There were encouraging times and frustrating times, but ultimately Miami finished the first half of its first season of the millennium without Enrico Blasi at the helm with a record of 4-10-3.
Considering the turmoil surrounding this team the past couple of campaigns, that’s about on par with the expectation level for the first three months of the Chris Bergeron era.
The RedHawks opened 2019-20 with five straight home games and were pretty much awful. They went 1-3-1 during that stretch and allowed 23 goals, and no one seemed interested in playing defense.
The bar was set low at that point heading into a four-game road slate at Colgate and North Dakota, but Miami improved dramatically in its first away series of the series, going 1-0-1 in upstate New York including a 2-0 win in the finale, with Ryan Larkin stopping 29 shots.
Then UND slaughtered the RedHawks in Grand Forks, 7-1 in a Friday contest before a much more evenly-played, 5-4 Fighting Hawks win in the finale.
Seemingly gaining momentum from the latter game vs. NoDak, Miami played a quality home series against two-time defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth, splitting the set and outscoring the Bulldogs, 5-4 on the weekend.
The RedHawks then traveled to Nebraska-Omaha, where they turned in their best performance of the 2019 calendar year. The teams skated to a 3-3 tie in the opener, but Miami dominated the Saturday game, winning 4-1.
That set up a final stretch of four games at Connecticut and at home vs. St. Cloud State. Both teams were ranked in the bottom quarter of the PairWise at the time.
Just two games under .500 at the time, it appeared the RedHawks had a legitimate shot at reaching that mark heading into 2020.
But MU went 0-4 against those teams both named the Huskies and seemingly reverted to its October version.
The biggest difference between the good times and the bad for Miami the first half of 2019-20 was its defensive play.
The RedHawks seemed utterly lost trying to defend their net the first three weeks. They chased the puck in their own zone far too often while frequently allowing defenders unabated, high-quality chances.
Miami really tightened up for its four-game stretch vs. Duluth and UNO, and while the RedHawks still allowed 33 shots per contest during that span, far fewer of those opportunities were of the Grade-A variety.
But MU seemed to revert for its most recent four games. A Connecticut team that entered play averaging 2½ goals managed 48 shots in the opener, with six finding net, and the Huskies tallied 35 more SOG and four markers in the finale.
Miami played well at times vs. St. Cloud State, but once again came up short, with defensive lapses again undermining decent efforts.
So this pregnant pause in the season may have come at a good time for the RedHawks, who open the second half of their season in Bowling Green, the program Bergeron headed the past nine seasons.
And while the end of the first half was less than encouraging, there are plenty of positives as Miami heads into the 2020 portion of its slate.
1. The debut of Matt Barry. Described as a top-six forward by Bergeron, Barry transferred from Holy Cross midway through 2018-19 and is eligible to dress at BGSU. Barry led his team in points upon his departure and will add much-needed offense to a Miami team that has been extremely top-heavy in its scoring the past few seasons.
2. Health. The injury bug made a tough situation tougher for the RedHawks the first three months, and a few weeks off could only help in their recuperation. Alec Mahalak, Ben Lown and Chaz Switzer all missed significant time with injuries.
3. Goaltending depth. This was a big question mark for Miami heading into this season, with Larkin heading into his senior season with no proven depth behind him. But freshman Ben Kraws has been solid in limited action, and Grant Valentine has taken a huge step forward, giving MU three quality options in net for the stretch run.
4. Freshmen improvement. All of the members of the Class of 2023 have contributed and are continuing to get better. Up front, John Sladic and Chase Pletzke have scored four goals each, and Sladic and Ryan Savage have notched eight points apiece. Jack Clement is second in defensman scoring only to Derek Daschke with seven points, including three goals. And in five games, Kraws is tops on the RedHawks with an .893 save percentage and a 2.92 goals-against average.
5. Surges by returning players. It’s no surprise that senior captain Gordie Green is leading the team in goals, assists and points (7-12-19), but several other Miami veterans have elevated their games this season and will hopefully carry their improved play into the new year. Daschke seems to get better at both ends of the ice every night, and his 4-8-12 line in easily tops among the D-corps. With six goals and nine assists, Karch Bachman has tied his career high in helpers and is one off his Miami best in points. The early candidate for comeback player of the year goes to Casey Gilling, who has already surpassed his goals, assists and points totals from 2018-19 at 5-9-14. He played all 38 games last season. Monte Graham, Noah Jordan, Rourke Russell, Bray Crowder and Andrew Sinard are also better versions of themselves this campaign.