This Week in NCHC Hockey: Miami earns first conference road sweep in five years as RedHawks ‘trying to learn how to win’

Miami went into last weekend’s series in Kalamazoo 2-7-1, but left 4-7-1 after sweeping Western Michigan (photo: Mark Kuhlmann).

Ever since Miami’s last NCAA tournament appearance in the NCHC’s second season, the RedHawks have struggled to have success.

Since the 2014-15 season, when Miami finished second in the regular season and then won the NCHC Frozen Faceoff, Miami has yet to post a winning record, and in the last four seasons Miami has finished seventh twice and eighth twice in the eight-team league.

One of the problems Miami has had in its last several seasons is road play. Last weekend, Miami traveled to Kalamazoo for a series against Western Michigan and won both games, holding the Broncos to just a goal in each in 5-1 and 3-1 wins. It was the first conference road sweep by the RedHawks since January 2016 at Omaha.

“Nice to see our power play have a big day yesterday; nice to see our penalty kill have a good day,” said Miami coach Chris Bergeron in his virtual press conference on the program’s website. “Anytime you go into Western Michigan, I don’t care, fans, no fans, beginning of January or end of the year, I don’t care, those are two big wins for a team that’s trying to learn how to win.”

Newcomer Joe Cassetti, who played for Merrimack last season, had two goals on Saturday on the power play to break the game open in the second period, when the RedHawks scored three goals in under four minutes early in the period.

“Joey’s a big body in front of the net, he keeps plays alive, he’s got a good stick in front of the net to tip pucks and to clean up rebounds and garbage,” said Bergeron. “The other thing he brings is a personality. Joey Cassetti’s a guy who played college hockey, he played three years of junior before that, he played two years at the U.S. program. I think he’s really happy to be at Miami. He brings a personality to him, and I think that can only help. There’s lots of layers he brings to the group.”

Goalie Ludvig Persson was a big contributor to the RedHawks’ success. He made 27 saves in the 3-1 win Saturday and followed that with 31 saves in Sunday’s 5-1 win, one in which Bergeron felt the Broncos outchanced his team. Miami only had 22 shots on net total. Persson, who was named NCHC goaltender of the month for December, has now won NCHC goaltender of the week honors for three consecutive weeks. He is the second NCHC goaltender to achieve this; former North Dakota goaltender Cam Johnson also did so in November and December of 2015.

“He’s been the better goaltender thus far, so the 1-1 situation is until somebody plays their way into a number one role or out of the 1-1, and we’re going to look at more the first and say Ludvig has played his way into a No. 1 goalie position,” said Bergeron. “He is a worker, so anybody that is around the boy realizes that this isn’t a fluke, this isn’t games. It’s every day. It’s day’s off he’s got a plan, it’s everyday practice he’s got a plan. He played well. We want to win the goaltending battle every night, and this weekend he did that.”

This weekend, the RedHawks host the Broncos in a rematch, the first time Miami this season has been at home. The university also announced an attendance policy for the season. Each player and staff member is allotted four tickets per game; the general public is not allowed to attend, nor is the pep band, dance, cheer, and spirit squads.

“Our mindset is not going to change; we want to be the best version of ourselves come Friday night,” said Bergeron. “It’s going to come down to our willingness to prepare so we can be the best version of ourselves Friday night. The face that we know this team doesn’t change our approach; our approach is to take care of us and make sure we’re right, and that’s going to be the same this week.”

COVID-19 hits the NCHC

After such a successful three weeks with the NCHC pod, which went off without a hitch, the NCHC has been hit by reality again since the teams left Omaha.

This weekend, two series have been cancelled after testing and contact tracing revealed that COVID-19 has hit unnamed individuals with Denver and Omaha, resulting in cancelation of this weekend’s series between Denver and Colorado College, and Omaha and North Dakota.

Colorado College, which had been hit by COVID-19 at the end of November, has now scheduled a Sunday-Monday series with North Dakota at the Broadmoor Arena in Colorado Springs this weekend. CC has also rescheduled its missed games from the pod; CC will play Minnesota Duluth in Duluth on Feb. 18, then travel to St. Cloud to face the Huskies on Feb. 20.

The series between Omaha and North Dakota is the second consecutive weekend series between the two teams that has been canceled due to COVID-19, as a series scheduled for Dec. 31-Jan. 1 had to be rescheduled for Jan. 29-30 due to COVID-19 testing.

The press release announcing the postponing of the Denver-CC series concludes by saying, “The decision to postpone and reschedule these series is consistent with the National Collegiate Hockey Conference’s COVID-19 protocols, developed by the Conference’s Health & Safety Competitions Committee, as well as the Conference’s Game Schedule Policy, developed by the NCHC’s Athletic Council.”

Prior to the pod, the NCHC announced the following guidelines for COVID-19 testing:

*Home Institution: For the week leading into a home game or series, the home institution is required to test on non-consecutive days with a schedule based on when the first game of the week is to be played (e.g. Friday). Home institutions should plan to test Sunday or Monday, two days prior to the first game, and no earlier than 24 hours from the start of the first game. The third test should be done with sufficient time to obtain all test results to certify to the conference office with the Active COVID-19 report for the week.

*Visiting Institution: For the week leading into a road game or series, the visiting institution is required to test on non-consecutive days with a schedule based on when the first game of the week is to be played (e.g. Friday) and coordinated around a team’s travel itinerary. Visiting institutions should plan to test on Sunday or Monday for the first test, Tuesday or Wednesday for the second test, and within 36 hours from the start of first game. The second or third test within the week may be conducted on consecutive days, depending on the travel schedule, and should be done with sufficient time to obtain results and determine all members of the traveling team have produced a negative result before departing. If the third test is administered on gamedays it will be done to allow for enough time to certify to the conference office with the Active COVID-19 report for the week.

Those results then have to be certified and sent to Josh Fenton so the conference knows the results of each test conducted.

If the playoffs and NCAA tournament do go forward this year, the successful execution of the pod by the NCHC may provide a model. It seems that keeping the players and coaches and team personnel on a lockdown works for keeping the virus at bay.

Social distancing and science, for the win.