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Analysis: Taking in the weekend

OXFORD, Ohio – The third period was going so well for Miami.

The RedHawks had tied the score at two and were pressuring the net for the go-ahead score.

Then came the final seconds.

Providence scored with 0.9 seconds remaining in regulation to edge Miami, 3-2 at Cady Arena on Saturday, extending the RedHawks’ winless streak to 12 games, their longest such drought in over a quarter century.

So it’s time to take a step back and digest the results of this weekend series. It’s easy to pile on after the abysmal ending to the 2016-17 season. But some perspective.

THE GOOD

Miami’s Austin Alger (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

– Freshmen forwards stepped in right away and contributed. Austin Alger found the net in the opener and Casey Gilling scored in Game 2. Phil Knies is raw but impressed with his stickhandling.

– Speaking of newcomers, Rourke Russell and Alex Mahalak, while raw, made a solid impression in the opening weekend. Russell agitated everyone he came in contact with, and Mahalak has an energy about him, and he will hopefully develop into a top shut-down D-man.

– There was a lot to like in the third period, during which Miami controlled play. Well, maybe not in the closing seconds, but the RedHawks moved the puck very well and were in the Providence zone for a substantial portion of that stanza.

– Karch Bachman was solid on the PK on Friday but barely touched the ice in the first period because he didn’t play during the extended penalty kill or ensuing five-minute power play. But he logged more minutes late and created multiple scoring chances. This guy needs to play more.

– The team didn’t give up after falling behind multiple goals early. Had to appreciate the fight Miami displayed to get back into the game.

THE BAD

– There hasn’t been that noticeable surge by any of the veterans that we’ve come accustomed to. That’s part of the fun of being a college hockey fan – watching the development of players on a year-to-year and weekend-to-weekend basis. Seeing so many freshman move into starting roles on a team that didn’t lose many players means a handful of starters from 2016-17 weren’t cutting it.

– The major penalty by Carson Meyer was awful on his part. He had plenty of time to see the numbers on the back of the PC jersey and let off the gas but chose to bury the player. Providence agitated him before the opening draw, and 26 seconds later he’s done for the game and the Friars are on a five-minute power play, during which they scored twice.

– Yeah, getting the game-winner scored on you in the final second is bad. Miami has a recent track record of losing games in painful ways late, so hopefully this ‘L’ doesn’t become a 2017-18 theme.

THE CONCLUSION

The process is more important than wins and losses at this point of the season, but entering the season on a 10-game winless streak makes that college hockey axiom tougher to accept. Miami suffered through plenty of horror-show endings the past two seasons, and starting 2017-18 with one is tough.

GRADES

FORWARDS: D+. Not much offense was produced in the first two periods, and Miami finished with 20 shots, half of which came from the defense. Meyer’s penalty also works against this unit. Austin Alger wins the extremely-early rookie of the year race with his solid all-around play.

DEFENSEMEN: B. Grant Hutton went 1-1-2 and Scott Dornbrock tallied an assist. This unit held Providence to 22 SOG, and Hutton and Louie Belpedio put four shots on net each.

GOALTENDING: C. Similar game to Friday for Ryan Larkin. He made a couple of excellent saves but allowed goals on stoppable shots.

LINEUP CHANGES: Grant Frederic was fine on Friday was sat on Saturday in favor of Chaz Switzer. The other 17 skaters plus Larkin were all the same.

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Analysis: Miami still battling despite odds

Miami has not won in six weeks, but its next loss will be its last of the season.

The RedHawks lost their NCHC Tournament first-round opener in their best-of-3 series, 5-4 in overtime to Minnesota-Duluth at Amsoil Arena on Friday and now face elimination in that series.

Miami’s path from here on out couldn’t be more clear: Win or go home. The RedHawks would need to win on Saturday and Sunday at No. 3 UMD then run the table in the semifinal and final of the league tournament in Minneapolis.

That would earn them a berth into the NCAA Tournament, which, of course, is one and out.

An unlikely scenario made more improbable considering the first half of the opening sentence. Miami is 0-8-1 in its last nine and 1-11-2 since Jan. 14.

To Miami’s credit, it took the third-best team in Division I to overtime in the Bulldogs’ home building on Friday despite missing captain Louie Belpedio and losing stud goalie Ryan Larkin in the second period.

The RedHawks led three times in the game (2-1, 3-2 and 4-3) but were unable to close out the win, a common theme in 2016-17.

Backup goalie Chase Munroe had not logged a minute in exactly three months, and after stopping just three of the first five shots he faced, he turned aside 26 of the final 28. He faced a shooting gallery in the final 20 minutes of regulation and overtime, and didn’t get a lot of help from his skaters defensively.

It would’ve been easy for this team to mail it in, considering the near impossibility of its task of winning this tournament.

But the RedHawks didn’t quit, and in a season that will likely go down as their worst in a quarter century, that’s an encouraging sign.

Crazy things happen in conference tournaments, and it would take a run that makes 2013-14 look tame just for Miami to return the position it was in three years when it came within a goal of advancing to the NCAAs despite a 12-19-3 regular season record.

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

The RedHawks have their backs against the boards but are playing with passion, and in Game 2 we’ll see if that’s enough to extend the season.

Other thoughts…

– No idea what Larkin’s injury is or how severe, but when a goalie leaves a game and doesn’t return he rarely returns the next night. Already Belpedio-less, that makes MU’s chances of advancing in this round even more remote. If there is a bright spot it’s that Munroe earned valuable conference tournament experience, and as we recall, Jay Williams was shaky early before finding his groove, as was Charlie Effinger before him.

Miami forward Zach LaValle (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

– Scorers’ list from Friday boom: Ryan Siroky and Zach LaValle, in the bottom six of the forward list on the lineup card all season, both scored in this one. It was just their third and second goals of the season, respectively, although LaValle especially seems to have picked it up a notch recently. This is encouraging because Miami was able to hang without its go-to snipers finding the net, and also the lack of scoring from non-top six forwards has been well documented here.

– Scorers’ list from Friday bust: Josh Melnick hasn’t scored in seven games and Anthony Louis has been stuck on 13 goals for 13 games. Kiefer Sherwood was limited to one shot. Scoring from tertiary forwards is great, but the top players need to be top players in the playoffs for teams to advance.

– Yet another Gordie Green update. Hate to be redundant but Green has been the hottest forward on the team with seven points in four games and 11 in his last 10 – more than anyone else on the team.

– Speaking of points surges, two assists on Friday give Grant Hutton eight points in his last seven games. He picked up three helpers the first 28 games but has five in the last seven. On a team that has struggled mightily the past two months, it says a lot that a pair of underclassmen in Green and Hutton are two of the RedHawks’ top points producers. Green is a freshman and Hutton is a defenseman.

– Shots were close the first two periods: 14-12 UMD. Shots after: 27-10 UMD. Miami has now been outshot in 13 straight regulation periods. The RedHawks have allowed 474 shots while generating just 320 during their current 1-11-2 skid.

Analysis: The pithy edition

OXFORD, Ohio – Eleven shots on Saturday, 27 for the weekend.

Not surprisingly, Miami was swept by North Dakota, losing 5-2 on Saturday in the regular season finale at Cady Arena.

BoB has spent all season analyzing stats, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the above are not going to get you many wins.

One more stat: One win since Jan. 13.

Hoping for a miraculous turnaround at Minnesota-Duluth next weekend.

Miami forward Kiefer Sherwood (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Miami forward Kiefer Sherwood (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

We’re done here.

GRADES

FORWARDS: F. Six of those shots were by forwards. Six. That’s one every 10 minutes. Again, not much else to say, other than Carson Meyer got abused by Tucker Poolman in a 1-on-1 for the second UND goal after Conor Lemirande committed an offensive-zone turnover for the first. Could’ve gotten a ‘G’ or ‘H’ if it wasn’t for Kiefer Sherwood’s rebound goal.

DEFENSEMEN: B-. Still need to see better coverage in the slot and around the crease, but this group was more physical and limited UND to 27 shots. Plus Grant Hutton’s shot led to Sherwood’s rebound goal, and Chaz Switzer scored the other.

GOALTENDING: B-. Besides the empty netter, goalie Ryan Larkin allowed two goals to wide-open players in the slot, one on a skated who was allowed to skate around the crease and jam one in and another on a 2-on-1. And he made two spectacular saves. Miami won nine games this regular season, and that number would’ve been lower if Larkin hadn’t been in net.

LINEUP CHANGES: It appears less likely that Louie Belpedio will return for next weekend’s series, which hurts Miami’s chances. He is still in a knee brace. Willie Knierim missed this game after blocking a shot on Friday. Alex Alger dressed in his place.

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.

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.

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.

Analysis: League tourney last hope for season

OXFORD, Ohio – Three seasons ago, Miami suffered through a 3-12-1 second half.

When it became obvious Miami Version 2013-14 would have to win the NCHC Tournament to earn a berth to the NCAAs, preparation for a difficult road series to the open that years’ conference tournament trumped results of the final few regular season games.

We’re almost to that point after the RedHawks’s 5-2 loss to No. 2 Denver at Cady Arena on Friday, as Miami is mired in seventh place in the league standings and would need to make up seven points with five games left in the regular season to earn home ice for the first round of the NCHCs, not to mention pass three teams.

And the RedHawks (9-14-6) are out of games vs. two of those three teams they would need to eclipse: Nebraska-Omaha and St. Cloud State. The other is North Dakota, which Miami hosts to close out the regular season in two weeks.

Moving ahead of at least one of those teams would be beneficial, as the RedHawks are currently seventh and would play the league runner-up between Minnesota-Duluth and Denver in a best-of-3.

Duluth didn’t work out particularly well last year, and facing the Pioneers in a long series at altitude isn’t particularly appealing either. Western Michigan appears the favorite for the three seed, and Miami didn’t come close to winning either of its games in Kalamazoo, either.

And while the four seed is up for grabs – St. Cloud State currently holds that spot after beating the RedHawks twice on its home ice last week – the five seed may be the toughest in the league, as that team’s opponent is not ensured a spot in the NCAAs and often has a lot more to play for than the relatively safe top three seeds in this league.

Denver (21-6-4) was the better team on Friday and was in both games in Colorado, which RedHawks goalie Ryan Larkin singlehandedly flipped from losses to ties with his stellar play. We’ve seen first hand that Western Michigan > Miami. It’s not a stretch to assume to same about UMD, currently the top-ranked team in PairWise.

That’s where we are with five games left until the NCHC Tournament. It’s not pretty.

Then again, in 2013-14 the RedHawks went to St. Cloud and shocked the Huskies, sweeping them on their home ice and ultimately falling just short in the league’s championship game in Minneapolis.

So Miami’s season is still far from over, but the team’s path is similar to that of three years ago: Need a road series win against a top-10 team then a pair of wins at the Frozen Faceoff.

The odds are long, but the RedHawks have pulled rabbits out of their hats before when things looked their gloomiest.

Other thoughts…

– Denver’s game-winning goal by Will Butcher was a microcosm of Miami’s season. Offensive-zone faceoff win, check. Skate into the slot uncontested. Check. Fire a grade-A shot past a RedHawks goalie who has to be in need of a support group at this point. Check and mate. It was a 4-on-4 and no one picked up Butcher, who has a great shot and should’ve been a defensive priority on that play.

– Speaking of summing up this team on one play, on defense, there was a fairly routine situation in the first period that turned into another point-blank chance that Larkin turned aside in which Miami D-men Jared Brandt and Louie Belpedio failed to pick up the shooter despite being seemingly well positioned. BoB said the loss of three quality defensemen to graduation (Matthew Caito, Taylor Richart, Chris Joyaux) could be the toughest thing for this team to overcome. The current D-corps, with the exception of Grant Hutton, just isn’t making anyone pay the price for establishing prime real estate in Miami’s zone. A physical, shut-down set of blueliners has been a staple of RedHawks hockey for two cycles of classes, we’re not getting that, Nos. 1-6, on a regular basis. They have far too often freelanced deep into the offensive zone and gotten caught as well.

– The officials certainly didn’t cost Miami this game, but that played a major role by assessing a body checking penalty to Conor Lemirande along the benches (OK, technically they called it interference, but that player had just unloaded the puck, and aren’t those skaters still fair game for the first second at least?). Of course, that went into the net, and after the RedHawks failed to pick up yet another trailer who skated into the slot without paying any kind of price, Colin Sullivan took a penalty right after, and that also ended up in a waved off Denver goal. That was overturned after an eight-minute delay, and there’s a 2-0 lead for the Pioneers with Tanner Jaillet in net. The calls weren’t very good either way, and the linesmen were awful at dropping pucks for faceoffs and in their judgment of kicking playoffs out of the circles.

– These lengthy reviews have gotten ridiculous. We saw a 14-minute delay vs. Western Michigan and another eight-minute stopped in this one. Yes, Friday’s call went Denver’s way, but there really needs to be a limit on these stoppages. If a pregnant pause is long enough that players need to skate to keep their legs fresh, as was the case in both of these instances, it needs to be shut down. Of course we want to see all calls made correctly, but most reasonable people realize that college hockey isn’t the pros, or even Division I football or basketball with unlimited HD angles. If a call can’t be overturned in two minutes, the call on the ice stands. Originally that was a good enough stance for the NFL (actually it was 90 seconds), so it should be fine for hockey at this level.

– Some positive? Josh Melnick had the presence of mind to grab the puck before the linesman got it after Brandt scored the tying goal, realizing it was the first of the freshman’s career. And it was a beautiful shot. Brandt has gone from the NAHL to playing on the top pairing, facing opponents’ top forwards as a freshman, which is an incredibly difficult role in this league.

GRADES

FORWARDS: D. The Gordie Green-to-LaValle hook up was nice, but this corps did little else. Denver has an excellent coach in Jim Montgomery, and clearly his staff figured out how to shut down Kiefer Sherwood and Anthony Louis, who combined for three shots. Carter Johnson was 6-5 on faceoffs, but overall Miami was an embarrassment on draws, finishing 25-47. Melnick was 9-17 and Sherwood was 5-16. Twelve forwards, 13 shots.

DEFENSEMEN: D+. The Brandt goal earns this corps the plus. Too many Pioneers skated around defenseman en route to the net. Too many times Denver skaters took direct lines toward high-percentage scoring areas without being challenged. Too many times we’ve seen this exact MO.

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

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

GOALTENDING: B. Yes, Larkin allowed four goals on 31 shots, but he got almost no help. The first two Denver markers were both on the power play. Goal No. 1 was on a rebound after he had stopped two point-blank chances from the side of the net, and the puck leaked into the slot. Goal No. 2 was tipped at the top of the crease because a player was left there uncontested. Goal No. 3 was on a wide-open shot from the slot because – say it with me – no one picked up the shooter. Goal No. 4 pinballed but again the scorer was allowed to camp out at the top of the crease. Larkin made the save of the year by coming across the crease and shutting down an A-plus chance. If his D-corps isn’t going to show physicality, maybe he should take a page from Jay Williams take matters into his own hands. An occasional penalty for laying a little lumber is a small price to pay to end this trend of seeing high-caliber scorers practically have their mail delivered to the top of Miami’s crease. This has not been a strong regular season, but imagine how much worse it would’ve been if Larkin wasn’t this team’s primary goalie?

LINEUP CHANGES: Defenseman Grant Frederic was back after sitting for four straight games, as Miami went with the seven-defenseman approach with Sullivan cryptically listed as a forward. Forward Alex Alger did not dress. Forward Justin Greenberg missed his eighth straight game with a lower-body injury and was still in a boot. His faceoff prowess was sorely missed.

Analysis: Momentum shifted in 2nd period

To see how St. Cloud State was able to finagle a comeback win, highlighted by a three-goal third period, it is necessary to evaluate the second period.

That’s when momentum that was clearly in Miami’s favor was reversed, culminating in the Huskies’ tying goal and ultimately three more in the final frame of SCSU’s 4-2 win over the RedHawks in central Minnesota on Friday.

The first period was evenly played and entertaining. Both teams were solid, but neither was able to find the net.

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

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

Miami dominated to start the second period and drew the game’s first power play. The RedHawks capitalized, as Gordie Green collected his own rebound on his tipped shot and stuffed it home four minutes into that frame.

A hockey axiom is to watch for the pushback by the team that gets scored on first, but Miami continued to push the pace the next eight minutes.

Then Grant Hutton threw puck up the right wing that Alex Alger couldn’t reach, and the RedHawks were whistled for icing.

The puck remained in the Miami zone for 90 seconds until an exhausted MU unit took a penalty, which was on Scott Dornbrock for slashing.

The RedHawks did an exceptional job of killing that penalty, and Green stole the puck for a breakaway, on which SCSU goalie Jeff Smith made an outstanding save to keep it 1-0.

But Louie Belpedio took tripping penalty away from the play, giving the Huskies a brief 5-on-3. After Dornbrock returned to the ice, making it 5-on-4, the Huskies tied it.

That gave St. Cloud State (14-14-1) the momentum heading into the second intermission, and the next two goals both went the Huskies’ way. Miami played pretty well the final 16 minutes but could not recover.

CBS College Sports pointed to Kiefer Sherwood getting out of position as the key reason for that tying goal, but Belpedio can’t take that penalty, especially as a captain, especially away from the play, especially when his team is already shorthanded.

And especially in this critical of a game, and especially with his team up by just one on the road.

It was so far away from the play that there wasn’t a clear camera angle, but that alone tells you plenty. The fuzzy goal cam shows him clearly making unnecessary contact along the boards, and officials in this league give a lot of leeway to teams that are already a man down.

MU also had good looks at the net in that middle frame – one each by Josh Melnick and Anthony Louis stand out – and the team couldn’t finish those chances. Jeff Smith also played exceptionally in net for SCSU.

Miami needs points more than ever and was in an excellent position to earn some from this game, leading by a goal with 23 minutes left.

But the RedHawks got zero, making their potential road to the NCAA’s a whole lot harder.

Especially since St. Cloud State is currently on the Tournament bubble, and Miami’s final six games are all against top-10 teams, including four vs. Nos. 1 and 2 in the PairWise.

Other thoughts…

– That 90-second shift following the above-mentioned icing that led to the penalty that led to another penalty that ate the lead that Miami built was the second time the fourth line was caught on the ice for an extensive shift. Including the time that unit was out there prior to the icing, it logged about two straight minutes during the period of the long change. And keep in mind, the fourth line typically plays shorter shifts anyway and is not accustomed to logging 120 straight seconds against high-caliber NCAA opponents. In the first period this threesome was also caught for an extended shift, as it was unable to clear its defensive zone.

– Belpedio had a tough night, as he was also out of position on the go-ahead goal early in the third period. After a SCSU pass was deflected by Jared Brandt, Belpedio did not pick up the trailer, Mikey Eyssimont, who skated in uncontested and fired his shot over Ryan Larkin’s shoulder. To be fair, it was Belpedio’s shot from the blue line that resulted in Green’s goal, and he did assist on both Miami tallies.

– Done talking about PairWise and NCHC standings for a while. The road to home ice for the NCHC, as well as at-large for the NCAAs, is too narrow right now. Will revisit if this team can string together some consecutive wins, which is a huge “if” with this upcoming schedule. Fans best brace themselves for a best-of-3 road series against a top-10 team just to advance to Minneapolis.

– Third period update. So BoB documented that Miami was outscored, 14-3 in the final frame during its 10-game winless streak. Then the RedHawks ran off 18 goals to their opponents’ two in the last 20 minutes in overtime as they ran off five straight wins. Now MU has allowed six goals while recording just two (with one being a 6-on-4 marker in this game) during this current 1-4-1 slide. Overall, it’s actually been Miami’s best period (27-26 advantage), as it’s the only stanza in which the RedHawks have outscored their opponents, not counting overtime. Here’s one for the stats geeks: Miami has scored 23 times after the second intermission in its nine wins. In its 12 losses, the RedHawks have four markers, including Sherwood’s laser tonight. Opponents have scored 20 third-period goals in Miami losses, six in Miami wins.

Miami's Carson Meyer (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Miami’s Carson Meyer (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

– Let’s insert some happy positive. Carson Meyer didn’t get a point, but he was dominating the first half of the game. He’s playing some of his best hockey of the season, and would be tied with Gordie Green if there was a most-improved-since-Game-1 award. Green, despite being having barely graduated from his Andy Miele growth chart, scored while camped out at the top of the crease, getting his own rebound. He’d subbed on for Melnick late in the power play and was with the top unit, possibly foreshadowing his 2017-18 role. He played that down-low role in the USHL despite his size. Green has 10 points this season, with six coming in his last 10 games.

Starman

Starman

– Continue to be impressed with Dave Starman on his CBS College Sports broadcasts. Anyone who can recite all six Miami goalies in the three tandems since David Burleigh deserves some credit, and yes, he did manage to mention Pat Cannone’s name. Most viewers will learn plenty about their opponents from any telecast, but people watching his games will almost certainly learn about their own team, which is especially impressive since this isn’t one of the Big Two college sports. His analysis of Ryan Larkin’s stance, and his ability to show a graphic and tie that to assistant coach Nick Petraglia goes beyond what one will see from almost any other college hockey commentator. Color jobs, like all in that field, can be based more on politics and connections than talent, but the guy is a delight to listen to and is incredibly unbiased in an era that sees less and less of this from media members.

Analysis: WMU was the better team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other thoughts…

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

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

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

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

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

GRADES

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

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

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

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

Analysis: Miami’s late start costly

OXFORD, Ohio – Miami’s Friday home games normally start at 7:35 p.m.

This week’s series opener was moved up 30 minutes for national TV, but the team apparently didn’t get the memo, as the RedHawks were dominated in the first period of a 2-1 loss to Western Michigan at Cady Arena.

The Broncos were better in every facet of the opening stanza, jumping out to a well-deserved early lead and almost a 2-0 edge, but a goal in the closing seconds of that frame was ultimately declared off-side.

The final 40 minutes were pretty even, but the damage had been done. Both teams scored once in the final two periods, as that slow start and resulting first-period score ended up being the difference.

The shots were 11-2 in favor of WMU midway through that first frame, which included one impotent Miami power play. A second man-advantage late in the period helped the RedHawks generate shots Nos. 3 and 4.

How to view the remainder of the game depends on one’s perspective: Was it a valiant effort to battle back – taking control of parts of the third period – and hang with the No. 10 team in college hockey, or should Miami not have gotten itself into that first-period deficit to begin with?

Unfortunately, after Miami’s three-win start, these final 10 games are too important to merely accept the former. The RedHawks had several paths to the NCAA Tournament – still do, by the way – but after a poor start this team can ill afford hard-fought losses like this one.

Other thoughts…

– The game time of this one was 2:47, the longest for a 60-minute game in recent history. The main reason is the 14-minute delay at the end of the first period, as Miami coach Enrico Blasi challenged a Western Michigan goal that was ultimately deemed off-side. The officiating crew huddled in the penalty box area for several minutes, then possibly due to a monitor issue, shifted to another screen. We should want calls to be correct, and fans should understand the once-in-a-season glitch – if it was indeed that – that caused this huge delay. The question, which was initially raised by someone much smarter, was why they didn’t merely go to intermission and tack the additional 12 seconds onto the second period? If, for example, a pane of glass shatters with a minute left in a period this does happen on occasion in the NHL. Perhaps college hockey doesn’t allow that? We get that the NCHC isn’t going to have the number of HD angles the NHL does, but still, barring issues, five minutes should be the threshold for overturning a call. Or at least send players to the dressing room rather than have them come back on the ice to warm up again.

– Miami has gone two straight games without an even strength or power play goal. It was shut out in its series finale in Omaha last Saturday, and its lone goal in this contest was shorthanded.

– With this loss, the RedHawks are now three games under .500 and need a 7-2 finish if they hope to garner support for an NCAA at-large berth. A 6-3 record with success in the NCHCs could also vault Miami to the Tournament. MU’s strength of schedule is one of the best in college hockey but it still needs to climb into the top 13 or 14 in the PairWise and finish with a winning record.

GRADES

FORWARDS: D. Kiefer Sherwood get into that I’m-taking-over-the-game mode in the third period, and he battled for a loose puck to set up Miami’s lone goal. Other than Karch Bachman creating some late havoc there’s not much positive to be said about this group. Anthony Louis didn’t get back to cover players on multiple occasions.

DEFENSEMEN: C. Belpedio struggled defensively but compensated with his goal. His physical presence is solid, but he is committing way too many turnovers for a captain and No. 1 blueliner. Chaz Switzer, playing for the first time in six weeks, seemed a lot more confident and made a lot of good decisions with the puck in his own zone.

GOALTENDING: B. The first WMU goal was a wrister from the blue line that found its way through, and the second was on a poke from the side of the net. Maybe Larkin could’ve stopped one or both, but he shut down a number of good chances, including a breakaway and a scramble in front of the net during which he was knocked down and still made two shots on high-percentage shots. We say again: Any shortcomings in net have not been because of poor goaltending.

Miami forward Justin Greenberg (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Miami forward Justin Greenberg (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

LINEUP CHANGES: Justin Greenberg missed his fourth straight game, and he was seen in the concourse on crutches with a boot on his foot. He barely put pressure on his injured leg. Greenberg has been a solid penalty killer the past couple of seasons, and his absence has forced Miami to use top offensive forwards in that role. That either cuts down their ice time in scoring roles or risks them being overused. Colin Sullivan was listed as a forward, but he was really the seventh defenseman. That was so both Bryce Hatten and Chaz Switzer could be reinserted in the lineup, giving the team seven blueliners. Hatten was played sparingly, and Switzer definitely stepped up his game.