Alex Wideman is reminded every time he looks at himself and then at the players around him.
Success takes work. In his case, more work than most. So be it. Wideman is a proud little guy with a motor.
“I’ve always been the small guy,” said the smallest guy on Miami University’s hockey team, a 5-foot-7, 151-pound sophomore forward. “It wasn’t like I was big when I was younger and stopped growing. Not a lot of people expect me to beat them to the puck. They think they can outmuscle me.”
He smiles. When you’re one of the smallest guys on the block, you get tough or you get pushed around. Wideman doesn’t get pushed around.
“I’ve gotten used to going to the corner against some pretty big guys, especially last year in practice with Will Weber and Cameron Schilling and guys like that,” he said. “I’ve gotten a lot better at using my small body against other people. I had to.”
Wideman is part of one of the more potent lines in college hockey, but he’s the cog you may not know about. Riley Barber and Austin Czarnik have combined for 29 goals and 45 assists this season. Their linemate has five goals and seven assists.
It’s a threesome that’s only been together for about two months. Barber and Czarnik are the headliners right now, and Wideman knows it. So he tries to feed the two-headed beast.
“They do most of the work,” Wideman said. “I’m just kind of there to celebrate with them.”
That’s not entirely accurate. Barber and Czarnik will tell you that. So will RedHawks coach Enrico Blasi.
Teams shrivel up and die without role players. Wideman, a Show-Me State native from St. Louis, is a role player.
“He’s skilled enough and quick enough to play with those guys and make plays with them,” Blasi said. “He’s one of those guys you can move up and down and not miss a beat. He can play with the top guys or he can play with the fourth line, and he still plays the same way.”
Wideman, who missed six games early in the year because of illness, spent a good deal of time playing on a line with freshman Sean Kuraly, sophomore Cody Murphy and senior Marc Hagel. Kuraly and Wideman were regulars on that line, and Murphy and Hagel would switch off.
On Jan. 19 in Madison, Wis., Blasi decided to do some tweaking. MU was in an 0-3-1 swing, and the coach decided to move Wideman up to the top line with Czarnik and Barber. The RedHawks beat Wisconsin that night.
“We haven’t really looked back,” Wideman said.
Barber, a freshman and the Central Collegiate Hockey Association’s point leader, said the chemistry continues to grow.
“Z is Z. He’s flying around and making great plays,” Barber said. “Wides is just great coming down the wing with good moves and slipping off guys and trying to get backdoor. I think we’re just starting to figure it all out. It’s a lot of fun. We’re creating a lot of chances and putting the other team on their heels.”
Said Czarnik, a 5-9, 160-pound sophomore, “I think we all work hard. We all have good vision and make plays. As long as you have good relationships, good things can happen out there.”
Barber is the biggest player on that line at 5-11, 185 pounds. It’s a line fueled by quickness and instincts. Wideman puts it simply: “It doesn’t matter how big you are. If you get there first, you’re going to get the puck.”
The Wideman name is a familiar one around Miami athletics. Chris Wideman played with his younger brother last season before moving on to the Ottawa Senators organization, where he now plays with Binghamton in the American Hockey League. Demi Wideman helped the MU field hockey team win the Mid-American Conference tournament last fall.
On the ice, the RedHawks won the CCHA regular-season crown this year. It allowed Alex to keep up with his siblings.
“My brother won a Mason Cup and a league championship here, and my sister won a MAC championship,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve ever won a championship in my life. Just having the opportunity to win a championship is unbelievable.”
Wideman uses the term “special” to describe playing with his brother in Oxford last season. They played together on their high school team, but that was basically just for fun.
“In Missouri, high school hockey is nothing,” Wideman said. “We just did it because our best friends were on the team.”
The brothers have always been close. Last season, they were closer than ever.
In practice, sometimes they’d go head to head (Chris is a defenseman). Off the ice, sometimes they’d go head to head as well. Yes, these two hockey players like to play a little golf.
“I’m not bad, and Chris is pretty good too,” Wideman said. “Coach (Nick) Petraglia and Chris and I went out before the season last year, right when we got into town, and I beat him head on. We actually had to play 19 holes because we were tied after 18. That was probably the only time I’ve beaten him in a full round. So I was pretty excited about that.”
Because of Chris, Alex got an up-close view of Miami at a young age.
“When he started to get looked at by Miami, I actually came with him on a visit with my dad,” Alex said. “I was 13, 14 years old. I wanted to see a college rink just like everybody that age does.
“It was pretty special because I got to see a lot of amazing people. I was always watching because my brother was on the team, so I got to see (Andy) Miele and (Carter) Camper when they were freshmen and sophomores, and Ryan Jones when he was a senior. It was really cool when I got to come up here and play myself.”
Golf remains part of the family. Gary Wideman and his sons play regularly in the summer. Alex said his parents are “nuts about this place,” and his dad has plenty of Miami gear.
“I think last Sunday was the first home game they’ve missed in like two years,” Wideman said. “My dad pretends like it’s the first time he’s been here every time he’s here. He goes to the bookstore and gets a new Miami T-shirt, a new Miami jacket, whatever. Mom and dad love it here. They have a blast.”
Alex would love to play with his brother again down the road, but that’s a high bar. Who knows? Chris could be in the National Hockey League by the time Alex graduates.
“That would be cool,” Alex said. “He’s worked super hard for everything he’s earned. I’m proud of him wherever he is.”
He’s not going to look too far ahead. That’s part of the Blasi mantra at Miami, and Wideman is a believer.
“So many people are doing their own thing and worried about their futures rather than right now,” he said. “Our coach always tells us to be in the now, and that’s why we’re successful. That’s why we’re so close together. I’m going to enjoy it as much as I can.”