DETROIT – It can’t be a coincidence that on Miami’s roster, there are eight players with Michigan ties – five having grown up here.
Redhawks coach Rico Blasi confirmed the suspicion that Michigan is a state he focuses on when recruiting student-athletes.
“I think in proximity to the university and our campus, Michigan has always been a state that we’ve definitely tried to focus on,” he said, “especially the Detroit area.”
The Michigan-Ohio border is only 164 miles from Miami’s campus in Oxford. Blasi said his assistant coaches Chris Bergeron and Brent Brekke do most of the traveling to Ohio’s northern neighbor to scout talent.
“Berg was the one who actually recruited me,” freshman forward Devin Mantha, who is from Ann Arbor, Mich. “He finally brought Rico to watch me play, and I must have played good enough.”
The Midwest Elite Hockey League (MWEHL) is one the premier amateur youth hockey leagues in the United States. Michigan has the most teams, with five — they even have their own division, named the Detroit Division. In comparison, Ohio only has one team.
One of those Michigan teams is Little Caesars, which is owned by the Ilitch family and based out of Joe Louis Arena, the NHL home of the Red Wings.
The talent level of the players in the MWEHL is something that Blasi and his coaching staff can’t ignore.
“(Bergeron and Brekke) do a great job of tracking these guys from a very young age, watching Little Caesars and all the Detroit teams,” Blasi said. “It’s a very good league, it’s real good hockey. And it’s very competitive, well-coached, and there’s always good hockey players out of the Michigan area.”
The Detroit-area players are thankful that the Redhawks coaching staff pays so much attention to Michigan.
“It’s definitely probably one of the most competitive leagues in the States,” junior forward Andy Miele said, who is from Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., and who once played for Little Caesars. “I know a lot of those players are playing college hockey now too, so I get to play against them.”
Miami’s recruiting efforts in Michigan aren’t limited to the MWEHL and the Detroit area — they also uncover players who fly under the radar.
Sophomore defenseman Will Weber, who grew up in Gaylord, Mich. – a four-hour drive from Detroit – played varsity high school hockey, but still drew the attention of Redhawks.
“I don’t know how exactly they got the word about me,” Weber said. “But yeah, they were one of the first few at the start of the recruiting process, and they really liked me.”