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Photos: North Dakota at Miami

Images from the series played between North Dakota and Miami University at Cady Arena in Oxford, Ohio, on Feb. 23-24, 2018. All photos by Cathy Lachmann/BoB.

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Miami loses late lead, ties NorDak

OXFORD, Ohio – On Friday, Miami battled back from three down to win.

One night later, No. 12 North Dakota was the team overcoming a multiple-goal deficit.

But unlike the RedHawks, the Fighting Hawks were only able to salvage a tie after evening the score on a pair of third-period goals for a 2-2 draw at Cady Arena on Saturday.

Miami (11-17-4) earned the extra point in 3-on-3 play after the game was officially ruled a tie, giving the RedHawks five of a possible six points on the weekend.

Despite the strong showing this weekend, Miami clinched last place in the NCHC. Three teams are tied for fifth, six points ahead of the RedHawks. All have two regular season games remaining.

So it is possible for MU to tie at least one of those three, but Miami cannot win a tiebreaker against any of them.

Melnick

Miami’s Josh Melnick (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

After the completion of this game, St. Cloud clinched the conference title, so the RedHawks will travel there for their first-round NCHC Tournament series in two weeks.

RECAP: The teams were scoreless after the first period, but Miami’s Josh Melnick gave Miami the lead when he stole a puck at his defensive blue line and skated in for a breakaway, pounding the puck into the pads of North Dakota goalie Cam Johnson.

At first it appeared Johnson had made the save, but the referee by the net ruled it a goal, a shorthanded tally at the 4:23 mark of the middle stanza.

The RedHawks made it 2-0 just 26 seconds into the third period when Carter Johnson slid a pass through the slot that Kiefer Sherwood rifled home.

Miami forward Kiefer Sherwood (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

But at the 4:20 mark of the final frame, a shot by the Fighting Hawks’ Hayden Shaw from a bad angle hit the glove of Miami goalie Ryan Larkin and trickled in.

Exactly three minutes later, UND’s Nick Jones redirected a blue-line shot by Colton Poolman to tie the score.

After five minutes of 5-on-5 overtime, Sherwood found the net in the 3-on-3 to give Miami the extra league point.

STATS: It was the ninth goal of the season for Melnick, and Sherwood scored his seventh. Melnick led Miami with three points on the weekend.

— It was just the second time in 14 games the RedHawks allowed fewer than two goals.

— Make that six straight games with neither a power-play nor a first-period tally.

— And Miami still hasn’t won a Saturday game since Nov. 18.

— Both Melnick and Louie Belpedio reached 80 career points this weekend. Melnick has 27 goals and 53 assists, while Belpedio has scored 25 times and dished out 55 assists. Belpedio is a senior while Melnick is a junior.

That duo is tied for the team lead in active career points, and Sherwood is two back with 32 goals and 46 assists for 78 points. He’s also a junior.

THOUGHTS: Torn again.

Happy with a 1-0-1 weekend against North Dakota? Of course. Is Jack Johnson still hated in Oxford?

For the most part it was a very well-played series by Miami in a down year against a national power.

Cady Arena was rocking and these were two extremely entertaining games to watch.

But it’s hard to be happy about yet another third-period collapse. Winning the 3-on-3 skills competition point does nothing to assuage that.

When the final chapter is written about RedHawks Version 2017-18, near the top of the list of what went wrong this regular season will be the inability to close out games.

And this has been a problem for a number of years.

Miami has shown glimpses of excellence this season, but it cannot afford to continue flipping wins to ties and losses.

— Not happy with the penalties in this game on multiple fronts. Karch Bachman was taken down in the second period by a player also committing interference and possible a felony or two and there was no call.

A too-many-men call was missed. Miami had one power play, North Dakota (14-11-9) three including a major. That’s a night after concurrent minors against the RedHawks resulted in the Fighting Hawks’ second goal on Friday.

Penalty minutes were 19-2 on Saturday.

— That said, Rourke Russell’s minor penalty was undisciplined, and Carson Meyer’s major was deserved.

Russell had just turned the puck over and took a blatant chop at the steal-ee. Meyer saw numbers on the back of jersey and barreled into his guy anyway.

That’s a major in the NCAA.

— Speaking of the Meyer hit, someone decided to make that the hit of the game on the scoreboard at Cady Arena. A dangerous hit from behind. A major penalty and ejection.

Wise up, Cady staff.

— Miami looked extremely tired in the third period. Second game in two nights, of course, but that’s true of every team in college hockey in the third period every Saturday.

It was unusually humid and warm for this area in February, but again, both teams had to deal with that.

— With this being the final home game, I think it’s time to lobby for some additional players’ numbers to be added to the Zamboni end walls.

Andy Greene has been out of Oxford for 12 years. It’s time his name goes up. Ryan Jones graduated in 2008. Same goes.

A decade plus on both. What in the world is everyone waiting for?

The first two are no-brainers, but I’d add Andy Miele to that list as well.

He won the Hobey Baker seven years ago. That’s long enough.

In two years, add Austin Czarnik. He’s already been gone since 2015 and he epitomized Miami hockey values both on and off the ice as much as anyone else on that wall.

GRADES

FORWARDS: C. Sherwood finished with seven shots and Green had six. It’s so nice to have Sherwood playing as well as he did in 2016-17. Melnick created his own goal with the steal in his own zone, and Sherwood’s came after Miami won board battles, so both markers came off of hard work.

DEFENSEMEN: C+. North Dakota controlled the puck more than Miami, so it’s sort of comme ci, comme ca to point out that Grant Hutton, Alec Mahalak and Chaz Switzer all blocked three shots, and Scott Dornbrock added two blocks. Russell took two penalties and one of those chances resulted in a North Dakota goal.

GOALTENDING: B. Hard to fault a guy for a tip-in from the slot, but the first one was all Ryan Larkin. He should’ve gloved the puck but it bounced out and into the net. But he was 28 of 30 and made some outstanding saves.

LINEUP CHANGES: None. This looks like the 19 that coach Enrico Blasi will ride into the NCHC Tournament.

FINAL THOUGHTS: It was senior night, and overall a 1-0-1 weekend vs. North Dakota is a great send-off for Louie Belpedio, Scott Dornbrock and Conor Lemirande in their final home series.

Unfortunately, this class made the NCAA Tournament just once, and that was their freshmen seasons.

Miami will finish last in the NCHC for the second time since the league’s inception in 2013-14 and will head to the road for the fourth time in five years to open the league tournament.

In the eight-team conference, the RedHawks have finished eighth, second, fifth, seventh and now eighth again since joining the league.

Next weekend, Miami heads to Denver for a series that means zilch to the RedHawks in terms of points/seeding/NCAA Tournament qualifying.

The focus now is all on their series at St. Cloud State in two weeks.

Crash Cousin reveling in grinder role

OXFORD, Ohio – Very few 6-feet, 6-inch skaters end up as high-level forwards in hockey.

Manning left or right wing requires a certain level of speed and athleticism players that size often lack.

But in 2014, left wing Conor Lemirande pounced on the opportunity to fill that role with Miami alongside his cousin, Andrew Schmit.

And Lemirande has thrived as a grinder with the RedHawks since, dressing for 133 games and loving every shift.

“The moment I stepped on the campus I knew it was the right place,” Lemirande said. “Obviously with Andrew here, my cousin, I had some inside information, and he told me how nice it was and what a great opportunity it would be, so as soon as that was offered I couldn’t resist that.”

Conor Lemirande at the outdoor game at Soldier Field (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

The duo was informally nicknamed the Crash Cousins for Lemirande’s first two seasons, and at a combined weight of 500 pounds, that tandem often comprised two-thirds of Miami’s fourth line.

Size is a family tradition in Lemirande’s extended family, which is from Janesville, Wis. His father, Jeff, refers to himself as one of the smaller males in the clan at about 6-5.

Lemirande’s brother Logan is also in that height range.

Schmit is 6-5, about the same height as his father, Robb.

“It definitely makes it hard for family meals,” Lemirande said. “We’d have all the kids there, and the parents there. My dad would actually go to the farm and buy a full cow just for the year and get that going. He’d have pigs for all of us. We consumed a lot of food during the week, I can tell you that.”

Lemirande started hockey around age four, and he played baseball through eighth grade and football – a family staple – until his junior year.

With his girth, the temptation was there for at least one coach to try him on defense early in his career.

“I was a defenseman my pee wee year, and that was it,” Lemirande said. “I did a camp, and it was actually coach Bob Suter from Madison, and he told me, you know, I want you to try out at defense. I did it in his summer camp, and after that, I was like, you know, I like getting in on the forecheck, I like being that physical presence, and my coach the next year really liked that, so (forward) is where I stayed.”

He spent two seasons at in-state Madison on Under-16 and Under-18 teams before signing with the hometown Janesville Jets of the NAHL prior to 2011-12.

Lemirande logged 110 games over two seasons there, becoming team captain and tallying 32 points. He played against his brother, Logan, who was on Port Huron in the same league.

“Obviously that was a great opportunity to play in front of a crowd in Janesville,” Lemirande said. “It was pretty awesome.”

Scott Dornbrock and Conor Lemirande celebrate an NCHC Tournament win in 2014-15 (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

He was drafted in the USHL his second year at Janesville and ended up in Youngstown, where he scored seven goals and picked up 10 assists in 58 games.

From there it was south to Oxford, where Lemirande dressed for opening night of 2014-15, nine days after his 21st birthday. He was in the lineup for the team’s first 23 games and 36 overall that season, which culminated in an NCHC Tournament championship and NCAA berth.

“You know, that was an unbelievable opportunity to have that group of guys and be fortunate enough to go through that,” Lemirande said. “It’s one of those things that I’ll never forget, just the lifetime bond. That experience and having that feeling of playing on the biggest stage – that was a lot of fun.”

Lemirande’s lone goal that season came vs. Notre Dame in a Florida tournament, but as a sophomore, he would log the offensive game of his career.

In a Jan. 23, 2016 contest at Nebraska-Omaha, Lemirande slammed home a loose puck with four minutes left in the first period to give the RedHawks a 1-0 lead.

Miami was up 3-1 midway through the second period when Lemirande again found the net, this time banging home a centering feed by Alex Gacek. Just over three minutes later, he scored again on a double deflection that was also redirected by Schmit.

That completed the hat trick – including the game winner – with Schmit picking up primary assists on two of the goals.

Conor Lemirande celebrates a goal his junior season (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

“That did happen,” Lemirande said. “(The first goal) I just found the back of the net – got a greasy one – and then the second one was a shot from about the dot lane, and then the third one was actually a shot from the point. Andrew had actually deflected it and then I re-tipped it again, so it was a double tip for a third goal. So Andrew was celebrating, we were both celebrating, happy, so obviously a great opportunity there. From a guy not getting a lot of points, to have that opportunity is kind of a fun thing.”

That was the last three-goal game recorded by a Miamian.

Lemirande was limited to a goal and an assist his junior season, but his 2017-18 line is 1-4-5, already a career high in helpers and points.

Of those helpers, two came in a win at Bowling Green on Nov. 24, his only career multi-assist contest.

Captain and senior defenseman Louie Belpedio roomed with Lemirande freshman year and currently lives across the hall from him.

“He’s kept the same role throughout those four years here, but as he’s progressed he’s done a way better job,” Belpedio said. “He’s done a great job for himself and his team and I’m happy for him.”

Conor Lemirande as a senior (photo by BoB).

For his career, Lemirande has scored six times and set up eight more scores, but most of his contributions do not appear on a scoresheet.

“I think he’s a really good role player,” Belpedio said. “He comes to the rink with the right attitude every day and he knows what he’s supposed to do on the ice to be successful. He’s obviously not looked to to score goals but he’s looked to to do all the little things right and be solid defensively, and in my opinion he’s been our most consistent guy all year. So my hat’s off to him.”

Lemirande has also gained additional minutes as he has been added to a penalty killing role this season.

Conor Lemirande cuts down a Bowling Green player his senior year (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Forwards at his size are unusual enough, but it’s even less common to see 250-pounders up front when their teams are shorthanded because four skaters have to defend five on the PK.

“He’s a bigger guy, obviously takes up a lot of shot lanes, he’s got a long stick so that helps a ton,” Belpedio said. “He’s worked for everything he’s gotten…that’s the type of kid he is and he’s a huge part of our team.”

His additional ice time on the PK is a direct result of his overall evolution on the ice. Defenseman Scott Dornbrock has played with Lemirande for four years and has also been his roommate the entire time the pair has been in Oxford.

“He’s progressed a ton over his three years – he’s (been) one of our best forwards all year,” Dornbrock said. “He allows our top-line guys to go out there and do what they do because he goes out there the shift before and really grinds down the team. People are watching out when he’s on the ice because they obviously don’t want to get hit. It definitely gives us an advantage to have him out there because he’s always moving his feet and always getting in people’s faces.”

As in any sport, more versatility equals more playing time.

“(I’m) working every day to be who I am to give my best to being that physical presence, be that guy that can be relied upon and trusted in different situations,” Lemirande said.

Said Belpedio: “For a big guy he moves extremely well and he’s always doing little things to get his feet faster. He’s worked on his skating, and it’s paid off a ton in his four years here.”

As a defenseman, Dornbrock frequently battles with Lemirande in practice. Through that experience, Dornbrock has learned how to handle the giant on skates in 1-on-1 battles.

“Most of the time I don’t even hit him because I know that I’m not going to get through him,” Dornbrock said. “So I always just stay on the outside of him and wait for him to make a mistake.”

Conor Lemirande talks to an official (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Lemirande’s positivity at the rink is another tangible attribute, Belpedio said, and his attitude is infectious.

“He’s just awesome to be around,” Belpedio said. “He generates energy for everyone else on the bench, and he says the right things at the right times and he fits perfectly into his role.”

And Lemirande’s personality extends off the ice.

“He’s one of my best friends – I have a lot to say about him,” Belpedio said. “He’s probably one of the nicest kids I’ve ever met. He’s always doing the right thing, and he’s one of those people you want to surround yourself with, whether it’s a serious situation or you’re just joking around. He’s just a good person to be around. He’s awesome. If the world was filled with Conors it would be a much better place.”

Said Lemirande: “I like to have a smile on my face, I like to be positive all of the time, bring that good attitude. It’s fun to be around ‘Lou’ and Scotty – we were living together my freshman year, all three – being around the guys, it’s such a blessing, and being grateful for the opportunity we have here. Just helping everybody out, if somebody calls you and needs you, (being the) first guy there, that kind of thing.”

Lemirande’s last two homes games will be this weekend, and he is set to graduate in May.

He has a 3.4 grade-point average, earning him All-NCHC Academic honors this season, and he is majoring in sports management. Lemirande has already completed his core classes and is down to electives.

“It goes by quick, and you want to tell everyone how fast it goes,” Lemirande said. “What a great opportunity we have here, being a part of the (hockey) program and at the school. I wouldn’t change a thing. Being there every day and being around the guys is something that I’ll never forget. I’ll share with my kids how special that opportunity is.”

 

Atypical path to D-I for Dornbrock

OXFORD, Ohio – A season before joining the Miami hockey team, Scott Dornbrock considered quitting the sport he loves.

After spending one year with Minot of the NAHL, he was told prior to 2013-14 that he would be playing in the USHL, the primary feeder league to the NCAA.

But when the defenseman inquired about living arrangements, he was informed he had not made the team since its allotment of 20-year-olds was used up.

That meant accepting returning to Minot as an overager.

“It was kind of an uneasy situation when I called and asked for housing information when they said, yeah sorry, you’re not coming here,” Dornbrock said. “When I made that phone call I was kind of heartbroken, and I didn’t know if I wanted to keep doing it just because I felt like I’d worked so hard to get back into the USHL.”

The NAHL is a slightly lower-level league than the USHL and doesn’t see as many players join NCAA teams on scholarship.

Rather than sulk, Dornbrock returned to Minot where he was named assistant captain. He scored seven goals and notched 17 assists for 24 points, his best numbers to date in all three categories.

That season vaulted him to a starting job at Miami, and the senior has dressed for 132 games in his four seasons in Oxford, tallying 34 points including six goals.

“I didn’t have any problem going back to Minot, but in the end it really helped me realize that playing in the USHL wasn’t the only way you could move forward,” Dornbrock said. “Going back for my second year in Minot helped out a lot more than it would’ve if I went to the USHL.”

Dornbrock, from Harper Woods, Mich., on the northeast side of Detroit, started skating when he was three and playing organized hockey by five.

He tried baseball, basketball and golf – even freshman football for half a season – but decided to concentrate on hockey.

Unlike most Miamians who go the midgets-to-juniors route, Dornbrock played three seasons with his high school team, skating with former standout Andy Miele’s brother, Shawn Miele.

“It made me realize how much I wanted to play hockey after high school and after junior hockey,” Dornbrock said.

He was already weeks from his 18th birthday when he suited up for Omaha of the USHL. Dornbrock logged 35 games there, dishing for five assists and compiling a plus-13 rating.

Scott Dornbrock at the outdoor game at Soldier Field his freshman year (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

“It was unbelievable,” Dornbrock said. “I stayed with a great family and it was like here – a small group of players – and there were three of us that went to high school together, so we were a really tight-knit group. It was just a very good experience.”

Dornbrock hoped to return, but his style didn’t mesh with the new coaches’ system, and he was one of the last players Omaha cut that preseason.

So he took a demotion to Topeka of the NAHL. Dornbrock played 12 games and picked up three assists there before being traded to Minot, where he added 11 more helpers.

“I would say that I definitely developed there,” Dornbrock said. “I got a lot of power play time and it just developed me offensively.”

Combined with his 7-17-24 line his overage season, Dornbrock finished his 91-game Minot career with seven goals, 28 assists, 35 points.

Scott Dornbrock lays out a North Dakota player his freshman year (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB.com)

“I loved Minot, I try to go back almost every summer to visit the billet family that I lived with there,” Dornbrock said. “It was a great experience. Pretty cold, but I loved it up there. I would say that besides Omaha that was my favorite place that I’ve been.”

During that pivotal 2013-14 season, Dornbrock visited Oxford, and having been teammates with Shawn Miele, he talked to his brother Andy Miele, who was having photos taken on campus with his recently-won Hobey Baker trophy.

After that conversation, Dornbrock decided to commit to Miami, where he was roomed with fellow current senior Conor Lemirande.

The two had never met.

“Obviously through mutual friends we figured out who each other were,” Lemirande said. “And you get to know him really quick when you’re in the same dorm with him.”

The tandem has roomed together all four years at Miami.

“Scotty’s a good guy, he likes to have a lot of fun,” Lemirande said. “We’ve had a lot fun times.”

They also previously roomed with captain Louie Belpedio. Belpedio now resides across the hall from the duo.

“(Scott’s) probably the funniest kid I’ve ever met – he’s hilarious,” Belpedio said. “He’s a dummy, too – I mean that in a good way. I look at him and laugh, and that’s all I’ll say about that. He’s awesome. Another one of my best friends, and I spend of time – the three seniors, we have to stick together – and never a dull moment.”

Upon arriving in Oxford, Dornbrock was thrust into the lineup immediately. He played in 36 games as a freshman, notching two goals and earning six assists.

“He really took initiative coming in and said ‘I’m going to make the most of my opportunity’, and he really did, he grasped that,” Lemirande said. “Being that simple, puck-moving defenseman that we need him to be, and his presence on the ice when he’s at the top of his game is there. And we really rely on him to make those plays.”

While it took Dornbrock until his third season of juniors to score a goal, he found the net 10 games into his freshman campaign vs. Colorado College.

But he has established his niche as a shut-down defenseman who can carry the puck and rip a glass-shattering slap shot when necessary.

Scott Dornbrock and Conor Lemirande celebrate an NCHC Tournament win in 2014-15 (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

“He’s a shut-down defenseman, he skates really well too,” Belpedio said. “He’s smart, you can use him in all situations, honestly. He’s not looked to as a power play guy but he’s been on our power play a couple of times. He’s pretty versatile with the things he’s able to do, and I think if he keeps it up he’ll have a good rest of his career here at Miami and carry that into his pro career.”

Belpedio is also a physical blueliner, but he is listed at 6-0, 198 pounds, three inches shorter and 32 pounds lighter than Dornbrock.

“I think it’s different between he and I – he obviously can use his body a lot better than me – he’s a lot bigger than I am,” Belpedio said. “So I think I have to use my stick and use my skating and try to be as physical as possible to try and separate the guy from the puck. Where as Scott, if you have your head down he’s probably going to kill you. That’s awesome to have a guy like that on your team, especially because it creates energy.”

Dornbrock celebrates a goal vs. Maine his junior season (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Dornbrock would score twice and pick up six assists his freshman campaign to accompany a plus-4 rating, That season, Miami finished second in the NCHC and won the conference championship.

“That was definitely one of the best teams I’ve ever been on,” Dornbrock said. “Obviously we had a lot of high-end guys that decided to come back, like (Austin) Czarnik, (Blake) Coleman, (Riley) Barber. You know, that was just a really fun experience and that was probably my favorite hockey moment so far.”

In his collegiate career, Dornbrock has missed just 10 games. He went 0-6-6 as a sophomore and tallied three goals and 10 assists his junior year – his best as a RedHawk offensively.

But his calling card is his physical style of defense. As a forward, Lemirande often matches up with the 6-feet-3, 230-pound blueliner in practice.

“I get to battle with him in practice a lot, and that’s a lot of fun – having another big guy battling in front of the net,” Lemirande said. “He’s hard to play against and that’s what makes it fun. You’re working to get better, he’s working to get better, so pushing each other is something that I’ll always remember about Scotty.”

He was second on Miami in blocked shots in both his freshman and sophomore years, rejecting a total of 88 those seasons, and he led the team in 2016-17 with 47.

And while Dornbrock plays a physical brand of hockey, he has kept his penalty minutes to a minimum. He was whistled for 37 PIM as a freshman but has just 49 the last three seasons combined.

“Being a bigger guy, refs always have their eye on you,” Lemirande said. “The game’s not stick lifting, big hits anymore, you’ve got to play simple, you’ve got to play smart and he’s real good at that – staying out of the box – which is crucial.”

Dornbrock gets into defensive position his senior year (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Said Belpedio: “He’s really smart with that. I think the only time it really gets iffy is because he’s so big it looks worse than it actually is. But he’s not the type of kid that would try to hurt you in a dirty way. Obviously he wants to run you through the boards, but he’s clean about it, he’s smart about it, and he’s really good at it, so it’s something you’ve got to be aware of every time you’re on the ice with him.”

In his time with the RedHawks, Dornbrock has gotten much smarter about positioning, cutting down the angles at which opposing would-be offensive threats approach the net.

“He’s definitely smarter – I think that comes with the role he’s in – he’s definitely played a lot more as he’s progressed,” Belpedio said. “I think, just from that experience he’s grown a ton – I guess you could say that about anyone as you get older, I guess – but Scott’s done a really nice job with it.”

Dornbrock talks with a referee during his final year in Oxford (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Through 26 games this season, Dornbrock has a goal and six helpers, giving him a line of 6-28-34 in his four years at Miami. He has 170 blocks.

After hanging up the skates, Dornbrock said he’d like to coach or follow his restaurant-owning uncle’s path and become an entrepreneur.

Another possibility is consulting. Specifically, said he would like to help former hockey players find career paths after retirement from the game.

Dornbrock will graduate in May with a degree in sports leadership and a minor in management – he has a 3.0 grade-point average – and he has made life-long friends at Miami.

“He’ll be standing up at my wedding, that’s for sure,” Lemirande said.

On the ice, he has logged over 130 games played including an NCHC championship game and NCAA Tournament contest.

All that less than five years after nearly giving the game up.

“It’s been amazing – it’s the best experience that I’ve ever had in my life,” Dornbrock said. “Being able to have so many close teammates, I haven’t had that anywhere else where I’ve stayed in contact with pretty much every single one of my teammates. Being able to pick up the phone and call a teammate and (pick up) right where you left off.”

Later this week we feature the career of F Conor Lemirande.

 

No blanking way: Another 0 for Miami

It’s not the type of hat trick Miami was hoping for.

The RedHawks set a school record by being shut out for the third straight game, this time 3-0 vs. No. 11 Minnesota-Duluth at Amsoil Arena.

That loss mathematically eliminates Miami from the possibility of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and also crushes any hope the team had for home-ice advantage in the first round of the NCHC Tournament.

The RedHawks have not scored in 212:01 or more than 10½ periods.

To qualify for the NCAAs by an at-large berth, a team has to have a winning record. Miami is seven games under .500, and running the table through the NCHCs is the only way it could pull that off.

Winning the NCHC Tournament would give the RedHawks an automatic bid.

MU, currently in last place in the conference, can finish no higher than sixth place. It could catch Nebraska-Omaha and Colorado College or Western Michigan but not both of the latter. Though both are technically in striking distance for Miami, CC and WMU play each other and are guaranteed six points between them that weekend.

Which means for the third straight season, the RedHawks will head to the road to open the NCHC Tournament. They were swept by Minnesota-Duluth in both 2015-16 and 2016-17, ending those seasons.

Miami is 0-10-1 in its last 11 games in this building, with its last win coming on Oct. 31, 2014. The RedHawks have been outscored, 44-22 on UMD’s home ice during that stretch.

RECAP: Jared Thomas opened the scoring for the Bulldogs (16-13-3) midway through the first period.

Miami’s Casey Gilling (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

That score held through a second period that saw Miami outshoot UMD, 14-1.

But the RedHawks could not generate the equalizer. Casey Gilling came the closest, ringing one off the post.

With 6:13 left in regulation, Nick Wolff extended the Bulldogs’ lead to two, and Joey Anderson found the empty net with 24 seconds remaining.

STATS: Kiefer Sherwood led all Miami skaters with five shots on goal. Gordie Green and Louie Belpedio added four each.

Chaz Switzer finished with a team-best three blocks.

— Miami played six times in January and averaged 3.67 goals. In six February contests, the RedHawks are scoring 1.33 goals per game and 0.80 in their last five.

— MU’s 34 shots on goal was its second-highest total of the year. The RedHawks fired 44 shots in a 7-1 win over Connecticut on Oct. 28.

— The last time Miami won on Saturday, it was against this team. That was Nov. 18. The RedHawks are 0-7-2 in series finales since.

THOUGHTS: Like last Saturday, Miami deserved a better fate than a 3-0 loss.

The RedHawks once again ran into a hot goalie, as Hunter Shepard turned 34 shots aside in this game and stopped all 50 that he faced on the weekend.

So while it’s easy to look at three straight zeroes and say Miami’s offense must be in complete meltdown mode, in two of these games the RedHawks actually played pretty well.

But when you only play well one night of a series against teams of this caliber, it’s going to be a long season.

LINEUP CHANGES: Coach Enrico Blasi shook things up a little bit, bringing back defenseman Chaz Switzer after two games of sitting out. Grant Frederic was scratched to make room.

Up front, Willie Knierim and Zach LaValle both dressed. Knierim had not played in two games in a row and LaValle was a scratch five straight contests. Not in the lineup were Austin Alger and Carter Johnson.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Yes, Miami could technically pull itself out of eighth place in the conference if it strung some wins together in its final four regular season games, but the RedHawks’ fate has been sealed.

They will head on the road against a top-10 team to open a conference tournament they will need to win if they hope to avoid missing the NCAAs for the third straight season.

Most likely MU will head to St. Cloud State or Denver, two of the top five programs in college hockey.

As an eight seed, Miami nearly pulled that off in 2013-14 by sweeping St. Cloud on the road and beating North Dakota in the semifinal before falling a goal short in the championship game.

But that’s a tall, tall task especially this season with the NCHC being undoubtedly the premier league in Division I.

Miami blanked again at UMD

Back to the house of horrors for Miami.

The RedHawks were shut out in their personal torture chamber, Amsoil Arena, 4-0 vs. No. 11 Minnesota-Duluth on Friday night. It was the second straight game in which Miami failed to light the lamp, bringing their scoreless streak to 152:01.

MU was also blanked by St. Cloud State in its series finale vs. St. Cloud State last Saturday.

The loss drops the RedHawks (10-16-3) a season-worst six games under .500, as they are guaranteed their third straight losing regular season.

Miami slipped to 0-9-1 in its last 10 games in Duluth.

RECAP: A pair of quick goals midway through the first period was all Minnesota-Duluth would need.

Mikey Anderson got the Bulldogs (15-13-3) on the board at the 8:19 mark and exactly two minutes later, Billy Exell extended their lead to two.

Jade Miller and Louie Roehl added markers in the second and third periods to seal it.

STATS: Miami was outshot, 13-4 in the first period and 29-11 through the opening 40 minutes.

— Gordie Green and Carson Meyer fired three shots each. Josh Melnick and Louie Belpedio blocked three shots apiece.

— The RedHawks slipped to 1-13-1 in their last 15 games in February and beyond.

THOUGHTS: It was Jan. 5 when Miami beat Denver to improve to 9-8-2, and at that point an NCAA at-large berth seemed like a legitimate possibility.

The six weeks since have been a dumpster fire, with the RedHawks going 1-8-1 and pretty much eliminating themselves from NCAA Tournament consideration by any means other than an NCHC Tournament win.

The RedHawks were beaten soundly in that finale vs. the Pioneers, which was not surprising considering they’re one of the best teams in Division I.

Miami had winnable road games vs. UNO and Colorado College, but its defense was a no-show for those series. MU went 0-3-1 and allowed 25 goals in those games.

The RedHawks won their first game back on home ice, 4-2 vs. Western Michigan but dropped the next three in Oxford, one to WMU and a pair to St. Cloud State.

Now the offense is AWOL, as Miami was shut out for the final 92:01 of its series vs. the Huskies.

Add 60 to that after failing to score in this contest.

The difference between that SCSU shutout and this one is the RedHawks actually played well for most of their game against the Huskies. They laid an egg on Friday – a goose egg.

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

LINEUP CHANGES: It was the same 18 skaters for Miami, but Ryan Larkin was back in net after sitting the Saturday game vs. St. Cloud State due to an illness.

Chase Munroe was between the pipes for that contest.

FINAL THOUGHTS: With Miami destined for a road series to open the NCHC Tournament, it’s becoming a distinct possibility the RedHawks finish the regular season at Denver and return there the following weekend a la 2015-16 vs. Duluth.

MU’s chances of having a lucrative postseason get longer with every February loss.

Miami shut out, swept by SCSU

OXFORD, Ohio – For the first time this season, Ryan Larkin was not the starting goalie for Miami.

And the RedHawks didn’t give their back-up netminder any offensive support, as No. 4 St. Cloud State completed the weekend sweep with a 4-0 win at Cady Arena on Saturday.

Miami goalie Chase Munroe (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Larkin was in the starting slot on the lineup card and practiced sparingly in warm-ups, but he was battling an illness and did not return to the ice after the pre-game scrape.

Chase Munroe made his first start of 2017-18 and the fourth of his career.

Miami slipped to 1-7-1 in its last nine games and is 1-8-1 in February the past two seasons.

It was the second time this season the RedHawks (10-15-3) have been blanked.

RECAP: It was scoreless through one period, but St. Cloud State (19-7-3) broke though 3:48 into the second period when Nick Poehling beat Munroe low to the glove side.

Miami’s Carson Meyer had a penalty shot early in the third period but was unable to capitalize.

Patrick Newell made it 2-0 when a loose puck found him in the faceoff circle, and he fired it just under the far crossbar.

The final two SCSU goals were both empty netters, with Newell and Judd Peterson finding the net shorthanded.

STATS: Munroe had to be happy for the opportunity to lower his bloated goals-against average, which was 12.36 due to struggles in his lone outing this season. He stopped 17 of 19 shots, dropping it to 4.59 and raising his save percentage from .636 to .800.

— Gordie Green’s team-high four-game points streak was snapped.

— Scott Dornbrock blocked a Miami-best four shots, and RedHawks Rourke Russell added three, giving him a team high of 39.

— Carter Johnson was 9-3 on faceoffs as he continues to make his case for regular ice time.

— No power play goals were scored on the weekend. The teams each had eight chances in the two-game set. SCSU did score twice shorthanded, but both were empty netters.

THOUGHTS: This is the part where some expect a rant about how bad Miami was yet again.

While inflammatory speech may generate hits, it wouldn’t be fair to rip the team’s play on Saturday. The RedHawks played pretty well in this game.

They just couldn’t get the puck in the net.

The defense, perhaps inspired by their missing regular goalie, tightened up and held SCSU to just 21 shots. And very few good scoring chances.

One St. Cloud goal should’ve been stopped, one was on an exceptional shot and two were empty netters.

Huskies goalie David Hrenak deserves a lot of credit too, as he stopped all 30 Miami shots he faced.

Sometimes teams run into a hot goalie, and you just have to tip your hat.

Miami forward Kiefer Sherwood (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

The problem of course is that the 27 previous games this season have netted just 10 wins, the RedHawks have used up their allotment of acceptable losses, with plenty of unacceptable losses mixed in.

— He obviously didn’t pick up any points, but Kiefer Sherwood played his best hockey of the season this weekend. He seems to have gotten back that extra gear of skating speed, he backchecked relentlessly and dished out a couple of big hits, which has never been a major part of his game.

Sherwood had a slow start to this season and is still down overall in terms of points pace but seems to be over whatever held him back the first few months of 2017-18.

— The forwards took six minors penalties, with five leading to SCSU power plays. Conor Lemirande an Casey Gilling both were whistled for a pair of minors. Gilling leads the team in minors (17) and PIM (50), which isn’t going to cut it if he’s going to be a major part of this team the next three-plus years.

— Came away once again impressed by the A-through-Z Poehling contingent on the Huskies.

— Coach Enrico Blasi has been pulling the goalie radically early when trailing this season, even doing so with 17 minutes left in the third period earlier this calendar year. SCSU scored three empty netters this weekend as a result, but really, if it helps the team’s chance of winning just an iota and only drawback is a more lopsided final score, then go for it.

GRADES

FORWARDS: D. Hot goalie or not, this group’s job is to score goals and they came up empty. And yeah, the penalties.

DEFENSEMEN: B. They seemed to make a conceded effort to tighten up with Munroe in net and were solid overall. This corps also stayed out of the penalty box. They helped hold a potent SCSU team to 21 shots, and very few high-quality chances.

GOALTENDING: C. Munroe definitely should’ve stopped the first goal. The second one was ticketed for the corner of the net. His rebound control was solid, although he didn’t see many difficult shots. He can thank his D-corps for stepping up. Munroe was also put in a difficult spot, as he likely didn’t know he was starting until minutes before the game.

LINEUP CHANGES: After three straight games going with the same 19, Austin Alger and Grant Frederic both dressed. Alger, a forward, replaced Willie Knierim, and blueliner Frederic was in for Chaz Switzer, who had played in 13 straight games.

FINAL THOUGHTS: All eight NCHC teams have six games left, and Miami can finish no better than third.

The RedHawks are last in the conference with 17 points, and UNO is seventh with 21. So it’s an uphill climb just to get out of the basement, especially considering Miami’s remaining schedule.

The ultimate goal of fourth would likely require Miami to run the table and hope the teams the RedHawks are chasing falter down the stretch. The RedHawks are 10 points down on both fourth-place North Dakota and fifth-place Duluth, and they would have to catch one of those teams and pass UNO and Colorado College.

Miami heads to Duluth next week, returns home to play North Dakota and finishes as Denver. Those teams are ninth, 12th and second in PairWise, respectively.

In other words, if you’ve already pre-paid for first-round NCHC playoff tickets at Cady Arena, a refund is extremely likely for the third straight year.

Slow start vs. St. Cloud dooms Miami

OXFORD, Ohio – Because it was televised nationally, Miami’s game on Friday started a half hour later than normal.

Unfortunately the RedHawks didn’t begin play until well after that.

MU surrendered three goals in the first 10 minutes in an eventual 5-2 loss to No. 4 St. Cloud State at Cady Arena.

Miami (10-14-3) did battle back with a couple of second-period goals but could not generate the equalizer.

Colorado College won at North Dakota on Friday as well, leapfrogging Nebraska-Omaha and pushing six points ahead of the RedHawks, who are 1-6-1 in their last eight. The Mavericks are in seventh, four points up on last-place Miami.

All eight teams in the NCHC will have played 18 of their 24 league games after Saturday, so regardless of the outcome in the final, MU will head into the final three weekends of the regular season in last place.

RECAP: Fans were still filing in when Robby Jackson and Blake Lizotte threw pucks into the net 70 seconds apart, giving SCSU a 2-0 lead just over three minutes in.

It was Mikey Eyssimont extending the Huskies’ lead to three at the 9:39 mark.

Josh Melnick had a pass intercepted at the blue line, resulting in the first goal, Chaz Switzer was skated around by Lizotte and Kiefer Sherwood blew a tire at the red line when Eyssimont scored.

The RedHawks scored 1:47 apart in the second period to cut the deficit to one.

Miami’s Phil Knies (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Gordie Green banged home a loose puck from the slot after a pass from behind the net by Carter Johnson was partially deflected. Ben Lown put the puck on net by poking it between a SCSU defender’s legs, and the rebound was jammed home by Phil Knies.

Miami had a couple of chances to tie it late in the second period, but the Huskies iced it seven minutes into the third period when Kevin Fitzgerald stripped Willie Knierim at the blue line and beat goalie Ryan Larkin five hole.

The RedHawks pulled Larkin with over six minutes left, and Jackson hit the empty net for the final tally.

Miami forward Gordie Green (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

STATS: Green extended his points streak to four games, a current team high. He leads Miami with 12 goals including the one in this contest.

— Only five blocked shots for the RedHawks.

— Johnson’s assist gives him points in consecutive games for the first time in his career.

— Miami failed to score on the power play, snapping a six-game streak. But the RedHawks did not yield a goal on the man advantage for the first time in eight games.

— All seven goals were scored in the south end of the rink.

THOUGHTS: It’s baffling that the RedHawks wouldn’t be ready for this series, and against a team as good as St. Cloud State, Miami paid dearly.

MU tried to battle back and was the better team in the second period, but the damage had been done.

And that’s what’s enough to drive one batty with this team. This team is good enough to hang with the best teams in Division I for stretches but not good enough to win those games.

— Larkin has gotten some leeway because of the quality of shots he’s faced, but he’s getting beaten too often on stoppable shots – especially high to the glove side – and that’s contributing to MU’s second-half slide. His save percentage of .883 would be the worst of any starting goalie since Enrico Blasi’s first season in 1999-2000.

— Johnson is making it harder to keep him out of the lineup. He played 37 games last season and earned just three points and sat the bench almost the entire first half of 2017-18. But he is 1-1-2 his last two games, is providing much-needed energy on the lower lines and is using his size to win battles along the boards.

— St. Cloud State has the best transition game of any team to come to Cady Arena this season. The Huskies are able to go end-to-end in a couple of seconds and create odd-man rushes off of opponents’ misses. They definitely are every bit as good or better than on television.

— Kevin Fitzergerald made arguably the defensive play of the year when he put his stick up and blocked a would-be third-period goal by Casey Gilling at the side of the net. The goalie would have had no chance.

— For the second straight game, Miami had a major power play in the third period with a chance to get back into a game and did bupkis with it. The PP1 has been solid all season but the RedHawks haven’t been able to put together a solid secondary combination of skaters for extended man-advantage opportunities.

GRADES

FORWARDS: C-. Three bad turnovers ended up in Miami’s net, negating the two goals this corps recorded.

DEFENSEMEN: C. Tough call here. Didn’t give up too many great scoring chances except for the second goal, didn’t contribute anything offensively. Grant Hutton was definitely the star of this class.

GOALTENDING: D. Larkin needed to stop at least one of the goals allowed, especially early when the game was in the balance. He has tons of talent but it’s unclear if he’s struggling because of the high number of minutes played or a waning confidence level after facing so many Grade-A chances.

LINEUP CHANGES: None. This was the third straight game Blasi started the same 19.

FINAL THOUGHTS: St. Cloud State (18-6-3) is a force and should contend for the national title. The Huskies played like champions in this game, taking the crowd out of it early, fending off Miami’s rush in the middle portion of the game stepping on the RedHawks’ throats in the end game.

SCSU is fast, handles and moves the puck exceptionally well and still manages to limit opponents’ opportunities despite playing an up-tempo style. And the Huskies were missing a defenseman who is playing for Team USA in the Olympics.

Fortunately this is one of the two NCHC teams the RedHawks only play twice this season.

Photos: Western Michigan at Miami

Images from the series between Western Michigan at Miami at Cady Arena in Oxford, Ohio, on Feb. 2-3, 2018. All photos by Cathy Lachmann/BoB.

 

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.