After an abysmal showing in Chris Bergeron’s first season, Miami’s defense corps did improve last season, holding opponents to fewer quality chances and lighting the lamp at a clip that challenged the forwards.
Derek Daschke, who was named captain this week, leads a unit of eight returning regulars hoping to restore the RedHawks’ reputation in this area.
Miami is adding an instant contributor in senior Bowling Green transfer Will Cullen and has brought a pair of freshmen into the logjam.
“I think it’s massive,” Bergeron said. “Derek is a proven power play offensive defenseman, we’ll continue to ask him to make sure his defensive game is solid, but when you look at a guy like Cullen, he’s an offensive production guy. He’s a guy that’s produced offense in junior, he’s produced offense in college. He’s a kid we know, we’ve coached, and we’ve seen grow.”
WHO’S BACK: Srs. (3) – Derek Daschke, Bray Crowder, Andrew Sinard; Jrs. (2) – Jack Clement, Alec Capstick; Sos. (3) – Robby Drazner, Hampus Rydqvist, Dylan Moulton.
WHO’S GONE: Alec Mahalak, Rourke Russell.
WHO’S NEW: Will Cullen (transfer – Bowling Green, played three years), Nick Donato, Alex Murray.
NOTES: Bergeron will have difficult decisions to make on his lineup card all season, as Miami has 11 defensemen vying for six or seven spots, but he’s happy with where his team is on the back end.
“I am because of competition,” Bergeron said. “We want obviously Daschke, (Bray) Crowder and (Andrew) Sinard to take steps as seniors. We really like what Jack Clement has done over two years. Where is Alec Capstick going to be as we start the season? And then you look at those three sophomores in (Robby) Drazner, Hampus Rydqvist and Dylan Moulton – I loved the way Drazner finished last year, I’d love to see Hampus and Moulton kind of bring some consistency to their game, they both looked pretty good, they both had really good summers.”
A few RedHawks are expected to play every night, including Daschke, who led all blueliners in goals (4), assists (8) and points (12) last season and has scored 20 times in his career, ranking him eighth all-time among Miami defenseman.
Daschke and Clement, both juniors, played in every game last season, and sophomore Drazner and Rydqvist missed just one each.
Clement has six goals in 58 career games, and Drazner improved drastically as the season progressed and went 3-4-7. Rydqvist netted a pair of goals, including one of Miami’s five game-winners.
Crowder, a senior, was injured for part of 2020-21 and played forward for several games as Miami was shorthanded there most the campaign. He dressed for 17 games and is expected to log significant minutes this season.
Enter Cullen, who is a virtual lock to play every night. Cullen played 96 games at BGSU over three seasons — including his first under Bergeron — and racked up 17 goals and 38 assists.
While Daschke was the only impact defenseman on the power play last season on a team that was dying for a another option, Cullen gives Miami a second big-time power play QB.
That’s six spots, assuming all hold their jobs and stay healthy. Fortunately for all MU blueliners, Bergeron prefers to use his 19th flex skater slot on a seventh defenseman.
Capstick, 6-feet-6 senior Sinard and sophomore Moulton all played 15 games. Capstick scored twice, Sinard notched two assists and Moulton netted one goal.
Capstick took a big step forward last season, and with his height, Sinard gives Miami a reach on defense that few in hockey can match.
Moulton is young but the coaches believe he has tons of upside. Coincidentally, Sinard and Moulton are both from the Nashville area.
Then there’s the two wild card freshmen, Nick Donato and Alex Murray. Donato has logged 94 games for Tri-City of the USHL, and Murray more than doubled his offensive output last season with NAHL Lone Star.
“We’re only going to travel eight defensemen, we have 11 on the roster,” Bergeron said. “Three guys are getting left at home – I believe that internal competition only brings out the best in everybody. I understand it’s difficult because there’s difficult decisions to be made, but we’re a program that’s still going through a transition and we need guys to play better. We need to keep more pucks out of our net. Which seven on a nightly basis – or in a case where we travel – are going to give us our best chance to win?”
Miami finished No. 40 out of 51 competing teams last season in goals allowed per game at 3.56, but the RedHawks did play all 25 of their games against foes in the NCHC, easily the toughest conference in college hockey.
A secondary reason although maybe more of a fun stat: MU led all of college hockey in empty netters allowed with nine.
One more unusual statistic — this corps scored 39.6 percent of the RedHawks’ goals.