Analysis: Miami thriving late in games?

Following Miami’s painful struggles late in games earlier this season, the RedHawks have now pulled off back-to-wins in the closing minutes.

The RedHawks beat No. 7 Nebraska-Omaha, 3-1 at Baxter Arena on Friday, thanks largely to senior defenseman Matthew Caito’s one-timer that put MU ahead for good with 2:03 left.

Miami also beat Bowling Green on Oxford last weekend on a marker by senior forward Anthony Louis in the final seconds.

This game was payback for earlier in the season when the Mavericks stole four points from the RedHawks in the Oxford series. A third-period goal helped UNO earn a tie in the first game of that set, and Nebraska-Omaha took the finale in overtime.

Coming out on the wrong side numerous times in the first half of this campaign had two possible outcomes: 1) Crash and burn, let’s try it again next fall, or 2) get stronger, learn how to deal with those situations and start winning.

At least in the last seven days, Miami looks like it has chosen the latter.

It’s obvious 22 games into this season that this isn’t the 2007-08 RedHawks in terms of talent, or even the 2014-15 team. Miami clearly doesn’t have that kind of offensive firepower.

But there’s still plenty of talent there, and the freshmen development – Ryan Siroky, Kiefer Sherwood, Josh Melnick, Grant Hutton, Zach LaValle – has been steady. Jack Roslovic needs to get going again, but he is likely the most talented of all the RedHawks and the smart money is on him heating up again soon.

Anthony Louis is doing his annual getting-hot-in-the-second-half thing. Sean Kuraly looks so much better than he did in October when he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. Alex Gacek is having his best season, and it’s fun to watch his supersonic speed.

The defense is so good that poor Colin Sullivan – a top six on almost every team in Division I – can’t get into the lineup consistently. Scott Dornbrock, who was maybe the No. 5 or 6 blueliner coming in, has been a rock the last few games, and the three seniors on that corps are playing like Miami seniors should.

Williams2

Jay Williams

And let’s not discount goaltending. Since the Ryan McKay meltdown, Jay Williams is 2-0 with a 0.80 goals-against average and a .968 save percentage.

Not piling on McKay, but all along it looked like this team needed something to fire it up. Perhaps in some way that was it. College seniors like Williams who are in the final stretch run of their amateur careers can do amazing things when given the opportunity.

Miami will need to win a lot more games like this: Low-scoring, tight-checking contests against top 10 teams. But for two games at least, the RedHawks appear up for the challenge, and there is still plenty of time for them to get back into NCAA Tournament contention.

Other thoughts…

– 76 faceoffs. Yikes. The officials probably have sore jaws from using their whistles. Still too many off-sides and icing violations for late January, and Miami won less than half of those draws.

– Overall, Miami has been much better in the third period in recent games. In their last six contests, the RedHawks have outscored opponents, 7-3 in the final stanza.

– Speaking of officiating, it was pretty bad both ways. The penalties were inconsistent, and even the announcers were stunned that Zach LaValle’s goal was overturned. For those who didn’t see, LaValle backhanded a loose puck after UNO goalie Zach Blankenburg made an initial save. Blankenburg was sprawled out, and LaValle grazed him with his skate as he addressed the puck, but the goalie was in no way interfered with.

– But Miami kept up the surge in that second period, outshooting the Mavericks, 15-6 after an evenly-played, slow-paced first frame.

– This game was nationally broadcast on CBS College Sports, but for a brand-new arena that looked beautiful, the in-game camera was way too far away, making it difficult to follow the puck at times even in HD.

Starman

Star Man

– While Ben Holden and the Starmen do a great job with all college hockey broadcasts – this one being no exception – the lovefest for Austin Ortega was Pat Cannone-esque over the top. And their nickname of California Hot Sauce is a stretch at best. Actually, isn’t the Ortega brand best known for its taco sauce?

– Apparently Miami has truly reached the big time, as play-by-play announcer Greg Waddell was picked up from the Omaha airport via limo.

GRADES

FORWARDS: B-. Not a fan of the Roslovic-Justin Greenberg-Sherwood line combination, although it did produce the first goal. For the most part, there’s no chemistry between the trio, and Sherwood scored after seizing a loose puck caused by Greenberg absorbing a hit, which while a good hockey play has nothing to do with players jelling.

Miami's Anthony Louis (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Miami’s Anthony Louis (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Roslovic is too good to have his offensive prowess stifled and needs to play on a line that enhances his game instead of hindering it. Liking the Louis-Melnick-Gacek line though. Louis was everywhere in this game, and Melnick had one of his best efforts in recent history as well. Bottom line: They generated two goals – should’ve been three with LaValle’s shot – and one was an empty netter. But the effort was solid, and this corps should be able to continue building from this game.

DEFENSEMEN: B. Caito’s game winner was the biggest play of the game. Hutton and Dornbrock stepped up in this one, and the rest of this group played at its usual high level. The double minor to Chris Joyaux did lead to UNO’s lone goal, although the case could’ve been made that it should’ve been coincidentals after the retaliation slashes Joyaux too. But still, this Mavericks team is too potent to get five power plays.

GOALTENDING: A+. Here’s where the game was won. Williams stopped 27 of 28 shots, and the one that got by was a rip by one of the top scorers in college hockey on a one-timer off a pass through the slot on the power play. Williams had no chance on it. He made the save of the year with his glove in the first period off a one-timer from right on the doorstep in the first period, shut down another excellent chance off a passing play through the offensive zone and made a big stop after Miami had taken the lead to preserve the win. With Miami’s lack of offense, the pressure on Williams must be intense, and he has stepped up the challenge back-to-back games.

LINEUP CHANGES: None. This is about the time of year that Coach Enrico Blasi likes to settle on 18 skaters and stick with it for the most part, and it looks like this is the group he likes for the stretch run. Michael Mooney and Colin Sullivan were scratched for the second straight game, and Devin Loe has not dressed in any of the last four. Ryan McKay also sat again, as third goalie Evan McCarthy remained in the active backup role for the second consecutive tilt.

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Posted on January 23, 2016, in 2015-16, UNO Mavericks and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. The lovefest for Austin Ortega isn’t limited to CBS Sports Network. The ESPN announcers were driving the “California Hot Sauce” bit into the ground last year in the Frozen Four.

    It’s annoying because he’s such a one-way player. Great offensive talent, but the guy has zero interest in playing defense.

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