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Analysis: MU unable to finish chances

OXFORD, Ohio – Friday’s game can be summed up in two themes.

One, Miami was unable to capitalize on its ample scoring chances.

Two, Minnesota-Duluth netted devastating, timely goals right after RedHawks surges to kill their momentum.

The final result: A 3-1 Bulldogs win over Miami at Cady Arena in the series opener.

The RedHawks hit four posts, missed multiple additional A-plus chances from in close and finished with 29 shots on goal in addition to those that drew iron.

Hunter Shepard, the No. 14 Bulldogs’ goalie who stopped 28 shots and played exceptionally, turned three SOG aside during a Miami power play, during which the RedHawks seemed to have the puck deep in their offensive zone for the duration.

Sixty-one seconds after that man-advantage ended, Miami was picking it out of its own net.

Then came Glassgate, when a pane of glass in the corner of the rink shattered and needed to be replaced. A UMD goal and a 15-minute delay later, any momentum the RedHawks still had was long gone.

That was late in a first period that saw Miami dominate, 11-4 on the shot counter (although the Bulldogs’ first two shots in the opening minutes were never counted).

Minnesota-Duluth (6-5-2) shut down the RedHawks’ offense in the second period, holding them to three shots.

But Miami (4-6-1) controlled play early in the third period, as Carson Meyer tied it on a power play.

The majority of play the first three quarters of that final stanza were played in the Bulldogs’ zone.

Then MU’s Casey Gilling was whistled for boarding. Then UMD scored. Then UMD scored again.

Game over.

Other thoughts…

– It’s encouraging that Miami was able to dictate play for large parts of a game against a ranked team. Though the RedHawks need to win a majority of these games, obviously, this was a good litmus test for MU and shows they can compete against ranked teams.

Miami is certainly better than Connecticut and swept that series. Dare we say the RedHawks appear stronger than Colorado College although the teams split that set. North Dakota is, well, really good, and MU went 0-1-1 there.

Duluth, on the rankings bubble with a lot of its key players from 2016-17 gone but boasting a strong freshman class and a lot of solid returnees? It’s intriguing to see how Miami fares against a team like that.

Process still matters, and the RedHawks largely passed that test on Friday, but the end result was obviously not what fans/players/coaches would’ve wanted.

– Game time: 2:40. That has to be one of the longest non-overtime contests in some time.

– Miami won 37 of 62 faceoffs, or 60 percent. This has been an area of weakness in recent years for the RedHawks, so the turnaround is welcome. Gilling was 11-6, Kiefer Sherwood 11-8 and Josh Melnick 7-6.

GRADES

FORWARDS: D+. Chances are great but Miami needed to score more than one goal. Faceoffs, as mentioned, were a strong suit. Four members of this corps took penalties (Sherwood, Gilling, Ryan Siroky, Conor Lemirande), and the PPG off the Gilling boarding call was devastating (and yes, that was the right call – he had a player lined up and pounded him with the numbers/letters showing). Sherwood turned it over on a clearing chance in the first period, and UMD put it in the net. Melnick had a pass picked on the PK and that ended up being the Bulldogs’ second goal.

Miami’s Louie Belpedio (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

DEFENSEMEN: B. This is a curious group, with several members appearing to be given the green light to jump into the offensive zone and others not. But it seems to be working, evidenced by a Bulldogs shot total of 19. Louie Belpedio is putting points up, but his defense is way better than last season (not sure how healthy he really was in 2016-17). Scott Dornbrock is also playing at a noticeably higher level, and his positioning is much improved. No opponent around Grant Hutton, whose defensive play is still underrated. Alec Mahalak did throw a puck along the boards on a failed clearing attempt that resulted in UMD’s third goal.

GOALTENDING: C-. This seems to be Ryan Larkin’s MO recently: He makes a couple of spectacular saves but allows a goal or two he could’ve stopped. The second UMD shot was a quickly-developing one-timer that he had no chance on, but he got glove on the first shot, which deflected over the goal line, and the third goal seemed to slide under his pads from well outside the top of the faceoff circle. His save percentage for season is still just .880, and this 16 of 19 performance did not help that.

LINEUP CHANGES: Up front, Sherwood, a healthy scratch in the North Dakota finale, was back in the lineup. He replaced Zach LaValle, who had played in nine of the first 10. Willie Knierim dressed for the second straight game, as Austin Alger was out for his second consecutive contest. It sounds like Alger may miss some time after suffering an undisclosed upper-body injury. On defense, Rourke Russell was back on the lineup sheet after missing his first game last Saturday. That sent Grant Frederic to the stands after he had played two games in a row.

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Analysis: Mad or glad over finale?

Saturday was one of those games that created conflicting emotions.

Should fans be happy that Miami scored in the final 90 seconds to pull out the tie, or should they be upset that the RedHawks had a 2-0 lead and let it dissolve?

Or maybe some of both following a 3-3 final at North Dakota’s Ralph Engelstad Arena?

Yeah, that last one.

REA is one of the most intimidating rinks in the NCAA for opponents, and jumping out to a two-goal lead there is impressive. So is tying the score in such a hostile environment with time running out.

The three goals allowed in between, a little less remarkable.

Teams like North Dakota (7-2-3) are more than capable of blowing up a two-or-more goal lead – as the Fighting Hawks proved last night – and elite teams are able to fend off such surges most times.

Then again, a lot of teams that bent like Miami did, falling behind a goal with under four minutes left, would have broken rather than battle back for a tie.

Things change quickly during a college hockey season, but at this snapshot – 10 games into 2017-18 with a 4-5-1 record – the RedHawks (4-5-1) are clearly not at elite status in Division I.

But they’re definitely not a bottom feeder either.

Other thoughts…

– Josh Melnick is building one of the best clutch goal-scoring resumes of anyone to wear a Miami hockey sweater. He scored the tying goal with under two minutes left on Saturday and had the winner vs. Colorado College on Nov. 3.

The RedHawks have won four games in overtime since Melnick joined the team in the fall of 2015. Melnick has three of the game winners in those contests.

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

– Grant Frederic had logged two games this season and was 0-3-3 with 31 shots in 30 games for his career prior to this series. He fired nine SOG and picked up a pair of assists for the weekend. Meanwhile, fellow blueliners Grant Hutton and Louie Belpedio – who were lighting up the scoreboard – combined for just five shots in the two games.

– Really like the progress we’ve seen from Ryan Siroky this season in every aspect of his game, and he had one great play and one not-so-great one in this game. Siroky backhanded one for his first goal of 2017-18 in what was not an easy play. But he lost his glove in the defensive zone later in the game, and rather than play without it he took a stride forward to reach for it, losing his opponent in the process and ultimately resulting in a goal. He has a goal and an assist in the past three games.

– Coach Enrico Blasi had stood pat with his starting 19 in recent games, but he made substantial changes this weekend. Two moves stood out, and it’s unclear if they were healthy scratches or injured.

On Friday, D Scott Dornbrock did not dress for the first time in over two years and Saturday F Kiefer Sherwood missed just the third game of his two-plus season career.

Frederic dressed on defense both nights, as Dornbrock was not in the lineup on Friday and Rourke Russell sat for the first time this season on Saturday.

With Sherwood and Austin Alger both out up front on Saturday, Willie Knierim saw his first action of 2017-18, and Christan Mohs played for the first time in six games.

Analysis: Finishing an issue in finale

OXFORD, Ohio – For a period that did not see a goal scored, the final stanza of Saturday’s game was certainly bizarre.

After scoring the go-ahead tally with 0.1 seconds left in the second period, Colorado College held on for a 2-1 win over Miami at Cady Arena as the teams split the weekend series.

Just over six minutes into the third period, the Tigers appeared to have scored their third goal on a blast from the blue line.

The RedHawks’ coaching staff, players nor goalie Ryan Larkin seemed to have any objection, but after a review the goal was waved off because of an alleged crease violation.

Already down a player – and Gordie Green for that matter – his linemate and top penalty killing forward Josh Melnick was whistled for tripping, giving Colorado College a 5-on-3 for a minute and a half.

The Tigers were then assessed a holding penalty five seconds later, making it a 4-on-3 for 1:25.

On a side note, if that was intended as a make-up call, cutting an advantage from 5×3 to 4×3 doesn’t help the shorthanded team much, since a 4×3 is statistically almost as lethal.

But to continue, Miami killed the one-and-a-half-man advantage.

A couple of minutes later, Green ripped a one-timer from the slot that went just wide, and the goal light went on erroneously.

Then a Zach LaValle penalty with 5:14 left, and Casey Gilling received a 10-minute unsportsmanlike conduct on the same play (NOTE: The latter usually means a player used the magic word when talking to officials).

Miami killed that power play and drew a boarding call with a minute left. But despite finishing the game 6-on-4, the RedHawks were unable to repeat Friday’s comeback heroics.

Credit does go to the Tigers’ goalie Alex Leclerc, who stopped 26 of 27 shots.

Miami went 3-1 on the homestand and is now 4-4 after a 1-3 start, but the loss stings because the RedHawks outplayed Colorado College overall in this one.

On Friday, the teams were pretty even and both played well, but CC wasn’t on its game Saturday and Miami still couldn’t get any points.

Other thoughts…

– Annual disclaimer that we like to keep criticism of officials to a minimum, since in theory it should even out and making them a part of the game can appear whiny and hurt credibility. That said, the refs didn’t have a good weekend. The power plays were 14-8 in favor of Colorado College for the series, and the Tigers weren’t that much better than Miami. Actually the opposite.

It was called tight on Saturday, and then interference became a game strategy and was let go. To be fair, the goalie interference called on Colorado College in the first period on Friday was one of the worst calls at Cady Arena in some time.

It stings more when the borderline calls end up in the violators’ net, and the Tigers scored three times on the man advantage this weekend. Miami had zero PPGs.

– Miami had its chances but missed to net too often in this one. The RedHawks scored on their final shot of the first period and put 18 on net the final 40 minutes but none hit twine. A number more solid opportunities missed the net entirely, and there was also a late post on a one-timer (Grant Hutton maybe?). Miami possessed the puck a lot and ended the night with just one goal.

– Not sure who failed to pick up Wade Michaud, who joined the power play rush late in the closing seconds of the second period, but he was left wide open to skate in and score the decisive goal. The replay quality isn’t great, but it appears the pass from the along the boards was partially deflected by Green and ended up right on Michaud’s stick. Melnick, Grant Hutton and Chaz Switzer were also on the ice for that critical kill.

– A side note that Colorado College only had five healthy defensemen this weekend. So the Tigers are young (no seniors) and were shorthanded on the blue line, which means Miami will face an even tougher task when they head to Colorado Springs in January to play a jelling CC team at high altitude.

– Nice to see a good crowd at Cady Arena. The listed attendance was 3,137, which is 120 off the season high set in the 2017-18 opener vs. Providence.

GRADES

FORWARDS: C. The group was decent overall but only finished once. The power play wasn’t that good. Time of possession was excellent, and that alone cut down the number of scoring chances for Colorado College. Overall this corps helped hold CC to five shots on eight power plays, which included an extensive 4-on-3.

Miami’s Alec Mahalak (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

DEFENSEMEN: A-. As mentioned above, the forwards made the blueliners’ job somewhat easier, but the D deserves credit for the Tigers’ shot total of 14, a season low allowed by Miami and the third time in four games the RedHawks have given up fewer than 20 shots. Louie Belpedio took the cross-checking penalty that led to the decisive goal, but it was unclear if that was a warranted call since it was behind the play and there wasn’t a good camera angle of it. Alec Mahalak logged some power play time and looked confident handling the puck. That gives Miami four blueliners who jump on for the man advantage, which is atypical for recent RedHawks teams.

GOALTENDING: C. Ryan Larkin made one spectacular save, but he probably should have stopped one of the two goals. The first one beat him high to the glove side, and he appeared to have gotten the glove up in time. The second one was far enough out that he should’ve had a good look. He stopped only 12, putting his save percentage for the night at .857. That’s four straight games in which Larkin has allowed two goals or fewer. If he can do that most nights Miami should win plenty of games.

LINEUP CHANGES: None. Coach Enrico Blasi continues to ride this corps of 18 skaters plus Larkin. It was not only the fourth straight game using the same 19, the lines are remaining intact. The latter may change if forwards not named Melnick and Green can’t pick up the scoring. The other 10 forwards slots have generated just 11 goals through eight games. It’s a shame to see the same faces in the stands each night but there are no easy answers when a team has 28 players on its roster.

Analysis: End game going Miami’s way

OXFORD, Ohio – If Friday’s conference opener was any indication, this could be a fun NCHC season.

Miami led by one then trailed by one, scored the tying goal with 51 seconds left and the winner in overtime of a 3-2 victory over Colorado College at Cady Arena on Friday.

No one expects this to happen 100 percent of the time when games are close, but this is two games in a row in which the RedHawks faced adversity late and killed it.

Last Saturday, Connecticut had all the momentum heading into the third period and Miami came out with three quick goals to shut the door.

There have been a number of similar games the past few seasons in which the final outcome has gone the other way, and 6-on-5 has been RedHawk kryptonite.

MU entered this four-game homestand 1-3 and has won three much-needed contests in a row to pull a game over .500, and the RedHawks have a chance to sweep the four-game set and its first NCHC series of 2017-18.

The way Miami has played late in the past two games, things are definitely looking good heading into the RedHawks’ home finale.

Other thoughts…

– It was a well-played game by both teams, and as expected, CC is much better than in past seasons. Obviously the ending makes that easy to say, but the quality of play was high even in those first two fairly-uneventful periods, especially considering it’s still early November.

– Colorado College scored both of its goals on the power play. The interference on Rourke Russell was the right call, but Grant Hutton barely contacted a player with the puck and was whistled for tripping. The officiating was pretty inconsistent, and the Tigers received six power plays to Miami’s two.

Miami’s Ben Lown (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

– Ben Lown is currently the third member of the top line with Gordie Green and Josh Melnick, and he proved deserving of that role with the centering feed to Melnick for the overtime winner. Like several of the other freshmen, he seems to be gaining confidence with each game.

– Three RedHawks took at least eight faceoffs, and all had winning records. Melnick was 15-13, Casey Gilling finished 13-7 and Kiefer Sherwood won six of eight. Overall Miami was 39-29 on the night.

– Green and Melnick both have five-game points streaks. Green has all of his team-best 13 points in that span (4-9-13), and Melnick is 2-6-8. Louie Belpedio has three goals in his last two games, and Melnick has goals in consecutive games as well.

GRADES

FORWARDS: C+. Melnick and Gilling both found the net, but this corps combined for just 15 shots and four of its five minor penalties resulted in CC power plays. Ryan Siroky dished out a pair of huge hits, but Miami didn’t get much offensive production from its bottom three lines. Kiefer Sherwood and Carson Meyer combined for just one shot, and Karch Bachman had three – including some high-percentage attempts – as the third member of that line, but he appears somewhat snakebitten.

DEFENSEMEN: B+. Belpedio juked at the blue line and wired one home for one of the goals. Colorado College generated 30 shots but 11 were on the power play. Chaz Switzer stopped a 31st and a would-be goal when he blocked a shot at the top of the crease while goalie Ryan Larkin was scrambling to get back into position.

GOALTENDING: B. Twice Larkin sprawled across the goal mouth to stop A-plus chances, and he was 28 of 30 overall (.933). One of the shots slipped through in heavy traffic, and both were on the power play. Larkin had allowed 16 goals the first four games but has surrendered just three in his last three starts.

LINEUP CHANGES: None again. It’s the third straight game the same 18 skaters have dressed, and Larkin has been between the pipes for the start of all seven of Miami’s contests.

Analysis: Schedule tougher from here

OXFORD, Ohio – Connecticut is far from an elite opponent.

But when a team has struggled to earn wins in recent seasons as Miami has, a dominating sweep can do wonders for a program.

The RedHawks blew out the Huskies, 7-1 at Cady Arena on Saturday to complete a series sweep. Miami outscored UConn, 10-1 for the weekend.

Connecticut (2-5-1) is 51st in the way-too-early-to-take-seriously PairWise, and Maine – MU’s opponent last weekend – is 54th.

So Miami went 3-1 vs. teams in the lower tier of Division I. The RedHawks were 0-2 against a Providence team that’s ranked seventh.

MU is presently 49th itself, which is in the bottom 20 percent.

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

Some really good things happened this weekend. Ryan Larkin returned to form. The power play continued to excel. The RedHawks played much better defensively, holding UConn under 20 shots both nights.

As mentioned previously, the RedHawks (3-3) needed to get back to .500 heading into their NCHC slate, which they did. But the level of difficulty will amp up substantially from here.

Up next for Miami is a rejuvenated Colorado College team in the RedHawks’ league openers, with both games in Oxford.

Then comes the North Dakota trip.

The RedHawks have shown can light the lamp against mediocre teams, but we’ll find out a lot more about this team’s make-up in the coming weeks.

Other thoughts…

– The key timeframe in this game was late in the second period when Connecticut scored to cut its deficit to one and Miami’s response early in the third period. Miami had dominated to that point but led 2-1 entering the third period up with the Huskies holding the momentum.

– I give Coach Enrico Blasi his staff a lot of credit for their coaching in the third period. Holding leads has been an issue in the past, and the RedHawks came out with five goals to put it away. Blasi also distributed ice time very well in those final 20 minutes, allowing almost every skater to log power play time. Beyond that, a frustrated UConn team took some dumb penalties out of frustration and tried to drag Miami into confrontations, but the RedHawks answered with goals instead of fisticuffs. There are times to engage opponents in that manner, but up a handful of goals against an inferior opponent is not one of them. Just in case, Blasi sent tough guys Conor Lemirande and Ryan Siroky out late.

– Along those lines, surprised the Huskies mailed it in after Miami made it 4-1. UConn led the RedHawks impose their will on them the remainder of the game.

– There have been very few players in recent years who have started their Miami careers slowly in terms of points and just suddenly blown up. Gordie Green is one of them. He tallied four points his first 17 games but has 28 points in 25 games since. Not in any way comparing these players, but Ryan Jones and Andy Miele are two of the only players in the Cady Arena who have taken off in similar manners their sophomore seasons after pedestrian rookie campaigns.

– Where was everyone? The announced attendance was 1,863 but even that seemed high. It was 1,894 on Friday. There was almost no student section either night. Word is there were several Halloween parties, but Miami has drawn just fine the final weekend in October in the past and everyone knows parties in Oxford start well after the final whistle at 9:32 p.m.

GRADES

FORWARDS: A. The power play was especially brilliant, and it was inspiring to watch some of the passing and stickwork. Eight of the 12 forwards recorded at least one point. Freshman Casey Gilling was 13 of 18 on faceoffs.

DEFENSEMEN: A+. All six were solid all night. UConn managed just 18 shots, and not many were high quality. And what an offensive outburst. Louie Belpedio scored twice and assisted on another. Grant Hutton, Scott Dornbrock and Chaz Switzer picked up a helper each. Switzer had looked tentative at times in previous games, but this was a solid performance for the lone sophomore in this corps.

GOALTENDING: A-. The shorthanded goal was a quality shot that would’ve required an above-average save by Larkin. He faced a few more Grade-A chances but stopped them all. Like Friday, the rebound control was excellent and he played with confidence.

LINEUP CHANGES: There were none. All 19 skaters-plus-Larkin from Friday were back on the ice Saturday. Blasi has typically let competition play out on the ice early in the season and solidified his go-to lineup card in January, but he seems pretty well settled in most spots already.