that their competitive spirit is right up there with the goaltenders we’ve had in the past. If that’s any sign of what’s to come, I feel pretty confident in that.”

About the RedHawks

2011-12 overall record: 24-15-2

2011-12 CCHA record: 15-11-2-1 (fourth)

2012-13 predicted finish (coaches poll): Second

Key losses: F Reilly Smith, D Chris Wideman, G Connor Knapp, G Cody Reichard

Players to watch: F Austin Czarnik, F Curtis McKenzie, D Joe Hartman, D Steve Spinell

Impact rookie: One of three freshman goaltenders: Anthony Jacaruso, Ryan McKay or Jay Williams

Why the RedHawks will finish higher than the coaches poll: Talent, from top to bottom. Well coached. Nearly able to perform feats of magic.

Why the RedHawks will finish lower than the coaches poll: Lots of freshmen, including every guy who plays in net.