Q&A with Miami assistant Nick Petraglia

New RedHawks give team a size upgrade

One of the many hats Miami assistant coach Nick Petraglia wears is that of co-recruiting coordinator.

Petraglia played for head coach Enrico Blasi as a goalie for the RedHawks, posting a 2.21 goals-against average in seven games before graduating in 2004. This will be his fifth season as a Miami assistant coach, and the team is 87-57-16 (.594) with him behind the bench.

With Petraglia having a direct hand in molding the RedHawks’ roster via recruiting, and with Miami having recently posted its 2014-15 roster, RedHawkey recently talked to Petraglia about the newest members of the Miami hockey team and other topics.

RH: From a fan’s perspective, we lose contact with the team from April to early October, so what are your off-seasons like as a coach?

PETRAGLIA: The first thing we do is try to evaluate where we’re at and assess where our staff is in terms of what we need to do better and what we did well. Same thing with our players, making sure we’re looking back and evaluating how the season went, redefining (players’) roles, put their goals together moving forward, kind of re-set our standards and expectations. We usually do that while we’re resting the bodies (right after the season ends). We got after it a little quicker that we did in past…off-seasons just because of the way the season went – we got right into working after maybe a week or two off.

RH: What are the restrictions the NCAA has regarding contact you’re allowed to have with players in the off-season?

PETRAGLIA: Once the Frozen Four is over, our hours per week go down to – I think it’s eight. So we’re not on the ice anymore, there’s no more practice going on, everything is focused just on the strength and conditioning, mental toughness. All of our time is spent either in meetings or in the weight room or off the ice training because you need to recharge your body – the guys don’t need to be on the ice for 12 months out of the year.

RH: You let us see the newly-completed weight room after the alumni game last month, and it’s absolutely magnificent. How does that help the program?

PETRAGLIA: In every way possible. It’s definitely a recruiting tool – when you can bring a recruit through the building and we walk down the hallway and you see the history of the program and the way it’s been featured, in addition to just the use of the facility and all it has to offer. The most important thing is it’s a facility to make our guys better. It allows them to develop off the ice. There’s definitely some bells and whistles and things that look cool, but at the end of the day the most important thing is to have the facility to train the guys properly and give them what they need off the ice so they can become bigger, faster, stronger. We have the ability now to train our guys right at the rink – our scheduling is much, much better now just because before, every sports team was training out of the Gross Center, so scheduling was difficult. Now we have that place all to ourselves.

RH: Taking a look at the roster, you only lost two guys to graduation (Max Cook and Bryon Paulazzo) and a third to injury (Johnny Wingels). You added essentially five players, with three incoming freshmen plus Boston College transfer Colin Sullivan and redshirt junior Andrew Schmitt. So this is definitely a more veteran roster than in 2013-14.

PETRAGLIA: There was a lot learned from last year and all we went through, and I think that’s why you see a lot of the guys that chose to come back that could’ve left early. A lot of that has to do with them having unfinished business. We definitely have a group that is focused, that’s excited to get back at it. With all we went through last year, I think we’re really focusing on doing things the right way and taking advantage of every opportunity we get. We’re absolutely thrilled to have everybody back. When you can bring back (that many) players off of one team and then can bring in some freshmen that bring different elements to a roster and different strengths, we’re in good shape going into the season.

RH: With three guys departing and five new players coming in, that gives you a roster of 28. Typically in the past you guys have had about 26. What was the thought process into having more players on the roster?

PETRAGLIA: Obviously it’ll create more competition, but it’s not like it’s a roster that’s been over-recruited or there’s too many players for the locker room. There’ll be competition every day for the lineup, whether you’re a forward, a defenseman or a goaltender. So just adding that depth and having the options where everyone can contribute and bring something different to the table gives us a lot of different looks. And it’ll definitely keep guys focused and make sure they’re playing their best if they want to stay in the lineup, which is what you want.

RH: Since you’ve obviously seen these guys play, let’s talk about the newcomers individually. First is Colin Sullivan. He’s a 6-feet-1, 205-pound defenseman who transferred

from Boston College. What does he bring to Miami?

PETRAGLIA: Well, the first thing is experience. Having played college hockey already at an elite program and having gone through that experience is a valuable thing. He’s a very high-character kid, has an unbelievable work ethic, is extremely well conditioned. On the ice, he’s just a solid two-way defenseman, he should be able to take care of his own end, moves the puck pretty well, skates pretty well and has some decent size, too.

RH: Scott Dornbrock is another incoming defenseman. He’s 6-3, 220 and has played in the NAHL the past two seasons where he had seven goals and 17 assists in 2013-14.

PETRAGLIA: He’s a big, bruising, stay-at-home defensive defenseman. He’s tough to play against, he’s physical, he has no fear, he’s not afraid to block a shot, he’s not afraid to take a hit to make a play. He should being an element to our penalty kill, and the other thing about him is he’s a left-shot defenseman, which between him and Matty Joyaux are our only two, so it gives us a little more versatility there. He’s just a really big, mean, physical defenseman. Adding that presence back there is something we felt we needed, and he definitely brings that to the table.

RH: Forward Conor Lemirande (LEM-or-and). Six-feet-6, 235 pounds, which is huge for a college forward. Can you talk about him?

PETRAGLIA: Yeah, he is a big guy and one of the things that really stands out when you watch him is, for how big he is, how well he moves around the ice. He skates well, he’s got good skills, good hockey sense and he’s a two-way player. He’s a kid that’ll probably play a number of different positions for us in different spots in the lineup. With his size and his strength – again, talking about adding different elements and different looks – he’s a guy that can really get after the forecheck and cause some havoc and play through bodies, and he’s a presence on the front end. I don’t think too many defensemen are going to be too excited to have him barreling down on them when they’re going back to get a puck.

RH: No doubt the biggest addition is defenseman Louis Belpedio, who is 5-10, 193 and was drafted in the third round by the Minnesota Wild this June. He had five goals and 10 assists for the U.S. National Under-18 team in 2013-14. What are your thoughts on him as he joins a blueline corps had its share of difficulties last season?

PETRAGLIA: Louis is going to come in and obviously be well-hyped with his pedigree. He’s obviously a very high-end player and we’re going to expect a lot from him right away. He’s a special kid who’s been committed to our program for a long time. Unbelievable character – he was the captain of the USA Under-18 team that won a world championship – he has big-time skills offensively and defensively. The way he skates, his hockey sense, you name it, he’s got it. He’s somewhat of an undersized defenseman but that’s really not an issue at all. And there will be growing pains, that’s the case with everybody that moves up a level, and he will have to figure that out a little bit as the rest of the guys will. We’re expecting Louis to be a big piece to our puzzle, and we’re expecting all of these guys to come in and contribute right away and make our team better.

RH: Vincent LoVerde, who I think was one of the best defensemen this team has had the past 10 years, is Belpedio’s cousin, and they’re about the same size. Do you see similarities in their style of play?

PETRAGLIA: No, I would not say they are very similar. Vinny was more a rugged, stay-at-home defensive defenseman and Louis is a bit more of a skilled, smooth, puck-moving, great-skating defenseman. Vinny was very effective and a great player for us and we hope Louis will be the same, but they’re very different types of players.

RH: The fifth “new” player is Andrew Schmitt, who was a redshirt last year after transferring from Nebraska-Omaha. He’s another big guy at 6-feet-5, 220 and will be a junior. What does he add to this team?

PETRAGLIA: Obviously he had an opportunity to practice with us last year and he’s done an amazing job off the ice, getting himself ready to compete. He’s another big body, works extremely hard, very physical and another great kid. Just another guy to come in and add depth to the lineup and compete for a spot. He’s also cousins with Conor Lemirande, so they’re really close and there’s a lot of size and weight being added to the lineup between the two of them.

RH: So looking at the five new guys, we have Belpedio and then 6-feet-1, 6-3, 6-5 and 6-6 coming in. How does that change the team’s approach this season from a coaching perspective?

PETRAGLIA: I don’t think it really changes our approach. We still want to compete at a high level and be tough to play against, and our guys are going to have to be able to get up and down the ice and skate and make plays, but I don’t think you’re going to see us being pushed around at all. I think that the different skill sets that have been brought in will

complement our returning players really well, and at the end of the day we still have the same horses leading the way up front for us. And those guys are going to have to carry the load, and they’ll have a really experienced and large supporting cast to follow with them. We’re really excited about the makeup of the roster – and more than anything – happy with the progress we made in the off-season. The mentality of our team and just where everyone’s focus is right now – it’s so much on the team and so much on getting better and doing things the right way – that we couldn’t be more excited to get started.

RH: Just as a general question, when it comes to fans following commits, some commits continue to play in the USHL after high school and come to college later, some come to college right away and others never actually make it to the university. How does that whole process work on the coaching end?

PETRAGLIA: Everything’s a case-by-case basis, so it all comes down to when is that player going to be able to come in and impact that program. That’s always something that’s being communicated between our staff and the recruit, because we want guys that come in here and are ready to contribute. We don’t want guys coming in to sit in the stands or not get the playing time that they’d like. Obviously it’s always a competition and everybody has a different role, but we want to make sure guys are ready, and whether it’s playing one year of juniors coming in as a true freshman or playing an extra year after that, that communication, that dialogue is always going on. Some kids are committed for one year after high school, some kids know they’re coming in right away, some kids it’s completely open-ended because you never know how they’re really going to develop. When you research that stuff online, you can’t always believe what you see or read because the only ones that maybe really know the truth are the programs and the recruits that are directly involved.

RH: Recruiting rules seem to change constantly and vary by sport, but the way it’s set up now, a Letter of Intent in hockey is only good for one year, right?

PETRAGLIA: Yep, that’s correct. So if you sign a National Letter of Intent, that’s good for 12 months and then once the 12 months are up it is expired, and if you haven’t reported to that school, then you have to re-sign for another year. So, typically, you’re not going to see us offer an NLI unless a kid is expected to come in for his freshman year, and then the other players that have been committed that don’t sign NLI’s, that means they’re going back to play juniors or to play somewhere else before coming to college.

HF: Defenseman Johnny Wingels was hurt last year and is not going to be able to play hockey, but he is going to help out with the team. As an undergraduate, what is he going to be able to do to assist the coaching staff?

PETRAGLIA: It’s obviously unfortunate that he’s no longer able to play, which is a sad day for him and for his teammates and for us. You never want to see a kid’s career end before he wants it to. Johnny’s a really bright kid, a really smart person, and he’ll continue to be a big part of our program. What his role will be I think will continue to evolve. It’s really up to Johnny in terms of what exactly he wants to do to help, but he’ll be at the rink every day, he’ll be at practices, he’ll be part of everything we do. He’s still part of the team, he still gets his scholarship and all the things that go with that, he’s just not eligible to compete for us anymore because of the injury situation. I can tell you he’s still a big part of things moving forward, and that won’t change.

You can follow John on Twitter at @RedNBlackhawks .

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