Category Archives: NCHC Hockey

Blown lead again costs Miami

OXFORD, Ohio – Groundhog Day should’ve been on Saturday instead of Friday.

Miami, seemingly caught in a never-ending loop of evaporating leads, yet again saw a two-goal advantage vanish in a 3-2 loss to Western Michigan at Cady Arena on Saturday.

A sweep of the Broncos that would have seen the RedHawks climb to within a game of .500 instead ended in a mercurial weekend split.

After playing so well on Friday and taking a 2-0 lead on Saturday, holding that advantage would’ve pulled Miami within four points of an injury-plagued WMU team that is without its best offensive weapon.

The Broncos would’ve been in a three-way tie for fourth place, and finishing in the top four in this conference is so important because it means home-ice advantage for the NCHC Tournament.

Instead, Miami is now 10 points behind WMU, and with eight games left, closing that gap will be nearly impossible with the RedHawks’ remaining schedule.

RECAP: The RedHawks caught an early break, as a Western Michigan goal midway through the first period was waved off after a review because it was determined the play was off-side.

Carter Johnson celebrates after scoring his first career goal (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Miami took advantage, as in the final minute of the opening frame, Casey Gilling whipped a shot just under the crossbar on the near side to put his team ahead.

The RedHawks went up by two when Carter Johnson tipped home a blue-line blast by Louie Belpedio at the 1:46 mark of the second period for his first collegiate goal.

But the Broncos ran off three straight goals in that decisive middle stanza.

Ethen Frank streaked through the slot, took a feed from Austin Rueschhoff and beat Miami goalie Ryan Larkin on his backhand less than two minutes later to make it 2-1.

Western Michigan tied it with exactly four minutes left in that frame on another Frank goal. Frank was a trailer on a 2-on-2, and he took a pass in the high slot from Dawson DiPietro and buried it.

Just 74 seconds later, the Broncos took their first lead of the weekend when Lawton Courtnall stole the puck from Conor Lemirande, went coast-to-coast and beat Larkin on the glove side from the slot.

Miami outshot WMU, 8-0 in the third period and had 7:36 of power play time but was unable to generate the equalizer.

THOUGHTS: From its highest-profile games to Saturday, damage control has been a decade-long issue for Miami teams.

Once again, a pair of critical goals against occurred in quick succession.

A glance at the RedHawks’ collapses this season alone:

– Game 2: Kasper Bjorkqvist scored the game winner one second left to lift Providence to a 2-1 win.

– Game 8: Miami led 1-0 after one period, Colorado College tied it in the second and Westin Michaud netted the winner in the final second of the second period.

– Game 11: Miami and Minnesota-Duluth were tied, 1-1 late in the third period, but Jared Thomas and Scott Perunovich found the net 76 seconds apart as the Bulldogs won, 3-1.

– Game 14: Miami was 36 seconds away from a win and sweep at Bowling Green, but Alec Rauhauser found the net with the extra attacker as the Falcons salvaged a 2-2 tie.

– Game 18: Like this weekend, Miami had beaten Western Michigan in the opener in Kalamazoo. But in the finale, the RedHawks blew a 3-1 lead as Wade Allison recorded a natural hat trick, cutting the deficit to one midway through the second period, tying it with 4:02 left in regulation and winning it in overtime.

– Games 21-22: Not blown leads but just pointing out how Miami has let games get away. In Game 21, UNO ran off 11 goals vs. Miami, a quarter-century worst mark for the RedHawks, and the Mavericks scored consecutive goals 41 seconds and seven (!!!) seconds apart. The next night, UNO scored four times in a 10:53 span of the second period, and the RedHawks tried to come back but fell short, 4-3. Three of those goals against were in a 5:13 window.

– Game 24: Another blown two-goal lead. Miami led, 4-2, but Colorado College cut the deficit to one late in the second period and Trevor Gooch tied it midway through the final stanza.

– Game 26: Miami was ahead, 2-0 but allowed the final three goals in the second period, including two 74 seconds apart.

— Weird that WMU was whistled for too many men twice in the first 3:18 minutes of the first period.

— Miami actually held the Broncos without a SOG the entire third period.

LINEUP CHANGES: None.

GRADES

FORWARDS: C. Congratulations to Johnson for his first career goal on a sweet tip-in, and this corps – as well as the entire team – was solid for the first half of the game but seemed to run out of gas down the stretch. Gilling’s goal was a snipe, and it’s pretty obvious he’s going to be a major part of this team for the next three-plus years. Lemirande’s turnover hurt on the third goal, and it’s been a recurring theme that trailers have scored against Miami because no one has picked them up.

DEFENSEMEN: B-. A decent but not great night for the corps. Louie Belpedio picked up assists on both Miami goals. Western Michigan did miss a few Grade-A chances and hit multiple posts. The trailer issue applies to the blueliners as well. Miami has gotten burned far too many times this season when opponents have entered the zone unabated.

GOALTENDING: D+. Larkin only made 13 saves and should’ve made at least one stop on the three WMU goals. He does see a lot of Grade-A chances but Miami needs him to stop more pucks.

FINAL THOUGHTS: A 6-2 finish or better is the only way Miami could re-gain at-large consideration after yet another blown lead costs this team valuable league points and costs the RedHawks in the PairWise.

The RedHawks are now 25th and would need to be over .500 to earn a berth.

Miami isn’t as talented as some of the teams in this conference but as documented above, it should have a better record than 10-13-3.

The window is closing quickly for the RedHawks, who will host a St. Cloud State team that is No. 2 in the PairWise.

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Analysis: WMU was the better team

OXFORD, Ohio – Despite being outshot by more than a 2-to-1 margin in the series finale, Miami salvaged a win and split the weekend series.

The RedHawks lost on Friday but edged Western Michigan, 4-3 at Cady Arena on Saturday.

And at the risk of sounding blasphemous, the Broncos were the better team this weekend. To go one step further, WMU is the better team at this point of the season.

The Broncos piled up 79 shots in two games while holding Miami to 40. They were in the offensive zone more, made better passes, got sticks in the lane more often on defense and were superior at keeping would-be goal scorers from getting good looks.

There’s a reason Western Michigan is No. 10 in college hockey.

To Miami’s credit, it had success getting behind the WMU defense, scoring shorthanded on a 3-on-2 and again on a penalty shot resulting from a shorthanded break by Josh Melnick (which is not technically a SHG – not sure hockey’s scoring rules make sense there).

Anthony Louis beat the D as well, passing to Willie Knierim for a goal.

The RedHawks were extremely opportunistic on the power play, going 2-for-3 on Saturday, with Grant Hutton burying one from the blue line and Melnick somehow tipping home a laser pass from Kiefer Sherwood at the top of the crease.

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

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

And, of course, there was Ryan Larkin. The freshman goalie was 30 of 31 through two periods in Game 2 before two tipped pucks beat him in the third. But without Larkin in net, Miami likely would not have earned a point this weekend.

This is the challenge that awaits the RedHawks in each of their final eight regular season contests. They will need to find a way to win more close games than they lose against some of the top teams in Division I, teams that are frankly better than Miami right now.

They will need to play their best hockey of the season every period, and can’t afford starts like the on they had on Friday or their finish on Saturday to earn much-needed wins.

Fortunately for Miami, a hot goalie can neutralize a better team, and the RedHawks have a netminder capable of stealing games like he did in this one.

Other thoughts…

Standings: All eight teams in the NCHC have played 16 leagues games, or two-thirds of their 24-game conference schedule. Miami trailed Western Michigan by five points heading into the weekend, and with both teams earning three points, WMU returned to Kalamazoo leading by the same margin. The RedHawks did pass St. Cloud State, moving into sixth before heading north to face the Huskies. Miami is up to 22nd in the PairWise and needs to go three games over .500 the rest of the way to be eligible for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

– Miami has just one even-strength goal in its last three games. It scored five times this weekend after being shut out in its finale at Nebraska-Omaha, and the RedHawks netted two power play goals, one shorthanded and another on a penalty shot this weekend. Knierim has recorded the only even-strength goal for Miami in that stretch, and it was also his first career game winner.

– Hutton’s PPG was just the fifth this season by a Miami player not on the first unit (Melnick-Sherwood-Louis-Carson Meyer-Louie Belpedio). Hutton has two goals on the man advantage, Scott Dornbrock has one and just two have been scored by non-defensemen not among those four on the first unit (Justin Greenberg and Gordie Green, one each).

– Miami’s weekend high for shots in a period was 10. Western Michigan eclipsed that in five of the six.

– There was little flow in this game, which took 2:34 to play and featured 79 faceoffs.

GRADES

FORWARDS: B-. It’s hard to argue with results, and this corps did score three times, including two goals by Melnick. When this team hits, it tends to play better, and we saw plenty of contact dished out by Ryan Siroky, Conor Lemirande and others. Still, just 15 shots for 12 forwards, and they did little to prevent WMU from racking up 47 shots. And then there’s their 28-51 record on faceoffs. If it wasn’t for their shot efficiency their grade would be significantly lower.

DEFENSEMEN: C. Hutton scored on a sweet wrister, and Colin Sullivan picked up an assist on his Hail Mary pass. But then there’s the 47 shots allowed, which this group bears a substantial amount of responsibility for. Louie Belpedio was better than on Friday but still isn’t quite in top form. Chaz Switzer was back in the lineup and was once again improved over the first half of the season.

GOALTENDING: A-. Could be the first A-range for a goalie surrendering three goals on this site. Even though he allowed three goals, Larkin won this game for Miami. He turned 44 shots aside, including a spectacular save on a late chance by the Broncos. Larkin controlled almost every rebound, an impressive feat since a lot of the shots he faced had mustard on them.

LINEUP CHANGES: The only change for Miami was Alex Alger returning to the fourth line, while Bryce Hatten was scratched. Justin Greenberg was out for the fifth straight game, and was seen in the concourse wearing a boot on his foot, which he did not put any pressure on. He will obviously miss at least a couple more weeks, and his faceoff prowess and defensive and PK skills have been sorely missed by the RedHawks. Grant Frederic also did not dress for the second consecutive contest.

Miami blanked by UNO

Despite putting 30 shots on net, Miami suffered its first shutout of the season on Saturday.

Nebraska-Omaha was outshot, 30-22 but blanked the RedHawks, 2-0 in the series finale at Baxter Arena.

It was the first time Miami (8-10-6) had failed to score a goal in 26 games. The last time it was shut out was on March 4, 2016 at Minnesota-Duluth.

The Mavericks (14-8-4) were able to win without scoring at even strength.

With 1:44 left in the first period and in the closing seconds of a power play, Steven Spinner controlled the puck at the top of the crease and backhanded a pass to a wide-open Frederik Olofsson, who tapped it in to open the scoring.

While the RedHawks were on their own man advantage, defenseman Louie Belpedio lost the puck at his own blue line, and Spinner skated in alone and scored on the backhand with 6:46 to play in the second period.

That was all the offense UNO needed, as Evan Weninger stopped 30 shots to earn the shutout.

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

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

Miami remains in seventh place in the NCHC, but it dropped one spots to 22rd in the PairWise rankings.

Anthony Louis saw his season-high eight-game points streak snapped.

After four straight road games in which the RedHawks went 0-3-1, Miami will host Western Michigan in a pair of games next weekend.

Melnick’s late 2 lift Miami over St. Cloud

OXFORD, Ohio – The Mel Man definitely delivers late.

Josh Melnick scored the tying and game-winning goals – with the latter coming in overtime – both on a power play stemming from a major penalty as Miami edged out No. 20 St. Cloud State, 3-2 at Cady Arena on Friday.

Miami's Josh Melnick (37) bangs home the game-winning goal in overtime (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Miami’s Josh Melnick (37) bangs home the game-winning goal in overtime (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Melnick had scored one goal in the first 16 games of the season but has found the net in three straight, with four tallies overall in that stretch. It was also the first multi-goal game of the sophomore’s career.

The game was scoreless until 6:13 remained in the second period, when the Huskies’ Mikey Eyssimont corralled a loose puck in the slot and fed Patrick Newell on the side of the net, and after RedHawks goalie Ryan Larkin denied the initial point-blank backhander by Newell, Eyssimont was there at the side of the net to jam home the rebound.

The goal by St. Cloud State (9-9-1) was the only marker of the contest until the final nine minutes of regulation and overtime, which more than made up for the first 51 low-scoring minutes.

Miami’s Carson Meyer tried to put a shot on from a bad angle, but it hit a sliding defender. The puck bounced right back to Meyer at the side of the net, and he centered one to Anthony Louis in the slot, and Louis buried the one-timer through the five hole to tie it with 8:14 remaining.

After the RedHawks’ Colin Sullivan was assessed a minor for cross checking, Eyssimont sent a cross-ice pass to Jacob Benson, who ripped one off the post. The rebound popped into the air and hit the chest of teammate Blake Winiecki, who tapped the puck in to give the Huskies a 2-1 lead with 2:59 remaining.

Thirty-four seconds later, Benson was kicked out of the game for contact to the head of Meyer for an open-ice hit.

And Melnick took it from there.

An offensive-zone pass by Kiefer Sherwood hit a St. Cloud State skate and came back to Sherwood, who threaded a pass through traffic to a wide-open Melnick at the side of the net, and Melnick hammered it home to tie the score on a 6-on-4 with 56 seconds left in regulation.

At the 1:23 mark of overtime, Louis put a close-range shot on net, and the rebound popped out to Melnick, who made a quick toe drag before whipping the puck into the cage to win it.

It was the third straight win for Miami (6-8-5) following an 0-7-3 stretch, and the RedHawks are now unbeaten in their last four – their longest such span since last January.

They have gone to overtime in eight of their 19 contests, winning three and tying the other five.

Since its lowest point, Miami has climbed 11 spots in the PairWise rankings – used to determine NCAA Tournament seeding – to 29th, and while MU remains in seventh place in the NCHC, it is just two points behind Nebraska-Omaha and three back of SCSU with a chance to tie the Huskies with a win on Saturday.

Melnick has five points during his current three-game points streak (4-1-5) and has three multi-point games in his last six.

Louis finished with a goal and an assist, giving him points in four consecutive contests (2-3-5). He moved into solo control of 42nd place on Miami’s all-time points leaderboard with 110, passing former long-time NHLer Brian Savage.

Meyer has the longest points streak on the team at six games, going 3-5-8 since coming back from an illness. He has recorded a helper in four straight.

Ryan Larkin stopped 29 shots to earn the win for Miami.

These teams wrap up their weekend series at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday.

Three late goals doom Miami

Miami is almost certainly one loss away from having its season end.

The RedHawks saw a two-goal lead vanish, as they surrendered three unanswered third-period goals in a 5-4 loss at Minnesota-Duluth on Friday in the first game of a best-of-3 series.

It was Miami’s third straight game in Duluth, and its third straight loss. The RedHawks finished the regular season with a road series vs. the Bulldogs and were swept.

UMD (16-14-5) opened the scoring when Austyn Young tipped home a blueline wrister by Cal Decowski just 4:34 into the game.

Miami (15-17-3) tied it on a goal by freshman forward Zach LaValle, who fired in a bad-angle shot with 7:43 left in the first period.

The RedHawks went ahead, 2-1 when a Bulldogs defensive zone pass hit the skate of sophomore forward Conor Lemirande and slid to freshman forward Ryan Siroky, who whipped in the off-balance shot 4:11 into the middle stanza.

UMD tied it again on a blueline shot by Adam Welinski on the power play with 10:01 to play in that frame.

But Miami regained the lead just 18 seconds later, as senior forward Alex Gacek and junior forward Anthony Louis played give and go, with Gacek centering a pass to Louis, who skated in and backhanded one past Bulldogs goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo.

The RedHawks went ahead two just three minutes later, as a blast by sophomore defenseman Louie Belpedio found twine to make it 4-2 after two periods.

Unfortunately for Miami, there were still 20 minutes left.

Adam Johnson cut the lead to one when he drove the net 2-on-2 and beat senior goalie Jay Williams 4:54 into that stanza.

With 8:48 left in regulation, Neal Pionk tied it on a power play rip from the blue line.

The game winner came from Carson Soucy, just his second marker of the season, as he was the trailer on a 2-on-2 and shot the puck in from the slot.

Ten of the RedHawks’ skaters recorded a point, with Louis recording a goal and an assist for a team-best two points.

Anthony Louis (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Anthony Louis (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

At this point, the only way Miami could earn an NCAA Tournament berth without winning the NCHC Tournament would be if it advanced to the title game and lost, thus giving the RedHawks a requisite .500 record, and everything went right for them in the PairWise rankings, which would be an extreme longshot.

The RedHawks are currently tied for 23rd and would need to improve to 14th or better to have a legitimate shot at an at-large bid.

Game 2 of this series is at 8:07 p.m. on Saturday, and Game 3 – if necessary – would be at 8:07 p.m. on Sunday.

Analysis: No. 4 seed paramount for Miami

Is it too early to schedule watch?

Especially since we’re in the online world, the answer is a definite ‘no’.

Besides, there are only five games left in the regular season and all of them will be important for Miami, which beat Western Michigan, 4-1 at Lawson Ice Arena in Kalamazoo on Friday.

Thanks to that win, the RedHawks are currently in a three-way tie for fourth with Nebraska-Omaha and Minnesota-Duluth — both of whom lost on Friday — and that No. 4 spot is paramount if Miami wants to qualify for its 10th NCAA Tournament in 11 years.

As opposed to missing it for the second time in three seasons.

Here’s why this race is so important…

North Dakota and St. Cloud have run away with the top two spots. The RedHawks can’t even mathematically catch either team.

And Denver is a win away from securing a top-three spot, so the 1-3 seeds are off the table for Miami, unless it wins out and the Pioneers lose out. Which is not realistic.

That leaves the fourth spot as the last remaining one for home-ice advantage in the first round of the NCHC Tournament.

To round out the field, Western Michigan – especially after the RedHawks’ win on Friday – and Colorado College are virtually locked into the bottom two spots.

Meaning Miami will battle UMD and UNO for the four, five and six seeds.

Six plays the third-place finisher between UND, St. Cloud and Denver on the road. No thanks.

Five travels to the winner of this three-team cluster. In other words, it plays the hottest team of these three on the road. Again, nah.

In the scenario in which the RedHawks finish fifth or sixth, they will likely not have the wins necessary to keep an at-large possibility alive, which is why the next 15 days are so important.

The good news is that Miami is playing its best hockey of the season. More good news is that the other two teams the RedHawks are battling for that coveted home-ice spot face tougher remaining slates.

UMD is at North Dakota again on Saturday after losing to UND in overtime on Friday, then it travels to second-place St. Cloud State for a pair of games next week before capping its regular season by hosting Miami.

UNO hosts St. Cloud on Saturday after falling to SCSU, 4-1 on Friday. The Mavericks wrap up their regular season with two against North Dakota at home and a pair at Denver.

Miami is at seventh-place WMU for one more on Saturday, hosts last-place Colorado College next week and finishes with a series at Minnesota-Duluth. Those opponents are a combined 24-54-9.

And if the RedHawks can’t put up a good showing in this stretch run, they don’t deserve NCAA consideration anyway.

Winning three of its final five would be just OK for Miami and would probably hurt its PairWise. Taking four would be preferable, and running the table would be ideal.

A losing record in this span would be devastating and would likely result in a road trip for a best-of-3 and then having to at minimum advance to Minneapolis for a shot at an NCAA berth.

Other thoughts…

– Anthony Louis scored his eighth and ninth goals of the season on Friday. We’ve mentioned his second-half surges before but haven’t thoroughly evaluated.

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

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

This is Louis’ third season with Miami, and he has 10 goals in 52 games in October, November and December and 20 in 55 contests in January and beyond.

In terms of points, Louis has recorded 32 of his points before New Year’s and 50 after, or an average of 0.62 vs. 0.95.

And he has been clutch in the postseason, recording 13 points in 11 games in the NCHC and NCAA Tournaments, including six goals.

– This was the 29th game of Miami’s season and the first time the RedHawks have scored multiple goals in the first period. They had just 12 markers in the first 28 opening frames this season.

Miami goalie Jay Williams (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Miami goalie Jay Williams (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

– Jay Williams stopped 27 of 28 shots to earn the win in this game and has been a rock since taking over following GoalieGate. Williams is 7-2 with a 2.11 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage in the nine-plus games since, and that’s with two five-goal games, with both featuring multiple tallies he had zero chance on.

– Jack Roslovic and Josh Melnick combined for just one assist on Friday but were still integral to the team’s scoring. Roslovic would’ve gotten third assists for two of the goals, and Melnick’s helper was the direct result of him stealing a puck at center ice and lifting it ahead to Louis, who did his thing to make it 1-0. Roslovic also just missed a goal at the end of the second period, so he’s still making offensive contributions, even if they aren’t showing up on the scoresheet.

Miami Defeats North Dakota 3-0

Miami is coming together as a team at just the right time.

In their most complete game of the season, at precisely the right time, the Miami RedHawks defeated North Dakota 3-0 tonight at Target Center. With one more victory, Miami will qualify for the NCAA tournament where they would be the #4 seed in Cincinnati. Imagine that, a home game in the NCAA tournament sits as a reward for persevering through a tough season. Regardless of how they got here, Miami is truly improving every day and is now a threat to make a serious run if all continues to go well.

With the win, the RedHawks were able to gain a measure of revenge and satisfaction after sustaining a 9-2 drubbing at the hands of UND in Grand Forks in February. Thinking back to that game and then looking at this Miami team tonight, you wouldn’t believe they are the same squad. A commitment to team defense. Timely scoring from the prime scoring areas. Going to the hard area of the ice and sticking up for teammates. A true team victory tonight.

After the game, junior forward Blake Coleman addressed the 9-2 loss by saying, “It wasn’t really something we talked about much, to be honest. We just, we focused on the process. Games happen like that. It was a low point but the way we’ve responded has been incredible and we’re looking to keep this journey going.”

With the victory, the journey does indeed continue for at least one more game as Miami advances to the first ever NCHC championship game where they will face the Denver Pioneers who advanced by knocking off Western Michigan 4-3 in a hard-fought game.

In the first period, Miami used their speed to its advantage and came out flying.

Riley Barber, Sean Kuraly and Anthony Louis were particularly effective as the RedHawks denied space and time to UND. But as the period wore on, UND started to push back winning puck battles and picking up the physical play. Head coach Enrico Blasi said that he was pleased with the overall effort from his team in keeping UND to the outside which would be a theme throughout the game.

After a penalty to UND’s Andrew Panzarella at 9:58 of the first period, Miami would take advantage of its first powerplay of the night as Blake Coleman found the back of the net spinning and firing a wrist shot that beat UND goalie Zane Gothberg top shelf. Coleman had several good chances on the man advantage but capitalized on a great keep in by Matt Caito off a poor clearing attempt, and the puck came right to Coleman who, in his words, “just closed my eyes and put it on net.”

As second period began, both teams seemed sluggish.

There was significant attention to defense by Miami with Ben Paulides leading the charge and captain Austin Czarnik shadowing UND’s Mark MacMillan mercilessly. Czarnik was effective in limiting MacMillan’s chances on UND’s top line and took him out of the game. UND carried the play after the ten minute mark and tilted the ice in its favor. But, sophomore netminder Ryan McKay made some key saves and the Miami defense bailed him out a few times by clearing rebounds as UND pushed for the equalizer. In earning the shutout, McKay made 32 saves and was praised by his coach. Said, head coach Enrico Blasi, “When McKay is on you can hear him barking. He was barking again tonight. Most of the time we have no idea what he’s saying. But he’s barking and that means he’s in the game.”

While McKay barked, Miami and UND continued their battle with neither team giving much.

But, the game turned on a simple play when with 30 seconds left in the second period, UND was called for icing and rather than sitting on the one goal lead, Blasi sent out the number one line with a twist. With the faceoff to the right of Gothberg, junior Blake Coleman took the draw winning it cleanly to Austin Czarnik who carried the puck between the circles and fired a wrist shot back against his body beating Gothberg high.

Miami was then able to carry the momentum of the late goal into the third period and took the play to UND. Unlike the first two periods where it could be argued that UND had the better of most of the play, Miami dominated the third period culminating with yet another wrister from between the circles when at 6:13 of the period, freshman Anthony Louis took the drama out of the outcome and gave Miami a 3-0 lead.

Tomorrow night, Miami will face Denver, a team they’ve beaten twice this year. They will face arguably the best goaltender in the league in Sam Brittain and in order to advance to the NCAA tourney, will need to continue to commit to defense and get scoring from throughout the lineup.

The puck drops at 7:38 PM CST and will be televised on CBS Sports Network. Greg Waddell will have the Miami call on Miami All-Access as well.

Frozen Faceoff — We have questions…

It’s a huge weekend for the NCHC.

As the song “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons goes, “Welcome to the new age.”

As the inaugural season of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference comes to a close, we are left with the inevitability of a new gathering of college hockey fans at new venues in new cities. It it officially the blending of the old — the WCHA’s Final Five as represented by North Dakota and Denver with the CCHA’s “Hockey in the D” being repped by Miami and Western Michigan. And, with both the WCHA having been relegated to second tier status playing their tournament in Grand Rapids, Mich. and the Joe being empty of college hockey this weekend, it does seem that we are certainly moving on.

But, what have we learned this year? And, was it better? Will it be?

Did fans fawn over new and existing rivalries? Was the action so riveting in the NCHC (and the Big 6) that all of this was really necessary?

Sadly, I believe the answer is “not quite yet.”

While the on-ice product during the regular was at best a “meh,” the playoff action in the NCHC has thus far been fascinating with three “lower seeds” moving on to compete in the Frozen Faceoff this weekend in Minneapolis. Of course, those lower seeds included 7-time national champions Denver, 2012 Mason Cup champions Western Michigan and 2012 CCHA regular season champions Miami.

Not exactly “lower seed material.” But, this season has certainly proved that someone has to finish last in a highly competitive league. This year it was Miami, but they of course promptly dispatched the first ever Penrose Cup champions, St. Cloud State, in two games.

But, it’s certainly clear the NCHC has much riding on this weekend.

Minneapolis’ Target Center selection as the venue for the NCHC’s Frozen Faceoff raises questions.

First, the venue. The Target Center is a facility with one full-time tenant, the Minnesota Timberwolves of the NBA. Yep, it’s a basketball facility first and foremost. The last time the WCHA held a Final Five tournament there, in 2000, there were catcalls from many who attended saying it’s not a good venue to host the sport. I can’t speak to the hockey games (if any) that have been held there since, but some are saying improvements to the facility bode well for the weekend. It would be a nice-to-have if the NCHC doesn’t have to endure heat over the selection of Target Center, but the location in downtown Minneapolis, is superb.

Second, attendance. You know former Miami man and NCHC commish Josh Fenton has to be breathing a huge sigh of relief that North Dakota was able to overcome the challenge from Colorado College to earn a trip to the Frozen Faceoff. As it is, the three dance partners add very little in terms of a traveling fan base. Denver is simply too far away and they don’t even draw 50 students to their regular season games at Magness Arena. As for Miami and Western Michigan, it remains to be seen. Western had traveled well to the Joe the past few years, but that’s all of a two-hour drive from Kalamazoo. I might ordinarily suggest that they would have more fans than Miami this weekend, but with the basketball Broncos earning a berth (and being blown out by Syracuse right now) in the NCAA tournament, that might have picked off some of their fans.

Speaking of the red and white, we all know we have a fan base that’s reluctant to travel, and in a year that saw Miami finish dead last in the regular season, and with the NCAA tournament regional being hosted by Miami in Cincinnati, I have to believe most fans will simply wait it out. If Miami wins the weekend, they’ll attend next weekend in our backyard. If not, well, at least they got to watch the games on CBS Sports Network.

Will NCAA hockey venues look a lot like Florida Panthers’ games this weekend?

Assuming North Dakota brings 5,000-7,000 fans and you get 1,000-2,000 from DU, MU and WMU, plus another 3,000 or so who are fans of other Minnesota NCHC schools or just college hockey fans, maybe, maybe we could see 10,000 in the building. Anything more than that would be fantastic but unrealistic, especially considering the Big 10 tournament is being held in nearby St. Paul and features the home squad, Minnesota.

But, that brings about another thought. The old WCHA would jam the Xcel Energy Center to see Minnesota, North Dakota, SCSU, UMD and Wisconsin go toe to toe. Now, the WCHA will draw, maybe, 5,000 for their games at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids for Anchorage, Minnesota State, Bowling Green and Ferris State from nearby Big Rapids who you’d think will have by far the most fans in attendance. And, as I write this, I’m watching Michigan and Penn State play in front what appears to be a crowd of three people at Xcel right now. When the CCHA would hold its tournament weekend in Detroit, you always knew Michigan would bring between 10,000-15,000 fans for their games, regardless of the time. And, when Michigan and Michigan State would play, the building would be full.

What to make of all this?

Well, it seems we had it pretty good, and I’m hopeful Xcel will be full when Minnesota and Wisconsin come calling. One thing is certain, Hockey East is making out like a bandit as their league changed the least and only strengthened itself with the addition of Notre Dame who has also had to adjust to a quite a bit more travel — and it showed with their eighth place finish in the regular season but it advanced by knocking off the #1 seed — sound familiar? And, the ECAC has not yet been touched by realignment so things were as they always had been. Consistency has its advantages.

Lastly, the quality of the hockey. I’m beginning to formulate a theory that Miami, despite its defensive shortcomings might just be a tired bunch. I have no way to know for sure, but I wonder if the impact of all the extra travel the team has had to do this year, and not just the travel from Oxford to Denver as an example, but I wonder if all the extra bus rides, transfers and equipment hauling has taken a toll? I wonder if any of this

Will Miami be on the defensive against North Dakota or will they have the same jump we saw last weekend against St. Cloud?

has affected any of the other schools? Denver and Colorado College are obviously exempt because they have had to fly everywhere for years. But for the other programs, were all the extra flights, bus rides and shuttles as draining as they appear to have been on the RedHawks? Bus rides from St. Cloud to Madison were replaced by flights to Kalamazoo. And, that speaks nothing for travel costs which were obviously much higher for Miami and Western Michigan, especially, than they had ever been. So, will Miami have anything left after back to back trips to Denver and St. Cloud? We understand they stayed in Minnesota all week, but that has to take a toll on bodies at this point in a hockey season nutritionally, sleep-wise, workouts and recovery, everything. Will they be able to muster the energy required to take on North Dakota and its fans?

So, the real question…is all of this sustainable?

We are already beginning to hear whispers that another round of realignment is forthcoming. Perhaps inevitable. And, how does Alabama-Huntsville really continue to field a Division I program? Will college hockey continue in Alaska now that they are kind of “isolated together?” Is the Big 6 plan sustainable? Will they have to add other Big 10 schools to make this interesting? Will they pressure the Illinois’ and Indiana’s of the world to step up? And, will the schools of the “like-minded” NCHC decide that maybe this whole thing wasn’t so great after all? Will the WCHA have the last laugh should the NCHC dissolve?

Whatever happens, it might not be good for college hockey. If this year is any predictor of the future, the game really didn’t seem to advance all that much. Well, at least not quite yet.

Staggering Stats from a Season to Forget

2013-14 may go down as one of the largest disappointments in the history of the Miami hockey program. As crushing as the 2009 Frozen Four turned out, it was the turning point for the program, and created our new “all or nothing” mindset and expectations for the Miami University Hockey team. Since then, if Miami doesn’t win a regular season championship, tournament championship or even an NCAA Regional championship, it seems that the season is a loss. Well…we’re not going to get any of the three this year unless the team goes on an unbelievable run in the next 2 weeks.

So how bad has it been this season? Consider these facts:

Unfortunately, we're not likely to see many celebrations like this for the RedHawks this Spring. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Unfortunately, we’re not likely to see many celebrations like this one (from the 2009 Frozen Four) this Spring. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Miami’s last losing season was 9 years ago. In the 2004-05 campaign, Miami went 15-18-5.

Miami has made the NCAA tournament 8 consecutive years and 9 of the last 10. The streak ends this year unless Miami wins 2 of 3 vs St. Cloud and then wins the Frozen Faceoff – the NCHC’s post season tournament. Michigan’s 22-year NCAA tournament appearance streak was the longest in history (lasted every year since 1990!) and North Dakota looks poised to continue its streak this season, making it 12 years in a row – now the longest in the NCAA.

In those last 8 years with NCAA tournament appearances, Miami has 3 CCHA regular season championships, 1 CCHA tournament championship, played in 2 frozen fours, had their first-ever Hobey Baker winner and compiled the best record in the NCAA with a total of 207 wins – an average over 25 wins a season. Before this run started in 2005, Miami had just 2 seasons of 25+ wins – 1996-97 and 1992-93.

Miami’s winning percentage heading into conference tournament play is just .397. The last time it was that low as Coach Blasi’s 3rd year in Oxford – the 2001-02 season saw Miami go 12-22-2 – a .361 win %.

Miami won't be chasing one of these this year. (Jonathan Biles/www.bloguin.com)

Miami won’t be chasing one of these this year. (Jonathan Biles/www.bloguin.com)

In order to make the post season, Miami must win 4 games in a row – something they haven’t done this season. In the last 8 years, Miami has had 21 4-game winning streaks without ties or shootout wins including 5 times in 2007-08, twice in 2012-13 and a 13-game unbeaten streak (3 ties) in 2010-11.

Miami won just 6 conference games in the NCHC this year. To find the last time they won that few conference games we have to go back to the 1990-91 season when Miami won just 5 games all year, 3 of them coming in CCHA play. In fact they have only won that few conference games twice, with 1985-86 being the other time (also 3 CCHA wins). Accoring to the College Hockey Historical Archives, the last time Miami finished last in a conference was the 1990-91 season as well.

It doesn’t get much worse for Miami. But all is not lost. Yet.

Miami won 2 of their 6 conference games against St Cloud State, and the Huskies are a team that they are becoming very familiar with. The two teams played 3 times in the 2010-11 season and met in the NCAA regional final last season, with St Cloud taking a 4-1 victory, making their first-ever Frozen Four appearance.

Miami faces off against SCSU on Friday and Saturday night this week in St. Cloud. If the teams split the first two, the rubber match is on Sunday for a chance to play in the Frozen Faceoff in Minneapolis next week.

The NCHC’s Championship Trophy Arrives

Check out this bad boy! All we have to say is WOW.

Check out the entire photo gallery from the NCHC’s Colorado Springs Headquarters on Facebook.

Ironically, it is #1 Miami and #6 North Dakota this weekend in the first game of the NCHC season. If I was a gambling man, I’d say that these two will battle it out for this – the regular season championship trophy – all season.

The NCHC's Championship Trophy has arrived. (Photo: The NCHC)

The NCHC’s Championship Trophy has arrived. (Photo: The NCHC)