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Analysis: Columbus line thriving

OXFORD, Ohio – In its second game since being assembled, the all-Columbus line accounted for a pair of goals.

That was the difference on Saturday in Miami’s 3-2 upset win over No. 3 St. Cloud State at Cady Arena.

It was a risky move by Coach Enrico Blasi, as the RedHawks’ offense was scoring at its best clip of the season.

It was senior center Sean Kuraly scoring the go-ahead goal that made it 2-1 midway through the second, and minutes later freshman forward Kiefer Sherwood banged home the third Miami tally.

Freshman forward Jack Roslovic set up the latter with an NHL-caliber pass through multiple defenders and the top of the SCSU crease.

Scoring has been an issue all season, and Miami was held to one goal on Friday but quietly there is cause for optimism.

Josh Melnick (right) celebrates his goal with teammate Louie Belpedio (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Josh Melnick (right) celebrates his goal with teammate Louie Belpedio (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

The Columbus line lit the lamp twice in this game. The Garden Gnome line (Josh Melnick-Anthony Louis-Alex Gacek) netted the other two this weekend.

The combination of Kevin Morris and Zach LaValle have lit the lamp four times in the past seven games, and the Crash Cousins line accounted for three – all on Conor Lemirande’s hat trick – two weeks ago at UNO.

This team won’t make people forget about the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers, granted, but in a brutal six-game stretch that saw the RedHawks face UNO on the road and Denver and St. Cloud State at home, Miami averaged 3.3 goals.

The back-to-back losses were tough because they were at home and every game is so important now, but ultimately Miami went 4-2 during arguably its toughest three-week stretch of the season and played some very good hockey in the process.

These guys hung with the third-best team in Division I for most of the weekend.

Now the RedHawks will have to take that success to the road, where they play five of their final seven regular season games.

Other thoughts…

– The RedHawks did not get a PairWise boost from this win. In fact, they dropped a spot despite beating the second-ranked team in college hockey. That means it’s more likely Miami will have to win the NCHC Tournament to secure an NCAA berth. But the RedHawks have gone to the NCHC final both seasons of the league’s existence, winning one title and posting a 7-2 overall record in the conference tourney.

– Ryan McKay was still not with the team this weekend. He is still on an indefinite suspension, but he is still in Oxford. Not sure what’s going on behind the scenes, but while McKay’s actions when he left his last start were clearly wrong, it’s been four weeks and he’s a senior. Here’s hoping he and the coaching staff can make amends soon. It’s hard to watch a player’s final stretch run go down like this, especially somehow who has contributed so much to this team. The Brotherhood is more than just lip service, right?

– SCSU entered play with a power play north of 31 percent, the second-best clip in Division I, but Miami allowed just five man-advantage opportunities on the weekend and killed all of them. The RedHawks retain the title of college hockey’s top PK unit at 93.5 percent.

– Very disappointed that only 2,534 watched Miami’s biggest home win of the season. North Dakota isn’t coming to Oxford this season, so this is the best team that visits Cady Arena. Granted Miami isn’t ranked, but really? Less than 70 percent of capacity? Still, that almost doubled the attendance for the Miami-Bowling Green basketball game played a few blocks north hours earlier.

GRADES

FORWARDS: B. It was a fantastic second period, especially by the newly-formed Columbus line. Melnick scored as well, but linemate Alex Gacek got beat 1-on-1 for the first SCSU goal. And yes, that fourth line was caught deep again on a St. Cloud goal. Freshmen Jack Roslovic, Melnick and Kiefer Sherwood have been three of the best Hawks in terms of offensive production recently, which bodes well for the next couple of seasons. Kuraly is the hottest with 10 points in seven games.

DEFENSEMEN: B. Speaking of freshmen, really liked the play of Grant Hutton this weekend. Beyond the two assists he played very well in his own end. Colin Sullivan had a rare start and did his typical solid thing. Louie Belpedio scared everyone in the first period when he went down the tunnel but he returned and picked up a key assist. Holding SCSU to 23 shots is an impressive body of work.

GOALTENDING: B+. Williams probably should’ve had the first goal with his glove, but as usual, he got better as the game went on. He stole the show in the third period with 11 saves, including several on excellent scoring chances. Williams had no chance on the tic-tac-toe second goal.

LINEUP CHANGES: Blasi went with Devin Loe over Andrew Schmit on the fourth line. Loe had sat eight straight games and is another player you’d like to see on the ice more, although he went minus-1. Sullivan had not dressed in six contests and replaced Chris Joyaux, who was a scratch for the first time since opening night.

Miami pulls off upset of No. 3 St. Cloud

OXFORD, Ohio – A five-minute scoring outburst resulted in just enough for Miami on Saturday.

The RedHawks netted three second-period goals and held off No. 3 St. Cloud State, 3-2 at Cady Arena in the series finale as the teams split the weekend series.

Like Friday, the game remained scoreless until the final minutes of the first period, and the Huskies again took the early lead, as Jimmy Schuldt penetrated from the blue line to the top of the faceoff circle and wristed one that deflected off the glove of Miami senior goalie Jay Williams with 1:45 left in the opening frame.

Miami's Josh Melnick rips this shot home for the first RedHawks goal (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Miami’s Josh Melnick rips this shot home for the first RedHawks goal (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

The RedHawks’ goal binge started 5:54 into the middle stanza when freshman defenseman Grant Hutton threw a pass through the top of the crease to freshman forward Josh Melnick, who slammed it home to tie the score.

Miami (11-13-3) took the lead for good when senior center Sean Kuraly drove down the left wing and roofed a forehand shot just 1:22 later.

Freshman forward Jack Roslovic threaded a pass through traffic to freshman forward Kiefer Sherwood for a one-timer that ended up in the net with 9:29 remaining in the second period, making it 3-1.

Patrick Russell cut the lead to one for SCSU (23-6-1) with 6:38 left in that frame when he tapped in a pass by Mikey Eyssimont at the side of the cage.

Three of the four goals in the second period were scored off of high-quality passes.

Williams stopped made 11 of his 21 saves in the third period to preserve the victory, including multiple point-blank opportunities. He earned his 42nd career win and is fifth on Miami’s all-time victories list, moving to within four of fourth place.

Kuraly was the only RedHawk with multiple points, finishing with a goal and an assist. He has 10 points in his last seven games, including three of his five goals this season.

Melnick scored for the second consecutive game, and Sherwood has three makers in his last six contests.

Despite the quality win, the RedHawks dropped one spot to a tie for 25th in the PairWise rankings. They moved into solo control of fifth place in the NCHC with 22 points, three ahead of Nebraska-Omaha and three points behind Minnesota-Duluth.

Miami plays its final non-conference game at Bowling Green at 7 p.m. on Friday.

Richart is Miami’s black and blueliner

OXFORD, Ohio – While Taylor Richart’s presence in Miami’s lineup seems like a given on a nightly basis, there was a point when he pondered whether he had a shot at making it to this level.

Undersized for a defenseman at 5-feet-9, the senior went from having to try out to make an NAHL team to logging 122 games at the Division I level for the RedHawks and becoming one of their most dependable and toughest stay-at-home blueliners.

Taylor Richart as a freshman (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Taylor Richart as a freshman (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

“He comes in, works his (butt) off every day, he really attacks it – practice, workouts, whatever it may be – real detail oriented, and he makes sure does all of the little things right,” goalie and classmate Jay Williams said. “He wants to do everything he can in his power to make sure he’s ready (for games), and obviously you’ve seen the results: For the past two years he’s been one of our best, most consistent players on our back end.”

Richart was born and still lives in Blaine, Minn., a northern suburb of Minneapolis, and was a rink rat practically from birth. His father, Scott, played for the University of Minnesota and still coaches youngsters.

Richart learned how to skate at a small park a couple of minutes from their home as a toddler and was a natural on the ice.

“Even when I was two years old I would put a pair of skates on and walk around the house,” Richart said. “Everything in my house is hockey since my dad grew up around hockey.”

Prep hockey is huge in Minnesota, and Richart helped Blaine High School qualify for the state tournament twice, including a third-place finish in 2009. He was named to the all-conference team in 2010.

Richart at the outdoor game in Chicago in 2013 (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Richart at the outdoor game in Chicago in 2013 (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

But at that point, he didn’t see a lucrative future for himself in the sport and considered non-scholarship competition.

Richart also patrolled second base and shortstop growing up, and he thought he could play hockey in the winter and baseball in spring if he went to a Division III school.

After his senior year of high school, Richart received a call from an acquaintance that offered him a tryout for NAHL Aberdeen. Richart not only earned his way onto that team, he logged 53 games, scoring twice and dishing out 10 assists.

He worked as hard as anyone on the ice, impressing so much that he joined a USHL team the following season and went 7-9-16 for Fargo.

“His work ethic is really something that’s above and beyond,” senior defenseman Matthew Caito said. “Everything he does, he does 100 percent and he gives it his all, and guys really follow him, and we feed off of that. His intensity and work ethic in practice is amazing to watch. He’s one of my good friends, but I’m not just saying that because he is. It’s true – he’s one of our great leaders.”

Richart was preparing for a third season in juniors when a late defection left Miami short a defenseman. He came to Oxford for a visit and fell in love with the campus.

“That year we had (Steve) Spinell and (Joe) Hartman and (Garrett) Kennedy and (Matthew) Caito obviously with (Joyaux) and Ben Paulides – a year older,” RedHawks coach Enrico Blasi said. “So we needed him to come in right away and compete for playing time and he did that.”

Richart as a sophomore (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Richart as a sophomore (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Richart proved himself ready for that challenge right away as well.

Two years after trying out to make an NAHL team, Richart was in the lineup for an elite Division I school. He played 40 of 42 games as a freshman, went plus-2 with four assists and was fourth on the team with 49 blocked shots.

“From Day 1 he’s had that hockey IQ, and it’s obvious – if you watch him play you can see it,” Caito said. “It’s great how he’s always in the right position at the right time.”

A concussion essentially ended Richart’s season after 24 games as a sophomore. Despite the short year, he managed five assists and still blocked 36 shots while taking just one minor penalty.

With more freshmen coming in for his junior season, Richart again had to work his way into the lineup. After being scratched for the first five contests of 2014-15, he hit the ice for the final 35.

“I knew coming into the year I was kind in an odd spot because we had a lot of guys coming in as well, so I knew I had to work my butt off when I came to the rink every day,” Richart said. “Positive attitude, just kind of wait for chance, and when the chance came I grabbed it and ran with it.”

Richart netted his only career goal that season in a 3-0 win over Cornell on Dec. 29, 2014. He piled up 45 more blocks, finished plus-5 and took just three minors.

In 23 games this season, Richart leads team with 46 blocked shots – 11 ahead of any other RedHawk. – and he has three assists.

“The last couple years he’s done a tremendous job, really working hard to bring everything else along,” Williams said.

Richart as a junior (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Richart as a junior (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

He also won the team’s hardest shot competition prior to this season.

“He’ll tell you that his shot’s gotten a little harder, but I don’t know about that,” Williams said. “They clocked it before the season but it might have been in kilometers.”

Said Blasi: “He came in his freshman year, kind of struggled sophomore year – which is not uncommon for guys – toward the end of his sophomore year started to come out of it and had a real solid year last year and he’s been pretty good this year. Those are always the good stories when the guys work themselves into the lineup and contribute and are mainstays.”

He also has just four penalty minutes, giving him 12 PIM in 90 games since the start of his sophomore season, a marvel considering his stay-at-home role.

Richart has a goal and 16 assists for his career, but points are a deceiving stat for a player in his role, and his total does not reflect the obvious improvement in his game since he first set foot on the ice at Cady Arena in 2012.

“His sound plays with the puck,” Caito said. “When he was younger, he kind of forced pucks a little bit just like everyone does when they first come into college. Now he’s really harnessed in on making the simple plays and realizing that plays lead to bigger opportunities for us. His defensive play is amazing right now.”

Having a father who played at the college level and still coaches has helped Richart become a smarter player as well.

“He knows the game very well, and as a smaller guy you have to know the game a little better,” Blasi said.

Richart uses the hockey smarts he father instilled in him to overcome the size deficit he faces when he dresses for games against ultra-physical NCHC opponents.

Richart grimaces after blocking a shot (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Richart grimaces after blocking a shot (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

“You’re not going to out-muscle guys – you’ve just got to be smart,” Richart said. “Know the game, know your strengths and weaknesses. Just make strong plays. I know I’m not going to be the bigger guy, and that’s part of the reason why I kind of got overlooked, because I’m smaller, but I always knew I was going to have to out-think someone rather than rough them up.

“That kind of comes from my dad. He taught me to block shots, and he always told me that’s a big part of the game, being a defenseman, so that’s kind of what I prided myself on, blocking shots, taking hits, making plays, being a tough player. Your teammates look up to you when you do that as well, because they see that you’re sacrificing your body for them.”

If there was a statistic for penalty minutes drawn vs. penalty minutes taken, Richart would have to be high on the Division I leaderboard. He has drawn boarding majors numerous times in his career and has rarely missed a shift despite taking some brutal-looking hits.

“He’s got to set an NCAA record for being on the receiving end of hits from behind,” Williams said. “Obviously every time it happens it’s scary and it’s dangerous plays usually, and your No. 1 concern is thankfully he’s OK and his health and his safety. But drawing penalties is the result of hard work and moving your feet and doing the right things, and playing disciplined but playing with an edge and aggressive, so I think that’s kind of a testament to how he plays and how hard he works out there.”

Said Blasi: “He puts himself in that situation where he’s competing so hard for pucks that he’s going to take some punishment. As a smaller guy that’s just the name of the game – you’re just going to have to take it and move on.”

Besides the concussion, Richart said he has broken fingers a couple of times, fractured a foot on multiple occasions and has received countless stitches.

He also bruised a lung earlier this season and required medical treatment as he was coughing up blood. Richard missed just two games for the latter, the only times he has not been in the lineup in 2015-16.

“A couple of times I’ve gotten stitches this year and last year and just put some glue on it and repair after the period so I don’t miss time,” Richart said.

Richart as a senior (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Richart as a senior (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Whenever Richart has to visit a doctor, the paperwork heads north to his parents.

“My mom always gets the bills, an X-ray here, an X-ray there, there’s probably a stack about 20 deep,” Richart said. “They always joke that when I get an X-ray they know me by name there – I have a little VIP section where I go in.”

Caito is one of Richart’s best friends, and he said that Richart has earned the nickname The Deputy because of his militaristic routine.

“He’s real strict about his schedule and he gets all upset if you mess with it,” Williams said. “Kind of the iron fist.”

Richart has a 3.3 grade-point average as a sports leadership management major and will graduate this spring. He want to continue playing hockey in the professional ranks beyond this season but is currently focused on his final collegiate games as he wraps up his last few months in Oxford.

“The coaching staff, the guys – this place is just unbelievable,” Richart said. “Even the first time I came for my visit in the summer when no one was here, I knew this was the place for me. Everything is set up for you to succeed – the professors want you to succeed, the coaches want you to succeed, not only on ice but they want you to grow as a person. They care about you and they have so much respect for you. I’ve made some of the best friends I’ll have for life here. It’s been an unbelievable experience.”

Analysis: Margin for error low for Miami

OXFORD, Ohio – The better team won both games this weekend at Cady Arena.

Unfortunately for Miami, that meant after winning the series opener against Denver, the RedHawks fell to the Pioneers, 5-3 in the finale on Saturday.

The strange thing about Game 2 was Miami was badly outplayed in the first period but came away from that frame with the lead.

The RedHawks were much improved in the second and third periods but were outscored in both.

Typically in the ultra-competitve NCHC, teams splitting against a ranked in-conference team is OK, so long as they are beating the bottom dwellers.

The problem for Miami is it dug itself such a deep hole that 1-1 weekends are no longer suffice if it hopes to get back into NCAA Tournament contention.

At 24th in the PairWise, the RedHawks still have much work remaining before any serious NCAA talks can begin. And Miami now will play the majority of its nine remaining games away from Cady Arena.

As mentioned before, strength of schedule will help Miami if it gets to .500 or above, but one caveat as we move forward: The NCAA now requires teams to post at least a .500 winning percentage to qualify for an at-large bid.

But judging from its positioning in PairWise (24th) vs. its record (two games under .500), this looks like it will probably be a self-policing situation. Just wanted to throw it out there.

A 6-3 finish to the regualar season would suffice the winning percentage requirement, assuming Miami can win at least one in the best-of-3, and there’s a good chance that in that scenario that series would be played in Oxford.

It may take a 7-2 mark plus a trip to Minneapolis to get into the top 14 in PairWise, which is probably where Miami would need to advance to for a fairly safe NCAA berth.

The RedHawks’ small margin for error makes next weekend so important and such a high-risk, high-reward series, since wins will be tough to come by against the second-ranked (in the PairWise) Huskies but could be very lucrative.

Other thoughts…

– Back to the game…too many turnovers, especially in the first period when Miami seemingly was essentially in penalty kill mode for 20 minutes. Forwards didn’t seem to get back on D or backcheck very well, and after standing on his head for the first four periods of the weekend, senior goalie Jay Williams led in a couple of outside shots he normally stops. The flip side of that is: Denver is a very good team that played a very good game in most facets (goalie Tanner Jaillet wasn’t that great would be the only knock on the Pioneers in this one).

– Jack Roslovic’s set-up of Kiefer Sherwood was world class and was shown repeatedly on the big screen, as it should have been. A world-class play by a world-class player. He still needs to stop trying to carry the puck through three and four players, which he was probably able to get away with at the last level.

– Obviously skaters cannot record saves, but both Alex Gacek and Chris Joyaux kept pucks from going into the net by sprawling across the crease. Great effort by both on their respective “saves”.

– Our nightly GoalieGate update: There is no update. Ryan McKay was scratched again on Saturday, and it’s unknown if/when he will return. One thing of note regarding goalies: Ryan Larkin is with the team but is recovering from an upper body injury and is out for the season. Larkin, the cousin of Detroit Red Wings star Dylan Larkin, came to Oxford earlier this month to start on classwork and will be a freshman this fall. Good move by him and by the program.

GRADES

FORWARDS: C. They scored all three goals, but as mentioned above, the backchecking and defense by this group left much to be desired, and they turned the puck over way too much. Nice to see the Roslovic-Sherwood combo generating offense as well as Kuraly scoring by driving the net. So glad to see Alex Gacek having a solid senior season.

DEFENSEMEN: C. Kind of a comme ci, comme ca game for this group. No standouts for either good or bad reasons. It does bear mentioning that Louie Belpedio has been much more solid overall since returning from Finland.

GOALTENDING: C-. Tough call here. Williams was the difference in the first period but was 16 of 21 the final 40 minutes. To be fair, he had zero chance on the first goals, and on the fourth one Shore ended up with puck all alone in the slot for multiple seconds after an unfortunate bounce for Miami. And Williams made the initial save on the third goal. The second and fifth ones were two he would’ve wanted back, but the fifth one was a laser that found the top corner of the net.

LINEUP CHANGES: None again. This is the fifth straight game Coach Enrico Blasi has gone with these 18 skaters plus Williams in net.

Analysis: Forward thinking

OXFORD, Ohio – It’s funny how quickly things can change in hockey.

Three weeks ago, Miami was a one-line team, and the star of that forward combination was even fading.

Looking at the RedHawks’ past three games, including Friday’s 3-1 win over Denver at Cady Arena, it’s hard to rank their lines, as all are contributing in that all-important goal column.

And when they aren’t, they’re at least creating scoring chances or playing responsibly on defense.

Kevin Morris knocks home the clinching empty-net goal on Friday (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Kevin Morris knocks home the clinching empty-net goal on Friday (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Forwards Kevin Morris and Anthony Louis have been major reasons for Miami’s rejuvenated offense. Yes, they accounted for three points on Friday, including two of the team’s three goals, but as usual with hockey, there’s much more beyond the surface.

Morris’ pass to Roslovic for the eventual game-winner was as impressive as the goal itself, and his two-way play has made him one of the best forwards on the team in recent weeks.

Louis played well on D vs. No. 13 Denver (12-8-5) and was a pest all of Friday as he continues his annual second-half surge for Miami (10-11-3).

And yes, Roslovic was better as well, as he seemed more involved than he has been in the past few games, which is scary for opponents, especially with so many other forwards playing at a high level that opponents need to account for defensively.

Also, the fourth line didn’t account for any goals on Friday, but that Crash Cousins-plus-Ryan-Siroky unit played well in its grinding role after Conor Lemirande recorded a hat trick last Saturday.

Not to discount the defense corps, with the exception of a turnover-turned-goal, and the goaltending in this game in the least. But most that follow this team knew those areas weren’t going to be an issue this season.

Need a stat to back up blueliner play: Senior Taylor Richart blocked eight shots on Friday.

Other thoughts…

– Justin Greenberg made an incredibly selfless play on the PK in the first period, throwing his body at the puck near his defensive blue line to get the puck down the ice when Miami really needed a clear. Greenberg’s play hasn’t been mentioned above, but holy cow, talk about a candidate for most-improved player at this season’s awards banquet.

– Another player not mentioned to this point: Alex Gacek. It’s mind blowing that someone his size is able to lay out players twice his size, which he did multiple times on Friday. Yet another senior that is playing some of his best hockey in his final stretch run.

– It was Week 3 in GoalieGate for the RedHawks. Freshman Evan McCarthy was again the backup, as senior Ryan McKay was scratched. The reason for his suspension, or whatever we’re calling it, has been discussed ad nauseum, and BoB has no idea what the aftermath has been between McKay and the coaching staff, but here’s hoping it ends soon. McKay has been an exemplary player for 3½ years, and it’s tough to see this happen to a senior during his final stretch run. That said, even when McKay is reinstated, Jay Williams has been a wall in his absence, posting a .947 save percentage, so it may be tough for him to get into games with an .867 mark since the North Dakota series.

– As far as who outplayed whom between Denver and Miami, the first period was pretty even. MU generated a scoring chance in the opening seconds, but there were few of those in the opening stanza and both teams buried theirs. The RedHawks dominated the second period, and Denver was very strong in the final stanza, although Miami played well also. Very well-played game, the type we’ll likely see more of in the second half of the NCHC season.

– Well, the students were back for the first time since, well, before Thanksgiving, and it seemed to be an enthusiastic crowd. But the attendance for this game was still south of 3,000, which was disappointing, especially considering the magnitude and quality of this game.

And unfortunately for some fans that meant the return to non-rock for the entire game and not just the first and third periods plus most of the second. Apparently there was no reason to stop at bringing back four-decades-old Village Idiots steamer YMCA and band favorite from the same Musak era Sweet Caroline – a pro-Boston fossil, which…hey wait…doesn’t Miami dislike Boston after all of those BC and BU losses in the NCAAs? Fortunately we also added in 1950s great “Shout” to its almost exclusively dance club repertoire, as opposed to the rock selections every other rink in North America touts. Hey, let’s not stop there: Let’s break out some Irving Berlin and then work ourselves back to Beethoven and eventually the Baroque era for some Bach and Vivaldi. Worth repeating: Having been to hockey games in over a dozen states and now six Canadian provinces, beautiful Cady Arena has easily the worst music selections of any rink I’ve ever attended. Not even close.

– Sean Kuraly took two minors on the same shift at the end of the second period. The first one could’ve been debated. The second one for charging was un-captain-like. He has played so much better in recent weeks but he can’t let his emotions get the better of him.

– Were Taylor Richart’s eight blocks mentioned above? They were, but let’s mention them again.

GRADES

FORWARDS: A-. Two goals plus the empty netter, but still a great effort against a hot team with two solid goalies. Lots of standouts in this one: Morris for one, but also Roslovic, Louis, Greenberg – liked Zach LaValle in this one too as he continues to gain confidence.

DEFENSEMEN: B. Denver is a bit of a one-line team, and this corps was pretty good for the most part. Grant Hutton did turn the puck over for the Pioneers’ first goal, but he came back and played well after that. Amazing to see how much better Scott Dornbrock has gotten from Game 1 to Game 24. Richart had eight blocks. In case that wasn’t mentioned above.

GOALTENDING: A. To say Williams stole this game might be an overstatement, but Miami certainly doesn’t win without his effort. He looked a little vulnerable early, which is not uncommon with Williams, but he was a rock the final 40 minutes. A great pass and backhand resulted in Denver’s lone goal, and Williams made two unbelievable saves in the third period to preserve the 2-1 lead. Williams has allowed just six goals in his four-game winning streak and has a goals-against average of 1.33 since taking over in net.

LINEUP CHANGES: None. As mentioned previously, Coach Enrico Blasi typically likes to stick with a starting 18 by this point in the season, and it looks like this is the group. Hard to blame him, as it would be difficult to pick a weak link, but it’s always tough to see quality players sit in the stands, like Colin Sullivan and Devin Loe. The goaltending situation has been discussed at length, and it’s unclear if/when McKay will be re-instated.

Miami wins fourth straight vs. Denver

OXFORD, Ohio – The .500 mark is finally just a win away.

After a 6-11-3 start capped off by a seven-game winless streak, Miami has won four straight games, including a 3-1 win over No. 13 Denver at Cady Arena on Friday, to put itself back in NCAA contention.

Miami's Jack Roslovic celebrates his go-ahead goal (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Miami’s Jack Roslovic celebrates his go-ahead goal (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Freshman forward Jack Roslovic broke out of a mini-funk, scoring for just the second time in 11 games, while senior forward Kevin Morris and junior forward Anthony Louis stayed hot.

Morris found the net for the third straight game and Louis has recorded a goal in three of his last four contests.

The Pioneers (12-8-5) took the early lead, as Troy Terry slid a pass to Danton Heinen through the slot, and Heinen went to his backhand to slip the puck past RedHawks senior goalie Jay Williams just 7:06 into the first period.

But 90 seconds later, Louis dug a puck out of the corner, skated around the back of the net and stuffed it past goalie Evan Cowley on the far side to tie the score.

Roslovic gave Miami (10-11-3) the lead when he hammered a centering pass from Morris home on the power play with 2:14 remaining in the second period.

With just over a minute remaining in that period, senior forward Sean Kuraly was assessed two minor penalties, and Miami was forced to kill off four minutes of power play time.

Williams made eight saves in the final period – two in spectacular fashion – and 20 overall to pick up the win, his fourth in a row and 41st of his career. That moves him into solo control of fifth place all-time on the team’s career leaderboard, ahead of Richard Shulmistra and five behind Connor Knapp.

Morris skated in and tapped home an empty netter with 23 seconds to play, sealing the RedHawks’ win. He finished with a goal and an assist, and sophomore defenseman Scott Dornbrock picked up a pair of helpers.

Louis and freshman forward Josh Melnick extended their points streaks to five games. Louis has three goals and three assists in that span, and Melnick has five helpers.

Morris has a three-game goal streak, going 3-2-5 after picking up five points the first 21 games this season.

Senior defenseman Matthew Caito has also recorded points in three consecutive tilts (1-3-4). Dornbrock, who had one assist the first 22 games, has three in the last two games.

Miami vaulted Nebraska-Omaha and moved into a tie with Minnesota-Duluth for fourth place in the NCHC standings. UNO fell, 5-1 to Colorado College and UMD played an out-of-conference game.

The RedHawks have a game in hand vs. Minn.-Duluth, against whom they finish the regular season on the road.

Miami surged into a tie for 18th in the PairWise rankings, which determine the teams that make the NCAA Tournament.

These teams wrap up their weekend series at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday at Cady Arena.

Preview: Denver at Miami

WHO: No. 13 Denver Pioneers (12-7-5) at Miami RedHawks (9-11-3).

WHERE: Cady Arena, Oxford, Ohio.

WHEN: Friday–7:05 p.m.; Saturday–7:05 p.m.

TV: Friday–CBS College Sports (DirecTV Ch. 221); Saturday–Fox Sports Alternate (DirecTV Ch. 608-1).

DENVER RADIO: Friday–KEPN-AM (1600), Denver, Colo.; Saturday–KKFN-FM (104.3).

MIAMI RADIO: Both nights–WMOH-AM (1450), Hamilton, Ohio; WKBV-AM (1490), Richmond, Ind.

NOTES: Miami has six home games left on its schedule with four to be played in the next nine days.

The RedHawks are coming off a huge sweep at then-No. 7 Nebraska-Omaha and have won three straight games after a 6-11-3 start.

But Denver is also on a hot streak, unbeaten in its last eight contests (5-0-3), as the Pioneers have surged into third place in the NCHC.

DU goalie Tanner Jaillet was pulled last Friday after surrendering two goals on seven shots, and the Pioneers came back to win with Evan Cowley in net. Cowley is 73 of 74 since, so there’s an excellent chance he’s in net for the series opener, especially since Jaillet has an .897 save percentage vs. Miami.

No one on Denver’s roster has scored 10 goals, but seven skaters have five or more makers.

Dylan Gambrell – a freshman – leads the Pioneers in points with 24 on seven goals and 17 assists, and Trevor Moore leads the team in assists with 18 and has 21 points.

Danton Heinen has a team-best nine goals and has nine assists for 18 points.

The Pioneers have two blueliners who create offense as well. Will Butcher, a Colorado Avalanche draftee, has five goals and 11 assists, and Nolan Zajac – younger brother of NHLer Travis Zajac – has notched a goal and 12 helpers.
Freshman forward Josh Melnick has recorded points in four straight games, and senior forward Sean Kuraly and junior forward Anthony Louis have points in three consecutive tilts. Kuraly has notched six points during his run, including five assists.

Jay Williams.

Jay Williams.

Senior Jay Williams has been in net for all three of Miami’s wins during its current run. Classmate Ryan McKay has been scratched for all those games, and it’s unclear if he will return to the lineup this weekend.

These teams are 9-9 all-time against each other. They split their four regular season games in 2014-15, and Miami beat Denver in the NCHC Tournament. The Pioneers ended the RedHawks’ 2013-14 season by winning in the NCHC final.

Blue line is Caito’s institute

OXFORD, Ohio – A successful career in college athletics has always been in Matthew Caito’s pedigree.

Several members of the senior defenseman’s family have competed for Division I schools.

But not in hockey, a seemingly unlikely sport of choice for a 22-year-old raised in Southern California.

His parents, both college athletes originally from New England, encouraged the 5-feet-11, 187-pound Caito to choose hockey, and it was a natural fit.

“They just really started getting me into it, and I really liked it,” Caito said. “Got my first stick when I was really little and I fell in love with it.”

Caito’s father and grandfather both played football for Boston University, and he had uncles that suited up for the Boston College and University of Pittsburgh football teams.

Matthew Caito confronting a Notre Dame player as a freshman (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Matthew Caito confronting a Notre Dame player as a freshman (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

His aunts played field hockey, and his mother was a collegiate gymnast.

The increasingly-violent nature of football is why Caito was steered away from the gridiron. However, rinks are rare in the San Diego suburb of Coto de Caza, where he hails from.

With limited local practice facilities, Caito spent of lot of time traveling in search of ice.

“It’s tough – the minimum ride is probably 30 minutes with no traffic, and with traffic it’s probably an hour-plus,” Caito said. “My parents were always good about getting me there, so I really thank them for all of the time and effort that they put into that – getting me to practices every day.”

Caito’s hockey talent was obvious, so during his high school years he was sent across the country to the Salisbury prep school in Connecticut, where he joined current teammate Kevin Morris.

“That’s where you kind of gauge yourself when you’re younger,” Caito said. “Obviously you’ve got to realize you’ve got time to develop, so going back east where it’s easier (to be discovered), that was really the gauging point where maybe I could do something with this.”

Following two years in prep school, Caito spent one season in juniors, playing for Dubuque, where he was second in defenseman points (26) and first among blueliners in assists (19). He finished that campaign with the second-best plus-minus on the team at plus-16.

Matthew Caito as a freshman (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Matthew Caito as a freshman (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

During his prep school years, Caito participated an evaluation camp in Oxford with former RedHawk Riley Barber while current MU assistant coach Brent Brekke was in attendance, setting the stage for Caito’s Miami career.

Caito fell in love with the campus as soon as he saw it. Knowing that friends and classmates Jay Williams and Alex Gacek, who were also in east-coast prep schools, were both committed to Miami helped seal his decision.

“I’m like, if there’s more kids like these that are coming in with my class these are going to be a great four years, and it’s been that way,” Caito said.

A goal of Caito’s was to come to Oxford as a true freshman, and after just one season in the USHL, he dressed for Miami on opening night in October of 2012.

Matthew Caito at the outdoor game at Soldier Field in 2013 (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Matthew Caito at the outdoor game at Soldier Field in 2013 (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

“He’s obviously pretty offensive-minded at times, but he’s very dependable, pretty good defensively,” RedHawks coach Enrico Blasi said. “We just felt like he would be an all-around player for us on the D-side of things.”

All he did his rookie season was lead the RedHawks in defensemen goals, assists and points (5-6-21).

“Obviously he’s tremendously talented and he’s got the work ethic and the right mindset and the good head on his shoulders,” Williams said. “He comes to work every day to make the most of it. Pretty much from Day 1 he’s been first D-pair for us and played 30 minutes a night. Just the experience and the attitude he brings is invaluable to the team.”

He was the lone freshman to play every game in 2012-13, led Miami with 81 blocked shots and he tied for third with a plus-12 rating on a team that advanced to the NCAA regional final in Toledo.

“He just has a knack for seeing the ice,” senior defenseman Taylor Richart said. “Stretch plays that will open up, and he’ll know it’s going to open up before that even happens. I think that’s just having the hockey IQ that he has and just studying the game – he’s always watching video, stuff like that – I think knowing the players and being around the game so much, he knows what’s going to happen before it actually happens.”

Matthew Caito as a sophomore (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Matthew Caito as a sophomore (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Sophomore season was a disappointing one for the RedHawks overall, the lone campaign in the last 10 years they did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament, but Caito led the team in blocks again with 73.

Matthew Caito as a junior (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Matthew Caito as a junior (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

He also topped the defense corps in assists (13) and points (16), finishing with more helpers than the second- and third-best D-men combined in that category.

It was another solid season for Caito as a junior, as he went 4-20-24 – again posting Miami defensemen highs in the latter two – and he led the team with a plus-19 rating and in blocked shots with 64. That includes a goal and an assist in the RedHawks’ NCAA Tournament loss to Providence.

“Matty’s decision-making has gotten a lot better at times,” Blasi said. “When he’s playing well he keeps things simple he makes smart plays in the defensive zone and the offensive zone.”

This season, Caito has three goals and six assists for nine points and 32 blocks. All of his goals have come on the power play, and he netted the game winner at Nebraska-Omaha on Jan. 22 in a 3-1 win over the seventh-ranked Mavericks.

That’s a total of 250 blocked shots. In 3½ seasons, Caito has recorded 15 goals and 55 assists for 70 points. He currently ranks ninth in school history in defenseman assists and points and is tied for eighth in markers.

Matthew Caito and Taylor Richart celebrate after winning the NCHC championship in 2015 (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Matthew Caito and Taylor Richart celebrate after winning the NCHC championship in 2015 (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

“For the most part he’s been really dependable and reliable back there for us,” Blasi said. “He’s played a lot of minutes and a lot of games for us, and that’s what we thought we saw in the future when we were recruiting him. I would say he’s done everything that we expected him to do.”

In the Cady Arena era, Alec Martinez is the only defenseman with more goals than Caito, and Martinez has won a pair of Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings.

And then there’s Caito’s durablility. He has missed one game in his career at Miami, and that was the opener in 2014-15. He has played in 142 games and is just 16 shy of cracking the top 10 in team history.

For that to happen, the RedHawks need to play three postseason games, and they are guaranteed two in the best-of-3 first-round series under the NCHC format. Curtis McKenzie and Joe Hartman are currently tied for ninth all-time with 158 games played.

The statistics don’t always do responsible defensemen justice, but Caito has improved in his play across the board, from clearing pucks on the penalty kill to becoming more physical and knocking forwards entering the offensive zone around.

“I’m happy, it’s all like the simple plays and consistency is the big thing I’ve learned since being a freshman and coming in and all that,” Caito said. “Really, playing sound in my own end and making good decisions with the puck is a huge thing. And then offensively, working with Coach Blasi and Coach (Nick) Petraglia and Coach Brekke, just working on finding lanes to the net and finding guys’ sticks – simple stuff that helps you statistically over the years.”

Richart is one of his best friends on the team, and the two have been friends since coming to Oxford. The duo is nicknamed the Rock Brothers because they are so close, and both are similarly solid on defense.

“I knew (Caito) a little bit playing against him in juniors…and when I met him my visit freshman year I knew he was going to be one of the hard workers,” Richart said. “Kind of had his head on straight, and I looked up to him right when I first got here because I knew he was a good defenseman. He knew what he was talking about – defensive partner to (Steve) Spinell – so comes to the rink, works hard every day. He’s a great kid.”

Richart has seen Caito’s improvement first hand over the past four years.

“I think his all-around game defensively, always closing guys off, being tough to play against, a tough-nosed defenseman,” Richart said. “He has that offensive side to him, too, where his shot is great. He knows when to step up into the play, and he knows when to stay back, and I think (his) reading the situation has gotten a lot better with him.”

Matthew Caito as a senior (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Matthew Caito as a senior (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

And Caito has made Williams’ life much easier in front of him with his tough defensive play.

“He’s so smart with the puck and he’s so steady, and his consistency – you know what you’re going to get,” Williams said. “Good day, bad day, whatever, he’s real steady, real even-keeled. He keeps his emotions in check, and he’s just a tremendous player.”

Caito is set to graduate this spring with a 3.0 grade-point average in sports management with a minor in economics.

His professional future appears bright. Any AHL team would be lucky to have a two-way defenseman with Caito’s talent.

But for the next couple of months, Caito is focused on completing his degree and his senior season, and he reflected on his time at Miami.

“It’s meant so much,” Caito said. “I have my best friends here – I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Just to share it with these guys is awesome. The school is beautiful, everyone around it is great, great community, great experience, and it’s something that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”

Analysis: Miami thriving late in games?

Following Miami’s painful struggles late in games earlier this season, the RedHawks have now pulled off back-to-wins in the closing minutes.

The RedHawks beat No. 7 Nebraska-Omaha, 3-1 at Baxter Arena on Friday, thanks largely to senior defenseman Matthew Caito’s one-timer that put MU ahead for good with 2:03 left.

Miami also beat Bowling Green on Oxford last weekend on a marker by senior forward Anthony Louis in the final seconds.

This game was payback for earlier in the season when the Mavericks stole four points from the RedHawks in the Oxford series. A third-period goal helped UNO earn a tie in the first game of that set, and Nebraska-Omaha took the finale in overtime.

Coming out on the wrong side numerous times in the first half of this campaign had two possible outcomes: 1) Crash and burn, let’s try it again next fall, or 2) get stronger, learn how to deal with those situations and start winning.

At least in the last seven days, Miami looks like it has chosen the latter.

It’s obvious 22 games into this season that this isn’t the 2007-08 RedHawks in terms of talent, or even the 2014-15 team. Miami clearly doesn’t have that kind of offensive firepower.

But there’s still plenty of talent there, and the freshmen development – Ryan Siroky, Kiefer Sherwood, Josh Melnick, Grant Hutton, Zach LaValle – has been steady. Jack Roslovic needs to get going again, but he is likely the most talented of all the RedHawks and the smart money is on him heating up again soon.

Anthony Louis is doing his annual getting-hot-in-the-second-half thing. Sean Kuraly looks so much better than he did in October when he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. Alex Gacek is having his best season, and it’s fun to watch his supersonic speed.

The defense is so good that poor Colin Sullivan – a top six on almost every team in Division I – can’t get into the lineup consistently. Scott Dornbrock, who was maybe the No. 5 or 6 blueliner coming in, has been a rock the last few games, and the three seniors on that corps are playing like Miami seniors should.

Williams2

Jay Williams

And let’s not discount goaltending. Since the Ryan McKay meltdown, Jay Williams is 2-0 with a 0.80 goals-against average and a .968 save percentage.

Not piling on McKay, but all along it looked like this team needed something to fire it up. Perhaps in some way that was it. College seniors like Williams who are in the final stretch run of their amateur careers can do amazing things when given the opportunity.

Miami will need to win a lot more games like this: Low-scoring, tight-checking contests against top 10 teams. But for two games at least, the RedHawks appear up for the challenge, and there is still plenty of time for them to get back into NCAA Tournament contention.

Other thoughts…

– 76 faceoffs. Yikes. The officials probably have sore jaws from using their whistles. Still too many off-sides and icing violations for late January, and Miami won less than half of those draws.

– Overall, Miami has been much better in the third period in recent games. In their last six contests, the RedHawks have outscored opponents, 7-3 in the final stanza.

– Speaking of officiating, it was pretty bad both ways. The penalties were inconsistent, and even the announcers were stunned that Zach LaValle’s goal was overturned. For those who didn’t see, LaValle backhanded a loose puck after UNO goalie Zach Blankenburg made an initial save. Blankenburg was sprawled out, and LaValle grazed him with his skate as he addressed the puck, but the goalie was in no way interfered with.

– But Miami kept up the surge in that second period, outshooting the Mavericks, 15-6 after an evenly-played, slow-paced first frame.

– This game was nationally broadcast on CBS College Sports, but for a brand-new arena that looked beautiful, the in-game camera was way too far away, making it difficult to follow the puck at times even in HD.

Starman

Star Man

– While Ben Holden and the Starmen do a great job with all college hockey broadcasts – this one being no exception – the lovefest for Austin Ortega was Pat Cannone-esque over the top. And their nickname of California Hot Sauce is a stretch at best. Actually, isn’t the Ortega brand best known for its taco sauce?

– Apparently Miami has truly reached the big time, as play-by-play announcer Greg Waddell was picked up from the Omaha airport via limo.

GRADES

FORWARDS: B-. Not a fan of the Roslovic-Justin Greenberg-Sherwood line combination, although it did produce the first goal. For the most part, there’s no chemistry between the trio, and Sherwood scored after seizing a loose puck caused by Greenberg absorbing a hit, which while a good hockey play has nothing to do with players jelling.

Miami's Anthony Louis (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Miami’s Anthony Louis (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Roslovic is too good to have his offensive prowess stifled and needs to play on a line that enhances his game instead of hindering it. Liking the Louis-Melnick-Gacek line though. Louis was everywhere in this game, and Melnick had one of his best efforts in recent history as well. Bottom line: They generated two goals – should’ve been three with LaValle’s shot – and one was an empty netter. But the effort was solid, and this corps should be able to continue building from this game.

DEFENSEMEN: B. Caito’s game winner was the biggest play of the game. Hutton and Dornbrock stepped up in this one, and the rest of this group played at its usual high level. The double minor to Chris Joyaux did lead to UNO’s lone goal, although the case could’ve been made that it should’ve been coincidentals after the retaliation slashes Joyaux too. But still, this Mavericks team is too potent to get five power plays.

GOALTENDING: A+. Here’s where the game was won. Williams stopped 27 of 28 shots, and the one that got by was a rip by one of the top scorers in college hockey on a one-timer off a pass through the slot on the power play. Williams had no chance on it. He made the save of the year with his glove in the first period off a one-timer from right on the doorstep in the first period, shut down another excellent chance off a passing play through the offensive zone and made a big stop after Miami had taken the lead to preserve the win. With Miami’s lack of offense, the pressure on Williams must be intense, and he has stepped up the challenge back-to-back games.

LINEUP CHANGES: None. This is about the time of year that Coach Enrico Blasi likes to settle on 18 skaters and stick with it for the most part, and it looks like this is the group he likes for the stretch run. Michael Mooney and Colin Sullivan were scratched for the second straight game, and Devin Loe has not dressed in any of the last four. Ryan McKay also sat again, as third goalie Evan McCarthy remained in the active backup role for the second consecutive tilt.

Late goal lifts Miami over No. 7 UNO

Miami’s power play could not have picked a better time to break out of its funk.

Matthew Caito (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Matthew Caito (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Senior defenseman Matthew Caito ripped home the decisive goal late in the third period as the RedHawks took down No. 7 Nebraska-Omaha, 3-1 at Baxter Arena on Friday.

The win snapped a seven-game road losing streak for Miami and vaulted the RedHawks into a tie for 23rd in the PairWise rankings, which determine qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.

There was no flow in a first period that ended scoreless.

Early in the second period, Miami freshman forward Zach LaValle appeared to open the scoring with a behind-the-back backhand that slid into the net. It was ruled a goal on the ice but was reversed by the officials, claiming LaValle interfered with the goaltender.

But the RedHawks (8-11-3) kept the pressure on, and classmate and fellow forward Kiefer Sherwood bounced off a defender, seized the puck and whipped a wrister home from the slot after skating in from along the boards with 6:13 left in the middle frame.

The Mavericks (15-7-1) tied it 3:32 into the third period when a wide-open Austin Ortega ripped a one-timer into the net off a pass through the crease.

Miami junior forward Anthony Louis won a battle along the boards with a strong stick, skated to the side of the net and threaded a pass through the slot to the top of the opposite faceoff circle, where Caito blasted the go-ahead goal into the top of the net with 2:03 left.

Senior forward Kevin Morris added an empty netter with 27 seconds remaining to cap the scoring.

Caito finished with a goal and an assists, and senior goalie Jay Williams stopped 27 shots, including a grade-A chance on a one-timer from point-blank range, to earn his third straight win and the RedHawks’ second overall as well.

Louis now has four points in his last three games (1-3-4), and freshman Josh Melnick also has a three-game point streak, picking up a helper in each.

MU entered this game 1-for-20 in its last eight games on the man advantage.

The RedHawks moved to within a point of Western Michigan for sixth place in the NCHC standings and are three back of the Mavericks, meaning Miami could catch UNO with a win in Game 2 of the road set.

The teams wrap up the series in Omaha at 8:07 p.m. on Saturday.