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Miami downed by North Dakota

After a scoreless first period that saw Miami outshoot North Dakota, 9-4, the Fighting Hawks clicked off three straight crucial goals in the middle stanza.

That was more than enough offense for UND, which beat the RedHawks, 4-1 at Ralph Engelstad Arena on Friday.

One of those early Fighting Hawks shots was a 5-on-3 slam-dunk one-timer that Miami goalie Ryan Larkin was somehow able to keep out of the net.

But North Dakota (7-2-2) broke through seconds after a later RedHawks power play ended. Nick Jones, who had just been released from the penalty box, took an outlet pass and went in for a breakaway, skating around a sprawling Larkin for a tap-in goal four minutes into the second period.

Rhett Gardner made it 2-0 when he skated behind the Miami net and tucked the puck inside the post on a wraparound with 3:43 left in that frame.

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

Less than two minutes later, UND extended the lead to three when Jones located a loose puck at the top of the crease and banged it home.

Karch Bachman got the RedHawks (4-5) on the board off a rebound when he poked a loose puck in the crease around a defender and into the net with 13:34 left in regulation.

But the Fighting Hawks regained their three-goal lead with 8:34 left. Grant Mismash poked at a loose puck that was under Larkin, and it crossed the goal line to make it 4-1.

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

Bachman’s goal was his second of the season, and both defensemen Grant Frederic and Alec Mahalak picked up their first assists of 2017-18. It was the first point of Mahalak’s career.

Despite the final three-goal disparity, Miami outshot North Dakota, 28-26, thanks largely to a 9-4 advantage in the first period.

The RedHawks have now logged 10 conference road games without a win, going 0-8-2 in that stretch. MU’s last away victory was at North Dakota in January.

These teams will wrap up the weekend series at 8:07 p.m. on Saturday.

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Analysis: Eerie parallels to Plymouth

A week after winning an exhibition against Team USA, 7-5 on the road, Miami beat Maine by the same score in its first regular season road game of the season on Friday.

The odds of winning back-to-back road games by that score are pretty long, but it gets weirder.

– Grant Hutton had never scored multiple goals in a game prior to last week. He netted two vs. the USNDT and two vs. Maine.

– Josh Melnick had never recorded three assists – or even three points – in a game. His line was 0-3-3 in both contests.

– Got one better: The last time Miami and its opponent had both found the net at least three times in the second period? Oct. 17, 2009. The RedHawks outscored the U-18 squad, 4-3 in the middle stanza last week. On Friday both teams connected three times in that frame.

And that wild game 5-5 road tie eight years ago to the date? Nope, it wasn’t against Maine, but it was at the closest Division I school to Orono – at New Hampshire, less than 200 miles away.

Winning a road exhibition had to instill confidence in a team that had gone so long between victories. Traveling over 1,000 miles to beat a Division I team is way better.

The freshmen have a win under their belt after an 0-2 start including a brutal ending to Game 2. The sophomores finally got back on the winning track after a seemingly eternal winless streak and the veterans needed the pick-me-up as well after a lack of success Miami’s past couple of seasons.

Other thoughts…

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

– Amazing how Grant Hutton went from a zero-goal freshman campaign to being one of the biggest defenseman scoring threats in recent history. He netted nine last season and has three in three games in 2017-18.

That’s 12 in 39 games. The rest of the RedHawks entire D-corps has the same number in that span.

Also, Hutton’s goals have all come on the power play, as he is in a nine-way tie for first in the NCAA in PPGs and among just three defensemen with three man-advantage tallies.

– Love seeing Karch Bachman score. He seems to create a scoring chance every time he’s on the ice, and he was rewarded with ice/power play time on the Kiefer Sherwood line. Here’s hoping he gets more time on the man-advantage and the penalty kill, where he held his own vs. Providence. He’s got great speed, a great shot and an active stick that creates turnovers. He could break out this season.

– We saw the Josh Melnick-Gordie Green chemistry in Plymouth, and that was on display again on the east coast. They were on the ice together for five of Miami’s goals, and one or the other was out there in each of the team’s seven markers.

– Casey Gilling: 16-4 in the faceoff circle on Friday. This is a very welcome stat, as it’s an area in which the RedHawks have struggled in recent years.

– On the flip side, Miami still has work to do defensively, as it has allowed 10 goals in six periods (albeit one of those games didn’t count), and it won’t score seven goals a game the rest of the season. Ryan Larkin faced 25 shots and allowed five goals last night, and his save percentage is just .857 thus far. His defense needs to help him see fewer high-quality chances, and he needs to stop more of the ones he does face.

Analysis: Taking in the weekend

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

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

Then came the final seconds.

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

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

THE GOOD

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE BAD

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

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

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

THE CONCLUSION

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

GRADES

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

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

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

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

Analysis: Win Saturday is a must

OXFORD, Ohio – Surely Miami’s winless streak has to end on Saturday, right?

If the RedHawks can’t at least earn one win on its home ice against Colorado College, MU will have to beat a top-20 team to snap its skid, since every one of its remaining opponents is ranked.

The RedHawks skated to their 10th straight non-win on Friday, tying the Tigers, 1-1 at Cady Arena. It was Miami’s third consecutive NCHC deadlock, and the team has yet to win in conference play (0-4-3).

After its series finale vs. CC on Saturday, MU is off the next two weeks, then it’s off to Ohio State. The Buckeyes are ranked No. 10 in the USCHO poll.

Here’s the remaining schedule with team rankings.

at No. 10 Ohio State
No. 17 ST. CLOUD (2)
at No. 8 North Dakota (2)
at No. 20 UNO (2)
No. 18 W. MICHIGAN (2)
at No. 17 St. Cloud (2)

(then it really gets fun)

No. 2 DENVER
at No. 1 Minn.-Duluth
No. 8 NORTH DAKOTA

Now back to this series.

The Tigers entered this weekend having lost seven straight and had allowed 31 goals in that span. Only one of their first 14 opponents had been held to one goal, yet Miami was unable to get out of the binary range.

Considering both teams’ woes, it’s sort of fitting that neither team would come away from Friday with a win.

But this can’t happen for Miami on Saturday if it wants to salvage this season.

The RedHawks’ finale against CC is their 17th game of the season. A win would put them at 4-8-5, and they would probably need to go at least 12-5 for get into PairWise-at large consideration.

A tall order, certainly, but a loss in this one would force a 13-4 finish or better. Reference the above remaining schedule to see Miami’s chances, or any NCAA team’s odds of winning 13 of 17 against those opponents.

Twelve wins in 17 would give Miami 43 points with a win vs. Colorado College and 40 with a loss. That could be the difference between an all-important fourth seed and home-ice advantage in the first round of the NCHC’s or a fifth seed and a road trip in a hostile rink to extend its season like in 2015-16.

The RedHawks have a ton of work to do if they hope to get back into NCAA consideration but that workload increases substantially if they can’t pick the only low-hanging fruit remaining on their schedule.

Other thoughts…

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

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

– This game was actually pretty boring, which can be expected when two teams that aren’t playing well show why their records are where they are. But just based on Friday’s 65-minute sample, it doesn’t look like Colorado College has the talent to compete in this league, while Miami is underachieving among other issues. Heading into the second half of the year, the RedHawks are in the better position to turn things around.

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

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

– Coach Enrico Blasi has been playing with the lines, and one interesting combination was Gordie Green, Josh Melnick and Karch Bachman. Green was a solid point producer in the USHL but he has just four this season and two since opening night. Bachman has blazing speed and a great shot but he hasn’t been cast into a role in which he can thrive. Green set up Bachman with a couple of great passes and Bachman nearly found the net. It’s a small line with a ton of speed and has a lot of potential.

Miami forward Josh Melnick (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Miami forward Josh Melnick (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

– Speaking of Melnick, he was double-shifted nearly the entire second period, joining the fourth line as well as his own. Colin Sullivan was listed as a forward but played a significant amount of defense and Melnick absorbed much of his ice time up front.

– Can’t take credit for this line – heard it used by Mike Babcock but not sure if he was the originator either – but if Miami’s power play gets much worse the RedHawks want to consider declining penalties. In six minutes on the man advantage Miami generated one shot. MU has not scored a PPG in five games.

– The attendance for this one was a season-low 1,992 despite class still being in session. That’s the worst gate total at Cady since Jan. 9 during the J-term. If this team doesn’t get better expect a half-empty arena the second half of the year.

GRADES

FORWARDS: D+. Colorado College isn’t an impressive lot yet Miami scored just one goal. The RedHawks had some dominant stretches but that should be a given against a team that is 3-11 and ranked in the bottom 20 percent of college hockey. Louis did have eight shots. Justin Greenberg continues to get better on faceoffs and may be the team’s best forward on draws at this point.

DEFENSEMEN: B. This corps kept the mistakes to a minimum, which has not always been the case this season. Grant Frederic quietly seems to get better every game. The strange thing with Miami’s defensemen is that three seasons ago only Matthew Caito appeared to have the green light to join the rush, and the other blueliners would act like they had bungie cords tied to them when they reached the blue line. Now all six/seven jump in all the time, sometimes even going behind opponents’ nets. Can there be a happy medium?

GOALTENDING: B+. Ryan Larkin was solid as usual but didn’t see a ton of high-percentage shots. He continues to do a fantastic job with positioning and controlling rebounds. Not sure what happened on the goal – it was a weird angle and seemed to surprise Larkin. It didn’t look like he saw it very well. What a goalie allows one goal his team should win most nights.

LINEUP CHANGES: Can this team ever get completely healthy? Jared Brandt missed his second straight game with an upper body injury but shouldn’t be out much longer. He has been a solid stay-at-home defenseman on a Miami team that has really needed a solid stay-at-home defenseman. The RedHawks played their other seven defensemen, with Sullivan listed at forward to start the game. At forward, Willie Knierim was a rare scratch and Alex Alger sat for the third straight game.

Analysis: MU still reeling in 3rd period

A week off and the return of two key players were not enough to lift Miami out of the doldrums.

Despite a promising start that saw the RedHawks jump out to a two-goal lead, Cornell rallied to a 4-2 win over MU on Friday.

That makes eight straight games without a win for Miami (3-7-4), its longest winless span in two decades. And in the third period, the RedHawks have allowed 14 goals during their slump. They’ve scored twice.

Closing out games has been a residual theme for Miami over the past decade – since That Game That Will Not Be Mentioned, really – but right now this team is really in a third-period funk.

The parity in college hockey is too great to give games away, and this is the second time during this skid that Miami has done just that. Flip those losses to wins – not a stretch considering MU led by two late in the second period of both games in question – and the RedHawks are 5-5-4.

In the NCHC, one or two games over .500 is good enough for NCAA consideration, and Miami would be right there.

Youth becomes less of an excuse every time this team takes the ice. Yes, the RedHawks still have 14 freshmen on their roster, but they’ve been playing competitive games for two months now and most of these guys come in at 19, 20 or 21 now.

We’ll say it again: Having a young team means so much less in hockey than it does in the Big Two. There’s the older player factor (only Willie Knierim is a true freshman) and these guys play 70-game seasons in juniors prior to college.

Of the previous eight seasons, Miami has advanced in the NCAA Tournament three times. Twice it has been during the freshman-heavy recruiting campaign. The other was 2009-10, a team with eight sophomores and only four seniors, went to the Frozen Four.

That’s not to say this team won’t get better as the season progresses. But there’s no excuse for any team to squander multiple multiple-goal leads late.

The RedHawks play 34 regular season games. This was Game 14, with Game 15 set for Saturday night. Miami returns home to host Colorado College for a pair, which will take the team to the midway point of its schedule.

Granted, four ties essentially equals two wins, but the RedHawks need to string together some W’s quickly or they could be looking at another short postseason and long off-season.

Other thoughts…

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

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

– First a couple of positives. Carson Meyer returned after missing four straight games, and he scored Miami’s first goal. In 10 games he has three markers and eight assists for a freshman-best 11 points.

– Captain Louie Belpedio also was back in the RedHawks’ lineup, having sat the last six with a lower body injury. Miami was outshot in every game he was out – 220-151 in those contests – and the RedHawks actually led, 31-25 in SOG on Friday. On the flip side, he took three penalties down the stretch and Cornell scored Goal No. 4 on the second minor.

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

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

– Goals: Other than Meyer, Grant Hutton scored his fourth of the season after posting no goals and five assists in 2015-16. Also, freshman Karch Bachman recorded the first of his college career. This pair led the team in shots: Bachman finished with six and Hutton – a defensive defenseman – ended the night with five.

– Miami was only on the power play twice on Friday while Cornell (6-3-1) had six chances on the man-advantage. That differential of minus-4 opportunities was a season low for the RedHawks. MU was outscored, 1-0 on the man-advantage and obviously lost by one goal overall.

– Talk about a slick highlights reel: Check out the one the Big Red put together for Friday’s game. Or, considering the outcome, maybe just watch the first half.

Analysis: Miami solid in home debut

OXFORD, Ohio – Miami fans have been through the early-season Ohio State litmus test before.

Beat up on the woeful Buckeyes, inspire the team and fanbase with hope only to see that gauge prove wrong once the RedHawks face stiffer conference competition later in the season.

But Saturday was different. Miami didn’t beat the Buckeyes, tying them 1-1 at Cady Arena in their home opener, and yet this game gave those in attendance a better understanding of where the RedHawks are than most previous meetings with OSU with a freshman-laden team.

The reason is: Ohio State is a lot better than it has been in recent seasons.

Entering play at 1-0-1 including a win at then-No. 3 Denver, this edition of the Buckeyes has speed and can move the puck. These essential attributes were severely lacking as recently as last October.

This was an entertaining game to watch, more from a purist fan perspective than a casual fan one, as these teams did those unsexy things like backcheck, get sticks in lanes and shut down shooting lanes.

But there was still plenty of fast-paced, end-to-end action that is sometimes lacking in October contests as teams are still trying to build chemistry.

Miami started sluggishly, with a bad turnover at its own blue line by sophomore Kiefer Sherwood ultimately ending up in his own net five minutes in. The team looked nervous on its home ice.

The RedHawks were much improved in the second and third periods, although OSU owned overtime.

No one knew what this team would look like when it actually hit the ice this month: Not the fans, media, coaches or even the players themselves. Now after three games we all have a better idea.

There is certainly plenty of room for improvement for Miami, but if Saturday is any indication – and this game vs. Ohio State is a much better barometer than those Buckeyes matchups in the past – there is cause for optimism among those who root for this team.

Other thoughts…

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

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

– First, it’s really hard to evaluate nine freshman in a 65-minute game when you haven’t seen seven of them play before. The overall impression was that one skater really stood out: Karch Bachman. Bachman, who is a Florida Panthers draftee, has excellent speed and a nose for the net. He was placed on Sherwood’s line, and the two worked exceptionally well together, with Sherwood lobbing outlet passes to him and Bachman using his speed to track them down. It should be a lot of fun watching these two develop together if they remain linemates.

Gordie Green and Carson Meyer also impressed among the new forwards. Green is small but seems to do everything, from playmaking to puckhandling to defending. Meyer appears poised to make his mark in the scoring column, as he displayed his missile of a shot a couple of times. He scored 32 times in his first full season in the USHL in 2015-16.

Miami used three freshman on defense, and none were terribly noticeable, but that’s meant as a compliment because blueliners often have their names called after making mistakes.

And we can’t forget to mention Ryan Larkin. His Cady Arena debut was quite impressive, with his rebound shot save in overtime and breakaway stop in the third period. Coach Enrico Blasi has started the season by giving the backups a start in the first couple of games most years, and it speaks to what Blasi thinks of Larkin that the netminder has been the lone goalie in net for the RedHawks through three games.

– It truly is a game of inches. Sherwood hit a crossbar and Bachman rang one off the post, both on excellent scoring chances. If those two remain together they’re going to be a force on this team.

– Talk about a game of highs and lows for new captain and junior defenseman Louie Belpedio. Belpedio looked flat-out lost on the ice in the first period, committing multiple egregious turnovers and handling the puck poorly early. But his second-period laser from the high slot resulted in MU’s only goal, and he appeared to settle down dramatically after the first 20 minutes. It was his first game as team captain on home ice, and that role has hindered the past two Miami players to wear the ‘C’ early in the season.

– [rant] For the love of God, can we please not have 3-on-3 and skills contests when they mean nothing? They’re passable at best during conference play, but Saturday they served no purpose other than to confuse fans and unnecessarily have players risk injury and/or suspension.

So after five minutes of 5-on-5 overtime, the game was officially a tie. Miami and Ohio State are no longer in the same conference, so shake hands and call it a night, right?

Nope. The teams skated three a side for five minutes – perhaps for fun? – and then participated in an abbreviated shootout, which supposedly the Buckeyes won.

The purpose is clear: College hockey wants winners and losers in each game, and the NCAA is slowly working toward that goal or at least is evaluating its current system. We get that.

But the major problem is that fans who don’t live and breathe with their teams don’t have a clue what’s going on. For decades hockey has been all about trying to grow the game, which is really tough with such nuanced rules. Why confuse your fans about the most important aspect of the game: The decision?

One knowledgeable fan asked me after the 5-on-5 if the game was officially over for NCAA purposes. I said I thought so but wasn’t 100 percent sure. Another fan asked that fan, who said that was just what he asked me.

One fan walked out during the 3-on-3, telling the ushers there was no point in watching since it meant nothing. Ninety-plus percent of the crowd either didn’t get that or didn’t care, wanting to watch the 3-on-3.

And make no mistake, the 3-on-3 isn’t the issue, it’s that it meant nothing and the fact that’s a tough message to get out to the masses. To Miami’s credit, it was made clear over the PA.

Either have college hockey’s governing body sanction 3-on-3 and shootouts or don’t. The sport and those who love to watch it deserve better than we’re-going-to-determine-a-winner-one-way-or-another-and-oops-Ohio-State-won-nope-just-kidding.

We’ve said it before: The NHL is certainly not a model of rules excellence, but it has it right with 4-on-4 overtimes. If that doesn’t determine a winner, it wasn’t meant to be. Or go to 3-on-3 after that. Those two sessions would determine winners 80 percent of the time. But two things: 1) Unlike last night, let’s be consistent and up front about the format from year to year and get rid of meaningless demonstrations to determine a “winner”, and 2) if we’re going to play 10 minutes of extra hockey when the temperature reaches the mid-80s in southern Ohio, can we please scrape the ice first?

But as the rules currently stand, the game should have been over after the five-minute 5-on-5 overtime. From the NCAA’s perspective it was. Why should fans who paid good money walk away from the rink unclear about that fact? [/rant]

– Speaking of fans, they were great. The students were on mid-term break, but it was still a loud crowd. Let’s hope that continues, and based on Miami’s level of play it should.

GRADES

Ah yes, with mid-terms come grades. As we have the past few seasons for games we attend, we evaluate the play of each facet of Miami’s lineup.

FORWARDS: C. They didn’t score a single goal but the season is a process, especially with all of the rookies. There was a lot to like in the line combinations, especially the Sherwood-Bachman combination with Green on the right wing. Anthony Louis showed a lot of life on the first line with Josh Melnick, who never seems to have an off game, and Carson Meyer gives the former two a sniper to finish. Conor Lemirande really seemed to step his play up, as he carried the puck more and was effective in both ends of the ice, using his huge frame.

DEFENSEMEN: B. The three freshmen did their jobs by not making a splash. Grant Hutton and Scott Dornbrock both looked like they may take another step forward this season, and Belpedio was at times the best and at other times the worst among this corps. Hopefully his first period was just the result of new captain jitters.

GOALTENDING: A. Well, Larkin made a couple thousand new fans, especially since he made his overtime rebound-shot save in front of the most boisterous fans in the student section. It was just one game but the kid looks like the real deal: Watching him away from the puck he appears to have great anticipation of where the puck is going and is athletic enough to position himself perfectly in order to squelch any scoring threats.

LINEUP CHANGES: How about this for Game 3: Blasi’s starting 19 were the same as in Game 2.

One surprise was that goalie Chase Munroe was a scratch, and Andrew Masters was the backup. Masters was expected to be the third goalie after committing late last school year.

Miami is light up front, with Alex Alger and injured Christian Mohs being the only scratches there, and Colin Sullivan and Grant Frederic sat among the blueline corps.