UNO 6, Miami 3
In a game that was a strange nightmare of this programs’ past, the Miami RedHawks were outskated and outcoached by a hot Nebraska Omaha team 6-3 on Friday night.
Last night was reminiscent of games I’ve seen Miami play in years against Michigan when we didn’t have nearly as much talent as the Wolverines. The Mavericks, stymied in the first period by Miami’s defensive system, broke out in the second period by scoring five times, largely off transition plays or rushes to overwhelm the RedHawks and seize control of a close game. It was clear that Dean Blais’ intent was to lure the RedHawks into an up-and-down game by sending three forwards hard through the neutral zone to create odd-man rushes. That effort resulted in several defensive lapses with UNO forwards routinely getting behind Miami defensemen who were outnumbered and flat-footed. The Miami forwards really have to do a better job Saturday night back checking to limit the transition chances for Omaha. When Blais upped the tempo, Miami simply had no answer. Cross-ice passes found streaking forwards in the neutral zone. Routine centering passes found tape, and then, the back of the net far too often.
What I found most disturbing about Friday’s game was that after a reasonably solid first period that saw Miami convert on a powerplay and limit the Mavericks to just six shots on goal, it seemed Miami became disinterested and played flat and lackadaisical for the first 17 or 18 minutes of the second period. Defensemen were out of position and outskated, and forwards took the easy route deciding two-way hockey was optional. The RedHawks also took far too many shots from the outside and didn’t really get into the hard areas of the ice until late in the second period. By that time, the score was
5-1 and the game looked out of reach. But, as the second period wound down, Sean Kuraly would inject some life into his teammates by scoring a late powerplay goal at 19:36 and let out a loud “whoop” following it that was clearly audible all the way up in the press box. For the night, Kuraly was probably the best of the RedHawks, and at one point, was elevated to the first line alongside Austin Czarnik and classmate Riley Barber. And, just :19 after Kuraly’s tally, Kevin Morris would jam home a loose puck in front of the net and suddenly it was a two-goal game at 5-3 heading to the third.
In the third, the RedHawks showed immediate life, but after having an early powerplay and exhausting energy putting pressure on the Mavs, by the 10 minute mark of the period, it was clear Miami had exhausted whatever power they had to forge a comeback.
On the night, the RedHawks were 2 for 7 on the powerplay, but missed several other good chances. Junior captain Austin Czarnik will most certainly say that he let a few golden opportunities pass by as he was stopped twice by UNO junior goaltender Ryan Massa on a penalty shot and a clean shorthanded breakaway attempt. If Czarnik converts just one of the two, we perhaps have a different game down the stretch and the Hawk bench would have gotten a huge boost.
As poorly as the RedHawks played transition defense, they did leave enough Grade A scoring chances on the ice that could have made this a game. But, in the end, UNO’s speed and transition game took the RedHawks by surprise and they looked unprepared and unable to respond. I think Dean Blais certainly got the best of Enrico Blasi on this night. But, the great thing about college hockey is there’s always tomorrow night. Saturday’s game is incredibly important for Miami. Finding a way to overcome tonight’s poor performance and earn a win will make the flight back to Ohio a lot happier on Sunday and reestablish Miami’s confidence heading into next weekend’s road series at Bemidji State of the WCHA.
- After being injured in the second period, sophomore netminder Jay Williams did not return to the game though he was spotted on the bench for a while after the injury and in the hall leading to the RedHawks locker room during the third period. We’ll try to get an update on his status, but it’s certainly clear that Ryan McKay will start Saturday night’s game.
- Junior Blake Coleman appeared to injure his leg in the second period, but did return to the ice in the third period and played reasonably well. Hopefully, he’ll be in the lineup tomorrow night and the injury is nothing serious.
- Junior Jimmy Mullin was scratched in favor of senior Bryon Paulazzo who responded with a goal and some gritty play in front of the Omaha net. And, I believe Paulazzo will be in the lineup Saturday night as well.
- Ryan McKay did not look like himself tonight in relief of the injured Jay Williams. He was certainly fighting the puck most of the night. Perhaps this game was just a strange anomaly overall, and we’ll look back upon it late in the season and agree it was just an off night for everyone.
- The CenturyLink Center in downtown Omaha is a nice “pro” building. However, it lacks character, a pep band and a full house which is why UNO is constructing a new building that seats around 6,000-7,000 on their campus about five miles to the west of downtown.
- Omaha controlled the faceoff circle winning 46 to Miami’s 32. Clearly the RedHawks must narrow that gap Saturday night. That’s far too many losses against a squad looking to get out into transition.
- As I was leaving CenturyLink Center this evening, the event staff had already began the changeover process to get the building into shape for Creighton basketball. The 23rd ranked Jays face Tulsa on Saturday at 3:30 PM EST leaving the staff fewer than four hours to re-fit the “Clink” as the locals call it, for college hockey. That means that Miami will not have a regular morning skate/practice. However, given Miami’s performance, I wouldn’t be surprised if Miami’s staff was calling local rinks during the game to find available ice tomorrow. That’s kind of a joke…sort of…