Associate head coach Barry Schutte said offense was the emphasis in piecing together this fall’s 10-player, first-year class, and Miami has brought in six freshman up front that all have major points-producing potential.

Barry Schutte (Cathy Lachmann/VFTG).

“Our forward depth has not been good enough, our skill has not been good enough, and we wanted to improve our skill level up front and our depth up front,” Schutte said. “(Matthew) Barbolini, (Red) Savage and (P.J.) Fletcher turned out to be to be a number one line, so we got a bunch of new forwards that we think help us with that (depth). We’re obviously looking for some returners to take a step and elevate their game, and the combination of new faces and new names and some growth and maturity with some of the younger guys, hopefully we can close that gap (with the other three lines).”

Two of the newest RedHawks forwards spent their 2021-22 seasons in the USHL, the top North American juniors league that still allows players to retain their NCAA eligibility, two put up solid points totals in the BCHL and the other two dominated in the NAHL.

MU is also bringing in three defenseman, all of whom were teammates with USHL Dubuque, and a lone transfer goalie from Ferris State.

Miami scored just 94 goals in 36 games last season, or 2.61 per game, tied for No. 34 out of 59 teams in Division I, and forward depth has been a RedHawks weakness for a decade.

After the RedHawks’ projected top line of Fletcher, Barbolini and Red Savage, no other returning MU skater recorded more than 12 points last season.

Here is a recent conversation VFTG had with Schutte about the incoming class:

VFTG: The first thing that strikes a person looking over the roster is how internationally diverse this roster is with the addition of the freshman class, with four Swedes, a Slovak and two Canadians, in addition to 23 Americans from seven states.

SCHUTTE: My best explanation is I guess those (Europeans) replace the typical Canadian we have had on the roster in the past. With the borders being closed and the leagues being shut down for a whole year the last two years, we haven’t done much work in Canada, just because it would’ve felt like we couldn’t be thorough. And as a result, the Europeans – every year it seems like more and more countries are sending more and more of those kids to the U.S. to play junior amateur hockey and keep their eligibility and take the college route as a bonus knowing that they might not be ready for pro back home. As a 20-year-old, why not pursue hockey here and come back home as a 24-year-old and be more ready to potentially take a pro opportunity? Kind of worked out in our favor. There were more of those kids coming this way which were available, and the timing of what was going on in Canada worked in our favor too. Half of our roster is Michigan and Illinois, and now we have to sprinkle in the Ohio, the Indiana, the Pennsylvania – those kids should make up for another five kids moving toward too.

VFTG: Now that this group that is together on campus and you’re starting practice, what’s your first impression of them?

SCHUTTE: The fact that there’s nine freshmen and it’s such a big group and there’s so many different personalities in the group, when you talk about Sweden, Slovakia, Toronto, Michigan, Chicago, they’re just your typical dumb freshmen who are so excited to be here and came to Miami for all the right reasons and can’t wait to get this thing going and really, truly want to leave it better than they found it and be a part of the solution to get things right around here. That fresh energy has been contagious among our older guys in a positive way.

VFTG: As you mentioned, this trend of Europeans to the USHL was accelerated by COVID, but do you see it continuing as we move past the pandemic?

SCHUTTE: It looks like the Swedish, the Finnish – those types of players – that trend doesn’t look to be slowing down. It’s going to be another group of those players in the USHL, in the North American Hockey League, that are attempting to pursue college, so I think that’s more players for college hockey, which is a good thing.

VFTG: With COVID largely in the rear-view mirror, how beneficial is it to have the stability of more traditional recruiting back as opposed to trying to patch a roster together with numerous transfers like last season?

SCHUTTE: I think last year, for the most part we were able to do the work that we wanted to do, we could travel, we could get into the buildings, we could see players in person, we could do visits. There were still some questions with the (U.S.-Canada) border, so I think it limited some of the international travel, but within the U.S. it was all pretty good. But yeah, it’s our goal this year since we’ve been out of Canada a little bit we want to get back in there, moreso Ontario. And there’s a lot of Midwestern, U.S.-born kids and a lot of Ontario kids that play in the BCHL, and we didn’t get out there as often as we would have. So yes, to answer your question, from an international perspective, I think it will allow us to get a little more back to normal when it comes to Canada.

VFTG: Every year we say that there are opportunities for players whose roles are currently unclear to earn regular playing time, but is that even more the case with this team, since it needs offensive depth like you mentioned and also shut-down defensemen — two of last season’s biggest shortcomings?

SCHUTTE: I think that’s a fair assessment. I would agree that that list of players that are on the inside the lineup looking out, meaning they’re going to really have to put a stretch of bad hockey together to come out, there’s not a ton of guys on that list that are untouchable. It’s going to be a good competition and I think what we’re trying to focus on too is that competition doesn’t have to feel heavy and feel negative. Trying to create a healthy competition is what we’re focusing on.

VFTG will break down the newest RedHawks individually in Part II, which will be published on Tuesday.

One thought on “Incoming class analysis: Part I

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