It turned out the sweep of Colorado College two weeks ago would be the last feel-good moment for the 2015-16 Miami hockey team.
In a season filled with drama, some uplifting, some not so much, the RedHawks fell to Minnesota-Duluth, 3-1 on Saturday, completing a sweep by the Bulldogs in the best-of-3 NCHC Tournament quarterfinal series that ended MU’s season.
This is always the hardest piece to write of the season. Fifty-nine of 60 teams finish each season with losses, and for many players it’s the last high-level competitive hockey game of their careers, so what good does it do to kick a team and its players when they’re down in what could be the last thing written about them?
Last season, I didn’t do an analysis piece following the Providence loss. It just didn’t seem like there was a reason to.
Plus they were serving deep fried calamari with jalapeno peppers across the street from the rink in Providence, and I had to get my fill.
We have seven months to write about areas in which this team needs to improve, and with the team announcing that 13 freshmen will be coming in combined with what this season’s rookies did, it should be an exciting fall in Oxford.
But we’ll simply leave it at this for now: We wondered out loud if this team would have the offensive firepower to qualify for the NCAAs this season with the loss of studs Austin Czarnik, Blake Coleman and Riley Barber.
Turns out the RedHawks didn’t. They’re tied for 43rd out of 60 Division I teams with a 2.39 goals-per-game average, and they found the net nine times in six games vs. Minnesota-Duluth, or 1.5 times per contest.
Now allow me a selfish moment.
This was the 10th season at Cady Arena, and we’ve had season tickets since the rink opened and attended most home games the final few seasons at the Old Goggin.
In that time, I’ve never needed Miami hockey more than in 2015-16.
First, we were fortunate enough to make friendships that will hopefully last a lifetime with some of the unbelievable people that are the parents of some of these players. We consider ourselves especially close with several of this group’s senior parents.
We sit in the next section over from the family section, and with @HockeyChica1 taking outstanding photos each season – many of which families use for the Night of Celebration collages that are created for each player – we mingle with a lot of the players’ immediate families.
And really quick: If you get a chance to meet some of these parents, you should really take advantage of the opportunity. The media have created a stereotype that athlete family members are borderline psychotic lunatics, but for the most part that couldn’t be further from the truth.
One set of parents drove to every home series this season despite living nearly 1,000 miles away, and another flew halfway across the country to see each game at Cady Arena. These are amazing people that make amazing sacrifices for their kids from ages three to 23, and despite the perception, not all of them are executive-level rich.
We will miss them greatly, every one of the departing seniors: Forwards Kevin Morris, Alex Gacek, Sean Kuraly, Andrew Schmit and Michael Mooney, defensemen Matthew Caito, Taylor Richart and Chris Joyaux and goalies Jay Williams and Ryan McKay.
So anyway, last March I was essentially laid off from Scripps-Howard owned WCPO, where I worked for 18 years, dating back to 1997 when I was in college. Starting out, I took any menial job with The Cincinnati Post to be in the business and by the time the paper folded in 2007 I was making a decent living as a writer and editor.
I figured the contacts I had made there would land me a lateral or better job in the media field. It didn’t, but I was given the opportunity through Scripps to build a site that covered high school sports in Northern Kentucky at a significant pay cut.
I took advantage, and while it took several years, we were beating The Enquirer badly in that area with a fraction of the staff despite not being promoted.
Now back to last March. Not only was the plug pulled on the site I had worked on for years to build, WCPO decided it didn’t want to host RedHawkey – which was the medium I used to write about Miami hockey for the previous five seasons – even for free.
I was filled with anger as the executive I met with there implied that my RedHawkey writing didn’t even matter. I immediately thought back to a couple years prior when a father hugged me at the rink after I had written a feature about his son while the family was undergoing major health issues, and I wanted to ask him to tell that family what I did didn’t matter, but I thought better of it.
And this double-whammy was a professional embarrassment, as in an economy that is still struggling as badly as Ohio State’s power play unit, finding a good-paying job the past year has been exceedingly difficult.
Fortunately from a writing perspective BoB accepted this writer-photographer team, which is something I am grateful for.
My wife has been extremely understanding and patient with my ongoing fiscal struggle, because there have been times over the past year when I have not been easy to live with.
But this program allows me the opportunity to get away from all of that, even just for a few hours. The stress and frustration created by this being my worst year by far from a professional standpoint goes away when I come to the rink.
This season I needed that temporary escape more than ever.
Miami finished 15-18-3, and that’s unfortunate. But personally, sometimes being able to get away from it all and just get to the games and surround myself with people I greatly respect and consider friends is a lot more important than wins and losses.
Even though some of the families we have bonded with will likely never return to Cady Arena, with their sons having graduated, in our minds they will always be a part of that beautiful rink and this program that we so cherish.
WHO: Miami RedHawks (15-16-3) at Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (15-14-5).
WHAT: NCHC best-of-3 quarterfinal series.
WHERE: Amsoil Arena, Duluth, Minn.
WHEN: Friday–8:07 p.m.; Saturday–8:07 p.m.; Sunday–8:07 p.m. (if necessary)
MIAMI RADIO: All three nights–WMOH-AM (1450), Hamilton, Ohio; WKBV-AM (1490), Richmond, Ind.
MINNESOTA-DULUTH RADIO: All three nights–WWAX-FM (92.1), Duluth, Minn.; KQDS-FM (95.5), Grand Rapids, Minn.; WJJY-FM (106.7), Brainerd, Minn.; WXCX-FM (105.7), Pine City, Minn.
NOTES: Miami was swept in Duluth last weekend, and the RedHawks return to UMD with their season on the line.
Miami is 0-3-1 vs. Minnesota-Duluth and has scored just four goals against Kasimir Kaskisuo and the Bulldogs this season.
And that has been the MO for UMD – it has allowed just 68 goals in 34 goals for a 2.00 average, with Kaskisuo posting a 1.86 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.
Only two Bulldogs have reached the 20-point mark, with just Tony Camenaresi over 30 (9-22-31). Austin Farley has 13 goals and 14 assists for 27 points, including eight of UMD’s 20 power play tallies.
Tied for 22nd in the PairWise rankings and a game under .500, the axiom of the year is that Miami needs to win this series to have a shot at an NCAA Tournament berth, and the RedHawks probably need to win the NCHC Tournament to earn a spot among the national field.
Miami has yet to win against Minnesota-Duluth this season, finishing the regular season 0-3-1 vs. the Bulldogs, and the RedHawks were swept in Duluth last weekend, getting outscored, 8-1.
It doesn’t look good for MU, but consider that the RedHawks are 7-2 all-time in the NCHC Tournament and 4-1 in this round including 2-0 on the road.
Miami has won this round both seasons of the NCHC’s existence to advance to the Frozen Faceoff in Minneapolis.
The RedHawks also have not lost a best-of-3 series since 2009 when Northern Michigan rallied to win Games 2 and 3 at Cady Arena after losing the series opener.
OXFORD, Ohio – Jay Williams’ career at Miami already had to be considered a successful one through his first three seasons.
He played a major role in the RedHawks’ regular season championship in the final year of the CCHA his freshman campaign, and he led Miami to an NCHC Tournament title in 2014-15.
But Williams allowed seven goals vs. Providence in this season’s opener before being pulled in the third period, miring him with an 8.70 goals-against average, and he saw action in just two more games the next three months.
As a result, Williams used Christmas break to reevaluate his priorities.
“It was certainly frustrating,” Williams said. “I think that Christmas break came at a really good time for me personally this year just to kind of get away from it and to get home and spend some time with my family. I had the approach that was going to come (back) and regardless of what happened with playing – I figured my hockey career will be over after this year anyway, and I’ll move on – so if I have three months left of doing this with a group of guys that I love, I’m just going to enjoy every day and try to get better and try to make the most of it because you don’t get these days back.”
Due to an on-ice blow up and subsequent suspension of senior goalie Ryan McKay – who played nearly every minute of the first half this season – Williams was relegated into full-time starter mode and has been in net for all but 39 minutes since.
And Miami and Williams have thrived with him between the pipes.
Despite being swept by Minnesota-Duluth last weekend, Miami is 9-5 in its last 14 games as it recovered from a 5-10-1 start, and in the team’s final home series of this regular season, Williams became the first goalie in RedHawks history to shut a team out in a two-game weekend series.
“Jay’s our guy – he’s been playing awesome,” senior forward and captain Sean Kuraly said. “We expect a lot from Jay. He’s good in practice, he’s a highly-touted kid, and just a really good teammate is a reason why the team is doing well.”
Williams is from McLean, Va., right across the border from Washington D.C. The mid-Atlantic region is not known for producing significant hockey talent, but Williams went to a Washington Capitals game on his eighth birthday and has been a rink rat since.
“I was hooked,” Williams said. “The next day, I found an old pair of rollerblades and a make-shift stick and a crushed Coke can and kind of never looked back from there.”
Williams said as badly as he wanted to play hockey, his mother, Rosie, made him take skating lessons for a year before playing competitively.
“She was like, you’re not playing hockey until you learn how to skate,” Williams said. “At the time I was miserable, but obviously looking back on it I feel like it’s something that’s helped me.”
Soon after he started playing, Williams said he was given a book on goaltending and he was fascinated with the equipment. But he had to sell his parents on the concept.
Finally they caved.
With goalie pads being pricey and kids growing out of their equipment on an annual basis, his parents wanted to trade in his first set for bigger pads, but Williams wouldn’t let them.
He told them that they would end up in the hockey Hall of Fame.
“I was dreaming big when I was nine years old – I had high aspirations,” Williams said. “I think they’re still somewhere (around the house). I don’t think they’ll going to quite make it to the Hall of Fame, but there will definitely be some sentimental value there. They’ll definitely be something that I keep around for the rest of my life.”
In 2009, Williams was 15 and had never attended a collegiate game.
His first one? Miami’s NCAA national championship game at the nearby Verizon Center, during which the RedHawks surrendered two goals in the final minute and another in overtime to lose, 4-3 in ultra-dramatic fashion.
And yet Williams still ultimately chose Oxford.
“For whatever reason, I was really pulling for them there, and the following summer I was in a goalie camp with Cody Reichard and Connor Knapp, and I got to skate with them and be with them,” Williams said. “And then the USA Hockey camp with Trags (assistant coach Nick Petraglia). It was the first visit I came on and I kind of fell in love right away, and I felt a strong connection and a bond. Everywhere else I went I was kind of comparing it to here. They offered and I knew right away this is where I wanted to go – I’m just fortunate that it worked out.”
His juniors experience was turbulent. Selected third overall in the USHL Futures draft at age 15, Williams went 7-10-2 with a mercurial 3.49 goals-against average and an .891 save percentage with Waterloo his first season.
In 2011-12 he was 11-5-4, 2.62 and .904 but was traded to last-place Sioux Falls at the deadline. He finished 2-8-2, 3.78 and .882 in 12 games there.
“Looking back on it, it’s certainly not how you would’ve wanted it to go, it wasn’t ideal,” Williams said. “First year, kind of up and down, adjusting, and then my second year started out great and kind of fizzled. Sioux Falls, who at the time were in last place, (was) a team that wasn’t in a great spot and a lot of guys had kind of packed it in. You learn from it all and I believe everything happens for a reason, and I guess I wouldn’t change anything.”
Senior forward Alex Gacek knew Williams from when the two played in New England prep schools, and along with senior defenseman Matthew Caito, the trio immediately bonded upon arriving in Oxford.
“Both of those guys have made my transition here real easy,” Gacek said. “I talked about how nervous I was coming in, and they really softened everything up and helped me mature as well.”
Gacek and Williams also shared a not-so-memorable juniors experience. Gacek was thriving before blowing his knee out, and then he was rushed back, stunting his recovery.
“We were in kind of similar situations coming into school,” Gacek said. “(We) needed help building our confidence and just our mental state. He’s worked really hard at it, and I think now it’s showing up in his play and how he carries himself on and off the ice.”
Williams averaged just 26 games and logged fewer than 3,000 minutes in two full seasons in the USHL.
Then he headed to Oxford along with McKay, who had won Goalie of the Year with Green Bay his final season in that league as he led his team to a regular season title and a Clark Cup, the USHL’s championship trophy.
The pair rotated the first couple of weeks, but when McKay was injured in a game at Michigan, Williams shifted to a full-time role.
He beat the Wolverines the next night and won five of eight before McKay returned.
Williams and McKay alternated much of the season, and Williams tallied a 12-5-3 record, a 1.94 GAA and .924 save percentage in his rookie campaign.
“(The coaches) always said they want to have two guys that they can depend on, and two guys that can play – they had years where they rotated Connor and Cody up until the Frozen Four,” Williams said. “Certainly (McKay) had won just about everything you can win. He was incredible through juniors – he’s still incredible, he’s the best goalie I’ve ever been on a team with and had the opportunity to work with, day in and day out – but I just kind tried to come in, work hard, keep my head down and when I got the opportunity to play, do the best I can to give my team the chance to win.”
The RedHawks also won the final CCHA regular season title in 2012-13.
“There’s something special about that because it’s such a large body of work that goes into it to win that,” Williams said. “With the group of guys that we had, we kind of had the underdog mentality going in because we had such a large freshman class, and nobody really gave us a chance. To be able to win that championship, win a ring in my first year at school, and feel like I was able to contribute a good amount to it, it was certainly exciting and that group of guys you’ll remember forever, you share that bond.”
Sophomore year was forgettable for Miami overall, including the goalies. Williams recorded a 5-7 record, and his GAA and save percentage reverted to 3.30 and .882, respectively.
“Sophomore year, it was tough,” Williams said. “You learn a lot during those tough years about preparation, and really just the competition from Year 1 to Year 2. No disrespect at all to the teams we played the first year, but the NCHC with six teams in the national tournament, there’s no weekend you can take for granted. There’s so much parity and the margin for error is so, so small. A bad goal, a bad mistake, you used to be able to outscore that, and now you can’t.”
But he was rejuvenated in 2014-15, notching a 19-8 record and allowing just 2.04 goals per game, and his save percentage ended up at .917.
Williams was also in net for the stretch run, including the semifinal and final wins in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff, as Miami won its first tournament title in the newly-formed conference.
And his five shutouts that season tied him with Knapp and Reichard for the school’s single-season record.
“Last year, again, was a special year because we were able to win a championship with those guys,” Williams said. “Especially with the senior class that my whole class was close with for three years because they were such a large part of the team. It was cool to send them out like that and to be a part of it.”
This year, Williams is 10-7-1 with a 2.41 GAA, .909 save percentage and a pair of shutouts. But heading into the break, he had a 5.35 goals-against average and a save percentage of just .812 to accompany an 0-2 record.
Since? He’s 10-5-1, 1.97 and .924.
“You can see now that he’s calm, cool and collected, and now that he’s got his confidence behind him, there’s no doubt that he’s one of the best goalies in the country, and he’s playing like it right now,” Gacek said. “It’s been great to watch. That’s what the big thing about The Brotherhood is, is that you get to see not only yourself grow but everyone else on the team, and Jay’s a perfect example of that.”
Williams will leave Miami with his name etched in several places on the team’s career leaders list. His 46 wins and nine shutouts both tie him for fourth all-time, he is fourth in GAA (2.32) and sixth in save percentage (.910).
“The biggest thing I look at as a goalie is trying to help your team win games and to win championships, and I think to say that you were part of two championship teams in four years is something that not a lot of guys can say,” Williams said. “It’s a testament to the rest of the guys and the coaching staff and the work that we’ve put in throughout the week and the summer and the off-season. If you told me this is where I’d be, I’d be thrilled with that, freshman year.”
But there’s more to Williams than just his statistics. His enthusiasm on the ice rubs off on his teammates, and even when he’s on the bench he’s one of the first to congratulate fellow players.
“I think we embody a little bit of that when he’s in the net,” Kuraly said. “He brings such energy and enthusiasm every day, but especially you can see it on game days. Definitely something the team feeds off of.”
His postgame celebrations are legendary, as he seems to have a secret greeting for each player that meets him in front of the crease after wins.
“Almost everyone on the team has a handshake with him or a little saying that they say, so he’s a spark plug for us, even though he’s a goalie – usually it’s a little different, it’s a (skater) – but Jay’s a great team guy that we need, and our success is really pivoted around him, going forward,” Gacek said.
Off the ice, Williams appears a bit too normal for a goalie, but Gacek can attest that he does possess some of those strange netminder attributes.
“Jay can be quirky at times, he can be serious at times – whatever the situation calls for, he can adapt to it,” Gacek said. “That’s why I think he’s one of the big favorites in the locker room.
“He’s a character. Jay’s the type of kid that you could go to about anything. If it’s serious or if you need someone to pick you up, he’s the one to do it. He’s a real personable guy and he’s definitely one of my best friends. I love him to death and he’s just a great all-around guy.”
He will also depart Oxford with a degree in finance this spring. Williams was named to the NCHC All-Academic Team last month with a 3.38 GPA.
He will look into playing professionally after this season but is currently focused on enjoying his waning days at Miami.
Whether he goes pro in hockey or the business field after this season, he has set a high bar for the incoming freshmen goalies in 2016-17, both on and off the ice, and Williams has loved every minute he’s spent in Oxford.
“It’s been everything you could ask for in a college experience,” Williams said. “Everywhere you go, recruiting visits, they try to sell the program, sell the experience, sell everything, but to just hear from all of the older guys and all of the alumni who’ve played here how special the four years are. Even some of our worst, darkest moments in four years are things we’re able to laugh about now with the staff and the guys. We always joke about how we got thumped – 9-2 at North Dakota my sophomore year – that they ran out of fireworks in the third period, so even something like that is something you can laugh about. Just the whole experience: The friends I’ve made, the relationships I have, the opportunity to play against the best teams in the country and to have some success as well as develop in the classroom, it’s been incredible.”
Remember some of those losses at the end of the 2013-14 regular season?
A 5-2 loss at home against Western Michigan. A 3-0 defeat at Cady Arena at the hands of St. Cloud State. A 5-2 beat down at Denver.
And who could forget that 9-2 shellacking in Grand Forks during which Miami surrendered eight goals in the first two periods.
Granted that team beat Denver in its regular season finale, but it had little chance to advance to the NCHC championship game after a miserable 12-19-3 showing in its first campaign in the then-newly formed league.
But it swept SCSU in its own building and came within a goal of winning the conference tournament.
The point is: Despite the mercurial showing thus far in 2015-16, anything can happen in the postseason, and Miami has a dramatic history in recent years.
Here’s the problem with that rah-rah theory: The RedHawks have yet to beat the Bulldogs this season.
UMD is 3-0-1 vs. Miami, outscoring it 14-4.
And unlike two years ago when SCSU was a lock to make the NCAA Tournament, the Bulldogs are a game over .500 and 13th in the PairWise, far from safe as an at-large team.
All that aside, Miami has a flare for the dramatic when it has it gets into nothing-to-lose mode.
When it made its championship game run, the RedHawks were playing miserable hockey entering the NCAAs and barely got into the field.
The point is: Despite the poor showing this weekend, there’s no reason to write off next weekend’s paramount series.
And there is hope that the RedHawks could still make it to Minneapolis and beyond.
– Andrew Schmit got beat 1-on-1 for the first UMD goal. Willie Corrin was able to skate around Schmit, put an initial shot on and grab his own rebound for the initial marker.
– Wow, what a beautiful tic-tac-toe goal by the Columbus line. Just amazing how quickly Jack Roslovic was able to re-direct the puck to Kiefer Sherwood, and how he was able to finish.
– Sophomore defenseman Louie Belpedio fired a pass up the ice that was intercepted at his own blue line, ultimately resulting in the go-ahead goal for UMD.
– Guess this comes down to being spoiled, but it’s tough to not have a playoff series on home ice, with that being practically a given the past decade. Would gladly trade the pre-paid season ticket refund, and some, to have Miami host another series.
After surging above .500 last weekend for the first time since late October, Miami finished its regular season a game below that mark.
The RedHawks were swept at Minnesota-Duluth, falling 3-1 in the series finale on Saturday.
It was just the second losing regular season for Miami in its past 11 campaigns, but both have come in the last three years.
The Bulldogs (15-14-5) opened the scoring when Willie Corrin drove to the net and had his initial shot saved by senior goalie Jay Williams, but the rebound came back to Corrin, who slammed it home 6:44 into the first period.
The RedHawks (15-16-3) tied it with 1:47 left in the opening stanza, as senior forward Sean Kuraly intercepted a pass and centered it to freshman forward Jack Roslovic. Roslovic one-touched it to freshman forward Kiefer Sherwood for a tap-in from the side of the net.
UMD took the lead for good when a rebound popped into the air, was controlled by Charlie Sampair and deposited in the net on Williams’ short side 2:26 into the final frame.
Alex Iafallo sealed it with an empty netter in the closing seconds.
Sherwood’s goal was his sixth in eight games, and Roslovic recorded his third helper in his last three contests. Kuraly also earned an assist on the RedHawks’ goal, as he wrapped up his final regular season with 16 points in his last 14 games.
Williams stopped 18 of 20 shots in the losing effort.
Despite the loss, MU actually moved up a spot in the PairWise and is currently tied for 22nd.
The RedHawks will return to Minnesota-Duluth next weekend for a best-of-3 opening-round series in the NCHC Tournament as the No. 5 seed.
Miami is 7-2 all-time in the league tournament, including 4-1 in the quarterfinal round. But the RedHawks went 0-3-1 against the Bulldogs in the regular season, scoring just three goals in the season series.
The best-of-3 will be played on March 11-13. Times are TBA.
At least Miami will be familiar with its opponent and the rink it will play in next weekend when it opens NCHC Tournament play.
The RedHawks were blown out, 5-0 at Minnesota-Duluth on Friday, ensuring they will finish fifth in their conference and will return to Duluth for a best-of-3 series on March 11-13.
Miami has played so well so often in the second half of this season, but this may be an example of a team falling too far behind and then needing all of its energy just to bounce back into contention.
In this league a team just can’t put itself in a position where it needs to win practically every game. The RedHawks did and are paying the price now.
We’ve seen in three years how ruthlessly competitive the NCHC is, and good teams are going to beat each other in league play.
That’s why giving away games and losing to inferior opponents is so costly. Miami cost itself numerous points with third-period disappearing acts in the first half of this season, which was capped off by a pair of devastating losses at league doormat Colorado College.
Say the RedHawks (15-15-3) only split at CC and turn a pair of other losses into ties or ties into wins. In this most conservative of scenarios, Miami would’ve headed into Duluth ahead of the Bulldogs by five points, needing just a tie to lock up home ice.
And after the extensive travel an NCHC season entails, home ice is certainly an advantage.
If Miami doesn’t make it out of Duluth next season, it would be easy to point at those games and say the RedHawks couldn’t win the big ones.
But those first-half struggles will have played at the very least an equal role in this team’s demise.
– Oh yeah, the game. It’s easier to talk about anything but that. Honestly not much needs to be said. It was a bad night, and teams will have those in this league. It’s just that Miami could ill-afford to come out flat in this game.
– It’s a lot harder to see details on a computer monitor vs., say an HD broadcast or – better yet – being at the rink, but one thing that stood out was a horrible line change that led to the second goal. As much good as the Columbus line has done since being assembled, it needs to do better. Two forwards can’t change in the second period with the long change when the other team has the puck.
– Evan McCarthy made his debut on Friday, which is an interesting move by coach Enrico Blasi on a number of fronts. Obviously Ryan McKay isn’t traveling with the team, and so McCarthy is the only backup option for Miami. Blasi must’ve felt like shaking things up to send a message to his team, which was in all-or-nothing mode at that point because a loss sealed its fate as a No. 5 seed. Also, Williams has logged every minute in net since GoalieGate, and even 10 minutes of rest may help in Saturday’s game in addition to the grueling best-of-3 ahead next week. It was a tough position for McCarthy, making his RedHawks debut in super-hostile territory against a red-hot UMD team. Hopefully the experience makes McCarthy a better goalie down the road and he can give the team depth at that position the next three years.
– Just wondering out loud here, but is flex scheduling a possibility in the future for TV games? Granted the outcome was one-sided, but this game had much more importance that the Western Michigan-North Dakota contest on CBS College Sports that saw the we-also-changed-our-mascot-to-something-Hawks win 8-1. It seems like these final weeks the league and/or network should be able to show the most riveting matchups, and a lot of times that’s an unknown the previous summer when TV schedules are drawn up.
– Senior defenseman Matthew Caito was out again on Friday, missing his third straight game, and that certainly didn’t help. Despite outscoring Colorado College, 7-0 last weekend, the RedHawks didn’t play their best hockey, and it’s obvious their overall play has taken a step back since Caito was injured. Hopefully he will be back for the playoffs next week.
– Is it actually worse to have a No. 5 seed vs. a 6-7-8? Obviously those lower three will face higher-caliber opponents in their best-of-3s — if there is such a thing in this conference — but North Dakota, St. Cloud and Denver are all essentially locked into NCAA Tournament berths. Minnesota-Duluth is tied for 14th in the PairWise and is still fighting for a spot. Remember two years ago when Miami was the No. 8 seed but went to top-seeded St. Cloud and swept?
Miami is officially locked into a No. 5 seed for the NCHC Tournament, meaning it will not play any more games at Cady Arena this season.
The RedHawks fell, 5-0 at Minnesota-Duluth on Friday, ensuring that they will return to the Bulldogs’ home rink next weekend to open conference tournament play with a best-of-3 series.
A wrister from the blue line pinballed to Dominic Toninato, who was wide open at the side of the net and slammed the puck home to open the scoring just 5:05 into the contest.
That ended Miami senior goalie Jay Williams’ shutout streak at 153:57 after the senior became the first goalie in team history to record a two-game weekend shutout vs. Colorado College last week.
A bad line change led to an odd-man rush, with Brenden Kotyk finishing at the top of the crease with 10:41 left in the second period.
With 54 seconds left in the middle stanza, Neal Pionk, who was left wide open in the slot, backhanded one over Williams to extend the Bulldogs’ lead to three.
Williams was pulled with about 10 minutes remaining, and freshman Evan McCarthy saw his first varsity action in a Miami uniform.
He was greeted rudely by UMD (14-14-5), however, with Karson Kuhlman beating him on the short side with 6:24 to play in regulation.
With 58 seconds to play, Kyle Osterberg scored to push the deficit to five.
The RedHawks (15-15-3) had won four of their previous five on the road and were 9-3 in their last 12 games.
Miami is now three points behind the Bulldogs in the conference standings but would lose the tiebreaker, meaning UMD has locked up that crucial final home spot for the first round of the conference tournament.
The RedHawks cannot drop lower than fifth either, as Nebraska-Omaha is six points back of them.
Miami’s PairWise ranking also took a hit, as the team fell to 23rd. The RedHawks would likely need to improve to 13 to ensure an NCAA Tournament berth, a tall task considering their next three or four games will be in Duluth before they would face even stiffer competition in the Frozen Faceoff.
It now appears likely Miami’s only shot to qualify for the national tournament would be to win the NCHC Tournament, which it did in 2014-15.
The RedHawks and UMD wrap up their weekend series at 8:07 p.m. on Saturday.