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New league, new look for Miami hockey

New league, new look. That is Miami RedHawks hockey as the 2013-2014 looms.

Miami opens its season Oct. 11 with a non-conference game at Ohio State, followed by the team’s home opener against the Buckeyes on Oct. 12 in Steve Cady Arena. The RedHawks are due to tune up for the season with an exhibition game against Windsor at home Saturday, and sophomore forward Sean Kuraly is among the players who can’t wait to face somebody wearing a different uniform.

“I’m so excited,” he said. “The preseason drags out a little bit. We’ve been working hard implementing some new systems.”

They include what coach Enrico Blasi hopes is the maturation of a recent emphasis in recruiting on speed.

“We’ve really concentrated our efforts, starting a few years ago, on a shift in our pace and speed,” said Blasi, who is 311-196-53 in 14 seasons at Miami. “It’s taken a few years to shape and mold that, but I really like our speed. I think it will be exciting for our fans. It’s been methodical on our part.”

Miami, which won the last Central Collegiate Hockey Association championship last season, was picked in a preseason media poll to win the inaugural National Collegiate Hockey Conference championship. The RedHawks also go into the season ranked second in the country in three national rankings – the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll, the United States College Hockey Hockey Online poll, and the College Hockey News poll. That’s despite losing in the semifinals of the conference tournament and to St. Cloud State in the second round of last season’s NCAA Tournament.

“Everybody knows we need to get better,” said sophomore forward Riley Barber, the last CCHA Rookie of the Year. “We probably didn’t play our best in big games. We’ve had team meetings to talk about it. It’s working great. We’re all real excited to get going.”

The RedHawks lost just five letterwinners from that team. Seventeen return, including 11 forwards and both goalkeepers. Like any coach, Blasi likes being able to rely on so much experience.

“They take a very professional approach,” he said. “It excites me as a coach.”

The returning players are expected to help nurture the six-player freshman class, split equally between defenders and forwards, but Kuraly points out that many aspects of the Miami hockey experience can’t be taught – only experienced. One is the rabid Miami fan base.

“You can’t tell them too much,” Barber said. “You have to let them experience it themselves.”

Miami wastes little time jumping into the NCHC fray. The RedHawks are scheduled to meet North Dakota, picked to finish second in the preseason media poll, in a home series Oct. 18-19.

“It’s exciting,” Blasi said about moving into a new conference. “I’m a little bit nervous. I’m a little bit concerned. We studied all the teams this summer, and I think we have a good idea about their tendencies, but there are still some unknowns. It’s a work in progress. It’s just something you have to go through. Every institution is like-minded in their emphasis on hockey.

“I do know we’ll be going into some hostile environments.”

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