The Chris Bergeron era officially begins on Sunday.
That’s when the new Miami head coach and his staff start their journey to rejuvenate a program that has averaged fewer than 11 wins the past three seasons.
And the MU alum and former RedHawks assistant can’t wait to wait for the games to begin.
“For anybody that coaches it’s the reason you’re in the business – it’s to get around the game, get around the players, start coaching, and when the games start it makes it a little more real,” Bergeron said. “This time of the year in college hockey, everybody’s excited. It’s a long month of September after four long months in the summer and everybody wants to just play games and getting going, and we’re no different.”
Bergeron’s hire this spring means for the first time this millennium, someone not named Enrico Blasi will be at the helm of the RedHawks. Blasi was relieved of duty this off-season after 20 years behind the Miami bench.
The RedHawks replaced their assistants after 2017-18, and those replacements leaving the program as well as Blasi this spring, Miami has relieved five coaches the past two off-seasons.
Despite the extreme turnover behind the MU bench the past two years, Bergeron is happy with how the team has responded to him and his staff this fall.
“If something has stood out, it’s been the resiliency of this group to go through the changes they’ve gone through over the last couple of years and be still willing to work – that’s what I’ve seen,” Bergeron said. “We’re going to have a foundation of being hard to play against, which starts with defending, but we’re going to let our guys play offense and play the game north and make hockey plays and so on.”
Since 2013, the last time Miami won an NCAA Tournament game, the program has been in free fall. Th e RedHawks have posted sub-.500 records in five of six seasons including the last four.
They’ve piled up 20 losses or more each season since 2016 and have just 32 wins in that span with a high-water mark of 12 in 2017-18.
Prior to 2013, MU had earned eight consecutive NCAA Tournament berths, primarily when Bergeron was an assistant for the RedHawks.
Bergeron brought on two associate coaches this spring: Barry Schutte and Eric Rud.
Schutte played at Miami in 1993-97, scoring 25 goals and earning 33 assists in 131 games. He has been an assistant for all nine years of Bergeron’s tenure at Bowling Green.
“First and foremost, he brings personality, he brings an energy and an intensity with him,” Bergeron said. “He brings a love for Miami. I think what Barry brings is something you can’t teach, you either have that or you don’t. It’s definitely an intangibles – it’s people skills, he’s good at developing relationships and developing trust, whether it be coach to coach or player to coach. And then from the hockey he’s just one that’s getting more and more experience with his eye in terms of recruiting and more and more experience with teaching, specifically the forward position. He’s somebody that whoever has him is lucky to have him, and I’ve been lucky to have him for the last nine years heading into year 10 here.”
A Colorado College graduate who played parts of five seasons, Rud has been an assistant at CC as well as St. Cloud State, and most recently he had been the head coach of the SCSU women’s team since 2014.
Rud and Bergeron have known each other for a long time, and a couple of mutual friends told Bergeron that Rud would be a good fit at Miami.
“Most recently he comes from the women’s game, but his resume as good as anybody,” Bergeron said. “He’s been a coach at the junior level, he’s been a coach at the college level, he’s recruited. He’s sat in that head coach’s chair, doesn’t matter to me, men’s game, women’s game, he’s sat in that coaching chair, which is really difficult.”
Bergeron said that Rud coming from a somewhat different background will be an advantage, as it will give he and Schutte a different perspective on issues.
“I think (Rud) is a huge part of this, and for Barry and I, he’s somebody that can bring a little different angle, whether it be recruiting, systems, and that’s what he’s told is that we need him to do that,” Bergeron said. “So to this point, the chemistry with the coaching staff has been really good, and that’s all I’ve known. The better part of my coaching experience, the chemistry between the coaching staffs that I’ve been on have been outstanding. I don’t know if I want it any other way. Everybody has a say, and it’s a required that we have hard conversations and we handle ourselves like adults and properly and that we trust one another, and I think that this staff is no different.”
Collectively, Bergeron said he hopes his assistants will provide him a voice of reason.
“They’ll be the voice of reason, they’ll help me be the best version of me,” Bergeron said. “That’s going to mean they’re going to come in and say, what’s going on with you today? And that, to me, is a good thing. That’s a healthy staff, it’s a healthy working environment. I can’t have it any other way because I know I don’t have the answers and I need people around me that can help me with that.”
Like last season, Miami has 26 players on its roster – 15 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies.
The RedHawks have added six freshmen and a transfer sophomore, Matt Barry, who will be eligible to play in January.
“They’re good boys,” Bergeron. “They care, it matters to them how they do in the classroom and it matters to them how they do on the ice. They obviously just want to fit in with the boys as any freshman would want to fit in. The freshmen to me have been like anybody else: They’ve worked, they’ve done what they’ve been asked to do and they’re showing up on a daily basis to try to be the best versions of themselves and that’s all we ask.”
Having not seen a live Miami hockey game since the RedHawks played a home-and-home vs. Bowling Green in 2017-18, Bergeron said there’s still a lot he and his staff need to learn about the roster they’ve inherited.
With five home games the next three weekends, the coaches will be able to evaluate their players on friendly ice before heading to hostile venues.
“The one thing that I have no idea at this point is how this group will deal with adversity,” Bergeron said. “They’ve been working and doing exactly what’s been asked of them, but one of the things that you can’t simulate is when adversity comes, whether that’s to an individual or to the collective. Will we be able to work through adversity? I don’t know that. That’s something that unfortunately you can’t figure out until you live through it. And that will start on Sunday.”
Check back soon for Parts II-IV of our Miami preview series as the opening puck drop approaches.