Miami earned just eight points in 10 Omaha bubble games and now heads into its final 14-game stretch tied with WMU for last in the NCHC.
It’s halftime in Year 2 of the Chris Bergeron Build Back Better era, and the numbers to this point are grim: The RedHawks are 10-28-6 for a .295 winning percentage since firing 20-year head coach Enrico Blasi.
And while wins and losses are ultimately the success gauge for sports, there’s plenty of positive to be seen in MU’s first half.
As the world tries to shed itself of the horror that was 2020, VFG looks at the positives of the Yugo of years from a Miami hockey perspective, which will help this team turn the proverbial corner very soon.
Some of these will obviously overlap, but after the year we’ve had, the more positive, the better, right?
FRESHMAN IMPACT: Goalie Ludvig Persson obviously jumps to the top of the list, as he is tops in Division I in freshman goals-against average and save percentage and second only to Minnesota star Jack LaFontaine in both of those categories overall.
Matthew Barbolini leads the team in points with six and is tops with four assists. He has seemingly gotten better and is still technically a freshman. His size and scoring touch should make him an elite player in this league for the next 3½ years.
The defensemen – Robby Drazner, Hampus Rydqvist and Dylan Moulton – have all been solid as well early on.
PENALTY KILLING: Last season, only six Division I teams were worse than Miami in this category, as the team finished just 75.6 percent on the PK.
But through 10 games, the RedHawks are 11th in the NCAA at 87.1 percent and have killed 14 of their last 15 chances.
GOALTENDING: We quoted Persson’s stats above. Amazing to this point. To be fair, in recent history, David Burleigh and Ryan McKay also starting with a blaze but fell back to reality.
But through five games, Persson appears to be the perfect blend of McKay and Jay Williams. He has the mechanical and positional technique of McKay down, and he also boasts the athleticism and mobility of Williams.
Sophomore Ben Kraws has been better as well, seeming more confident overall, and he has made some brilliant saves in his five games. Despite allowing six goals in his last outing vs. UND, his save percentage is .898, .027 higher than in 2019-20.
COMPETE LEVEL: Bergeron talks about it all the time. Especially if you’re out-talented, like Miami is this season, outworking your opponent is key.
The RedHawks have lapsed in this area at times, without a doubt, but overall we’re in a better place than we were a year ago.
VETERANS IMPROVING: We’ve seen better play from members of each class.
Senior and team captain Phil Knies has played his best hockey by far, and classmate Casey Gilling has returned from an injury and gone 0-3-3.
Gilling is also a solid defender and one of the top faceoff men on the team.
Defenseman Bray Crowder and forward Monte Graham earn the most improved award from the junior class, as Crowder appears much more confident and Graham has taken a major step up both defensively and offensively.
Transfer Matt Barry is also a junior and has five points in 10 games. He has been excellent the past couple of games.
Other than Kraws, representing the sophomore class would be forward John Sladic – who amazingly doesn’t have a point – forward Chase Pletzke, with a pair of goals, and defenseman Alec Capstick, who has taken a big step forward in terms of positioning.
BONDING IN THE POD: One of the major objections to Miami’s move to the NCHC has been the lack of bonding due to the number of flights vs. bus trips.
No excuse this year, as the RedHawks were probably sick of each other after three weeks in the Omaha pod.
Still, that has to be an improvement for a team that has gotten away from its tight-knit reputation the past couple of seasons.
OPPONENTS’ GRADE-A CHANCES DOWN: This is a credit to the forwards as well as the defensemen.
Too often the past few years, opponents set up runway lights in Miami’s slot and seemingly teed off at will from high-percentage areas.
The RedHawks are still far from perfect in this area, but Bergeron has them defending would-be snipers much better than in 2019-20.
With a .250 winning percentage, Miami is obviously not an NCAA Tournament contender this year. But that record doesn’t show how much better the RedHawks have become since Bergeron took over, especially in the areas mentioned above.
It’s been a tough few years, watching MU devolve from a national power to a conference doormat, but there’s a lot of room for optimism heading into the new year and beyond.