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Season preview III: The predictions

BoB grades forwards, defensemen and goalies after each home game.

So why not give preseason grades for each position?

Miami lost three players from 2016-17 but has added six – seven if you count reshirt freshman Christian Mohs – so BoB takes a look at each position heading into this season.

FORWARDS: C. The RedHawks were well below average in scoring last season, and they should be improved from 2016-17 overall. That said, depth beyond the team’s top two lines is still a question mark.

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

DEFENSEMEN: C-. Again, lots of question marks after the first pairing, and Louie Belpedio has been banged up multiple times. Grant Hutton is the best shut-down defenseman on the team, and the final four spots are all up for grabs with Jared Brandt transferring to Niagara.

GOALTENDING: A. Ryan Larkin was named team MVP by the team back in April, as he faced a Grade-A chance shooting gallery much of the season. His health is key in 2017-18. Larkin missed several games due to injury and was out for the end of the team’s playoff series vs. Minnesota-Duluth.

OVERALL PLACE OF FINISH: 4th. Miami finally earns a home series in the conference tournament after heading to the road back-to-back seasons. Both the offense and defense improve and Larkin is stellar in net.

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Season preview II: The lineup

Of the 23 players who dressed for Miami last season, 19 will back in the same sweaters this fall.

But that doesn’t mean the RedHawks didn’t lose any talent from 2016-17.

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

Anthony Louis wrapped up his college career as the team’s top point producer his senior year. Also departed are Justin Greenberg, who was a solid penalty killer, and Colin Sullivan, a two-way defenseman that could also move up to forward.

Jared Brandt is also gone after a solid freshman campaign that saw him ascend to the top pairing.

Joining the RedHawks for 2017-18 will be a class of seven, consisting of five forwards and a pair of defensemen.

That’s a net gain of four, so Miami should have ample depth heading into this season, which has been an issue at time the past couple of years because of injuries.

BoB breaks down how the RedHawks Version 2017-18 breaks down positionally.

FORWARDS

Two starters are out (Louis and Greenberg) and five are in.

That means solid depth and lots of fierce, healthy competition for lineups spots each night on a team that struggled to produce offense after the first two lines.

Miami returns 11 forwards, which means at the very least one of the newbies will be dress each night.

Several of the freshmen have put points on the board in juniors, and Coach Enrico Blasi has a reputation for throwing young players into the mix immediately, so there is definitely plenty of opportunity for the newbies to carve themselves regular starting spots.

Miami forward Kiefer Sherwood (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Four returning RedHawks recorded at least 20 points last season – Kiefer Sherwood, Josh Melnick, Carson Meyer and Gordie Green. Sherwood was second in points only to Louis (14-24-38), and Melnick went 9-18-27 as the team’s top defensive forward.

Meyer admirably missed just four games while suffering through mono, going 10-16-26 as he noticably ran out of gas down the stretch. Green turned it up as the season went on, as he had seven goals and eight assists the final 18 games of 2016-17.

What Miami needs is more production from the remaining eight spots.

Zach LaValle went 2-9-11 and big Willie Knierim scored four goals and seemed to be adapting well to the college game. Karch Bachman has tons of speed and a great shot, and hopefully that will translate to more success for the talented Florida Panthers draft pick.

That’s seven guys that should start for sure each night.

Of the returning forwards, Ryan Siroky has become a strong penalty killer but doesn’t produce much offense. Carter Johnson played on the fourth line and managed three points in 35 games.

Conor Lemirande is huge at 6-feet-6 but has just nine points in 103 games.

Alex Alger played in 21 games and was an energy forward but finished with just one assist in 21 games.

Those five spots would appear to be less secure on a team looking to generate more offense.

It’s an intriguing unit. Austin Alger, Philip Knies and Casey Gilling were all scorers in the USHL and could press all of the above for their jobs.

Miami was 45th out of 60 Division I teams in goals per game last season (2.53), and the RedHawks need to put the puck in the net more in 2017-18 if they hope to have success this season.

DEFENSEMEN

This was a facet of the game in which Miami struggled in 2016-17, and two mainstays from last season and gone in Jared Brandt and Colin Sullivan.

Brandt transferred to Niagara and Sullivan graduated.

Captain Louie Belpedio was limited to 24 games due to various injuries and although he was not 100 percent when he did play, he racked up six goals and 11 assists for 17 points, the best scoring rate of his career.

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

Grant Hutton is back for his junior season, and while he has been a shutdown-type D-man in his two seasons in Oxford, he scored nine goals in 2016-17.

Scott Dornbrock went 3-10-13 last season and is one of the team’s best hitters.

The other three returning blueliners are all sophomores – Grant Frederic, Chaz Switzer and Bryce Hatten.

Frederic finished with three points in 2016-17 and needs to be more physical this season, as he is 6-3-201. Switzer got better as last season went on, and tallied a goal and an assist in 23 games.

Hatten dressed just 11 times and did not record a point, but a major injury in 2015-16 stunted his performance, and he could take a huge step forward this season.

The freshmen are Alec Mahalak and Rourke Russell, who should challenge for starting spots right away.

Mahalak is more of an offensive-minded blueliner, tallying 26 points in 59 NAHL games, and Russell has a reputation for shutting down opponents.

Two defensemen will have to sit each night, so that should up the ante for everyone involved each practice.

GOALTENDING

At the banquet this spring, Ryan Larkin won the MVP award despite being a freshman.

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

That’s pretty much all you need to know about Miami’s goaltending.

Larkin logged 1,946 minutes last season, going 8-16-7 with a 2.77 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.

Those numbers are mediocre until considering the quality of shots Larkin faced in 2016-17. Miami only won nine games last season but that number would be lower if Larkin hadn’t been in net.

He was banged up a couple of times last season, most notably during the RedHawks’ NCHC playoff series, so hopefully he can stay healthy in 2017-18.

Chase Munroe went 1-4 with a 4.25 GAA and .861 save percentage, but he sat much of the year and was under fire when he did hit the ice.

Miami swept by UMD to end season

The 2015-16 season ended for Miami on March 12, after being swept in two games at Minnesota-Duluth in the first round of the NCHC Tournament.

This campaign ended a day earlier, again after a two-and-out in the conference quarterfinals and on the same ice surface.

The RedHawks’ season ended with a 5-3 loss to No. 3 UMD at Amsoil Arena on Satuday, as Miami finished with its fewest wins since 1990-91.

Brenden Kotyk and Nick Wolff scored early in the first and second periods, respectively, to give the Bulldogs a 2-0 lead.

Anthony Louis (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

But Miami (9-20-7) ran off the next three, as Justin Greenberg found the net on the power play with 8:18 left in the middle stanza and Kiefer Sherwood and Anthony Louis connected 1:48 apart early in the third period, giving the RedHawks a 3-2 advantage.

That was the fourth lead of the series for Miami.

Once again Minnesota-Duluth (23-6-7) came back. Jared Thomas tied it at three with 6:35 to play, Alex Iafallo put UMD ahead for good 2:12 later and Dominic Toninato sealed it with a late empty netter.

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

Louis finished his career with 126 points, as he tied John Ciotti and Dave McClintock for 20th on Miami’s all-time leaderboard. It was his first marker in 14 games.

Greenberg is also a senior, registering a goal in his final collegiate game.

Sherwood’s goal was his 14th of the season, tying him with Louis for the team lead.

The RedHawks are now 0-8-1 in their last nine games at Amsoil Arena and are 0-4 in the postseason there. Overall they have not beaten the Bulldogs in their last 10 meetings (0-8-2), with their last victory over UMD coming on Feb. 21, 2015.

This was just the fourth season in the program’s 39-year varsity history it has failed to reach the 10-win mark and the first time it has happened under coach Enrico Blasi. It’s the first time since Blasi’s inaugural season that Miami has posted consecutive losing records, which it last did in 1998-99 and 1999-2000.

The RedHawks finished the season winless in their final 10 and 1-12-2 in their last 15. MU had not gone 10 games without a win since 1990-91 but did that twice this season.

Miami loses three seniors – Greenberg, Louis and defenseman Colin Sullivan.

The RedHawks open the 2017-18 season on Oct. 6 against Providence at Cady Arena.

Analysis: The pithy edition

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

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

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

One more stat: One win since Jan. 13.

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

Miami forward Kiefer Sherwood (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Miami forward Kiefer Sherwood (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

We’re done here.

GRADES

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

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

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

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

Miami a seven seed after another loss

OXFORD, Ohio – Miami officially locked itself into the seventh seed for the NCHC Tournament.

Consecutive No. 15 North Dakota goals late in the second period helped send the RedHawks to a 3-2 loss at Cady Arena on Friday.

Miami will travel to Minnesota-Duluth next weekend for a best-of-3 series. The RedHawks, who extended their winless streak to seven games (0-6-1), are 1-9-2 in their last 12.

Miami's Gordie Green goes in for a scoring chance on Friday (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Miami’s Gordie Green goes in for a scoring chance on Friday (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

MU (9-17-7) went ahead 7:38 into the first period. Gordie Green had an initial pass denied, but the puck came back to him and he ultimately fed it to Zach LaValle across the blue line. LaValle backhanded a pass through the slot, and Green advanced it to a wide-open Kiefer Sherwood, who rammed it home from the inside edge of the faceoff circle.

The Fighting Hawks (17-14-3) tied it on the power play with 2:11 left in the first period when Rhett Gardner connected on a pass to Chris Gardner in the slot. Gardner’s point-blank shot was denied, but Ludwig Hoff shoveled the rebound in on the backhand.

The net was dislodged during the play, but after a lengthy review it was determined that the puck crossed the goal line first.

Miami again took a one-goal lead midway through the second period. Kiefer Sherwood carried the puck through the neutral zone behind the North Dakota net before curling and connecting with Green. Green’s initial shot was blocked, but the rebound came back to Green, who stuffed it in the short side.

Just 3:18 later, the Fighting Hawks again evened the score at two on a 4-on-3, as Tyson Jost whipped a wrist shot just under the crossbar from the slot.

North Dakota took its first lead of the game with 1:40 left in that stanza when Trevor Olson stripped RedHawks defenseman Scott Dornbrock, went in for a breakaway and beat Miami goal Ryan Larkin on the glove side.

The Fighting Hawks limited the RedHawks to four third-period shots and 16 for the game while racking up 41 themselves.

Green and Sherwood finished with a goal and an assist each. It was Green’s second consecutive multi-point game, as he now has eight points in his last eight games (3-5-8).

Sherwood found the net for just the second time in 13 games but in his last nine contests he has recorded eight points.

Miami dropped to 31st in the PairWise rankings and has 23 points in NCHC play. If the RedHawks had swept in this series, they could’ve improved to fifth or sixth in the standings.

MU is 0-6-1 in its last seven games in Duluth, and last season the RedHawks were swept there in the NCHC Tournament, ending their season.

Miami wraps up its regular season against North Dakota at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday in a game televised on Fox College Sports (DirecTV Ch. 608).

Analysis: Close doesn’t count in hockey

Having watched a lot of hockey at a lot of levels, it’s not hyperbole to say this is one of the most frustrating teams to watch in this lifetime.

Unfortunately, that cliché about “close” counting doesn’t refer to hockey and hand grenades, or else Miami would be in much better shape after its 3-3 tie at No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth on Friday.

Because in many ways, close is what the RedHawks (9-16-7) are to being a successful team and not one mired seven games under .500, facing a brutal road series to advance in the NCHC Tournament in two weeks just to extend their season. And it’s frustrating that they’ve not been able to close teams out too many times this season.

Close – amazingly – is what Miami is to defaulting to home-ice advantage in that round despite a 5-12-5 league record, as the team is only six points out of that elusive fourth seed. Frustrating because with Duluth and Denver running away with the top two seeds, the points threshold for that seed is lower than in any of the four seasons of the NCHC.

Close in forward depth, as this team has true offensive stars in Anthony Louis, Kiefer Sherwood, Josh Melnick and Carson Meyer. Gordie Green’s stock has soared the past two months, and Willie Knierim seems to be figuring it out at a steady, big guy, 19-year-old-in-D-I pace. Frustrating because the other seven forwards on the roster have a combined total of seven goals.

Close at defense, an area BoB highlighted at the beginning of the season with half of its studly blue line from 2015-16 graduating, as Grant Hutton is becoming a leader among this group and youngsters like Chaz Switzer appear to be gaining confidence. Frustrating because that progress has been too slow for some, veterans are making too many unforced mistakes and opponents are still setting up shop in front of the Miami net far too often with over 90 percent of the regular season in the books.

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

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

Well past close to “arrived” status in net, as Ryan Larkin has been a savior for this team – pun intended – as he has faced far too many A-plus scoring chances this season but still owns a .912 save percentage. Even that area is frustrating because he appears to be either tiring or losing a bit of confidence and has allowed the occasional soft goal in recent weeks that never would’ve gone in during December or January.

Close because this team showed a flash of excellence when it ran off five straight wins around the holidays and outscored its opponents, 18-2 in the third period and overtime during that span, with Melnick netting a pair of highlight-reel OT winners. Frustrating because the RedHawks suffered through an 0-7-3 span – their longest winless stretch in a quarter century – and are currently 1-8-2 in their last 11 during their most important games when they were given every chance to move up both in PairWise and the NCHC standings to earn their way into the NCAAs. And oh yeah, they’ve been outscored, 16-4 in the third period in their last seven, giving up multiple goals in the final stanza in every one of those contests.

This weekend is a microcosm of close and frustrating. Miami came back from 2-0 on Thursday to tie the second-ranked team in college hockey on the road, then after the Bulldogs (20-5-7) surged ahead again, the RedHawks again evened the score at three. Finally UMD buried a power play chance with a minute and a half left. Miami salvaged a tie on Friday and earned the extra league point.

The RedHawks have played some of their best hockey against top-ranked opponents like Minnesota-Duluth. This was probably the toughest series on Miami’s entire season schedule, and even without its captain, MU hung with the Bulldogs both games.

But it’s the story of the season: the RedHawks couldn’t get the win either night. Close doesn’t count in hockey.

Very frustrating.

Other thoughts…

– Is this series an example, like we talked about last week, of a team that is playing loose because home ice and PairWise are no longer factors? At six games under .500 heading into this weekend, these outcomes really don’t matter except for NCHC Tournament seeding. That takes a lot of pressure off a team that was in a bad place after the recent St. Cloud series. The focus now is getting better next weekend and preparing for that all-important best-of-3 in two weeks.

– How much of an impact does the return of Justin Greenberg and the loss of Louie Belpedio have on this team? Greenberg’s injury hurt the team on the penalty kill and in the faceoff circle, and Louie Belpedio missed this weekend after being kneed last weekend. Those changes can affect the chemistry of a team – positively or negatively – and based on where Miami was for the Denver series and where it was this weekend, it seems like the RedHawks got a boost from Greenberg and were more fired up after losing their captain.

– And on the latter, BoB wishes a speedy return to Belpedio, who is a team leader on and off the ice and a delight to talk to. He’s had some struggles this year with penalties and turnovers, but captaincy on this team is very difficult. We even saw it affect Austin Czarnik, one of the best Miamians in team history and a current NHLer who could play there for the next decade.

– In fairness to the above, injuries really have played a role with this team, as Meyer, Larkin, Belpedio, Greenberg and Jared Brandt have all missed time this season, and with just three extra skaters on the team, Miami doesn’t really have the depth to absorb personnel losses. Christian Mohs hurt his knee before the season even started and has been out for the season, which put the RedHawks shorthanded from Day 1.

– Miami was mathematically eliminated from home ice after failing to secure three points on Friday. Long story as short as possible, if the RedHawks won out and Nebraska-Omaha won on Saturday then was swept next weekend, and St. Cloud State was swept, that would be best albeit super-unlikely scenario, as Miami would finish in a three-way tie with whatever the Sioux are calling themselves these days and the Huskies. But the RedHawks would still be 3-4-1 against those two teams and would end up with a six seed. So much for the suspense.

– In the bizarre stats area, Hutton is now tied with Melnick for best shooting percentage on the team, as both have scored nine times on 49 shots (.184). Maybe Brandt’s first career goal in Oxford last Saturday instilled confidence in him, as he had 27 shots on goal all season entering this weekend and fired six times in these two games, finding the net twice.

– Tapping the old memory banks to recall a team that was more self-strangulation inducing, the 2000-01 Cincinnati Mighty Ducks come to mind. That team had to use 12 goalies during the regular season and lost player after player to Anaheim and Detroit, that team’s affiliates. They finished above .500 but took an early exit from the playoffs.

St. Cloud scores 3 late to top Miami

Miami has had an on-again, off-again relationship with the third period this season.

The final stanza was the RedHawks’ demise on Friday, as they allowed three crucial goals in the last 20 minutes and fell, 4-2 at St. Cloud State.

It was the fourth time this season Miami had surrendered three or more goals in the final period and the second straight contest in which an opponent tallied multiple markers after the second intermission.

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

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

After a scoreless first period, the RedHawks (9-12-6) took the lead on the game’s first penalty, as a shot by Louie Belpedio was tipped on net by Gordie Green, who seized the rebound and beat Jeff Smith for a power play goal 4:04 into the middle frame.

The Huskies (14-14-1) tied it with 2:59 left in that stanza when a wrister by Dennis Cholowski was redirected home by Ryan Poehling on the man advantage.

Mikey Eyssimont put St. Cloud State ahead 2:35 into the third period. A lateral offensive-zone pass by Patrick Newell was partially deflected to Eyssimont, who fired it just under the crossbar.

Just 71 seconds later, the Huskies went ahead by two on another tipped shot, as Jon Lizotte deflected a blue-line rip by Robby Jackson into the bottom corner of the net.

Miami forward Kiefer Sherwood (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Miami forward Kiefer Sherwood (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

In the final minute, Miami did cut the deficit to one on a 6-on-4, as Anthony Louis slid a pass from the high slot to Kiefer Sherwood for a one-time blast that found the top of the cage.

But with 13 seconds remaining, SCSU sealed it for good on an empty netter by Jimmy Schuldt from his defensive zone.

The RedHawks have won just one of their last six (1-4-1) and are winless in their last four on the road.

Sherwood finished with a goal and an assist, extending his points streak to three games, and he snapped a six-game stretch without a goal.

Belpedio ended up with two helpers and also has a three-game point streak.

After scoring just once in his first 17 games, Green’s marker was his fourth in his last 10.

Miami entered this game in prime position to move up in the NCHC standings, as it was just one point back of the Huskies, who were in sixth place, but now MU is ensured of remaining in seventh after this weekend, as it is four points back of St. Cloud State.

The RedHawks slipped to 24th in the PairWise rankings, and would need to move up about 10 spots in the final weeks to warrant NCAA Tournament at-large consideration.

These teams wrap up their weekend series at 8:07 p.m. on Saturday. That game will be telecast on FSN North.

Miami shocks UND with 5 late goals

The comeback at Ohio State seemed impressive, but Miami topped that on Friday.

After falling behind by two, the RedHawks scored five unanswered goals to beat No. 7 North Dakota, 6-3 at Ralph Engelstad Arena, extending their winning streak to five games and their stretch of unbeaten contests to six.

Miami (8-8-5) was down, 3-1 entering the third period, with its lone goal coming by Gordie Green 3:30 into the game on a shot by Zach Lavelle that deflected off Green’s skate at the side of the net.

Anthony Louis cut the deficit to one just 55 seconds into the final stanza when he slammed a loose puck home from the top of the crease.

The RedHawks tied it 4:03 into that frame when Carson Meyer took a pass on the right wing, skated in alone and backhanded it home.

Thanks to a similar set-up, Karch Bachman got behind the defense at the same spot, took it in and scored on the forehard to make it 4-3 with 12:11 left in regulation.

After a North Dakota (12-7-3) goalie change, Ryan Siroky stickhandled at the top the crease and shoveled one through the five hole with 8:59, extending Miami’s lead to two.

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

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

Miami took advantage of a major power play, as Louie Belpedio ripped one from the blue line to cap off the scoring onslaught with 4:02 to play.

Belpedio ended the night with a game-high three points on a goal and two assists. Louis finished with a marker and a helper, with Kiefer Sherwood and Josh Melnick also adding two points on a pair of assists.

Several RedHawks extended points streaks. Louis and Sherwood have recorded points in six straight, with Louis going 3-6-9 and Sherwood recording a 4-6-10 line in that span.

Louis has three straight multi-point games and moved into a tie with Andy Greene and Andy Cozzi for 37th on the team’s all-time points leaderboard with 114.

Melnick has tallied points in five games in a row, scoring five times and picking up three helpers. Belpedio has six points in three games.

With the win, the RedHawks jumped eight spots in the PairWise to 20th. Miami remains tied for fifth in the NCHC but has two games in hand over St. Cloud State, as both teams have 16 points.

North Dakota and Western Michigan are just one point ahead of the pair.

Miami and UND wrap up the weekend series at 8:07 p.m. on Saturday.

Analysis: Why the sudden turnaround?

OXFORD, Ohio – One of the more captivating things about hockey is how teams that appear dead on the frozen water at one point of a season can quickly reverse that negative trend.

The Miami everyone wanted to play in November and early December has made a significant move in the conference and PairWise the past month, as it won its fourth straight game on Saturday, 4-1 over St. Cloud State at Cady Arena.

The RedHawks (7-8-5) were in last place in the NCHC after their 10th straight non-win on Dec. 9 and dipped as low as 42nd out of 60 teams in the all-important PairWise Rankings, which determine at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament and seeding.

Thirty days later, Miami has shifted into a tie for fifth in the conference and is a point away from fourth. In theory the RedHawks could move as high as third with a pair of wins next week.

MU is up to 28th in PairWise and has much work to do to warrant at-large consideration, but the team is still up 14 spots in a month with plenty of hockey remaining against high-quality opponents.

So what’s the difference? A quick summary…

Health. A young Miami team already lacking a ton of depth couldn’t catch a break in this department the first 16 games. Carson Meyer, Louie Belpedio, Ryan Larkin, Jared Brandt and Josh Melnick – all major contributors on RedHawks Version 2016-17 – missed a combined 15 games with various injuries and illnesses. All are currently healthy now and playing at a high level.

Third-period turnaround. As documented previously, Miami was outscored, 14-3 during its 0-7-3 run in the third period. During their winning streak, the RedHawks have netted 11 goals in the last frame. Opponents: 2. They’re finishing stronger and appear in better shape than earlier in the campaign. Miami found ways to lose games it led the first couple of months and now is pulling them out late.

Power play. With plenty of minutes under its belt as a unit, the Belpedio-Melnick-Anthony Louis-Kiefer Sherwood-Meyer group has impressed with its puck movement, and after going six straight games without a goal on the man-advantage (0-for-19), Miami is 4 of 13 (30.8 percent) in the three contests since.

Melnick on fire. The sophomore scored one time in the first 16 games but has found the net in four straight, netting five goals and setting up another in that span. That includes two overtime winners and the tying goal on Friday. He wins the hardest-to-figure-out-how-he-scored award, as after watching his Saturday goal live and several more times on replay it was still unclear how the redirected the puck in. Both OT goals were highlight-reel quality but also required slow-mo.

Confidence in other forwards. Forgive if anyone is left out, but among freshmen, Gordie Green is getting better every game, so is Willie Knierim. Alex Alger is a solid fourth-line pest, and Karch Bachman has a great shot and better speed, and he has huge upside.

Defense is a little more stable. Miami isn’t quite where it was last season, but that’s because Matthew Caito and Taylor Richart were about as steady as it gets in the NCAA in terms of shut-down D-men. With their departure the returning blueliners are higher in the depth chart consistently facing better forwards, and it’s a tough adjustment. But Grant Hutton, who was so strong as a freshman, is becoming more consistent, and Grant Frederic continues to improve and has been better about staying out of the box. The RedHawks allowed 90 shots in a weekend series in Denver – remarkably tying both games – but has surrendered an average of just 24.0 in the eight games since and had outshot opponents in seven straight before Saturday’s game.

Sherwood is taking over portions of games. There are times now when no one can take the puck away from Sherwood, and he’s exponentially tougher to defend with his passing game evolving. His double-clutch before sliding a pass through to Green for Miami’s second goal on Saturday is a prime example: Teams can no longer play for that lethal shot from the left faceoff circle. The NCHC clearly has the scouting report on Sherwood’s happy zone, but he is moving around on power plays and inflicting damage elsewhere, having adjusted to the conference’s adjustment. And he scored the RedHawks’ first shorthanded goal of the year to open the scoring.

And of course, a little puck luck. As everything seemed to be going wrong for Miami, that intangible made things worse at times, as the RedHawks hit posts and were victimized by bad bounces. The Hockey Gods appear to be balancing things out recently, as opponents are drawing iron and not getting breaks they were the first couple of months.

GRADES

FORWARDS: B. This corps scored a goal shorthanded, at even strength and on the power play. The forwards really didn’t generate a ton of chances, but they cashed in on the Grade-A opportunities. And St. Cloud State always seemed to have sticks and bodies in the shooting lanes. If we had to nit-pick, the bottom two lines didn’t do a whole lot and haven’t scored much all season. We could also mention that 12 forwards managed just 17 shots and a few were weak one at an idle goalie.

DEFENSEMEN: B. It’s been a gradual process, but the blueliners are getting beaten less often than in weeks past. The Huskies entered this weekend averaging nearly 3½ goals per game but had limited chances and just one marker in this game, thanks largely to this group. This was one of Hutton’s better games, and he added the cherry on top with the ENG in the final minute after intercepting the puck at center ice. Scott Dornbrock blocked five shots.

Ryan Larkin makes one of his 28 saves on Saturday (Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Ryan Larkin makes one of his 28 saves on Saturday (Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

GOALTENDING: A. Notice how goaltending wasn’t mentioned before. The reason is that Larkin has been steady throughout, and without him Miami would not have seven wins. That said, he was even better than usual in this game, stopping 28 shots, with his lone blemish being a heat-seeking laser off a drop pass. Larkin faced some difficult shots but as is his MO allowed a very limited number of rebounds.

LINEUP CHANGES: Same six on D, same goalie, just one change up front. Carter Johnson was scratched for the first time this season in favor of Alger. With four straight wins and the team playing its best hockey of the season, the lineup card probably won’t change a whole lot.

Big third keys Miami win over St. Cloud

OXFORD, Ohio – The third period that was the bane of Miami the first half of the season has become the team’s best friend.

From right to left, Kiefer Sherwood, Louie Belpedio and Anthony Louis celebrate during Saturday's win (Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

From right to left, Kiefer Sherwood, Louie Belpedio and Anthony Louis celebrate during Saturday’s win (Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

The RedHawks scored three times in the final stanza to secure a 4-1 win over No. 20 St. Cloud State at Cady Arena on Saturday as Miami recorded its first weekend series sweep since last February.

MU also extended its winning streak to four games and is now unbeaten in its last five. The RedHawks had gone 0-7-3 prior to their winning streak.

Miami (7-8-5) tallied its first shorthanded goal of the season midway through the first period when Kiefer Sherwood stole the puck at center ice, skated in and buried a shot on the far side just under the crossbar.

The score remained 1-0 until the crucial third period. Sherwood double clutched before threading a pass through two defenders and onto the tape of Gordie Green, who scored from the side of the net with 18:58 left in regulation.

The Huskies (9-10-1) cut the MU lead in half with 6:02 to play when Jimmy Schuldt left a drop pass for Jake Wahlin, who wired one past RedHawks goalie Ryan Larkin.

But Miami regained its two-goal lead 72 seconds later when a power-play blast from the blue line by Louie Belpedio was tipped home by Josh Melnick, making it 3-1.

Grant Hutton intercepted the puck, skated in uncontested and tapped home the RedHawks’ final goal with 43 seconds left.

Miami had scored nine third-period goals in its first 16 games but has netted 11 in its past four contests and at least two in each game during its winning streak.

Melnick extended his goal-scoring streak to four games with five in that span. Sherwood has four markers in his last four contests.

Sherwood finished with a goal and an assist, giving him points in five straight and eight during his streak. Anthony Louis picked up a season-high two helpers and also had a five-game point streak (2-5-7).

That gives Louis 112 points for his career, tying him for 39th on the team’s all-time career leaderboard with Pete Shipman and Rob Vanderydt.

Larkin stopped 28 shots to earn his third consecutive victory.

The win moved Miami into a tie for fifth with the Huskies in the NCHC standings with 13 points, and the RedHawks are just one behind fourth-place Western Michigan.

MU jumped one spot to 28th in the PairWise Rankings.

The RedHawks’ next four games will be on the road. They will travel to North Dakota next weekend for two games and head to Nebraska-Omaha the following weekend for a pair.