By John Lachmann
OXFORD, Ohio – Nine players logged their first-ever minutes in a Miami uniform on Sunday.
But despite their youth, the RedHawks cruised to a 6-2 win over Western Ontario in their lone exhibition game at Cady Arena.
Miami started three freshmen defensemen and four more in forward spots, and both goalies – who each played half of the game between the pipes – are also newcomers to the RedHawks.
Sophomores Austin Czarnik and Jimmy Mullin – Miami’s leading returning scorers as well as linemates from 2011-12 – were teamed with freshman Riley Barber to comprise the RedHawks’ top line, and they combined for three goals and four assists.
Barber dished for three assists, Czarnik – who opened the scoring off a feed from Barber 4½ minutes into the opening period – scored two goals and Mullin netted a highlight-reel breakaway goal and added a helper.
UWO’s Shaun Furlong tapped in a loose puck in the crease to tie the score, at the six-minute mark.
Miami junior forward Bryon Paulazzo slid a pass to freshman Kevin Morris, who made it 2-1 with 11:30 left in the first period.
The Mustangs’ Jason Furlong tied it two minutes into the second period on a power play goal scored off a rebound.
But the Miami offense caught fire just after the midway point of the middle stanza.
Morris connected with Paulazzo on an odd-man rush, and Paulazzo was able to redirect a pass that slid into the net with 8:30 left in the frame.
Mullin went in alone and made it 4-2 with a highlight-reel goal that he scored between his legs 39 seconds later.
Czarnik went top shelf on a one-timer from Barber on the power play with 6:27 remaining in the period.
Sophomore forward Blake Coleman scored off a behind-the-net feed from sophomore forward Alex Wideman halfway through the final period to seal the game.
Miami outshot Western Ontario, 49-14 including 19-4 in the third period.
Ryan McKay was the sharper of the freshmen goalies, stopping all six shots he faced. Jay Williams allowed two goals on eight shots.
The RedHawks open their regular season with a two-game series vs. Colgate at Cady Arena on Oct. 12-13. Friday’s game is at 7:35 p.m., and the puck will drop at 7:05 on Saturday.
ANALYSIS: So there has to be a percentage of readers (you three know who you are) who are thinking, geez, aren’t we being a wee optimistic for an exhibition game against an inferior Canadian collegiate opponent.
Praise given for performance in these games needs to be kept in that perspective, granted, but this year’s exhibition was more important than most for several reasons.
1) The talent is obvious regardless of the opponent. It was hard to miss the talent level of this freshman class, even if UWO isn’t as tough of an opponent as Michigan in Ann Arbor.
2) This is the hand Miami has been dealt for 3-4 years, not just this season. Of the 20 players that dressed on Sunday, 15 were freshmen or sophomores. If the nine freshmen that played were disappointing overall, it could’ve spelled disaster through 2016 and longer. Better recruits wouldn’t want to come to a team playing at a lower level than in previous years.
With just seven seniors and juniors on the roster – plus Master’s student Marc Hagel –the RedHawks aren’t going to add a ton of bodies the next couple of seasons.
3) Western Ontario isn’t a typical Canadian college opponent. This team tied Western Michigan, 2-2 the night before and was the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (Canada’s version of the NCAA) national runner-up in 2011-12.
And Miami scored six goals against goalie Josh Unice, a former Chicago Blackhawks’ third-round pick who led the Kitchener Rangers to a 53-15 regular-season during their Memorial Cup runner-up season in 2007-08. He stopped 44 shots vs. the Broncos on Saturday.
FORWARDS: A. Easy one here. They accounted for all six goals and nine assists, firing 41 shots on goal.
Freshmen Sean Kuraly and Barber were the blue chips coming in, and they impressed. Kuraly’s a beast with good hands and strength, and Barber’s hands are amazing.
Coach Enrico Blasi’s decision to create the JAR Line II – Jimmy, Austin and Riley instead of Reilly – worked out extremely well.
I knew next to nothing about Morris going into Sunday, but he seriously impressed. In addition to scoring a sweet goal and earning an assist, Blasi put him on the PK for a 5-on-3 and he blocked a shot and broke up a centering pass through the crease.
With all of Miami’s penalty-killing forwards from 2011-12 except for Czarnik gone, the RedHawks will need players not on the top scoring line to step into that role, and Morris’ audition went well.
DEFENSEMEN: A. With all of the Miami power plays, this area was hard to gauge since some of these guys logged 15 minutes or less, but any time you allow 14 shots it’s a good day.
Freshmen Taylor Richart picked up the lone blueliner assist, and the corps combined for eight shots on goal. The good news was none of the freshmen were obvious liabilities, although I