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Analysis: Blowouts in college common

It’s always tough to watch a team you root for get blown out.

In certain sports with significant parity, it does happen to even the best teams.

So in the ultra-competitive world of NCAA Division I hockey, there’s no reason to panic after Miami fell behind five goals in the first period in a 6-3 loss to Maine on Saturday.

Not at all dismissing this pounding, but it’s still very early in the season and the RedHawks did earn a split on the road, which is rarely a bad thing.

There were a number of positive things to take from this game for the Miami fan.

Such as…

– Miami did fight back after falling behind by five early. Sometimes in hockey we see blowouts snowball, and at least the RedHawks battled down the stretch, cutting the final deficit to three.

– The power play is unreal. With Grant Hutton taking an active role on the man-advantage and Gordie Green joining the first unit full-time, Miami was 7-for-10 (70 percent) this weekend. And 3 of 5 in the finale, showing that even after the RedHawks lit the lamp four times on the man-advantage on Friday, Maine was unable to adjust.

– And I know it’s not always popular to say, but the chippy-ness we saw in this game can generate momentum and galvanize a team. There were two skirmishes on Saturday, and in the first Green was targeted along the boards after a stoppage. He not only stood up for himself, Rourke Russell came to his defense and was engaged with opponents the entire time, and Carson Meyer got involved as well. The my-teammate-has-my-back mentality is a bigger factor in hockey than almost any other sport, and such an incident can only help a young team.

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

– The other altercation: Captain Louie Belpedio ended up in a scrum midway through the third period and was tossed from the game. Sometimes captains have to get involved in these things. Again, this shows the team youngsters that the captain has everyone’s back.

– And good for the officials, Jack Millea and Kevin Keenan, about whom I know nothing other than they handled the after-the-whistle antics very well. No reason to suspend anyone, instead choosing the 10-minute misconduct option to address the possibility of repeat offenders.

Other thoughts…

– So Ryan Larkin. Again, blowouts happen. At one point, Patrick Roy let nine in for the Canadiens. Admittedly, he’s not exactly dominating, but let’s remember that this was a player who was named team MVP as a freshman at the team’s awards banquet. That’s a rarity. He had a .910 save percentage in 2016-17 despite getting pelted with Grade-A chances. The smart money is on him rebounding, and soon.

– Follow up to that point: Larkin did have a .792 winning percentage for the weekend, and it’s interesting that Grant Valentine backed him up on Saturday. Valentine logged nine-plus minutes and stopped 2 of 3 shots, giving up a low between-the-pads goal. Chase Munroe played the entire exhibition game in Plymouth, Mich., last weekend, and he allowed five goals. He was the backup down the stretch in 2016-17, so it looks like coach Enrico Blasi prefers Valentine as a backup at this point. But as long as he is healthy, it’s obvious the net currently belongs to Larkin, and if that’s the case through 2019-20, Miami will likely thrive.

– The RedHawks pulled the goalie down by four late, which typically indicates a coach thinks his team has played well enough that it deserves a chance to play on what’s essentially a power play. Hutton scored on the 6-on-5 to make it a three-goal game. Really, if you’re going to lose, who cares if it’s 3-2 or 13-2? Coach Blasi doesn’t, and I’m in agreement.

– It wasn’t a great night for Chaz Switzer. He was beaten, 1-on-1, resulting in Maine’s first goal, and his penalty on that play ultimately resulted in a 5-on-3 for another Black Bears goal. He was also on the ice for Maine’s third goal.

– Some perspective about Hutton’s scoring rate: He has 14 goals in 40 games since the start of 2016-17, and 10th place on BoB’s unofficial all-time career defenseman goal leaderboard is Josh Harrold with 15. With five goals in five games already this season, Miami could be looking at one of its top-scoring blueliners of all-time.

– Veli-Antti Tiuraniemi, a Black Bears defenseman, was committed to Miami last season and appeared to be headed to Oxford this fall. Instead he had a goal and an assist vs. the RedHawks.

– Thanks to the University of Maine for its free high-quality online stream. The game experience in Orono is supposed to be fantastic, and BoB wishes the Black Bears nothing but success in the future, especially since subsequent wins by Maine will affect the PairWise!

LINEUP CHANGES: F Zach LaValle was scratched after dressing for the first three games. Alex Alger played for the first time this season in his place. F Ryan Siroky replaced Ben Lown for both games this weekend. On defense, Alec Mahalak sat for the first time in 2017-18, as Grant Frederic logged his second game of the season. Fs Willie Knierim and Carter Johnson, plus D Bryce Hatten are the only Miami players not to log ice time this season, although Knierim played in Plymouth.

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Preview: Miami at Maine

WHO: Miami University RedHawks (0-2) at Maine Black Bears (1-1).

WHEN: Friday and Saturday–7 p.m.

WHERE: Harold Alfond Sports Arena, Orono, Maine.

NOTES: Maine visited Oxford last season, and the RedHawks went 1-0-1, tying the opener, 3-3 and winning the finale, 5-0.

A Division I force through the late 2000s, the Black Bears have won 20 games just one time in the past 10 seasons, and that 23-win season in 2011-12 represented Maine’s lone NCAA Tournament appearance in that span.

The past three seasons have been particularly brutal for the Black Bears, as they have failed to reach the .400 mark, averaging just 11 wins.

Amazingly, Maine didn’t win a single road game in all of 2016-17, salvaging just four ties including one at Miami.

The Black Bears lost their top two scorers from last season in Blaine Byron and Cam Brown. Nolan Vesey, a Toronto draft pick and brother of New York Rangers forward Jimmy Vesey, is the team’s top returning scorer with 13 goals and 10 assists for 23 points.

Sophomore Chase Pearson, a Detroit selection, finished 14-8-22 in 2016-17 and has a pair of assists already this season.

The Black Bears have two other drafted players – G Jeremy Swayman and F Patrick Shea. Swayman is a freshman who gave up four goals in a losing effort in his debut. Shea, a sophomore, has dressed for both games this campaign.

Cedric Lacroix, Peter Housakos and Mitchell Fossier are all back this season, and each found the net vs. Miami last year.

Miami was swept at home by Providence two weeks ago and beat the U.S. Under-18 team, 7-5 in Plymouth, Mich., last Friday.

The RedHawks are looking for their first non-exhibition win since Jan. 28, having gone 0-11-1 in their last 12 games.

D Grant Hutton is 1-1-2, found the net nine times in 2016-17 and scored twice in Miami’s exhibition and has to be considered a credible threat to score from the blue line, which should create more space for his linemates.

The Gordie Green-Josh Melnick chemistry last week vs. the USNDT was undeniable, as Green scored twice – both times set up by Melnick, including a spectacular kick-pass-for-breakaway goal, and Melnick finished with three helpers.

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

These types of long trips early in the season can help teams bond, and Miami will have played just one exhibition in 13 days entering this series, so the RedHawks have reason to come out strong.

Miami and Maine have only played eight times, with the Black Bears leading the all-time series, 5-2-1.

Carson Meyer recorded four assists in last season’s series, and Louie Belpedio netted a pair of goals.

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.

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.

Small forward Louis big in the clutch

OXFORD, Ohio – Too small to succeed.

That has been the label given to Anthony Louis his entire life, but he continues to rack up the points despite his detractors’ criticism.

The senior forward who is listed at 5-feet-8, 158 pounds has climbed Miami’s all-time points leaderboard in his four years in Oxford and is currently 22nd in team history with 125 on 45 goals and 80 assists.

Anthony Louis with Team USA in 2012-13 (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

“I tend to use it as motivation,” Louis said. “I always wanted to prove people wrong and make it to the next level.”

Louis grew up in Winfield, Ill., a far west suburb of Chicago but now lives slightly closer to the city in West Chicago. He scored 60 times in 66 games between Team Illinois’ Bantam Major and his Under-16 seasons, earning his way onto the U.S. National Development Team.

On the Under-17 team in 2011-12, he netted 27 goals in 49 games, and he was second on the Under-18 team with 51 points the following season, second-best on the team despite facing much tougher competition.

Anthony Louis in the NCHC Tournament his freshman year (Cathy Lachmann/BoB)

Louie Belpedio, MU’s captain and junior defenseman, played and lived with Louis in Ann Arbor on the USNDT. Belpedio is also from Chicago, and with the tandem’s dads being longtime friends, so too have Belpedio and Louis.

“He keeps proving people wrong – that’s one of his best traits,” Belpedio said. “People always told him he’s too small, and he’ll never made it. Every level he moves up, he gets better. He proves to people that size isn’t necessarily the biggest factor, and his heart’s bigger than his body is.”

Louis turned those negative stereotypes into positives, and he said he developed a thick skin when it comes to dealing with negative comments surrounding his play.

“I wouldn’t say I didn’t believe in myself but I knew it was going to be harder because people thought I was too small,” Louis said. “I definitely used it as a motivator to myself what I could do, and prove people wrong that didn’t believe in me. It made me work (harder) than I would’ve if they weren’t doubting me.”

He earned a silver medal his final season prior to college with the U-18 squad, and Louis also keyed a Four Nations championship by recording five points in four games.

Despite that resume, every team in the NHL passed him by with their first six selections of the 2013 draft. That is, until the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks picked him last in that round.

Louis is named to the NCHC All-Tournament team in 2013-14 (Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

The hometown Louis was the 181th overall pick in June of 2013.

“Obviously it’s a dream come true,” Louis said. “It’s just the first step to hopefully a few more to make the team. Growing up watching them, it was awesome, and I always wanted to play for them. Now that it’s only a few steps away, it’s going to be a lot of hard work but it’s a pretty exciting process ahead of me.”

Following in a familiar line of players from the Chicago area, Louis chose to play for Miami, where he began his career in the fall of 2013. Knowing the Wingels brothers – NHLer Tommy and brother Johnny, a current senior and student coach – helped seal his decision.

“The culture here at Miami is a big reason why I committed here,” Louis said. “Everyone here has really lived by The Brotherhood – I know there’s some people who think that’s not true – but they really do live by it here, from the staff to the players, all around at the school, just unbelievable people here at Miami. The fans, obviously, and atmosphere are incredible.”

He said the combination of playing against international competition like in the Four Nations tournament parlayed with the U.S. team taking on college teams in exhibitions prepared him for life in Division I college hockey.

But it was a slow start for the offensive whiz, as he was limited to four goals and three assists in his first 17 games wearing a RedHawks sweater.

Anthony Louis in the outdoor game at Soldier Field his sophomore season (Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

“Getting used to the system, and obviously guys are bigger,” Louis said. “I don’t think I was as consistent my freshman year, and I was in my own head a little bit, but as I grew as a player I obviously learned how to handle that. Once I did things started going much (better) for me.”

Louis began to thrive as that season progressed. He recorded eight goals and seven assists the final 15 games, notching points in all four of Miami’s postseason games.

While the RedHawks fell a goal short in the NCHC Tournament championship game, Louis earned a spot on the All-Tournament Team as he finished that event with four goals and a pair of helpers.

Louis followed up on that campaign by tallying nine goals and a career-best 27 assists as a sophomore, and once again Louis exceled as games became more important.

He scored twice and set up five more goals in six postseason games, including a 1-1-2 line vs. Providence in his lone NCAA Tournament contest.

Louis scores on this shot at Bowling Green his junior season (Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

In his junior season, Louis amassed 11 markers and 15 assists, and although Miami was limited to two playoff games – in the first round of the NCHC Tournament at Minnesota-Duluth – he scored once and dished for two helpers in that series.

That gave Louis a career 7-9-16 line in 12 postseason games his first three seasons in Oxford, as he has loved college hockey’s spotlight.

“I have a lot of fun with it,” Louis said. “I know a lot of guys are pretty nervous and overthink things. I just try to take it all in and enjoy the atmosphere. I think it’s the most fun time of the year.”

Named an assistant captain last summer, Louis’ goal and points totals are career highs, as he is 13-24-37 this season. For his career, he has 45 goals and 80 assists for 125 points, ranking him 22nd all-time among RedHawks skaters.

Louis celebrates after scoring vs. UNO his senior year (Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

One more point would move Louis into a three-way tie for 20th.

“I think that’s obviously a huge accomplishment for him, and I’m happy for him and everything that he’s done,” Belpedio said. “Obviously we’re playing top teams every night, so for him to be able to do that says a lot about him.”

But beyond the offensive stats, Louis has worked to become a more complete player in his four years at Miami.

“My defensive game has gotten much better – this is my first year of penalty killing,” Louis said.

Louis is also proud of how much physically stronger he has become since that freshman campaign. Belpedio has been impressed with Louis’ leadership this season.

“Just because I wear the ‘C’ and he wears the ‘A’ doesn’t mean he’s not just as much of a leader as I am,” Belpedio said. “We work well with each other, and we’re two guys who like to lead by example. He’s a good leader, and he might not be the most vocal guy in the world, but he’s got character traits about him that make everyone else around him better.”

Louis is set to graduate in May, when he will earn a degree in sports management. From there it’s on to the pros, and no matter how his future career in hockey evolves, he will always cherish his Miami years.

“My experience at Miami has been incredible,” Louis said. “All of the people that I’ve met, and as a whole my teammates I’ve grown with – a lot of lifelong friends that I’ll have. And from a hockey (standpoint), it’s just been incredible playing in front of the fans here. Throughout the country, even the alumni supports us well. It’s truly a Brotherhood here. It’s pretty much everything I expected coming in. I’ve really enjoyed it. Hopefully it’s not over.”

Analysis: Miami still battling despite odds

Miami has not won in six weeks, but its next loss will be its last of the season.

The RedHawks lost their NCHC Tournament first-round opener in their best-of-3 series, 5-4 in overtime to Minnesota-Duluth at Amsoil Arena on Friday and now face elimination in that series.

Miami’s path from here on out couldn’t be more clear: Win or go home. The RedHawks would need to win on Saturday and Sunday at No. 3 UMD then run the table in the semifinal and final of the league tournament in Minneapolis.

That would earn them a berth into the NCAA Tournament, which, of course, is one and out.

An unlikely scenario made more improbable considering the first half of the opening sentence. Miami is 0-8-1 in its last nine and 1-11-2 since Jan. 14.

To Miami’s credit, it took the third-best team in Division I to overtime in the Bulldogs’ home building on Friday despite missing captain Louie Belpedio and losing stud goalie Ryan Larkin in the second period.

The RedHawks led three times in the game (2-1, 3-2 and 4-3) but were unable to close out the win, a common theme in 2016-17.

Backup goalie Chase Munroe had not logged a minute in exactly three months, and after stopping just three of the first five shots he faced, he turned aside 26 of the final 28. He faced a shooting gallery in the final 20 minutes of regulation and overtime, and didn’t get a lot of help from his skaters defensively.

It would’ve been easy for this team to mail it in, considering the near impossibility of its task of winning this tournament.

But the RedHawks didn’t quit, and in a season that will likely go down as their worst in a quarter century, that’s an encouraging sign.

Crazy things happen in conference tournaments, and it would take a run that makes 2013-14 look tame just for Miami to return the position it was in three years when it came within a goal of advancing to the NCAAs despite a 12-19-3 regular season record.

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

The RedHawks have their backs against the boards but are playing with passion, and in Game 2 we’ll see if that’s enough to extend the season.

Other thoughts…

– No idea what Larkin’s injury is or how severe, but when a goalie leaves a game and doesn’t return he rarely returns the next night. Already Belpedio-less, that makes MU’s chances of advancing in this round even more remote. If there is a bright spot it’s that Munroe earned valuable conference tournament experience, and as we recall, Jay Williams was shaky early before finding his groove, as was Charlie Effinger before him.

Miami forward Zach LaValle (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

– Scorers’ list from Friday boom: Ryan Siroky and Zach LaValle, in the bottom six of the forward list on the lineup card all season, both scored in this one. It was just their third and second goals of the season, respectively, although LaValle especially seems to have picked it up a notch recently. This is encouraging because Miami was able to hang without its go-to snipers finding the net, and also the lack of scoring from non-top six forwards has been well documented here.

– Scorers’ list from Friday bust: Josh Melnick hasn’t scored in seven games and Anthony Louis has been stuck on 13 goals for 13 games. Kiefer Sherwood was limited to one shot. Scoring from tertiary forwards is great, but the top players need to be top players in the playoffs for teams to advance.

– Yet another Gordie Green update. Hate to be redundant but Green has been the hottest forward on the team with seven points in four games and 11 in his last 10 – more than anyone else on the team.

– Speaking of points surges, two assists on Friday give Grant Hutton eight points in his last seven games. He picked up three helpers the first 28 games but has five in the last seven. On a team that has struggled mightily the past two months, it says a lot that a pair of underclassmen in Green and Hutton are two of the RedHawks’ top points producers. Green is a freshman and Hutton is a defenseman.

– Shots were close the first two periods: 14-12 UMD. Shots after: 27-10 UMD. Miami has now been outshot in 13 straight regulation periods. The RedHawks have allowed 474 shots while generating just 320 during their current 1-11-2 skid.

Analysis: Home finale still meaningful

OXFORD, Ohio – For Miami, PairWise doesn’t matter, seeding has been wrapped up and the RedHawks even know their first-round opponent in the NCHC Tournament.

That means after Friday’s 3-2 loss to North Dakota, Saturday’s regular season finale will be little more than a glorified exhibition.

For official purposes that is. Miami can certainly conjure up reasons to take its last game at Cady Arena in 2016-17 seriously.

Trying to gain momentum heading into a brutal road trip – the same one that saw the RedHawks’ season end last year – would be the most obvious.

But it’s been no secret Miami would open the NCHC Tournament on the road for weeks now, and the RedHawks still went winless the entire month of February and have opened March 0-1.

Next week’s opponent, Minnesota-Duluth, swept Miami to end the 2015-16 season and just went 1-0-1 vs. the RedHawks last weekend. The Bulldogs are ranked second in Division I.

There is the legacy play. Miami has won at least 12 games in every season under Coach Enrico Blasi, and his worst two seasons from a wins standpoint were Years 1 and 3 (1999-2000 and 2001-02), when the team won 13 and 12 games, respectively.

But that was with recruits from the previous administration. With his own players, Blasi has won at least 15 games each season, although two of the previous three campaigns have seen the RedHawks win exactly that many with sub-.500 winning percentages.

So Miami needs to win on Saturday and advance to Minneapolis just to tie Blasi’s low-water mark in terms of wins.

To be fair, the RedHawks have tied seven times, so essentially that have 12½ wins. But the team’s .379 winning percentage is 47th out of 60 Division I teams.

And hey, the NCHC’s lone knock – right or wrong – is the lack of an identity and natural rivals. North Dakota was one known quantity when this league was formed. The Native-American-turned-avion-nicknamed team has appeared in more championships than any team in Division I (13) and is second in titles (8).

Oh yeah, UND won the national championship in 2016. Can Miami possibly get up to play this team on its home ice, even in a down year?

Miami's Ryan Larkin makes one of his 38 saves on Friday (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Miami’s Ryan Larkin makes one of his 38 saves on Friday (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Because the RedHawks didn’t do that in their penultimate home game of the season. North Dakota had seven shots in the first four minutes, and if it hadn’t been for Miami goalie Ryan Larkin, it could’ve been 2-0 before many found their seats at Cady Arena.

The RedHawks had their moments on Friday but there was zero sustained pressure. On the other side, the Other Hawks controlled the puck in the offensive zone for shift after shift.

Shots on goal are not the be-all, end-all of hockey stats, but when a team is outshot by a 2-to-1 margin or greater in all three periods, that’s not a coincidence. The SOG by period was 16-5, 15-7 and 10-4.

There’s the cliché that winning is contagious. Well, so is not winning, and Miami has failed to secure a victory in 11 of its last 12 games.

A win on Saturday won’t fix the RedHawks’ seed, or their PairWise or even do much to correct their anemic record, but it could point them in the right direction heading into the playoffs.

Other thoughts…

– Time to dispel the “we’re young” excuse for Miami’s woeful performance this season. North Dakota has eight freshman and 11 sophomores – that’s 19 underclassmen, using the first two years of college definition – and five juniors and two seniors. One of those seniors is a goalie who has logged 18 career games.

– If we’ve learning one positive thing about a player this season, it’s that Gordie Green’s work ethic is top notch. It’s easy to get off your game when the team you play for rivals the Jacksonville Jaguars in terms of winning percentage, but he has thrived while the team has done the opposite. Green has three goals and five assists his last eight games, and Miami only has 19 markers in that span, meaning Green has factored into 42 percent of those. He even laid a player out on Friday and was assessed a bogus charging penalty even though he neither lined his opponent up nor left his feet.

– Impressed with Carter Johnson, who made a great move and just missed the net in the second period and had another quality scoring chance in the third period. Kudos also to Zach LaValle, who has continued to work as hard as anyone this season resulting in eight points in his last 16 games.

– With Louie Belpedio out, it was Josh Melnick who met with officials and UND captain Gage Ausmus during warm-ups. Very telling.

– BoB is not big on criticizing officiating, but seriously, in this game, 7-to-2 on power plays including an extended 4-on-3 that led to the decisive goal? It was a chippy game, no doubt, but come on. That said, UND made the most of those opportunities, outshooting the RedHawks, 17-2 on the man advantage and scoring a shorthanded goals on one of Miami’s chances.

– To complete the thought on penalties, Grant Hutton’s cross check to the head of a player laying in Miami’s crease wasn’t the smartest play of the season, and Conor Lemirande took three minors, eventually resulting in him being relegated to the bench for the balance of the third period. North Dakota a was better at getting under the RedHawks’ skin and watching MU get called for the retaliation.

– With this being the first time seeing the Fighting Hawks live this season, their skating and puck control stood out as two of their top attributes. They also move the puck extremely well on the power play. Hard to believe they were just two games over .500 entering this weekend. As usual, their fans traveled well, as this was the loudest any opposing fan base has been in this rink all season.

– With the regular season wrapping up, it’s about time we consider hanging numbers of more recent members of the Miami hockey clique on the brick wall at Cady Arena. For now, Andy Greene and Ryan Jones certainly seem worthy of having their respective 23 and 26 mounted in the Zamboni end.

– Louie Belpedio was in the concourse wearing a knee brace. Sounds like he’s just week-to-week, but unfortunately for Miami, do-or-die mode starts next week for this team. Obviously his return would help tremendously.

GRADES

FORWARDS: C-. Just 12 shots from this group. The LaValle-Sherwood-Green line was undoubtedly Miami’s best. Overall, this corps wasn’t particularly impressive on defense as well.

DEFENSEMEN: C-. The listed pairings bore little resemblance to how these blueliners were actually implemented in game. Scott Dornbrock had a decent game overall but coughed up the puck for the decisive breakaway goal. Other than an errant turnover, Grant Frederic played one of his better games.

GOALTENDING: B+. Again, when a goalie faces 41 shots and many are Grade-A chances, three goals against is a pretty good night. Larkin kept Miami in the game by stopping the first seven shots he faced in the opening four minutes. Other than arguably the breakaway, there was little he could’ve done about any of his goals against.

LINEUP CHANGES: For the third straight game, it was Alex Alger (F), Bryce Hatten (D) and Belpedio sitting. Hatten has been scratched for 15 of the last 16 games, so if Belpedio returns, it would be the expense of one of Friday’s starters on defense. With his forward corps relatively healthy, it appears this 12 from this game will be the group Blasi heads into the tournament with.

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.

W. Michigan tops Miami again

OXFORD, Ohio – Western Michigan continued its in-season dominance of Miami on Friday.

The No. 10 Broncos held off the RedHawks, 2-1 at Cady Arena in the first game of a two-game weekend set, extending Miami’s winless streak to four games. MU is now 0-3 against Western Michigan this season, and has been outscored, 13-6 by the Broncos.

After WMU controlled play early, Cam Lee’s wrister found the corner of the net 6:01 into the first period to open the scoring.

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

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

The Broncos (14-6-3) had a would-be marker in the final seconds of the opening frame waved off after a 14-minute review, as WMU was ultimately declared off-side. Western Michigan outshot Miami, 16-4 in the first 20 minutes.

The RedHawks (8-11-6) tied it on just their second shorthanded goal of the season, as Kiefer Sherwood held the puck along the boards before finding Grant Hutton on the left wing, and Hutton slid a pass across the slot the Louie Belpedio, who buried it 8:15 into the second period.

But the Broncos answered less than four minutes later when Wade Allison’s pass from behind the Miami net found the stick of Hugh McGing, who tapped it into the side of the cage to give WMU the lead for good.

The RedHawks remain in seventh place in the NCHC, one point behind St. Cloud State and 10 ahead of cellar dweller Colorado College with nine league games remaining.

Miami also slipped another spot in the PairWise rankings to 24th. The RedHawks would need to improve to at least No. 14 to warrant NCAA Tournament consideration.

Belpedio’s goal was his third in five games and sixth of the season. Sherwood, second on the team in points with 26, had been held off the scoresheet three straight games.

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

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.