After Miami’s home-and-home series with Bowling Green this weekend, the RedHawks will not face an Ohio opponent in the regular season for the forseeable future.
MU’s scheduling contract with BGSU expires after this season and the sides have not been able to agree on an extension, despite RedHawks coach Chris Bergeron’s having coached there the nine seasons prior to being hired by Miami in 2019.
The RedHawks are also having little success reviving their rivalry with Ohio State, which has not faced Miami in five years.
“Those are the two on the front burner,” Bergeron said. “If that’s not going to work out, we’re still going to first and foremost focus on places we can bus to and stay closer to home.”
Cutting the travel budget for to non-conference opponents is a priority for Bergeron’s staff, which has been hit with major athletic budget cuts. COVID and a resulting lack of ticket revenue as Miami did not allow any fans to attend its seven home games in 2020-21, plus poor on-ice performance that has caused a decline in attendance, hasn’t helped.
Then there’s league travel. Miami is 11 hours driving time from every one of its NCHC opponents except Western Michigan.
As for trying to stay local, both Ohio teams — the closest two potential Division I foes for Miami — are both less than three hours from Oxford.
The RedHawks’ relationship with Ohio State soured following a game in Columbus on New Year’s Eve, 2016. Miami controlled the contest late and won, 6-3 behind three goals by Columbus natives Kiefer Sherwood and Carson Meyer.
The Buckeyes claimed the RedHawks played their Columbus-born forwards excessively late in the third period when the game had already been decided to show them up. Miami claimed it did it to reward those local players and allow them to enjoy playing in their home town.
The rift caused the series to end abruptly, and the teams haven’t met since.
“It’s 100 percent where we’re trying to rebuild the relationship with Ohio State, it hasn’t paid off just yet to get them,” Bergeron said.
The split with Bowling Green is less clear, as current coach Ty Eigner was an assistant the entire time Bergeron coached there, and by all accounts Bergeron left the Falcons on excellent terms, having taken them to the NCAA Tournament in 2019 for the first time since George Bush Sr. was president.
Bergeron said conversations with Bowling Green regarding future meetings “unfortunately have broken down”.
This is Bergeron’s third season, so at this point, many of the 2021-22 non-conference scheduling decisions have been made by his staff, although COVID did complicate long-term scheduling by wiping out almost the entire NCAA non-conference slate for last season.
For example, Miami is still obligated to visit UMass-Lowell in 2022-23, Bergeron said.
But overall, Bergeron and the RedHawks are determined to cut down non-conference travel costs, and this season’s schedule reflects that.
Miami went to Ferris State and Michigan State to open the season, a combined 12 hours away, and face Bowling Green in a home-and-home this weekend.
Robert Morris – a Pittsburgh team – was originally on the schedule for a home-and-home before the school president announced he was terminating the team without its knowledge. Miami added a home-and-home with Erie, Pa.-based Mercyhurst as a replacement.
Both are five hours from Oxford.
The Mercyhurst addition is interesting, as the Lakers were originally slated to play two games against Miami in 2020-21 but canceled their contract due to an alleged recruiting violation that happened at the 2019 Ice Breaker in Erie under the previous coaching administration.
Apparently the rift has been mended, which is great for both schools.
Miami’s other non-conference opponent is second-year program Long Island, which announced its intention to play Division I in the spring of 2020 during the heart of lockdowns and did not have a coach, players or a home rink locked down at that point.
During Miami’s heyday, it scheduled numerous non-conference that required flights, including Connecticut, Providence, Maine and New Hampshire.
With its annual NCHC slate, Miami has strength of schedule covered. The downside for the RedHawks is the travel, so Bergeron is trying for a more logistics-friendly non-conference slate.
He said conversations with Ferris State – a seven-hour drive away – have been promising, and he has had encouraging talks with Buffalo, Rochester and Mercyhurst as well.
Plus there’s a good chance Miami will play Arizona State in the coming years.
“Those are things I think about,” Bergeron said. “I know what my job is, and it’s winning hockey games and coaching and getting the most out of these young people. Those are conversations that we need to continue to have as this program gets rebuilt, that we rebuild it with our fanbase as well.”
Ideally, Bergeron would like to not only stay closer to home but renew former rivalries with old CCHA foes.
“It’s not going to be 100 percent like I’d like it, where we bus non-conference, but I can tell you it is absolutely the focus,” Bergeron said. “It is 100 percent the focus of what we want to do. If we’ve got to fly to league games, well then we’ve got to stay closer to home non-conference and that’s what we want to do.”