Analysis: League tourney last hope for season

OXFORD, Ohio – Three seasons ago, Miami suffered through a 3-12-1 second half.

When it became obvious Miami Version 2013-14 would have to win the NCHC Tournament to earn a berth to the NCAAs, preparation for a difficult road series to the open that years’ conference tournament trumped results of the final few regular season games.

We’re almost to that point after the RedHawks’s 5-2 loss to No. 2 Denver at Cady Arena on Friday, as Miami is mired in seventh place in the league standings and would need to make up seven points with five games left in the regular season to earn home ice for the first round of the NCHCs, not to mention pass three teams.

And the RedHawks (9-14-6) are out of games vs. two of those three teams they would need to eclipse: Nebraska-Omaha and St. Cloud State. The other is North Dakota, which Miami hosts to close out the regular season in two weeks.

Moving ahead of at least one of those teams would be beneficial, as the RedHawks are currently seventh and would play the league runner-up between Minnesota-Duluth and Denver in a best-of-3.

Duluth didn’t work out particularly well last year, and facing the Pioneers in a long series at altitude isn’t particularly appealing either. Western Michigan appears the favorite for the three seed, and Miami didn’t come close to winning either of its games in Kalamazoo, either.

And while the four seed is up for grabs – St. Cloud State currently holds that spot after beating the RedHawks twice on its home ice last week – the five seed may be the toughest in the league, as that team’s opponent is not ensured a spot in the NCAAs and often has a lot more to play for than the relatively safe top three seeds in this league.

Denver (21-6-4) was the better team on Friday and was in both games in Colorado, which RedHawks goalie Ryan Larkin singlehandedly flipped from losses to ties with his stellar play. We’ve seen first hand that Western Michigan > Miami. It’s not a stretch to assume to same about UMD, currently the top-ranked team in PairWise.

That’s where we are with five games left until the NCHC Tournament. It’s not pretty.

Then again, in 2013-14 the RedHawks went to St. Cloud and shocked the Huskies, sweeping them on their home ice and ultimately falling just short in the league’s championship game in Minneapolis.

So Miami’s season is still far from over, but the team’s path is similar to that of three years ago: Need a road series win against a top-10 team then a pair of wins at the Frozen Faceoff.

The odds are long, but the RedHawks have pulled rabbits out of their hats before when things looked their gloomiest.

Other thoughts…

– Denver’s game-winning goal by Will Butcher was a microcosm of Miami’s season. Offensive-zone faceoff win, check. Skate into the slot uncontested. Check. Fire a grade-A shot past a RedHawks goalie who has to be in need of a support group at this point. Check and mate. It was a 4-on-4 and no one picked up Butcher, who has a great shot and should’ve been a defensive priority on that play.

– Speaking of summing up this team on one play, on defense, there was a fairly routine situation in the first period that turned into another point-blank chance that Larkin turned aside in which Miami D-men Jared Brandt and Louie Belpedio failed to pick up the shooter despite being seemingly well positioned. BoB said the loss of three quality defensemen to graduation (Matthew Caito, Taylor Richart, Chris Joyaux) could be the toughest thing for this team to overcome. The current D-corps, with the exception of Grant Hutton, just isn’t making anyone pay the price for establishing prime real estate in Miami’s zone. A physical, shut-down set of blueliners has been a staple of RedHawks hockey for two cycles of classes, we’re not getting that, Nos. 1-6, on a regular basis. They have far too often freelanced deep into the offensive zone and gotten caught as well.

– The officials certainly didn’t cost Miami this game, but that played a major role by assessing a body checking penalty to Conor Lemirande along the benches (OK, technically they called it interference, but that player had just unloaded the puck, and aren’t those skaters still fair game for the first second at least?). Of course, that went into the net, and after the RedHawks failed to pick up yet another trailer who skated into the slot without paying any kind of price, Colin Sullivan took a penalty right after, and that also ended up in a waved off Denver goal. That was overturned after an eight-minute delay, and there’s a 2-0 lead for the Pioneers with Tanner Jaillet in net. The calls weren’t very good either way, and the linesmen were awful at dropping pucks for faceoffs and in their judgment of kicking playoffs out of the circles.

– These lengthy reviews have gotten ridiculous. We saw a 14-minute delay vs. Western Michigan and another eight-minute stopped in this one. Yes, Friday’s call went Denver’s way, but there really needs to be a limit on these stoppages. If a pregnant pause is long enough that players need to skate to keep their legs fresh, as was the case in both of these instances, it needs to be shut down. Of course we want to see all calls made correctly, but most reasonable people realize that college hockey isn’t the pros, or even Division I football or basketball with unlimited HD angles. If a call can’t be overturned in two minutes, the call on the ice stands. Originally that was a good enough stance for the NFL (actually it was 90 seconds), so it should be fine for hockey at this level.

– Some positive? Josh Melnick had the presence of mind to grab the puck before the linesman got it after Brandt scored the tying goal, realizing it was the first of the freshman’s career. And it was a beautiful shot. Brandt has gone from the NAHL to playing on the top pairing, facing opponents’ top forwards as a freshman, which is an incredibly difficult role in this league.

GRADES

FORWARDS: D. The Gordie Green-to-LaValle hook up was nice, but this corps did little else. Denver has an excellent coach in Jim Montgomery, and clearly his staff figured out how to shut down Kiefer Sherwood and Anthony Louis, who combined for three shots. Carter Johnson was 6-5 on faceoffs, but overall Miami was an embarrassment on draws, finishing 25-47. Melnick was 9-17 and Sherwood was 5-16. Twelve forwards, 13 shots.

DEFENSEMEN: D+. The Brandt goal earns this corps the plus. Too many Pioneers skated around defenseman en route to the net. Too many times Denver skaters took direct lines toward high-percentage scoring areas without being challenged. Too many times we’ve seen this exact MO.

Miami goalie Ryan Larkin (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Miami goalie Ryan Larkin (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

GOALTENDING: B. Yes, Larkin allowed four goals on 31 shots, but he got almost no help. The first two Denver markers were both on the power play. Goal No. 1 was on a rebound after he had stopped two point-blank chances from the side of the net, and the puck leaked into the slot. Goal No. 2 was tipped at the top of the crease because a player was left there uncontested. Goal No. 3 was on a wide-open shot from the slot because – say it with me – no one picked up the shooter. Goal No. 4 pinballed but again the scorer was allowed to camp out at the top of the crease. Larkin made the save of the year by coming across the crease and shutting down an A-plus chance. If his D-corps isn’t going to show physicality, maybe he should take a page from Jay Williams take matters into his own hands. An occasional penalty for laying a little lumber is a small price to pay to end this trend of seeing high-caliber scorers practically have their mail delivered to the top of Miami’s crease. This has not been a strong regular season, but imagine how much worse it would’ve been if Larkin wasn’t this team’s primary goalie?

LINEUP CHANGES: Defenseman Grant Frederic was back after sitting for four straight games, as Miami went with the seven-defenseman approach with Sullivan cryptically listed as a forward. Forward Alex Alger did not dress. Forward Justin Greenberg missed his eighth straight game with a lower-body injury and was still in a boot. His faceoff prowess was sorely missed.

Advertisements

Posted on February 18, 2017, in 2016-17, analysis, University of Denver and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: