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Analysis: Fighting major sparked Miami win

OXFORD, Ohio – In team sports, sometimes an emotional spark is needed.

Miami, which was 0-9-2 vs. Minnesota-Duluth the past two-plus seasons, was losing again on Saturday when its galvanizing moment occurred.

The RedHawks scored the next three goals and eradicated their winless streak vs. the Bulldogs, holding on for a 3-2 win at Cady Arena.

A quick stage set: UMD is an excellent team that has a reputation for playing chippy hockey, playing on the edge, sometimes over the edge.

Remember that one of the first times these teams met in Oxford, Chris Joyaux squared off after the final whistle with three dozen skaters and a handful of goalies on the ice.

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

So on Saturday, Minnesota-Duluth took a late poke at Miami goalie Ryan Larkin after a puck was clearly frozen.

Chaz Switzer took exception and pushed another player behind the net, and the Bulldogs were not called.

Minutes later, UMD took a run at Larkin, and again it was Switzer coming to his goalie’s defense, using offender Avery Peterson as a human punching bag before officials intervened.

Switzer was given five minutes for fighting and a game disqualification penalty, which carries a one-game suspension. He left the ice to a standing ovation by fans that had little to cheer about to that point of the weekend.

And here’s where hockey and the attitudes of many its fans/players/coaches/etc., deviates from the majority of other team sports.

The hate mail may roll in from those in other sports’ camps and the college-hockey-is-pure-and-fighting-is-barbaric-crowd, and that’s OK. So here goes.

Not only is Switzer a stud for what he did, it’s the officials’ fault he’s going to be suspended.

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

Larkin is a RedHawks star. Anyone who knows anything about UMD hockey knows its players are old-school WCHA all the way. That means ultra-physical play, after-the-whistle confrontations and yes, the occasional fisticuffs.

If a dumb fan sitting at a word processor knows this, certainly NCHC officials do, right?

So when Larkin gets hit the first time, you assess a penalty. If you don’t really think it warrants a Miami power play, you penalize the violator and Switzer two minutes each.

That sends the message that we’re watching and goalie running will be punished.

You do that, the second incident and resulting fighting major/suspension almost certainly doesn’t happen.

Even if you blow that, there have been plenty of times when players in Switzer’s situation have just received a game misconduct than the DQ, which carries an automatic suspension.

The officials didn’t have Larkin’s back, so Switzer did.

Good for Switzer. If it wasn’t for players like Switzer, the NCAA would have 60 teams like Michigan who take out players’ knees and cross-check players in the head with relatively few repercussions.

Miami dressed seven defensemen for this game, so the team went in able to absorb the loss of a blueliner.

Switzer is a five or six defenseman who struggled at times last season and has stepped up his play significantly this fall. He had 294 penalty minutes in 121 games of juniors, so clearly he’s no stranger to extracurriculars.

Don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth, but it’s very, very likely Switzer earned ample respect from his teammates. He certainly made a lot of fans in his home rink.

The on-ice results were obvious in the final two periods.

Coach Enrico Blasi wasn’t asked about the incident (seriously, the event that changed the game never made it into the presser forum?), and while he wisely did not address the incident he acknowledged the team struggled in the first period but played much better the final 40 minutes.

Through the years, RedHawks teams rarely cross the line (think that was the first fighting major since Alden Hirschfeld seven years ago?), but they typically are prepared to defend themselves when their opponents do.

UMD took a couple of late shots at Miami’s goalie in an attempt to intimidate its southern Ohio rival, and it backfired.

Other thoughts…

– Now onto far less controversial topics. Despite the split, Miami was the better team this weekend and certainly didn’t seem overmatched by a ranked Bulldogs team.

Friday’s loss aside, it was a good weekend for Miami, which didn’t win its fifth game in 2016-17 until New Year’s Eve.

– Carson Meyer broke out with goals in both ends of the series after scoring just one the first 10 games. Meyer heating up means good things for the Miami offense.

– Same goes for Ryan Siroky, who scored on his only shot of the night for his second marker in three games. He had two more big hits on the weekend and has become a very solid third liner that no one wants to play against.

– Karch Bachman picked up another assist and has already matched his point total of 2016-17 with an identical 2-4-6 line. He was the only forward to finish plus-2 in this game.

– Despite those forwards stepping up, MU is averaging 1.8 goals over its last five games. Up next is Bowling Green, which is 11th in the NCAA in goals allowed per game.

– UMD had 10 skaters take faceoffs. That might be an NCAA record. Only two had winning records, so perhaps the Bulldogs are auditioning their forwards? But still, 10 skaters?

GRADES

FORWARDS: B. With 11 forwards, there were a lot of different line combinations. Despite the odd number, the overall chemistry of this corps was good. Josh Melnick and Gordie Green put on a show with their goal, passing back and forth before Melnick buried a wrister for the eventual game winner. This group was solid defensively all weekend as well.

DEFENSEMEN: B. Believe it or not, 29 shots allowed is the fourth-highest opponent total of the season for Miami. As mentioned above, the forwards chipped in on D, and the D was strong on D, thus the ‘B’. Many of those 29 shots were right at Larkin, who swallowed them up for easy saves. Grant Frederic played just two of the first eight games but has dressed for three of the last four and has been pretty much mistake-free.

GOALTENDING: B. UMD’s first goal was a rapid-fire missile that Larkin had no chance on. Maybe Larkin could’ve gloved the Bulldogs’ second shot, but he stopped 27 shots and as usual allowed few second chances.

LINEUP CHANGES: With Frederic in as the seventh defenseman, F Christian Mohs was scratched. Zach LaValle sat for the second consecutive game, and Willie Knierim played in his third straight. Frederic should play at least the front end of the BGSU series with Switzer suspended.

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Analysis: Blowouts in college common

It’s always tough to watch a team you root for get blown out.

In certain sports with significant parity, it does happen to even the best teams.

So in the ultra-competitive world of NCAA Division I hockey, there’s no reason to panic after Miami fell behind five goals in the first period in a 6-3 loss to Maine on Saturday.

Not at all dismissing this pounding, but it’s still very early in the season and the RedHawks did earn a split on the road, which is rarely a bad thing.

There were a number of positive things to take from this game for the Miami fan.

Such as…

– Miami did fight back after falling behind by five early. Sometimes in hockey we see blowouts snowball, and at least the RedHawks battled down the stretch, cutting the final deficit to three.

– The power play is unreal. With Grant Hutton taking an active role on the man-advantage and Gordie Green joining the first unit full-time, Miami was 7-for-10 (70 percent) this weekend. And 3 of 5 in the finale, showing that even after the RedHawks lit the lamp four times on the man-advantage on Friday, Maine was unable to adjust.

– And I know it’s not always popular to say, but the chippy-ness we saw in this game can generate momentum and galvanize a team. There were two skirmishes on Saturday, and in the first Green was targeted along the boards after a stoppage. He not only stood up for himself, Rourke Russell came to his defense and was engaged with opponents the entire time, and Carson Meyer got involved as well. The my-teammate-has-my-back mentality is a bigger factor in hockey than almost any other sport, and such an incident can only help a young team.

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

– The other altercation: Captain Louie Belpedio ended up in a scrum midway through the third period and was tossed from the game. Sometimes captains have to get involved in these things. Again, this shows the team youngsters that the captain has everyone’s back.

– And good for the officials, Jack Millea and Kevin Keenan, about whom I know nothing other than they handled the after-the-whistle antics very well. No reason to suspend anyone, instead choosing the 10-minute misconduct option to address the possibility of repeat offenders.

Other thoughts…

– So Ryan Larkin. Again, blowouts happen. At one point, Patrick Roy let nine in for the Canadiens. Admittedly, he’s not exactly dominating, but let’s remember that this was a player who was named team MVP as a freshman at the team’s awards banquet. That’s a rarity. He had a .910 save percentage in 2016-17 despite getting pelted with Grade-A chances. The smart money is on him rebounding, and soon.

– Follow up to that point: Larkin did have a .792 winning percentage for the weekend, and it’s interesting that Grant Valentine backed him up on Saturday. Valentine logged nine-plus minutes and stopped 2 of 3 shots, giving up a low between-the-pads goal. Chase Munroe played the entire exhibition game in Plymouth, Mich., last weekend, and he allowed five goals. He was the backup down the stretch in 2016-17, so it looks like coach Enrico Blasi prefers Valentine as a backup at this point. But as long as he is healthy, it’s obvious the net currently belongs to Larkin, and if that’s the case through 2019-20, Miami will likely thrive.

– The RedHawks pulled the goalie down by four late, which typically indicates a coach thinks his team has played well enough that it deserves a chance to play on what’s essentially a power play. Hutton scored on the 6-on-5 to make it a three-goal game. Really, if you’re going to lose, who cares if it’s 3-2 or 13-2? Coach Blasi doesn’t, and I’m in agreement.

– It wasn’t a great night for Chaz Switzer. He was beaten, 1-on-1, resulting in Maine’s first goal, and his penalty on that play ultimately resulted in a 5-on-3 for another Black Bears goal. He was also on the ice for Maine’s third goal.

– Some perspective about Hutton’s scoring rate: He has 14 goals in 40 games since the start of 2016-17, and 10th place on BoB’s unofficial all-time career defenseman goal leaderboard is Josh Harrold with 15. With five goals in five games already this season, Miami could be looking at one of its top-scoring blueliners of all-time.

– Veli-Antti Tiuraniemi, a Black Bears defenseman, was committed to Miami last season and appeared to be headed to Oxford this fall. Instead he had a goal and an assist vs. the RedHawks.

– Thanks to the University of Maine for its free high-quality online stream. The game experience in Orono is supposed to be fantastic, and BoB wishes the Black Bears nothing but success in the future, especially since subsequent wins by Maine will affect the PairWise!

LINEUP CHANGES: F Zach LaValle was scratched after dressing for the first three games. Alex Alger played for the first time this season in his place. F Ryan Siroky replaced Ben Lown for both games this weekend. On defense, Alec Mahalak sat for the first time in 2017-18, as Grant Frederic logged his second game of the season. Fs Willie Knierim and Carter Johnson, plus D Bryce Hatten are the only Miami players not to log ice time this season, although Knierim played in Plymouth.

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.

Miami falls in regular season finale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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