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NCHC preview: Denver

Denver has actually seen a more substantial exodus than Miami this off-season.

Head coach Jim Montgomery left for the NHL this spring, and the Pioneers’ three top scorers and five of their top 10 points producers from 2017-18 bolted for the pros in recent months.

So Denver has a lot of work ahead if it hopes for return trip to the regional final.

DENVER PIONEERS

NCAA titles: 8 (1958, 1960, 1961, 1968, 1969, 2004, 2005, 2017).

COACH: David Carle (first season).

2017-18 RECORD: 23-10-8.

POSTSEASON: Lost to Ohio State, 5-1 in a regional final.

RINK (capacity): Magness Arena (6,315).

MIAMI VS. DENVER LAST SEASON: 1-2-1.

ALL-TIME SERIES: Denver leads, 14-11-3.

SCHEDULE VS. MIAMI: Feb. 22-23 – at Denver.

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: F Colin Staub, F Jarid Lukosevicius, D Ian Mitchell.

KEY NEW FACES: F Brett Stapley, F Mathias Emilio Pettersen, F Cole Guttman, D Slava Demin, D Sean Comrie, D Les Lancaster, G Filip Larssen.

KEY LOSSES: F Troy Terry, F Dylan Gambrel, F Henrik Borgstrom, F Logan O’Connor, F Blake Hillman.

NOTES: Denver probably expected early departures this off-season, but the Pioneers were hit harder than many expected.

DU has 11 freshmen listed on its roster, and its goaltending threesome has logged a total of 20 collegiate minutes.

Henrik Borgstrom, Troy Terry and Dylan Gambrell – all of whom left before completing four seasons – combined for 143 points in 2017-18.

Leading the way up front this season will be Jarid Lukosevicius, who scored 21 times last season, and two-way stud and team captain Colin Staub, a senior who has logged 117 career games and tallied 51 points.

Undersized Liam Finlay and Jake Durflinger produced 15 and 12 points, respectively.

Several of Denver’s newest forwards have been drafted, and the Pioneers will need them to contribute right away if they hope to return to the top tier of the NCHC standings.

Brett Stapley (Montréal), Mathias Emilio Pettersen (Calgary) and Cole Guttman (Tampa Bay) were all taken in the last two rounds.

On defense, Ian Mitchell led all blueliners last season in assists (28) and points (30) as a freshman.

But other than Mitchell, only Griffin Mendel and Michael Davies were the only other DU blueliners to dress for the majority of games in 2017-18.

Les Lancaster is an interesting addition, as he racked up 81 points at Mercyhurst, and he is eligible this season because he’s a graduate transfer.

Slava Demin, a Vegas fourth-round pick who thrived in the BCHL last season, is also expected to make a pick impact on the DU defense corps.

In net, Devin Cooley played one period last season as a freshman, as Tanner Jaillet was a mainstay between the pipes, and Detroit draftee Filip Larssen is expected to log substantial minutes as a freshman.

Denver has a talented freshman class coming in, but the Pioneers lost a lot of NHL-caliber talent and lack experience at forward, defense and especially in net.

Coach Jim Montgomery accepted the head coaching job with the Dallas Stars, and assistant David Carle was promoted to his position despite being just 28.

Carle is an NHL draftee, but sadly his career ended when he was diagnosed with a heart problem prior to him dressing in the NCAA.

He was a student assistant for Denver during his collegiate years, and after a year at USHL Green Bay as an assistant coach, he returned to the Pioneers as an assistant to Montgomery the past four seasons.

NOTE: BoB is previewing each NCHC team leading into the 2018-19 season. This is the second of seven installments.

The first one on Colorado College can be read here: 2018-19 Colorado College preview

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Down 3, Miami salvages tie vs. DU

Miami didn’t win on Saturday, but it did come back from three down to eke out a tie in its regular season finale.

That was on the road vs. the fifth-ranked team in college hockey.

After falling behind, 3-0 less than five minutes in, the RedHawks rallied for a 3-3 tie at No. 5 Denver on Saturday and earned the extra point in the NCHC standings with a 3-on-3 win.

Despite earning seven conference points in its final four games, Miami finished last in the eight-team NCHC.

The RedHawks enter the playoffs having won just two of its last 15 games (2-10-3). They will travel to No. 2 St. Cloud State next week to open the NCHC Tournament in a best-of-3 series.

RECAP: Just 4:19 into the first period, Denver had already taken a 3-0 lead.

Henrik Borgstrom centered one from behind the net to Jarid Lukosevicius in the slot for a one-timer 73 seconds into the game.

Eighteen seconds later, Ryan Barrow went in alone and beat Miami goalie Ryan Larkin on the forehand.

In another three minutes, Adam Plant found the net from the outside edge of the faceoff circle on a wrister through traffic.

Then the comeback.

The RedHawks converted on a 2-on-0, with Gordie Green tapping home the centering feed by Kiefer Sherwood with 3:15 left in the first period as a Denver defender collided with goalie Tanner Jaillet.

Jaillet finished the period but did not play the balance of the game.

New Pioneers goalie Dayton Rasmussen was beaten on his first shot. After Zach LaValle won a battle along the boards, the puck found Karch Bachman, who skated in and fired one home from a bad angle.

Bachman tipped home a blue-line shot by Louie Belpedio to tie it.

In the 3-on-3 overtime, Phil Knies stole the puck and wired one home over Rasmussen’s shoulder.

STATS: This was the 16th straight game in which the team that scored first also scored second.

That means either Miami or its opponent has taken a 2-0 lead or more in every contest since Jan. 5. The odds of that happening at random are over 65,000 to 1.

Miami forward Karch Bachman (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

— The RedHawks snapped a seven-game streak without a power play goal, and they also scored in the first period for the first time in eight contests.

Miami’s first-period goal total and its PPG total have been identical in nine straight games.

— It was the first multi-goal game of Bachman’s career. The sophomore has already tripled his rookie goal-scoring input, as he has six markers this season vs. two in 2016-17.

— Sherwood extended his team-best points streak to four games. He is 2-3-5 in that stretch and picked up a pair of assists in this contest.

THOUGHTS: What a crazy ending.

A Miami team that went 0-3-1 on a four-game road trip vs. Nebraska-Omaha and Colorado College and was 1-8-1 in its previous 10 contests broke even in its last four against North Dakota and Denver.

Crazier is that the RedHawks’ opponents that took a 3-0 lead the past two weekends finished 0-1-1 in those games.

Craziest: In Miami’s last 16 games, the team that has scored first has also netted the next goal. So RedHawks games have had a 2-0 score at some point in every contest since early January.

These games were irrelevant to Miami from a seedings perspective, but a 1-1-2 record in its last four regular season contests vs. North Dakota and at Denver should at least inspire hope.

— A big positive to take away from this game is Bachman’s scoring. He has been partly inaccurate, partly snakebitten while being placed on skill lines this season, and with his speed if he can start to find the net regularly his final two years could be very lucrative.

LINEUP CHANGES: Just one: At forward, Carson Meyer was reinserted and Christian Mohs did not dress.

It was just the second game Meyer has missed this season.

FINAL THOUGHTS: These games were irrelevant in terms of the RedHawks’ place in the tournament world but had to give them momentum heading into the NCHCs.

They hung with one of the top dogs in D-I for 125 minutes on the road.

It’s the beauty of March: A poor regular season can be reversed with a conference tournament win.

And desperation can be a strong weapon. St. Cloud State will play in the NCAAs, and any subsequent opponent in the NCHC field would likely be in that boat as well.

There is no future beyond next weekend if Miami doesn’t win this series.

Four years ago the RedHawks were in the same predicament and also faced St. Cloud in the first round. Miami won that series and ultimately fell a goal short in the NCHC championship game.

The odds of an NCAA berth for Miami are long, but a desperate RedHawks team again faces an elite SCSU team that will play on college hockey’s biggest stage regardless of this weekend’s outcome.

Slow start vs. Denver dogs Miami

Denver had three power play chances in the first period and scored on two of them.

The Pioneers added another goal early in the second period for a three-goal lead it would not relinquish in Friday’s 6-3 DU win over Miami at Magnuss Arena.

The RedHawks (11-18-4) did pull to within a goal in the closing minutes but No. 5 Denver punched in a pair of late markers to seal the win.

Miami has lost 10 straight March games and is 0-9 in this month the past three seasons. The RedHawks are 0-7-1 on the road since their last victory outside of Oxford on Dec. 8, and they have a 2-10-2 overall record in their last 14 games.

RECAP: It was the Dylan Gambrell show early.

The DU forward scored on the backhand from the slot to open the scoring, and his shot from the same area was tipped in by Jarid Lukosevicius to make it 2-0.

Rudy Junda extended the DU lead to three when he took a behind-the-net feed from Kolin Olischefski, was denied by Miami goalie Ryan Larkin and batted home the rebound.

The RedHawks cut the deficit to two when Kiefer Sherwood knocked home a one-time pass from Phil Knies on a 3-on-1.

With 10:14 left in the second period, Logan O’Connor centered a pass to Henrik Borgstrom, and the puck hit off Borgstrom’s skate and into the net, making it 4-1.

Miami trimmed the lead to two with five minutes remaining in regulation when Conor Lemirande penetrated the zone and had his pass into the slot hit a Denver player and carrom in.

The RedHawks’ Casey Gilling’s feed also hit a Pioneers defender, deflecting off a stick and into the net with 3:57 remaining.

But a seeing-eye shot from the blue line by Adam Plant found the cage with 2:23 left to make it 5-3, and Colin Staub capped the scoring with an empty netter.

STATS: Slow starts have been the norm for Miami in recent weeks, as the team has been outscored, 9-0 in the first period its last seven games.

Miami’s Rourke Russell (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

The RedHawks also have not scored a power play goal in that seven-game span, going 0-for-22 on the man advantage.

Denver (18-8-7) had five power play chances, scoring on two of them. Miami was on the man advantage once.

— It was the first career multi-point game for Rourke Russell, who picked up two assists.

— Sherwood has scored in consecutive games for the second time this season and has a team-best three-game points streak.

— Gilling scored for the first time in seven games. Lemirande had not scored in his last 25 contests.

THOUGHTS: Did we mention the early power play goals for Denver?

An opponent just can’t give the Pioneers three chances in the first period and expect to win, especially on their home ice.

Then it was 3-0, and that pretty much sealed Miami’s fate for the night.

To the RedHawks’ credit, they battled until the end, trimming a 4-1 Denver lead to one before ultimately surrendering a fifth goal followed by an empty netter.

Being an early no-show has been a theme for Miami this season and is a tough way to make a living in the ultra-competitive NCHC.

— Both early goals were scored because Denver was allowed to control the slot. Gambrell skated laterally to get in there for his goal, and he did the same from the opposite direction on goal No. 2, which was tipped in by Lukosevicius – a player allowed to camp out at the top of the crease.

— It was a strange night for redirected pucks. Miami had one go in off a skate and another hit a stick, as both completely changed direction en route to the net.

One could argue the RedHawks got somewhat lucky in getting back into the game, since those consecutive goals took the score from 4-1 to 4-3.

To be fair, Denver also scored one – its fourth of the night – when a centering feed hit Borgstrom’s skate before finding its mark.

LINEUP CHANGES: Up front, Christian Mohs dressed for just the eighth time this year, and Zach LaValle was in the lineup for only the second time in eight contests.

Carson Meyer was the notable scratch, as the Columbus Blue Jackets draftee has struggled this season. It’s the second time he has not played this season. Willie Knierim was also out of the lineup.

No changes on defense.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Officially these games mean nothing for Miami, which has one clear route to the NCAA Tournament: Beat St. Cloud next week and win the NCHC Tournament.

But it would’ve been nice if there were more positives to be taken from this game.

The RedHawks did battle after falling behind by three, which is admirable in an essentially meaningless game, and Sherwood continues to shine after a sub-par first half.

That’s the boom from this one.

The negatives: Opponents didn’t pay a price in the slot – a recurring theme – the team got off to a slow start, etc.

Ideally, it would be nice to have momentum heading into the opening round of the conference tournament. Denver and SCSU are the elite of the elite in this conference, and Miami needs to show it can compete on the road against Division I’s best.

Unfortunately, this game did little to inspire confidence.

MU kept interest in loss

OXFORD, Ohio – For a three-goal loss that was completely one-sided in the first two periods, Miami found a way to make the final 20 minutes interesting.

No. 5 Denver scored the first three goals in a 4-1 win over the RedHawks at Cady Arena on Saturday, as the teams split their weekend series.

The Pioneers (12-6-4) were a huge favorite, so winning one was a bit of a victory for the RedHawks. But since MU was .500 after the first half of the season, it needs to make up games somewhere, and this weekend wasn’t it.

This series was actually more of a reinforcement that, while the RedHawks (9-9-2) are improved over 2016-17, Miami’s overall talent does not match up with the NCAA’s elite.

RECAP: Denver scored twice in the first period and once more in the first minute of the final stanza to take a 3-0 lead.

The shots were 28-5 in favor of the Pioneers after 40 minutes.

But then it got interesting.

Miami pulled the goalie five minutes into the third period.

The RedHawks, who were anemic on the power play all night, thrived with the extra attacker.

Kiefer Sherwood broke after an extended 6-on-5 to make it 3-1.

And Miami drew a penalty on the goal, setting up a power play.

The crowd, comatose after the early domination, was suddenly into the game.

But the man-advantage fizzled and Denver eventually scored an empty netter to seal it.

Miami did outshoot Denver, 20-5 in the last 20 minutes.

Miami’s Casey Gilling (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

STATS: Sherwood and Casey Gilling both extended points streaks to three games. Gilling is 2-3-5 in that stretch.

– Rare to see the starting/lone goalie of team log just 51:38.

– In the you’ll-see-something-new-every-time-you-go-to-the-rink department, Miami iced the puck twice while on a 6-on-5. The NCAA rule is that when a team ices the puck, no one on said team is allowed to leave, but apparently an exception is made for goalies. Both times the RedHawks did this they were able to pull one skater.

THOUGHTS: Not much to add from Friday’s game. Denver is more talented and came out aiming to prove that. Cudos to Miami for battling back in the third after an anemic first 40 minutes. And they were anemic.

GRADES

FORWARDS: D. One goal only after the outcome had been decided. Gordie Green and Josh Melnick were both held without a shot.

DEFENSEMEN: D+. Too many high-percentage scoring chances for DU at this corps’ hands.

GOALTENDING: B. It was a shooting gallery for Ryan Larkin the first two periods. He made a couple of excellent saves and is certainly not accountable for the loss.

LINEUP CHANGES: Only one: Zach LaValle was in at forward, replacing Willie Knierim. Knierim had dressed in the last nine games, and LaValle had sat for three in a row.

FINAL ANALYSIS: Splits against top-10 teams are nice, but when you’re .500 heading into the break, at some point you have to sweep someone.

Denver is an exceptional team, and Miami will have to gain ground against someone else.

Photos: Denver at Miami

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

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Analysis: Hockey no longer Miami’s top sport?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other thoughts…

Defenseman Louie Belpedio (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Defenseman Louie Belpedio (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GRADES

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

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

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

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

Miami drops its fourth straight

OXFORD, Ohio – Game 2 of Miami’s home series vs. No. 2 Denver bore a striking resemblance to Game 1.

Fall behind, tie the score at two, allow the final three goals.

And ultimately, drop its fourth straight game by an identical 5-2 score as the Pioneers swept the RedHawks at Cady Arena on Saturday.

Miami (9-15-1) is now ensured a losing record in both the regular season and conference play.

MU’s night starting promisingly enough, as Carson Meyer opened the scoring with a bad-angle shot that eluded goalie Tanner Jaillet just 4:10 into the first period.

But in another similarity to the series opener, Denver (22-6-4) would net its first two goals less than 90 seconds apart.

Troy Terry penetrated the zone, skated in and beat goalie Ryan Larkin after toe-dragging the puck to tie the score on the power play with 7:04 left in the first period.

The Pioneers pulled ahead when a shot from the left faceoff circle snuck through Larkin’s pads with 6:22 remaining in the opening stanza.

In 42 seconds, Miami had gone from leading 1-0 to trailing, 2-1.

The RedHawks did tie the score on the man advantage when Grant Hutton blasted one by Jaillet 4:08 into the middle frame.

But Denver took the lead for good 2:22 later, as Terry skated across the slot and whipped one into the top corner of the net.

Romig made it 4-2 when he scored on a one-timer off a pass by Colin Staub from behind the Miami net with 14:55 left in regulation.

Exactly 10 minutes later, Tariq Hammond capped the scoring when he beat Larkin low to the stick side moments after a potential fifth Denver goal was waved off.

With time running out, RedHawks defenseman Louie Belpedio was kneed and left the game. He did put pressure on his leg but was still helped off the ice. The Pioneers’ Jarid Lukosevicius was assessed a major penalty and a game misconduct.

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

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

Meyer snapped a six-game goal drought but has points in his last three. Hutton found the net for the second time in five contests.

Anthony Louis picked up an assist, becoming the 34th player in Miami history to rack up 120 career points. He is in a five-way tie for 30th with 45 goals and 75 helpers.

Miami remains in seventh place in the NCHC, five points out of both fifth and sixth, and dropped to 28th in the PairWise Rankings.

The RedHawks travel to Minnesota-Duluth for a two-game set next weekend.

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.

Three late Denver goals doom Miami

OXFORD, Ohio – Miami was able to erase a two-goal deficit early in the third period on Friday.

Unfortunately for the RedHawks, the next three markers would belong to No. 2 Denver.

The Pioneers beat MU, 5-2 at Cady Arena, sending Miami to its third straight loss and a 1-6-1 record in its last eight games.

The RedHawks (9-14-6) are also guaranteed a non-winning regular season for the third time in four years.

Despite Miami being outshot, 13-6 in the first period, the teams headed into the first intermission scoreless.

But Denver (21-6-4) finally broke through on the power play, as Evan Janssen twice tried to stuff the puck in the near side of the net, but after two denials by RedHawks goalie Ryan Larkin, the puck shot out to Dylan Gambrell, who hammered it home 4:20 into the second period.

Just 72 seconds later on another man advantage, the Pioneers’ Will Butcher wristered one in from the blue line that was deflected away by Larkin, but Troy Terry batted it in out of the air. The play was reviewed for several and after initially being ruled the puck was played by a high stick, that call was overturned and the Pioneers went up, 2-0.

At the 4:15 mark of the third period, Miami’s Zach LaValle cut the lead in half when he stuffed the puck in the short side, as it somehow got through goalie Tanner Jaillet off a centering feed by Gordie Green from behind the net.

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

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

The RedHawks pulled even with 10:39 remaining when Jaillet gave up a huge rebound off an outside shot by Grant Hutton, who had stole the puck to keep it in the offensive zone seconds earlier, and Jared Brandt blasted it home.

LaValle’s goal was his first of the season, while Brandt’s was his first as a Miamian.

But that lead was short lived. With 6:04 left in regulation, Gambrell won an offensive zone to Butcher, who skated into the slot uncontested and fired one just under the crossbar to give Denver a 3-2 lead.

The Pioneers regained their two-goal lead when Janssen pitchforked a backhander toward the net, and it hit Gambrell at the top of the crease and popped over the shoulder of Larkin with 3:38 left.

It was 32 seconds later when Denver sealed it on an empty netter from Emil Romig.

In addition to clinching a non-winning regular season, Miami can finish no better than .500 in NCHC play, as it slipped to 5-10-4 in the conference. The RedHawks remain in seventh place, five points behind Nebraska-Omaha and North Dakota.

These teams wrap up their weekend series at 8:05 p.m. on Saturday in a game that will be broadcast on ASN and carried by Altitude Network.

Miami, Denver tie again in finale

Miami had tied just four times in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons combined.

On Saturday, the RedHawks equaled that mark in the 13th game of this campaign, skating to their second straight draw, 2-2 at No. 1 Denver on Friday.

And for the second straight night, the Pioneers (7-2-3) secured the extra league point by winning the sudden-death shootout after the teams remained even after 70 minutes.

After Miami’s Conor Lemirande was assessed an interference major in the first minite, Dylan Gambrell took a cross-ice pass from Troy Terry that hit the skate of the RedHawks’ Gordie Green, skated to the center of the faceoff circle and whipped a wrister over the glove of goalie Ryan Larkin 3:02 into the game.

knierim1-0

Miami pulled even at the 3:28 mark of the second period when Grant Hutton’s shot from the blue line was stopped by Tanner Jaillet, but the goaltender allowed a huge rebound that Willie Knierim batted in for his first collegiate goal.

With 5:57 left in that frame, Terry emerged from the corner with the puck, skated laterally into the slot, turned and fired one just under the crossbar to give Denver a 2-1 lead.

But the RedHawks (3-6-4) again pulled even with 4:09 left in regulation on another rebound, as Kiefer Sherwood backhanded one that Jaillet knocked aside, but Ryan Siroky was skating by and deposited it into the net.

Miami's Ryan Siroky (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Miami’s Ryan Siroky (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

It was Siroky’s first goal of the season as well.

Louis picked up an assist for the fourth straight game, giving him 103 career points.

Larkin turned 38 shots aside on Friday to set a career high but blew that away in this game, turning 49 aside. He finished the weekend 87 of 90 and made 14 more stops in the unofficial double overtimes both nights.

Miami – now winless in its last seven – picked up its second points of the season in NCHC play but remains in last place in the league, one point behind Colorado College.

The RedHawks are off this week and head to Cornell for a two-game set on Dec. 2-3.