OXFORD, Ohio – For a three-goal loss that was completely one-sided in the first two periods, Miami found a way to make the final 20 minutes interesting.
No. 5 Denver scored the first three goals in a 4-1 win over the RedHawks at Cady Arena on Saturday, as the teams split their weekend series.
The Pioneers (12-6-4) were a huge favorite, so winning one was a bit of a victory for the RedHawks. But since MU was .500 after the first half of the season, it needs to make up games somewhere, and this weekend wasn’t it.
This series was actually more of a reinforcement that, while the RedHawks (9-9-2) are improved over 2016-17, Miami’s overall talent does not match up with the NCAA’s elite.
RECAP: Denver scored twice in the first period and once more in the first minute of the final stanza to take a 3-0 lead.
The shots were 28-5 in favor of the Pioneers after 40 minutes.
But then it got interesting.
Miami pulled the goalie five minutes into the third period.
The RedHawks, who were anemic on the power play all night, thrived with the extra attacker.
Kiefer Sherwood broke after an extended 6-on-5 to make it 3-1.
And Miami drew a penalty on the goal, setting up a power play.
The crowd, comatose after the early domination, was suddenly into the game.
But the man-advantage fizzled and Denver eventually scored an empty netter to seal it.
Miami did outshoot Denver, 20-5 in the last 20 minutes.
STATS: Sherwood and Casey Gilling both extended points streaks to three games. Gilling is 2-3-5 in that stretch.
– Rare to see the starting/lone goalie of team log just 51:38.
– In the you’ll-see-something-new-every-time-you-go-to-the-rink department, Miami iced the puck twice while on a 6-on-5. The NCAA rule is that when a team ices the puck, no one on said team is allowed to leave, but apparently an exception is made for goalies. Both times the RedHawks did this they were able to pull one skater.
THOUGHTS: Not much to add from Friday’s game. Denver is more talented and came out aiming to prove that. Cudos to Miami for battling back in the third after an anemic first 40 minutes. And they were anemic.
FORWARDS: D. One goal only after the outcome had been decided. Gordie Green and Josh Melnick were both held without a shot.
DEFENSEMEN: D+. Too many high-percentage scoring chances for DU at this corps’ hands.
GOALTENDING: B. It was a shooting gallery for Ryan Larkin the first two periods. He made a couple of excellent saves and is certainly not accountable for the loss.
LINEUP CHANGES: Only one: Zach LaValle was in at forward, replacing Willie Knierim. Knierim had dressed in the last nine games, and LaValle had sat for three in a row.
FINAL ANALYSIS: Splits against top-10 teams are nice, but when you’re .500 heading into the break, at some point you have to sweep someone.
Denver is an exceptional team, and Miami will have to gain ground against someone else.
BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – Grant Hutton had scored five times in Miami’s first four games, including a pair of multi-goal contests.
Still sitting on five markers eight games later, the junior defenseman hit the net twice in 38 seconds, breaking a tie at the end of a crazy second period as the RedHawks beat Bowling Green, 6-3 at the Slater Family Ice Arena on Friday.
Hutton’s surge capped off a middle stanza that saw MU extend its lead to two only to see that evaporate in a span of 3:45.
Miami (6-6-1) opened the scoring 6:15 into the game. The RedHawks held the puck in the offensive zone for more than a minute after the end of their first power play, and during a pileup at the top of the crease, Carter Johnson backhanded one that was stopped by goalie Eric Dop, but Ben Lown fired it in from the side of the cage for his first career goal.
Bowling Green (6-5-3) answered by scoring at the end of a long shift as well. Miami goalie Ryan Larkin shut down a point-blank shot, but about 30 seconds later, Connor McDonald whipped a firm wrister into the corner of the net to tie it at the 13:50 mark.
The RedHawks regained the lead 2:01 later on a wrist shot by Kiefer Sherwood from the point that seemed to fool Dop. It was initially waved off for goaltender interference, but it was ruled a goal after a fairly brief review.
The Falcons trimmed the deficit to one, 3-2 with 9:26 left in the middle stanza when Brett D’Andrea slammed home a one-timer in front of the net off a feed by Cameron Wright.
They tied it when Tyler Spezia skated through the Miami defense, went in for a breakaway and backhanded one into the back of the net with 5:41 remaining in that frame.
Hutton penetrated on the power play, whipped off a defenseman, corralled his own rebound and buried it with 1:35 left before intermission.
Thirty-eight seconds later, he rifled one from just inside the blue line for his third point of the period to make it 5-3.
Carson Meyer slammed home an empty netter with 17.3 seconds remaining to cap the scoring, recording a marker for the third straight game.
Hutton’s 2-1-3 line tied a career high in points set earlier this season at Maine. Kiefer Sherwood also recorded three points, going 1-2-3.
Lown not only scored his first collegiate goal, he earned his first multi-point game as a RedHawks, picking up a helper.
Belpedio, fellow blueliner Grant Frederic and forward Conor Lemirande all finished with a pair of assists.
These teams wrap up their weekend series at 7:07 p.m. on Saturday.
MIAMI 2-3-1 – 6
at BGSU 1-2-0 – 3
First period—1. Miami U., Lown 1 (Johnson, Frederic) 6:15; 2. BGSU, McDonald 1 (Kruse, Rauhauser) 13:50; 3. Miami U., Sherwood 3 (Belpedio, Lemirande) 15:51.
Second period–4. Miami U., Melnick 5 (Lown, Hutton) 2:59; 5. BGSU, D’Andrea (Wright, S. Craggs) 10:34; 6. BGSU, Spezia 1, 14:19; 7. Miami U., Hutton 6 (Belpedio, Sherwood), ppg, 18:25; 8. Miami U., Hutton 7 (Frederic, Knies) 19:02.
Third period–9. Miami U., Meyer 4 (Lemirande, Sherwood), ppg, eng, 19:43.
Shots on goal–Miami U. 8-9-10-27. BGSU 4-5-5–14. Power plays–Miami U., 2-for-4; BGSU, 0-for-3. Goalies–Miami U., Larkin (6 of 9 shots saved); BGSU, Dop (12-17), Bednard (9-9).Officials–Referees: Tony Czech, Dan Kovarik; Linesmen: Frank Hempel, T.J. Likens. Attendance: 2,157.
OXFORD, Ohio – Friday’s game can be summed up in two themes.
One, Miami was unable to capitalize on its ample scoring chances.
Two, Minnesota-Duluth netted devastating, timely goals right after RedHawks surges to kill their momentum.
The final result: A 3-1 Bulldogs win over Miami at Cady Arena in the series opener.
The RedHawks hit four posts, missed multiple additional A-plus chances from in close and finished with 29 shots on goal in addition to those that drew iron.
Hunter Shepard, the No. 14 Bulldogs’ goalie who stopped 28 shots and played exceptionally, turned three SOG aside during a Miami power play, during which the RedHawks seemed to have the puck deep in their offensive zone for the duration.
Sixty-one seconds after that man-advantage ended, Miami was picking it out of its own net.
Then came Glassgate, when a pane of glass in the corner of the rink shattered and needed to be replaced. A UMD goal and a 15-minute delay later, any momentum the RedHawks still had was long gone.
That was late in a first period that saw Miami dominate, 11-4 on the shot counter (although the Bulldogs’ first two shots in the opening minutes were never counted).
Minnesota-Duluth (6-5-2) shut down the RedHawks’ offense in the second period, holding them to three shots.
But Miami (4-6-1) controlled play early in the third period, as Carson Meyer tied it on a power play.
The majority of play the first three quarters of that final stanza were played in the Bulldogs’ zone.
Then MU’s Casey Gilling was whistled for boarding. Then UMD scored. Then UMD scored again.
– It’s encouraging that Miami was able to dictate play for large parts of a game against a ranked team. Though the RedHawks need to win a majority of these games, obviously, this was a good litmus test for MU and shows they can compete against ranked teams.
Miami is certainly better than Connecticut and swept that series. Dare we say the RedHawks appear stronger than Colorado College although the teams split that set. North Dakota is, well, really good, and MU went 0-1-1 there.
Duluth, on the rankings bubble with a lot of its key players from 2016-17 gone but boasting a strong freshman class and a lot of solid returnees? It’s intriguing to see how Miami fares against a team like that.
Process still matters, and the RedHawks largely passed that test on Friday, but the end result was obviously not what fans/players/coaches would’ve wanted.
– Game time: 2:40. That has to be one of the longest non-overtime contests in some time.
– Miami won 37 of 62 faceoffs, or 60 percent. This has been an area of weakness in recent years for the RedHawks, so the turnaround is welcome. Gilling was 11-6, Kiefer Sherwood 11-8 and Josh Melnick 7-6.
FORWARDS: D+. Chances are great but Miami needed to score more than one goal. Faceoffs, as mentioned, were a strong suit. Four members of this corps took penalties (Sherwood, Gilling, Ryan Siroky, Conor Lemirande), and the PPG off the Gilling boarding call was devastating (and yes, that was the right call – he had a player lined up and pounded him with the numbers/letters showing). Sherwood turned it over on a clearing chance in the first period, and UMD put it in the net. Melnick had a pass picked on the PK and that ended up being the Bulldogs’ second goal.
DEFENSEMEN: B. This is a curious group, with several members appearing to be given the green light to jump into the offensive zone and others not. But it seems to be working, evidenced by a Bulldogs shot total of 19. Louie Belpedio is putting points up, but his defense is way better than last season (not sure how healthy he really was in 2016-17). Scott Dornbrock is also playing at a noticeably higher level, and his positioning is much improved. No opponent around Grant Hutton, whose defensive play is still underrated. Alec Mahalak did throw a puck along the boards on a failed clearing attempt that resulted in UMD’s third goal.
GOALTENDING: C-. This seems to be Ryan Larkin’s MO recently: He makes a couple of spectacular saves but allows a goal or two he could’ve stopped. The second UMD shot was a quickly-developing one-timer that he had no chance on, but he got glove on the first shot, which deflected over the goal line, and the third goal seemed to slide under his pads from well outside the top of the faceoff circle. His save percentage for season is still just .880, and this 16 of 19 performance did not help that.
LINEUP CHANGES: Up front, Sherwood, a healthy scratch in the North Dakota finale, was back in the lineup. He replaced Zach LaValle, who had played in nine of the first 10. Willie Knierim dressed for the second straight game, as Austin Alger was out for his second consecutive contest. It sounds like Alger may miss some time after suffering an undisclosed upper-body injury. On defense, Rourke Russell was back on the lineup sheet after missing his first game last Saturday. That sent Grant Frederic to the stands after he had played two games in a row.
OXFORD, Ohio – For the second straight night, Miami put a game away with a flurry of goals.
On Saturday, it was a four-goal outburst over a six-minute span of a five-marker third period that lifted the RedHawks to a 7-1 win over Connecticut.
That completed the series sweep, the first for Miami since early January.
Defenseman Louie Belpedio netted two goals and tallied three points, both tying career highs, and Gordie Green finished with a goal and two assists as he extended his points streak to four games.
At 3:40 of the first period, Kiefer Sherwood put Miami on the board with a power play blast from the top of the faceoff circle that snuck in the short side off a feed from Scott Dornbrock.
With two minutes left in the opening stanza, MU defenseman Grant Hutton carried the puck the length of the ice and temporarily lost it before regaining possession and sliding it through the top of the crease to a wide-open Green for a one-timer to make it 2-0.
That score remained until the 18:45 mark of the second period when UConn (2-5-1) forward Adam Karashik emerged with the puck along the boards in the offensive zone, skated across the top of the crease uncontested and deposited the puck in the back of the net shorthanded.
It was 2-1 at the second intermission, but the RedHawks’ offense awakened in the final frame.
Sherwood dropped a behind-the-back pass to Phil Knies, who skated around the back of the net and dumped it into the open side of the cage just 1:25 into the third period.
Then it was Belpedio’s turn. Josh Melnick skated behind the net to the sideboards and connected with Gordie Green in the faceoff circle, and he sent a pass to Belpedio for a high wrister that snuck under the crossbar less than two minutes later.
Green next set up Melnick, feeding him at the top of the crease. Melnick tipped the puck under Adam Huska on a change-up shot, as the puck sat just across the goal line at the 6:13 mark of the period.
Belpedio struck again 1:24 later, hitting the corner of the net from the slot for an unassisted tally.
Austin Alger capped the scoring on a late power play, notching his second goal of the season as he slammed home a deflected puck thrown at the net by Conor Lemirande.
Thirteen Miami (3-3) players recorded at least one point. Melnick and Sherwood also notched two points.
The RedHawks led, 19-3 on the shot clock early in the second period and ended the night with a 44-18 edge.
It was the third time in four games Miami recorded at least three power play goals. The RedHawks were 4-for-7 in this game and are 52.4 percent during that stretch.
Miami will host Colorado College next weekend as it opens its NCHC slate. The teams will play at 7:35 p.m. on Friday and 7:05 p.m. on Saturday.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At the banquet this spring, Ryan Larkin won the MVP award despite being a freshman.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We’re done here.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
– 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.