Analysis: Many positives in WMU sweep
OXFORD, Ohio – Miami’s first NCHC series of the season did not go well, and the results reflected that – two losses at St. Cloud with one goal for, six against.
The RedHawks’ follow-up series, its first conference games at Cady Arena, were a marked improvement, with both ending in 2-1 wins over Western Michigan, including a victory in the second game on Saturday.
From a statistical perspective, Miami went from tied for last in the league to basically the middle of the pack. Even through MU is in a six-way tie for first, Denver, North Dakota and St. Cloud State have only played two league games and are 2-0.
Most importantly, from a getting-ready-for-bigger-challenges-ahead vantage point, even more good came from these games.
Defensively, Miami gave Western Michigan (4-4-1) almost nothing to shoot at all weekend, and the few times it did, Ryan McKay stopped almost everything he saw.
Offensively, the RedHawks were able to possess the puck in the offensive zone for long periods of time and get numerous looks at the net, even against a team that is outstanding at preventing teams from finding shooting lanes.
And the Broncos are a physical, play-over-the-line at times group, and with one early exception, Miami was able to avoid dumb retaliatory penalties.
Lots of positive.
And Western Michigan is well coached by Andy Murray, who spent 10 years as a head coach in the NHL, and this team is much better than in 2014-15. But the RedHawks were still able to escape with a couple of close wins and were able to close out games both nights, which has been an issue at times in recent years.
Now Miami faces an even tougher test than St. Cloud State – a pair of games vs. North Dakota in Grand Forks. At least the RedHawks have momentum heading into next weekend.
A couple of other thoughts:
– Getting goals from Alex Gacek and Anthony Louis could be a huge boost for an offense that is struggling to get scoring from anyone. Gacek is playing the best hockey of his career, and Louis tends to start slowly and pile up the points when he gets going. It was Gacek’s second goals of the season, and the first (!!) for Louis.
– In the final minute, there was a faceoff at center ice, and right before the puck dropped Sean Kuraly skated back and formed an impromptu huddle with Miami’s other four skaters. It was immediately broken up by the officials but may have been a first in hockey. Hey, we are well into football season.
– Freshmen Ryan Siroky and Kiefer Sherwood haven’t been flashy, but the linemates seem to be getting better every game. Twice Siroky won offensive zone faceoffs straight back to Sherwood for a shot just inside the blue line. They both work incredibly hard on the ice, and it’s going to be fun watching them develop the next 3½ years.
– McKay moved into solo control of eighth place all-time on Miami’s wins list with 35. He is one away from creating a three-way tie with Mark Michaud and teammate Jay Williams.
– With a 2-for-2 night on the penalty kill, the RedHawks are now 34 of 35 for the season (97.1 percent) in that area. They have not allowed a power play goal in eight games.
FORWARDS: C+. They controlled the action for a good portion of the game, but this corps still isn’t scoring as much as it should. While the defensemen and McKay get the majority of credit for keeping the puck out of Miami’s net, this group helps in that area as well. Gacek, Kevin Morris, Justin Greenberg, Josh Melnick have done a great job of shutting down opposing offenses and are also a key reason for the PK percentage north of 97 percent. Other than Jack Roslovic and Melnick, that scoring thing is still an issue overall for this team, though.
DEFENSEMEN: A. WMU finished with 20 shots on goal, and not too many were quality. Scott Dornbrock tried to clear a puck that hit a Broncos skate, and Western Michigan went in to score its only goal. WMU had an outstanding tip that McKay had to stop as well, and those were two of the only great scoring chances the team had. No one has been really flashy among this group but as a unit they are really tough to play against.
GOALTENDING: A. The only goal was on a very good shot. McKay made an outstanding save on the aforementioned redirect and was generally really solid overall. He stopped 19 of 20 shots and is having an excellent start to his senior season.
LINEUP CHANGES: None. Coach Enrico Blasi went with the same 19 as Friday. Normally he changes personnel pretty regularly at this point of the season and settles into a regular lineup in January or February, but he seems to feel comfortable with this group. Miami only has three extra skaters, and it was the second straight game as a scratch for defenseman Colin Sullivan, the third in a row for Devin Loe and No. 6 for No. 6, Michael Mooney.