Miami falls in regular season finale

OXFORD, Ohio – The end of the regular season couldn’t come quickly enough for Miami.

The RedHawks lost their finale, 5-2 to No. 15 North Dakota on Saturday as they will limp into the playoffs with an eight-game winless streak and one victory in their last 13.

After a scoreless first period, the Fighting Sioux took the lead 2:34 into the second period when Ludvig Hoff stole the puck from Miami’s Conor Lemirande and threaded a pass to Chris Wilkie, who was wide open in the slot and wired a shot home.

The RedHawks (9-18-7) tied it on the power play when Grant Hutton fired a shot from just inside the blue line, and after goalie Cam Johnson made the initial save, Kiefer Sherwood slammed home the rebound from the side of the net with 14:51 left in the middle stanza.

UND (18-14-3) went ahead for good with 4:24 left in that frame when Tucker Poolman took the puck from along the boards, skated from behind the net to the top of the crease and buried a backhander just under the crossbar.

Miami defenseman Chaz Switzer (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Miami defenseman Chaz Switzer (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

On a 3-on-2 break, Poolman fed Trevor Olson in the slot, and Olson found the net to make it 3-1 with 15:42 left in regulation.

Miami did trim the lead to one when a blue line blast by Chaz Switzer tricked through Johnson with 11:12 to play for Switzer’s first career goal.

But 35 seconds later, it was Poolman again, scoring off a Dixon Bowen feed on a 2-on-1, giving North Dakota a 4-2 lead.

Bowen sealed it with 3:30 to play with an empty netter.

Sherwood finished with a goal and an assist, accomplishing that for the second straight game as he ended the weekend with a team-best four points.

The RedHawks were limited to 11 shots, their lowest total in the Cady Arena era and one off the team record low of 10, which Miami ended up with twice, most recently in 2000 vs. Michigan.

Miami had already locked up a seven seed in the NCHC Tournament, which starts next weekend. The RedHawks will travel to Minnesota for a best-of-3 series in the opening round against third-ranked and second-seeded Minnesota-Duluth.

The games will be on Friday, Saturday and – if necessary – Sunday. Miami needs to win that tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament.

Analysis: Home finale still meaningful

OXFORD, Ohio – For Miami, PairWise doesn’t matter, seeding has been wrapped up and the RedHawks even know their first-round opponent in the NCHC Tournament.

That means after Friday’s 3-2 loss to North Dakota, Saturday’s regular season finale will be little more than a glorified exhibition.

For official purposes that is. Miami can certainly conjure up reasons to take its last game at Cady Arena in 2016-17 seriously.

Trying to gain momentum heading into a brutal road trip – the same one that saw the RedHawks’ season end last year – would be the most obvious.

But it’s been no secret Miami would open the NCHC Tournament on the road for weeks now, and the RedHawks still went winless the entire month of February and have opened March 0-1.

Next week’s opponent, Minnesota-Duluth, swept Miami to end the 2015-16 season and just went 1-0-1 vs. the RedHawks last weekend. The Bulldogs are ranked second in Division I.

There is the legacy play. Miami has won at least 12 games in every season under Coach Enrico Blasi, and his worst two seasons from a wins standpoint were Years 1 and 3 (1999-2000 and 2001-02), when the team won 13 and 12 games, respectively.

But that was with recruits from the previous administration. With his own players, Blasi has won at least 15 games each season, although two of the previous three campaigns have seen the RedHawks win exactly that many with sub-.500 winning percentages.

So Miami needs to win on Saturday and advance to Minneapolis just to tie Blasi’s low-water mark in terms of wins.

To be fair, the RedHawks have tied seven times, so essentially that have 12½ wins. But the team’s .379 winning percentage is 47th out of 60 Division I teams.

And hey, the NCHC’s lone knock – right or wrong – is the lack of an identity and natural rivals. North Dakota was one known quantity when this league was formed. The Native-American-turned-avion-nicknamed team has appeared in more championships than any team in Division I (13) and is second in titles (8).

Oh yeah, UND won the national championship in 2016. Can Miami possibly get up to play this team on its home ice, even in a down year?

Miami's Ryan Larkin makes one of his 38 saves on Friday (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Miami’s Ryan Larkin makes one of his 38 saves on Friday (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Because the RedHawks didn’t do that in their penultimate home game of the season. North Dakota had seven shots in the first four minutes, and if it hadn’t been for Miami goalie Ryan Larkin, it could’ve been 2-0 before many found their seats at Cady Arena.

The RedHawks had their moments on Friday but there was zero sustained pressure. On the other side, the Other Hawks controlled the puck in the offensive zone for shift after shift.

Shots on goal are not the be-all, end-all of hockey stats, but when a team is outshot by a 2-to-1 margin or greater in all three periods, that’s not a coincidence. The SOG by period was 16-5, 15-7 and 10-4.

There’s the cliché that winning is contagious. Well, so is not winning, and Miami has failed to secure a victory in 11 of its last 12 games.

A win on Saturday won’t fix the RedHawks’ seed, or their PairWise or even do much to correct their anemic record, but it could point them in the right direction heading into the playoffs.

Other thoughts…

– Time to dispel the “we’re young” excuse for Miami’s woeful performance this season. North Dakota has eight freshman and 11 sophomores – that’s 19 underclassmen, using the first two years of college definition – and five juniors and two seniors. One of those seniors is a goalie who has logged 18 career games.

– If we’ve learning one positive thing about a player this season, it’s that Gordie Green’s work ethic is top notch. It’s easy to get off your game when the team you play for rivals the Jacksonville Jaguars in terms of winning percentage, but he has thrived while the team has done the opposite. Green has three goals and five assists his last eight games, and Miami only has 19 markers in that span, meaning Green has factored into 42 percent of those. He even laid a player out on Friday and was assessed a bogus charging penalty even though he neither lined his opponent up nor left his feet.

– Impressed with Carter Johnson, who made a great move and just missed the net in the second period and had another quality scoring chance in the third period. Kudos also to Zach LaValle, who has continued to work as hard as anyone this season resulting in eight points in his last 16 games.

– With Louie Belpedio out, it was Josh Melnick who met with officials and UND captain Gage Ausmus during warm-ups. Very telling.

– BoB is not big on criticizing officiating, but seriously, in this game, 7-to-2 on power plays including an extended 4-on-3 that led to the decisive goal? It was a chippy game, no doubt, but come on. That said, UND made the most of those opportunities, outshooting the RedHawks, 17-2 on the man advantage and scoring a shorthanded goals on one of Miami’s chances.

– To complete the thought on penalties, Grant Hutton’s cross check to the head of a player laying in Miami’s crease wasn’t the smartest play of the season, and Conor Lemirande took three minors, eventually resulting in him being relegated to the bench for the balance of the third period. North Dakota a was better at getting under the RedHawks’ skin and watching MU get called for the retaliation.

– With this being the first time seeing the Fighting Hawks live this season, their skating and puck control stood out as two of their top attributes. They also move the puck extremely well on the power play. Hard to believe they were just two games over .500 entering this weekend. As usual, their fans traveled well, as this was the loudest any opposing fan base has been in this rink all season.

– With the regular season wrapping up, it’s about time we consider hanging numbers of more recent members of the Miami hockey clique on the brick wall at Cady Arena. For now, Andy Greene and Ryan Jones certainly seem worthy of having their respective 23 and 26 mounted in the Zamboni end.

– Louie Belpedio was in the concourse wearing a knee brace. Sounds like he’s just week-to-week, but unfortunately for Miami, do-or-die mode starts next week for this team. Obviously his return would help tremendously.

GRADES

FORWARDS: C-. Just 12 shots from this group. The LaValle-Sherwood-Green line was undoubtedly Miami’s best. Overall, this corps wasn’t particularly impressive on defense as well.

DEFENSEMEN: C-. The listed pairings bore little resemblance to how these blueliners were actually implemented in game. Scott Dornbrock had a decent game overall but coughed up the puck for the decisive breakaway goal. Other than an errant turnover, Grant Frederic played one of his better games.

GOALTENDING: B+. Again, when a goalie faces 41 shots and many are Grade-A chances, three goals against is a pretty good night. Larkin kept Miami in the game by stopping the first seven shots he faced in the opening four minutes. Other than arguably the breakaway, there was little he could’ve done about any of his goals against.

LINEUP CHANGES: For the third straight game, it was Alex Alger (F), Bryce Hatten (D) and Belpedio sitting. Hatten has been scratched for 15 of the last 16 games, so if Belpedio returns, it would be the expense of one of Friday’s starters on defense. With his forward corps relatively healthy, it appears this 12 from this game will be the group Blasi heads into the tournament with.

Miami a seven seed after another loss

OXFORD, Ohio – Miami officially locked itself into the seventh seed for the NCHC Tournament.

Consecutive No. 15 North Dakota goals late in the second period helped send the RedHawks to a 3-2 loss at Cady Arena on Friday.

Miami will travel to Minnesota-Duluth next weekend for a best-of-3 series. The RedHawks, who extended their winless streak to seven games (0-6-1), are 1-9-2 in their last 12.

Miami's Gordie Green goes in for a scoring chance on Friday (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Miami’s Gordie Green goes in for a scoring chance on Friday (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

MU (9-17-7) went ahead 7:38 into the first period. Gordie Green had an initial pass denied, but the puck came back to him and he ultimately fed it to Zach LaValle across the blue line. LaValle backhanded a pass through the slot, and Green advanced it to a wide-open Kiefer Sherwood, who rammed it home from the inside edge of the faceoff circle.

The Fighting Hawks (17-14-3) tied it on the power play with 2:11 left in the first period when Rhett Gardner connected on a pass to Chris Gardner in the slot. Gardner’s point-blank shot was denied, but Ludwig Hoff shoveled the rebound in on the backhand.

The net was dislodged during the play, but after a lengthy review it was determined that the puck crossed the goal line first.

Miami again took a one-goal lead midway through the second period. Kiefer Sherwood carried the puck through the neutral zone behind the North Dakota net before curling and connecting with Green. Green’s initial shot was blocked, but the rebound came back to Green, who stuffed it in the short side.

Just 3:18 later, the Fighting Hawks again evened the score at two on a 4-on-3, as Tyson Jost whipped a wrist shot just under the crossbar from the slot.

North Dakota took its first lead of the game with 1:40 left in that stanza when Trevor Olson stripped RedHawks defenseman Scott Dornbrock, went in for a breakaway and beat Miami goal Ryan Larkin on the glove side.

The Fighting Hawks limited the RedHawks to four third-period shots and 16 for the game while racking up 41 themselves.

Green and Sherwood finished with a goal and an assist each. It was Green’s second consecutive multi-point game, as he now has eight points in his last eight games (3-5-8).

Sherwood found the net for just the second time in 13 games but in his last nine contests he has recorded eight points.

Miami dropped to 31st in the PairWise rankings and has 23 points in NCHC play. If the RedHawks had swept in this series, they could’ve improved to fifth or sixth in the standings.

MU is 0-6-1 in its last seven games in Duluth, and last season the RedHawks were swept there in the NCHC Tournament, ending their season.

Miami wraps up its regular season against North Dakota at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday in a game televised on Fox College Sports (DirecTV Ch. 608).

White’s presence lives on in Oxford

Denis White only attended one Miami hockey game at Cady Arena, but a part of him is in Oxford every time the RedHawks lace up the skates at their home rink.

Like the other thousand-plus games he saw played by numerous Cincinnati teams in several leagues in his decades-long career, he loved his only experience at the Goggin Ice Center.

Denis White in his goal judge box at Cincinnati Gardens.

Denis White in his goal judge box at Cincinnati Gardens.

He loved the game, and he felt that way long before hockey was even remotely popular in this area.

White, the father of BoB photographer Cathy Lachmann, passed away on Feb. 21 at age 83 after spending nearly half of his life as a goal judge.

And whether it was Cincinnati Gardens or the Coliseum, the Stingers, Swords, Tigers or Cyclones, Denis could be found behind the cage, finger on the trigger, ready to light the lamp that signified a goal.

White grew up in Chicago, where he was a die-hard Blackhawks fan. After moving to Tulsa briefly and working as an off-ice official there for the minor-league Oilers in the 1960s, he brought his passion for the game to the Cincinnati area.

From then on, he was a fixture at the Queen City’s major rinks. In a stretch of 30 years, he missed four games.

His adoration of hockey was eclipsed only by his love of family, and fortunately for him, the two overlapped. Judy, his wife, watched almost every game Denis worked, and his other daughters, Julie and Betsy, also caught the hockey bug and are both still huge fans of the sport he was so fond of.

The highlight of his career was in the early 1990s, when Cathy and Denis worked the two nets as off-ice officials. It is the only documented occurrence of a father-daughter goal-judge tandem in this area.

Denis passed along numerous exemplary traits to Cathy, and from a hockey perspective, her eye for the game is his most evident gift.

Denis White gives Cathy away at her wedding in Ottawa, Canada.

Denis White gives Cathy away at her wedding in Ottawa, Canada.

Fortunately for Miami fans, that attribute lives on through Cathy’s photography. Though she had no former training in that field, her knowledge of the game made her a natural, as she can anticipate plays as well as anyone at the rink, and that hockey acumen enables her to capture optimal images.

She can be seen on game night shooting from her season-ticket seat in the front row of Section 12, the end zones or the standing-room section directly behind the penalty boxes.

Also like her dad, she is a rink rat, as she has missed three regular season home games in the 11 years Cady Arena has been open – one for a family funeral and a weekend series when she married.

And she tied the knot in Ottawa, Canada, in a Miami jersey. Denis was there to give her away in a Tulsa Oilers sweater.

Denis may no longer be with us in body, but he lives on through Cathy’s hockey fervor every time the RedHawks take the ice in Oxford.

Analysis: Close doesn’t count in hockey

Having watched a lot of hockey at a lot of levels, it’s not hyperbole to say this is one of the most frustrating teams to watch in this lifetime.

Unfortunately, that cliché about “close” counting doesn’t refer to hockey and hand grenades, or else Miami would be in much better shape after its 3-3 tie at No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth on Friday.

Because in many ways, close is what the RedHawks (9-16-7) are to being a successful team and not one mired seven games under .500, facing a brutal road series to advance in the NCHC Tournament in two weeks just to extend their season. And it’s frustrating that they’ve not been able to close teams out too many times this season.

Close – amazingly – is what Miami is to defaulting to home-ice advantage in that round despite a 5-12-5 league record, as the team is only six points out of that elusive fourth seed. Frustrating because with Duluth and Denver running away with the top two seeds, the points threshold for that seed is lower than in any of the four seasons of the NCHC.

Close in forward depth, as this team has true offensive stars in Anthony Louis, Kiefer Sherwood, Josh Melnick and Carson Meyer. Gordie Green’s stock has soared the past two months, and Willie Knierim seems to be figuring it out at a steady, big guy, 19-year-old-in-D-I pace. Frustrating because the other seven forwards on the roster have a combined total of seven goals.

Close at defense, an area BoB highlighted at the beginning of the season with half of its studly blue line from 2015-16 graduating, as Grant Hutton is becoming a leader among this group and youngsters like Chaz Switzer appear to be gaining confidence. Frustrating because that progress has been too slow for some, veterans are making too many unforced mistakes and opponents are still setting up shop in front of the Miami net far too often with over 90 percent of the regular season in the books.

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

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

Well past close to “arrived” status in net, as Ryan Larkin has been a savior for this team – pun intended – as he has faced far too many A-plus scoring chances this season but still owns a .912 save percentage. Even that area is frustrating because he appears to be either tiring or losing a bit of confidence and has allowed the occasional soft goal in recent weeks that never would’ve gone in during December or January.

Close because this team showed a flash of excellence when it ran off five straight wins around the holidays and outscored its opponents, 18-2 in the third period and overtime during that span, with Melnick netting a pair of highlight-reel OT winners. Frustrating because the RedHawks suffered through an 0-7-3 span – their longest winless stretch in a quarter century – and are currently 1-8-2 in their last 11 during their most important games when they were given every chance to move up both in PairWise and the NCHC standings to earn their way into the NCAAs. And oh yeah, they’ve been outscored, 16-4 in the third period in their last seven, giving up multiple goals in the final stanza in every one of those contests.

This weekend is a microcosm of close and frustrating. Miami came back from 2-0 on Thursday to tie the second-ranked team in college hockey on the road, then after the Bulldogs (20-5-7) surged ahead again, the RedHawks again evened the score at three. Finally UMD buried a power play chance with a minute and a half left. Miami salvaged a tie on Friday and earned the extra league point.

The RedHawks have played some of their best hockey against top-ranked opponents like Minnesota-Duluth. This was probably the toughest series on Miami’s entire season schedule, and even without its captain, MU hung with the Bulldogs both games.

But it’s the story of the season: the RedHawks couldn’t get the win either night. Close doesn’t count in hockey.

Very frustrating.

Other thoughts…

– Is this series an example, like we talked about last week, of a team that is playing loose because home ice and PairWise are no longer factors? At six games under .500 heading into this weekend, these outcomes really don’t matter except for NCHC Tournament seeding. That takes a lot of pressure off a team that was in a bad place after the recent St. Cloud series. The focus now is getting better next weekend and preparing for that all-important best-of-3 in two weeks.

– How much of an impact does the return of Justin Greenberg and the loss of Louie Belpedio have on this team? Greenberg’s injury hurt the team on the penalty kill and in the faceoff circle, and Louie Belpedio missed this weekend after being kneed last weekend. Those changes can affect the chemistry of a team – positively or negatively – and based on where Miami was for the Denver series and where it was this weekend, it seems like the RedHawks got a boost from Greenberg and were more fired up after losing their captain.

– And on the latter, BoB wishes a speedy return to Belpedio, who is a team leader on and off the ice and a delight to talk to. He’s had some struggles this year with penalties and turnovers, but captaincy on this team is very difficult. We even saw it affect Austin Czarnik, one of the best Miamians in team history and a current NHLer who could play there for the next decade.

– In fairness to the above, injuries really have played a role with this team, as Meyer, Larkin, Belpedio, Greenberg and Jared Brandt have all missed time this season, and with just three extra skaters on the team, Miami doesn’t really have the depth to absorb personnel losses. Christian Mohs hurt his knee before the season even started and has been out for the season, which put the RedHawks shorthanded from Day 1.

– Miami was mathematically eliminated from home ice after failing to secure three points on Friday. Long story as short as possible, if the RedHawks won out and Nebraska-Omaha won on Saturday then was swept next weekend, and St. Cloud State was swept, that would be best albeit super-unlikely scenario, as Miami would finish in a three-way tie with whatever the Sioux are calling themselves these days and the Huskies. But the RedHawks would still be 3-4-1 against those two teams and would end up with a six seed. So much for the suspense.

– In the bizarre stats area, Hutton is now tied with Melnick for best shooting percentage on the team, as both have scored nine times on 49 shots (.184). Maybe Brandt’s first career goal in Oxford last Saturday instilled confidence in him, as he had 27 shots on goal all season entering this weekend and fired six times in these two games, finding the net twice.

– Tapping the old memory banks to recall a team that was more self-strangulation inducing, the 2000-01 Cincinnati Mighty Ducks come to mind. That team had to use 12 goalies during the regular season and lost player after player to Anaheim and Detroit, that team’s affiliates. They finished above .500 but took an early exit from the playoffs.

Miami ties, earns 2 points vs. Duluth

If only Miami was as good in the first 60 minutes as it has been in overtime and beyond.

The RedHawks and No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth tied, 3-3 at Amsoil Arena on Friday, and Miami came away with the second league point thanks to a 3-on-3 winner by Justin Greenberg.

MU (9-16-7) has played in 10 overtimes this season, winning three and tying seven. Of the five league ties that went to a 3-on-3, the RedHawks have picked up the extra point three times.

The two points gives Miami a razor-thin margin to earn home-ice advantage for the first round of the NCHC Tournament, but it would need a lot of outside help in addition to a sweep of North Dakota next week.

The Bulldogs (20-5-6) took the lead at the 13:00 mark of the first period when Alex Iafallo sprung Dominic Toninato down the left wing with a neutral-zone pass, and Toninato skated in and beat RedHawks goalie Ryan Larkin on the short side from the center of the faceoff circle.

Miami defenseman Jared Brandt (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Miami defenseman Jared Brandt (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Miami tied it when Anthony Louis skated across the blue line and dropped a pass for Jared Brandt, who blasted a shot from the high slot that snuck through Hunter Miska and tricked in with 11:09 left in the second period.

With 1:02 left in the middle stanza, the RedHawks took their only lead of the weekend when Grant Hutton ripped a shot from the blue line that beat Miska.

UMD made it 2-2 on an Adam Johnson slap shot from along the boards, beating Larkin on the glove side.

Parker Mackay put the Bulldogs back on top when he snuck in front of the Miami net and batted home a pass from Jared Thomas with 11:48 remaining in regulation.

The RedHawks scored the equalizer when a shot by Gordie Green from the high slot eluded Miska with 3:25 left in the final frame.

It was Green finding the net again in the 3-on-3, taking a pass from Scott Dornbrock, firing a shot that was stopped by Miska, corralling the loose puck and burying the rebound.

Hutton has scored in three straight games and Brandt connected in his second consecutive contest. Green netted his sixth marker of the season, with five coming in the last 15 games.

Brandt and Green both finished with two points, giving Brandt his first career multi-point game. Green has recorded multiple points three times.

The tie extends Miami’s winless streak to six games but does end the team’s five-game losing streak. The RedHawks have just one win in their last 11 (1-8-2) and finish their regular-season road slate with just one conference win.

Miami wraps up its regular season with a two-game set vs. North Dakota at Cady Arena next weekend.

Fifth straight loss for reeling RedHawks

Yet another one got away from Miami late.

Avery Peterson scored on the power play with 1:21 left in regulation to lift Minnesota-Duluth to a 4-3 win over the RedHawks at Amsoil Arena on Thursday, sending Miami to its fifth straight loss.

The RedHawks have won just one of their last 10 games (1-8-1).

The Bulldogs struck first when a blue line blast by Nick Wolff was stopped by Miami goalie Ryan Larkin, but Adam Johnson was able to bat home the rebound from the side of the net 13:00 into the first period.

Minnesota-Duluth (20-5-6) made it 2-0 just 68 seconds into the second frame Dominic Toninato fired home a one-time pass from Karson Kuhlman after a RedHawks turnover.

Miami (9-16-6) cut the lead to one when Grant Hutton skated behind the UMD net and somehow found Jared Brandt in the slot, passing through a pair of bodies, and Brandt buried his shot stick side with 12:53 left in the middle stanza.

The RedHawks tied it on a power play blast by Hutton off a one-time feed by Kiefer Sherwood with 8:15 left in the second period.

Ninety-four seconds into the third period, the Bulldogs went ahead again, 3-2 on a Neal Pionk rip from the top of the faceoff circle.

But Miami again battled back, tying the score at three as Carson Meyer corralled a loose puck in the slot and shoveled it into the net with 10:45 to play in regulation.

Peterson whipped his game-winning shot in after taking a drop pass from Riley Tufte, who skated across the blue line and eluded a RedHawks defender.

Miami's Grant Hutton (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Miami’s Grant Hutton (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Hutton finished with a goal and an assist, and Josh Melnick and Anthony Louis added two assists each in the losing effort.

It was the third career multi-point game for Louis and his second of the season, and Melnick tallied two helpers for the third time in 2016-17.

Louis now has 122 points for his career, tying him with Reilly Smith for 29th on Miami’s all-time leaderboard.

These teams wrap up their weekend series at 8:07 p.m. on Friday. The RedHawks need a minimum of two points in that contest or they will be eliminated from the possibility of a home ice series to open the NCHC Tournament in two weeks.

They are currently in seventh place, and unless they move up would face either Denver or UMD to open the conference tournament.

Confidence key to Greenberg’s ascent

OXFORD, Ohio – Miami suffered through a miserable 3-12-1 stretch to wrap up the 2013-14 regular season and limped into its conference tournament, finishing last in the NCHC.

That meant a best-of-3 series at top-seeded St. Cloud State just for the RedHawks to extend their season.

Miami shocked the Huskies by winning Game 1, and just as it appeared Game 2 would head to overtime, Justin Greenberg buried the game-winning and series-clinching shot in the closing seconds of regulation.

Justin Greenberg as a freshman (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Justin Greenberg as a freshman (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

The decisive play started with Matt Joyaux knocking down a SCSU shot in front of his net and skating to center, where he fed streaking Anthony Louis on the right wing. Louis crossed the blue line, curled and slid a pass to Greenberg, who was open in the slot.

Greenberg settled the puck down and buried a wrister low to the glove side, then after sliding on his knees in celebration, he jumped into the arms of Alex Gacek – a close friend of his on the team – in one of the more picturesque moments in recent team history.

“It’s pretty unrealistic still because if you go back and look at it, I still remember Matty Joyaux – a freshman – blocks a shot and ends up passing up the ice to Anthony Louis, another freshman,” Greenberg said. “I had no idea how much time was left on the clock when it actually happened, which is probably bad on my part, I probably should’ve been more aware. But Anthony made a pass, and I remember when I shot it, I thought it was going in, in slow motion. I didn’t really have to do a lot because Anthony did all the work.”

It was just his second career goal, with his other coming in a 6-1 win over Colorado College 12 games earlier.

“When you come in as a freshman, it’s a big transition,” friend and student coach Johnny Wingels said. “College hockey is a much faster and bigger, stronger game than junior hockey is. With him being a smaller player, it can be difficult to get some confidence. Any time you can score a huge goal like that to make our team move on to the next round, that’s just a huge confidence booster, and everyone was really happy for him to able to score that goal.”

That shift is even more impressive considering Greenberg did not field Division I offers until midway through his final season of juniors.

Greenberg grew up in Plano, Texas, and he said his father, Joel, used to take him and his brother to watch his godfather’s son play. Both Greenberg brothers caught the fever and soon began lacing up the skates.

Even with the Stars entrenched in the local market, Greenberg said he had a difficult time gauging his ability because of the relative lack of teams in the area.

He was drafted by Green Bay of the USHL but ended up playing for the closer-to-home Texas Tornado of the NAHL. In Greenberg’s first season with that team, he recorded 27 points in 39 games, but more importantly, he netted the Robertson Cup-clinching goal in overtime.

Greenberg rolled up 25 goals and 32 assists for 57 points in 60 games in his second season with Texas, toward the end of which he ended up committing to Miami.

Greenberg’s brother was the same age as a former Miami forward from the Dallas area – Blake Coleman – and those two ended up playing against each other and becoming best friends.

“So it ended up being a pretty easy decision,” Greenberg said. “I had basically an older brother here the first couple of years.”

Greenberg did not commit until February of 2013, and was the last player in his class to sign.

When he came to Oxford, Coleman was the only MU player he knew.

“He definitely helped make the adjustment a lot more comfortable,” Greenberg said.

In his freshman season, Greenberg dressed for 33 of the RedHawks’ 38 games, including the final 25. He finished with two goals – including that series clincher vs. St. Cloud State – and six assists while taking just four minor penalties.

Justin Greenberg as a sophomore at the outdoor game at Soldier Field in Chicago (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Justin Greenberg as a sophomore at the outdoor game at Soldier Field in Chicago (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

“All the coaches made me feel pretty comfortable right away, they made sure I was playing with confidence – that’s always been a big thing since I’ve gotten here is I’ve got to work on being more confident, being more mentally tough,” Greenberg said. “But I think a big thing was the coaches actually believed in me before I believed in myself. That’s what contributed to me playing that many games is (them) showing they had faith in me and that I was responsible enough to dress in almost every game.”

Greenberg should have been brimming with confidence after playing such a crucial role in Miami’s postseason, but he was unable to work out that summer because of shoulder surgery.

Partly as a result, on a points-per-game basis his sophomore season was his worst in Oxford, as he ended up with a goal and five helpers despite being in the lineup 35 times.

Justin Greenberg as a junior, scoring his lone goal that senior vs. RPI (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Justin Greenberg as a junior, scoring his lone goal that season vs. RPI (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

In his junior season, Greenberg saw more time on the penalty kill – partly due to the loss of key forwards including Austin Czarnik and Riley Barber – and he began to thrive in that role.

He played 32 games and scored just once but tallied a career-best nine assists.

“Greeny’s a huge impact player for us,” Sullivan said. “He’s the guy you want to be in a foxhole with. He’s totally selfless – he’s one of the most selfless human beings I’ve ever met, on or off the ice – he’s willing to sacrifice his body to block shots. He does all of the little things very, very well and I think that’s what makes him a huge impact player for us.”

Greenberg blocked 22 shots – third-best among forwards on the team – and was assessed just one minor penalty as he helped the RedHawks to a 91.0 percent penalty killing percentage.

“I feel like I’ve found a way to play a lot more minutes being responsible,” Greenberg said. “I know if we have a defensive zone faceoff, the coaches normally put me out there…same with PK, I normally play a lot of penalty kill.”

Justin Greenberg as a senior (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Justin Greenberg as a senior (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

This season, he has improved his win percentage in the faceoff circle to .499 after a slow start on draws. He worked with former assistant and ex-Miami star Derek Edwardson tirelessly, and that effort seems to paying off.

“Every day after practice, you’ll see Kiefer Sherwood, he’s taking one-timers,” Sullivan said. “But what you don’t notice is Justin Greenberg’s out there in the corner taking hundreds and hundreds of draws. He’s one of the hardest-working guys on this team. Everything that he’s been given he’s definitely deserved. He works super, super hard and he’s reaping the benefits of it right now.”

He has a goal and three assists, but unfortunately has missed the last nine games with a lower body injury.

“(Penalty killing forward) was definitely a hole that needed to be filled,” Sullivan said. “He’s a huge, huge befefit to our PK…he does all the little things that people who are not familiar with hockey might not notice, but the little detailed things that he does on the penalty kill and 5 on 5 makes a huge difference. Hopefully we can get him back soon.”

Greenberg is close to returning and could be back this weekend, as he has just four regular season games remaining in a career that has seen him improve dramatically in some of the nuances of the game.

“I’d say I definitely became a more complete hockey player,” Greenberg said. “I should’ve contributed a lot more than I have offensively, I’d say I do have the skill set to do it, but a lot of it was a confidence thing. But I’m glad I’ve found a lot of ways to at least contribute other than scoring since I’ve been here.”

Miami’s penalty killing was 85.0 percent with him in the lineup and 80.0 percent since his injury.

Greenberg is one of several Jewish players to come through the RedHawks’ hockey program in recent years. That list includes standouts Carter Camper and Matt and Nathan Davis.

Joel Greenberg is Jewish and Justin’s mother, Doreen, is Christian, but Justin was allowed to decide whether to go through Bar Mitvah when he was a teenager and both he and his brother chose that route.

“I felt like it was the right thing to do,” Greenberg said.

For his career, Greenberg has logged 121 games, piling up five goals and 23 assists for 28 points.

“He’s not someone that’ll jump out at you on the score sheet, he’s just very sound defensively, he’s always in the right position,” Wingels said. “He’s good at faceoffs, which is a really big thing for us, and we really miss him in the lineup. You can see that third-line center spot is really important, and you can right now with him out it’s something we’re lacking, and we’re looking forward to getting him back in the lineup.”

He has blocked 49 shots, and despite playing a defensive role much of the time, has just 30 penalty minutes.

“PK is one of his strong suits, and (with him out) you’ve got to get guys slotted in there who might not be the best in that role, but you need someone to do it,” Wingels said. “Having him back in the lineup, solidifying that PK will be a huge help for us. The penalty kill is something that we take huge pride in and we like to be at the top of the league every year.”

Wingels, Sullivan and Greenberg have been close friends the past several years.

“He’s a really nice kid – he’s a little quiet but he’s really funny as well,” Wingels said. “Once you get to know him he opens up more. He likes to joke around, have a good time. He’s really easy to talk to, and a big sports fan – we’re really similar in that, we’ll watch anything on TV that’s involving sports.”

Said Sullivan: “Justin’s my friend now, he’s going to be my friend until I’m 70, 80, 90 years old. That’s a reason why I wanted to come here is to build lasting relationships, and in Greeny I definitely did that.”

Greenberg said besides hockey, he said his personal growth is one of the best things to come out of his Miami experience. In the classroom, Greenberg has a 3.3 grade-point average as an accounting major.

“I’ve matured a lot,” Greenberg said. “To be able to play college hockey, you don’t realize coming in how much you need to mature mentally. Stepping from youth hockey to junior hockey, it’s completely different from stepping from junior hockey to college. Here, you’re on your own. You have the coaching staff, but they’re not with you at all times.”

Because he signed so late, Greenberg did not have the opportunity to visit Oxford prior to his freshman year, but he fell in love with the town and the program immediately.

“When I came here in the summer (before freshman year), I couldn’t believe it,” Greenberg said. “This place is awesome. We play in what many call the best league in the country, and you go to the (other) campuses, and I don’t even know how someone could even pick there if you’re not looking at hockey. Great town, great people.”

Photos: Denver at Miami

Images from the series played between Denver and Miami at Cady Arena on Feb. 17-18, 2017. All photos by Cathy Lachmann/BoB.

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Analysis: Hockey no longer Miami’s top sport?

OXFORD, Ohio – So it’s official: Miami will enter the NCHC Tournament with a losing record for the third time in four years.

That seemed like an inconceivable concept four years ago when the RedHawks joined the newly-formed league, having at that time qualified for eight straight NCAA Tournaments, including a pair of Frozen Four berths and a national championship game appearance.

Yet, here we are after the RedHawks suffered their second consecutive 5-2 loss to No. 2 Denver at Cady Arena and their fourth straight defeat overall. They are 1-7-1 in their last nine.

One of the tougher things to comprehend about this extended swoon is that Miami (9-15-6) is hosting the NCAA regionals for the third time since 2013, and now there’s about a 90 percent chance the RedHawks will not play a single NCAA Tournament game in Cincinnati.

And many have been so upset about Miami’s placement in the NCAA brackets over the years. It’s fair to say fans, players and coaches have no right to complain about that ever again. This spring the RedHawks would’ve traveled a whopping 35 miles south for their regional games, and the Frozen Four is just a five-hour bus trip away in Chicago, a city no college hockey team calls home.

Hockey has been THE sport in Oxford since the Goggin Ice Center and Cady Arena opened in 2006, with students camping out in front of the facility for days just to get into games when Miami was regularly the top-ranked team in Division I.

The number 3,642 was ingrained in the heads of those who followed the program: That was the attendance figure when games were sold out, which was almost always in the first half decade of the new facility.

In 2016-17 the high-water mark was 3,032 vs. Nebraska-Omaha, perhaps because some thought the “O” on the Mavericks’ jerseys stood for Ohio State. The RedHawks are averaging 2,528 this year.

Football has always been an easier sell in southern Ohio, and those RedHawks wrote quite a story this season, starting 0-6 before winning their last six and falling by a point in their bowl game.

They averaged 17,110 in 2016, and while of course schools have plenty of crossover fans, at a school like Miami that is in a rural area with many of its alumni an hour or more away – often much more – it doesn’t take a genius to realize more of those graduates will bring themselves, their families and their money to Yager rather than the ice center a mile south this fall when they visit Oxford.

In sports, fans have short memories and winning solves a lot of problems. Team morale and fan support – the latter of which ultimately generates that all-important revenue – will go away when this program starts winning again.

The sooner that happens Cady Arena can sell out games again as it tries to regain its spot atop the Miami sports pecking order.

Other thoughts…

Defenseman Louie Belpedio (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Defenseman Louie Belpedio (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

– One of the most disappointing things about this 1-7-1 slide is there’s little fire being displayed. Some decent hits are being dished out, but goalie Ryan Larkin gets poked at and bumped on a regular basis and rarely has anyone shoved an opponent out of the crease. For that matter, when’s the last time there was any kind of skirmish? Not advocating a 1970s Boston Bruins line brawl, but some opponent hatred would be nice to see. This is the fourth season of the league, so the players are all too familiar with each other, yet there seems to be almost no animosity. This season Miami is not one of the most skilled teams in the NCHC, so it needs to grind out wins, and emotion is a huge part of hockey. Louie Belpedio played on the edge the most when Miami was reeling off five straight wins, but he had gotten away from that during this skid. And he’s the captain, so the example to the rest of the team comes from the top. Then when Belpedio was injured late Saturday, Jared Brandt did some light shoving but everyone else on the ice seemed checked out. Kind of mind blowing that your captain is laying on the ice, the victim of a kneeing major, and only one player on the ice seems upset.

– Speaking of injuries, Kiefer Sherwood got banged up late in the second period, giving everyone quite a scare, but he not only returned for the third period but seemed to be back into that game-takeover mode we’ve seen on occasion.

– Despite having just two true scoring lines, Miami was scoring at a decent clip, but the offense has dried up the past few weeks. The RedHawks have scored just 12 times in seven games and have netted more than two goals just once in that span. When you figure that MU has five of those goals have been on the power play and one more was shorthanded, the team has just six even-strength markers in seven games, or 0.86 per.

– And it’s been open season on the Miami net in the third period. Opponents have scored 12 times in five games in the most previous five games. Three of those were empty netters, but that’s still 1.8 per game with a goalie in net.

– Some of the leadership on the team has been disappointing in recent games. Anthony Louis picked up an assist, but he’s an assistant captain and is not playing like one. Too many turnovers, too little interest in any aspect other than offense. Belpedio had not been playing with that edge he had earlier in the year, when he got under the skin of opponents. Not sure how they’re perceived in the locker room, but despite being sophomores, Grant Hutton and Josh Melnick have done a better job of leading by example on the ice.

– Larkin has been sensational this season, but after the fifth Denver goal it was probably time to give him a rest. The last thing a team wants is its goalie lacking confidence, and a season like this could send a netminder to the psych ward.

– Gordie Green doesn’t seem to have a confidence problem. He seemed a bit cautious early this season, but he generated two breakaways and was a nightmare for Denver on its power plays.

GRADES

FORWARDS: D. Carson Meyer’s shot that resulted in the first Miami goal was sweet, but there were few other positives among this corps. Really liked Zach LaValle’s hard-nosed play, and Sherwood seemed rejuvenated in the third period after getting banged up. Twelve forwards generated 17 shots and were outclassed by Denver overall in every aspect. The RedHawks did fare better on draws, going 30-32 with Sherwood finishing 9-9.

DEFENSEMEN: C-. Hutton ripped home the second Miami goal on the second power play unit, and he finished with five SOG, which is just as solid a strategy for that corps as any other, as the RedHawks have three PPGs from their non-top four forwards, with two by Gordie Green, who is transitioning to that top line. It was Hutton’s third power play goal of the season. For the most part it wasn’t a good night for the other five, with Scott Dornbrock and Grant Frederic struggling early. Denver finished with 38 shots, with 16 in the third period while the Pioneers were leading. This group still seems too eager to jump into the play in non-pinch situations.

GOALTENDING: D+. It’s so difficult to grade Larkin poorly, because even when he allows a borderline goal, he typically stops one that most wouldn’t to counter that. But in this game he surrendered a weak second goal, was beaten on a wicked shot for Goal No. 3, and he should’ve had the fifth one as well. He made a couple insane saves, including one in which he sprawled across the crease to cover the post on a one-time.

LINEUP CHANGES: Just one: Colin Sullivan was scratched in favor of Alex Alger. That gave Miami 12 true forwards, since Chaz Switzer has apparently cracked the top six, having playing in six straight games. Sullivan dressed in 21 consecutive games.