Nov. 10, 2011
OXFORD, Ohio - With 10 seniors on the 2011-12 roster, the Miami University hockey team will have lots of positions to fill next season and the RedHawks took the first step towards doing that Thursday, signing nine players to National Letters of Intent, head coach Enrico Blasi announced. The 2011 signing class consists of four forwards, three defensemen and two goaltenders while three hail from Illinois, two come from Michigan and one each are natives of California, Massachusetts, Ohio and Virginia.
Making up the 2011 signing class are forwards Riley Barber, Alex Gacek, Ryan Hartman and Sean Kuraly, defensemen Matthew Caito, Chris Joyaux and Patrick Sieloff and goalies Ryan McKay and Jay Williams. All nine future RedHawks are playing in the United States Hockey League (Tier I Juniors) during the 2011-12 season while five are already representing the United States. Barber, Hartman and Sieloff are teammates on the U.S. National Team Development Program while McKay and Kuraly are currently competing for the Stars and Stripes at the World Junior A Challenge in Langley, B.C., Canada.
"We feel this is a very special group that will be joining us next season," Blasi said. "They are all high-character young men who fit into our culture, and they have proven to be great players on the ice as well. We are honored to have them all as a part of our program and we expect great things from them next season as freshmen."
Barber, who comes to Oxford from Livonia, Mich., was the No. 1 overall pick in the USHL Future's Draft in 2010 and helped lead the Dubuque Fighting Saints to the USHL's Clark Cup during his rookie season after tallying 14 goals and 14 assists in 57 games. This past summer, the 5-foot-11 forward was permanently added to the U.S. National Team for the 2011-12 season after participating with the team during international play in 2010-11. Barber's father, Don, played for four NHL teams from 1988-1992.
"Riley is an excellent two-way player. On top of having a really good skill set, he is tough to play against and is responsible at both ends of the ice," Blasi said. "He has a natural ability to score goals and has great puck protection skills in the offensive zone. He has a really good head for the game and comes from a good pedigree."
Caito, a native of Coto de Caza, Calif., played his prep hockey at the Salisbury School in Connecticut for the past few years before moving on to the USHL this season. A reliable two-way defenseman, Caito potted eight goals and 15 assists for 23 points in 26 games for Salisbury in 2010-11 and was also a member of the Mid-Fairfield Blues AAA team that finished National Runner-Up in 2011. This season, the 5-foot-11 Caito has made a smooth transition to the USHL, recording five assists and a +7 rating for Dubuque in its first 11 games of the 2011-12 campaign.
"Matthew is a mature and smart two-way defenseman," Blasi said. "He is a really solid defender and does a great job of getting back to pucks and initiating the breakout. He sees the ice very well and has an offensive side to his game. Matthew is a real student of the game and a versatile player on the blue line."
Gacek has been a solid contributor for the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL so far in 2011-12. The Dracut, Mass., native has tallied six points on four goals and two helpers with a +6 rating through 10 games this season. The 5-foot-9 forward fought through an injury in his debut season in the USHL last year, registering eight points, but was an elite player in the Eastern Junior Hockey League scoring 33 goals in 40 games for the New Hampshire Monarchs the previous year.
"Alex is a high-energy player that possesses a quick release and a heavy shot. He has proven to be a goal-scorer throughout his career and he is off to a real solid start this year in Youngstown," Blasi said. "He has a powerful stride and has done a great job getting back to 100 percent after a tough year last year when he was dealing with an injury for the first half of the season."
Hartman, a native of West Dundee, Ill., led the USNTDP U-17 team in goals and points in 2010-11, scoring 22 times and adding 12 assists for 34 points in 52 games while helping lead the team to Vlad Dzurilla and Four Nations Cup tournament championships. Prior to lacing up the skates for Team USA, the 5-11 forward played for the Chicago Mission AAA organization and boasted a 46-49-95 line in 63 games during the 2009-10 season.
"Ryan is a gifted power forward that has a great shot and goal-scoring ability," Blasi said. "He also brings a toughness and physical element to his game that makes him a force to be reckoned with. He is a guy that can play in all situations and is a similar player to (current San Jose Sharks prospect and former RedHawk captain) Tommy Wingels. Ryan will fit in nicely to the style of game we want to play."
Joyaux, the second future `Hawk from Illinois (Bloomingdale), plays for his hometown Chicago Steel in the USHL this season, totaling two points on the young campaign. The 6-foot-1 defenseman recorded four goals and six assists for 10 points in 54 games last year. Prior to playing in the USHL, Joyaux skated for the well-respected Team Illinois AAA program in Chicago where he notched seven goals and nine assists in 48 games in 2009-10.
"Chris is a solid defenseman who can really get up and down the ice. He is an excellent skater with a good stick and he sees the ice well," Blasi said. "He is a reliable puck mover and has the ability to chip in offensively as well."
Kuraly is the lone Ohioan in the class, hailing from Dublin. The 6-foot-2 forward is in his second season with the Indiana Ice of the USHL after totaling 29 points on eight goals and 21 assists in his first season with the Ice in 2010-11. In just eight games this season, Kuraly already has 11 points on four goals and seven assists with a +3 rating while the 11 points tie for seventh in the league. He is the son of Rick Kuraly ('83), who is Miami's all-time goal-scoring leader with 101, and was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the fifth round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft (133rd overall). Kuraly is currently representing the United States at the World Junior A Challenge.
"This is a really special signing for our program. Not only because Sean is a great player, but this represents the first time the son of one of our alums will wear the Miami jersey," Blasi noted. "Sean is a very talented player who can do a little bit of everything. He is a great skater, possesses the puck well, and is starting to get some confidence offensively in the USHL. He is a relentless penalty killer and can play center or wing."
McKay, one of two goaltenders in the signing class, comes to Oxford from Palatine, Ill. He is in his third season with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL and has posted a 4-1 record with a league-best 1.60 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage in five games this year. The 5-foot-11 netminder posted a 25-9-3 record with a 2.00 GAA and .928 save percentage last season while leading his team to the Clark Cup Finals for the second straight year. McKay is currently participating with Kuraly for Team USA at the World Junior A Challenge in British Columbia.
"Ryan is a proven winner and a well-decorated goaltender at the junior level. He is an aggressive and competitive kid who is technically sound and really reads the game well," Blasi said. "He has had a great junior career thus far and should transition nicely for us as we bring in a new generation of goaltenders next year."
Sieloff, a native of Ann Arbor, Mich., is teammates with Barber and Hartman in his hometown while playing for the U.S. National Team Development Program. Known for his tough, rugged play, the 6-foot-0 bruising defender has a reputation of being one of the premier defensive defensemen for his age in the country. In 2010-11, he scored three goals and added six assists in 52 games for Team USA and was a go-to defender for the National Program on the back end.
"Patrick is a special kid that we had a long recruiting process with, and we couldn't be any happier that he chose Miami. He verbally committed just a few hours before the CCHA Championship game last year, so that was a good day for us," Blasi said. "Patrick's strength is in his skating ability and the physical element he brings to the game. He is a very reliable defender that has a knack for delivering the big hit and can shoot the puck well too."
Williams rounds out Miami's 2011 signing class and is the second goaltender in the group along with McKay. The 6-foot-1 netminder is in his second season with the Waterloo Blackhawks of the USHL and is off to a 4-3-1 start in 2011 with a 2.58 goals-against average and .910 save percentage. In his first year with the Blackhawks, the McLean, Va., native compiled a 7-10-2 record in 20 games with a pair of shutouts. A former first round USHL draft pick, Williams has also represented the United States in international play on two separate occasions.
"Jay is as talented of a goaltender as you will find. He has great feet, really good skills and fills the net well," Blasi said. "He and Ryan already have a great relationship and we will rely on them to carry the torch for us moving forward. Just like our current situation, Jay and Ryan were both recruited to be number one goaltenders and we are really excited about their potential."
All nine signees will suit up for the RedHawks starting in the 2012-13 season. The current RedHawks return to the ice this weekend, hosting No. 4/5 Michigan in a CCHA series Friday and Saturday at Steve Cady Arena.