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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.

Miami falls in OT in NCHC opener

Miami had played in 10 overtime games this season without suffering a loss.

That streak was broken on Friday, as No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth edged the RedHawks, 5-4 in an NCHC Tournament best-of-3 opener in the quarterfinal round at Amsoil Arena.

Alex Iafallo skated behind the crease and had his wrap-around denied by MU goalie Chase Munroe, but Dominic Toninato was there at the top of the crease to slam home the game winner 7:24 into the extra session.

Miami is winless in its last nine games, going 0-8-1 in that span, and faces elimination on Saturday.

Parker Mackay stole the puck from Josh Melnick, skated across the slot and wristed one home to give Minnesota-Duluth the lead 5:21 into the first period.

Miami (9-19-7) answered with a pair of goals in the next 64 seconds. On a 2-on-1, Gordie Green passed through the slot to Zach LaValle, who skated around sprawled-out UMD goalie Hunter Miska and deposited the puck in the net to tie it.

Carson Meyer put the RedHawks ahead when he beat two defenders to a loose puck to gain the zone then ultimately grabbed the rebound off an outside shot from Anthony Louis, burying it to make it 2-1.

Moments later, there was a pile-up in the Miami crease, and RedHawks goalie Ryan Larkin was injured. He did not return and was replaced by Munroe, who had not played in a game in three months.

The Bulldogs (22-6-7) tied it at two when Nick Wolff fired a blue line shot that caromed off the end boards to Riley Tufte, who was wide open at the side of the net for a tap-in at the end of a long shift with 16:16 left in the second period.

Green one-timed a shot from the slot off a pass by Grant Hutton from behind the UMD net as Miami regained the lead, 3-2 with 4:06 remaining in the middle stanza.

That RedHawks lead was short-lived, as Iafallo skated the length of the ice on a 2-on-2, crashed the net and backhanded it past Munroe to tie it just 43 seconds later.

Miami took its third lead of the game with 8:46 to play in regulation when Ryan Siroky whipped a puck on net from along the boards, and it hit a body in the slot, trickling past Miska.

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

Once again, Minnesota-Duluth answered quickly, as Karson Kuhlman slid a pass through two defenders to Tufte, who was wide open in the slot. Munroe made the initial save but Tufte corralled his own rebound and scored just 65 seconds after the RedHawks’ goal to make it 4-4.

Green finished with a goal and an assist, giving him helpers in four straight games and seven points in that stretch. Hutton earned a pair of assists and has 10 points in his last 11 contests.

Game 2 is scheduled for 8:37 p.m. on Saturday.

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.

Fifth straight loss for reeling RedHawks

Yet another one got away from Miami late.

Avery Peterson scored on the power play with 1:21 left in regulation to lift Minnesota-Duluth to a 4-3 win over the RedHawks at Amsoil Arena on Thursday, sending Miami to its fifth straight loss.

The RedHawks have won just one of their last 10 games (1-8-1).

The Bulldogs struck first when a blue line blast by Nick Wolff was stopped by Miami goalie Ryan Larkin, but Adam Johnson was able to bat home the rebound from the side of the net 13:00 into the first period.

Minnesota-Duluth (20-5-6) made it 2-0 just 68 seconds into the second frame Dominic Toninato fired home a one-time pass from Karson Kuhlman after a RedHawks turnover.

Miami (9-16-6) cut the lead to one when Grant Hutton skated behind the UMD net and somehow found Jared Brandt in the slot, passing through a pair of bodies, and Brandt buried his shot stick side with 12:53 left in the middle stanza.

The RedHawks tied it on a power play blast by Hutton off a one-time feed by Kiefer Sherwood with 8:15 left in the second period.

Ninety-four seconds into the third period, the Bulldogs went ahead again, 3-2 on a Neal Pionk rip from the top of the faceoff circle.

But Miami again battled back, tying the score at three as Carson Meyer corralled a loose puck in the slot and shoveled it into the net with 10:45 to play in regulation.

Peterson whipped his game-winning shot in after taking a drop pass from Riley Tufte, who skated across the blue line and eluded a RedHawks defender.

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

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

Hutton finished with a goal and an assist, and Josh Melnick and Anthony Louis added two assists each in the losing effort.

It was the third career multi-point game for Louis and his second of the season, and Melnick tallied two helpers for the third time in 2016-17.

Louis now has 122 points for his career, tying him with Reilly Smith for 29th on Miami’s all-time leaderboard.

These teams wrap up their weekend series at 8:07 p.m. on Friday. The RedHawks need a minimum of two points in that contest or they will be eliminated from the possibility of a home ice series to open the NCHC Tournament in two weeks.

They are currently in seventh place, and unless they move up would face either Denver or UMD to open the conference tournament.

NCHC Snapshot: Minnesota-Duluth

Miami fans are pretty familiar with Minnesota-Duluth’s bio.

The RedHawks played their last four games of 2015-16 at UMD, facing the Bulldogs in 2015-16’s regular season finale series on the road and returning to Duluth the following weekend for an NCHC Tournament best-of-3 quarterfinal set.

Miami didn’t win any of those four games, and its season ended in upstate Minnesota as a result.

Minnesota-Duluth goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Minnesota-Duluth goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo went pro after last season after posting a 1.92 goals-against average, which leaves a major void in net for the Bulldogs, but they should still have a strong returning corps this fall.

Minn.-Duluth’s success was predicated on defense last season, as the Bulldogs allowed just 82 goals – 2.05 per game – the best in the NCHC, but this team has three freshmen goalies on its roster.

NCAA TITLES: 1 (2011).

COACH: Scott Sandelin (278-265-73, 17th season).

2015-16 RECORD: 19-16-5 (11-10-3 in NCHC, 4th place in the league).

2015-16 POSTSEASON RESULT: Lost to Boston College, 3-2 in the NCAA regional final.

RINK (capacity): Amsoil Arena, Duluth, Minn. (6,756).

LAST SEASON VS. MIAMI: 5-0-1 including sweep in NCHC quarterfinal series.

ALL-TIME SERIES: Minn.-Duluth, 9-3-1.

SCHEDULE VS. MIAMI: In Duluth Feb. 23-24.

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: F Alex Iafallo, F Karson Kuhlman, F Dominic Toninato, D Neal Pionk, D Willie Raskob, D Carson Soucy.

KEY NEW FACES: F Joey Anderson, F Riley Tufte, D Jarod Hilderman, D Nick Wolff, G Hunter Miska.

NOTES: UMD completely dominated Miami last season, especially when it counted most, but the Bulldogs lost their top two forwards in terms of points (Tony Cameranesi and Austin Farley), top-scoring defenseman (Andrew Welinski) and starting goalie (Kaskisuo).

Iafallo finished with eight goals and 15 assists last season, and Toninato went 15-6-21, tying for the team lead in goals. Kuhlman also reached the 20-point mark, potting 12 markers.

Tufte was selected in the first round by Dallas. Named Mr. Hockey in Minnesota, he is 6-feet-5 and scored 10 goals in 27 games in the USHL last season.

Minnesota-Duluth has a solid, experienced defense corps returning, with six veterans and three freshmen. Back from last season are Pionk (4-13-17), Raskob (2-11-13) and Carson Soucy (3-9-12), all of which played at least 36 games in 2015-16.

The Bulldogs’ goaltending situation is their wild card. In addition to Kaskisuo leaving early, their backup – Matt McNeely – was a senior, so like Miami, UMD will be starting fresh(men) in net.

Hunter Miska went 32-14 with a 2.46 goals-against average with Dubuque last season. Another Hunter – Hunter Shepard – finished 34-14-1.90 with a .926 save percentage in the NAHL last season.

The Bulldogs lost several key players from that regional finalist team, but they have been amazing consistent in the first three years of the NCHC, finishing fourth, fifth and fourth.

Despite winning 20 or more games just once in the past four years, Scott Sandelin’s UMD teams have qualified for the NCAAs back-to-back years and came within a goal of a Final Four berth last year.

Miami falls to UMD again, ending season

The shorthanded goal has been a Miami nemesis all season, and on Saturday a pair of them contributed to the end of the RedHawks’ season.

Minnesota-Duluth beat Miami, 3-1 in Game 2 of a best-of-3 NCHC Tournament quarterfinal series, completing a sweep of the RedHawks.

Miami (15-18-3) finished the season with four consecutive losses, all on UMD’s home ice.

It was the first three-game playoff series loss by the RedHawks since 2009 vs. Northern Michigan, and March 12 ties the earliest ending to a Miami season since 2005.

The Bulldogs’ Kyle Osterberg opened the scoring with an unassisted shorty just 96 seconds into the game. He stripped Miami senior defenseman Matthew Caito at the blue line and went in alone, beating senior goalie Jay Williams on the stick side.

Minnesota-Duluth (17-14-5) made it 2-0 with 3:09 left in the first period on a power play goal by Andy Welinski, which he scored on a slap shot off a drop pass from Jared Thomas.

An outlet pass from Karson Kuhlman found Tony Cameranesi, who juked Williams and beat him on the forehand with 7:14 left in the middle stanza.

Miami senior forward Kevin Morris (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Miami senior forward Kevin Morris (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

The RedHawks cut the deficit to two when freshman forward Jack Roslovic corralled a loose puck, skated in and centered one to senior forward Kevin Morris for a tap-in with 2:48 left in regulation, but Miami could pull no closer.

MU actually outscored UMD 5-on-5, netting the only even-strength goal of the game, but allowed all three of its goals on special teams — one on the man advantage and two shorthanded.

Miami ended the season with one SHG for and seven against.

The RedHawks were 7-2 in NCHC Tournament games entering this weekend and 2-0 on the road, having swept St. Cloud State in 2014.

Miami loses seniors forwards Morris, Alex Gacek, Sean Kuraly, Andrew Schmit and Michael Mooney, defensemen Matthew Caito, Taylor Richart and Chris Joyaux and goalies Williams and Ryan McKay.

The team said it expects 13 freshman to come to Oxford this fall.

Analysis: NCAA path now brutal for Miami

Coming back from a game down in a best-of-3 series is arduous, exponentially so on the road.

But add in that Miami led twice in Game 1 – including by a pair of goals, 4-2 – before allowing three third-period tallies, and that task becomes herculean.

Unfortunately for the RedHawks, that’s the position they are in after Friday’s 5-4 loss at Minnesota-Duluth in the opening game of their best-of-3 NCHC Tournament quarterfinal round road series.

It’s the type of demoralizing loss that is tough to come back from at any level, in any sport. It almost would’ve been better if Miami (15-17-3) had lost this game 6-0.

Now the Bulldogs (16-14-5) smell blood and want to close this thing out, because playing a third game in three days is a hindrance on many levels, especially with a clear-cut No. 1 goalie in Kasimir Kaskisuo.

The RedHawks have exceled when faced with elimination in past years, but they are now 0-4-1 vs. UMD this season and need to win back-to-back games on the Bulldogs’ home ice just to advance to Minneapolis.

And what are the odds that Kaskisuo, one of the top goalies in Division I, much less the conference, stops .818 of his shots faced again in a best-of-3?

It’s looking grim for Miami, but the team did finally break through for four goals after being held to four in four previous games vs. UMD, so hopefully that offensive confidence carries over to the final two games of this set.

Other thoughts…

– Noticing this more recently, but the defense was soft on a couple of these goals in terms of challenging opponents. Cal Decowski was left alone at the blue line for the first goal, which granted was on an outstanding tip-in, but still, this was an even-strength tally. Three others were on 2-on-2s. Louie Belpedio was aggressive on one skater at the blue line but was ultimately rendered off-balance and Miami was scored on.

– Seems like UMD is targeting Miami senior goalie Jay Williams’ glove side. One goal he definitely would’ve wanted back (the tying marker that made it 2-2), and he was beaten that way multiple other times, albeit on point-blank chances.

– Great to see senior defenseman Matthew Caito back, as Miami had clearly struggled in his absence, although it’s unclear if he’s 100 percent after missing two weeks. Still, less than 100 percent of Caito is better than most Division I blueliners.

– Freshmen Zach LaValle and Ryan Siroky both scored, which they haven’t done much of this season, and hopefully doing so on this stage will set the tone for them heading into next season in a class that has already been a successful one with the initiation of Josh Melnick, Jack Roslovic, Kiefer Sherwood and Grant Hutton.

– Minnesota-Duluth is giving credibility to the theory that the No. 5 seed is worse than the lowest three because the Bulldogs are still fighting for an NCAA berth. This is an impressive team that underachieved during the regular season but appears to be peaking at the most opportune time. That’s not good for Miami.

Three late goals doom Miami

Miami is almost certainly one loss away from having its season end.

The RedHawks saw a two-goal lead vanish, as they surrendered three unanswered third-period goals in a 5-4 loss at Minnesota-Duluth on Friday in the first game of a best-of-3 series.

It was Miami’s third straight game in Duluth, and its third straight loss. The RedHawks finished the regular season with a road series vs. the Bulldogs and were swept.

UMD (16-14-5) opened the scoring when Austyn Young tipped home a blueline wrister by Cal Decowski just 4:34 into the game.

Miami (15-17-3) tied it on a goal by freshman forward Zach LaValle, who fired in a bad-angle shot with 7:43 left in the first period.

The RedHawks went ahead, 2-1 when a Bulldogs defensive zone pass hit the skate of sophomore forward Conor Lemirande and slid to freshman forward Ryan Siroky, who whipped in the off-balance shot 4:11 into the middle stanza.

UMD tied it again on a blueline shot by Adam Welinski on the power play with 10:01 to play in that frame.

But Miami regained the lead just 18 seconds later, as senior forward Alex Gacek and junior forward Anthony Louis played give and go, with Gacek centering a pass to Louis, who skated in and backhanded one past Bulldogs goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo.

The RedHawks went ahead two just three minutes later, as a blast by sophomore defenseman Louie Belpedio found twine to make it 4-2 after two periods.

Unfortunately for Miami, there were still 20 minutes left.

Adam Johnson cut the lead to one when he drove the net 2-on-2 and beat senior goalie Jay Williams 4:54 into that stanza.

With 8:48 left in regulation, Neal Pionk tied it on a power play rip from the blue line.

The game winner came from Carson Soucy, just his second marker of the season, as he was the trailer on a 2-on-2 and shot the puck in from the slot.

Ten of the RedHawks’ skaters recorded a point, with Louis recording a goal and an assist for a team-best two points.

Anthony Louis (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Anthony Louis (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

At this point, the only way Miami could earn an NCAA Tournament berth without winning the NCHC Tournament would be if it advanced to the title game and lost, thus giving the RedHawks a requisite .500 record, and everything went right for them in the PairWise rankings, which would be an extreme longshot.

The RedHawks are currently tied for 23rd and would need to improve to 14th or better to have a legitimate shot at an at-large bid.

Game 2 of this series is at 8:07 p.m. on Saturday, and Game 3 – if necessary – would be at 8:07 p.m. on Sunday.

NCHC Quarters: (5) MIAMI at (4) UMD

Duluth Skyline

Beautiful Duluth, Minnesota and the UMD Bulldogs await Miami in the quarterfinals of the NCHC Tournament

Well folks, that was fast.

Another regular season has come and gone. Frankly, I’m glad to see this one go because it goes without saying that in this rebuilding year, Miami (15-16-3) was about as mediocre as it gets.

Now, that’s not to say this season wasn’t exciting. As we wrote a few weeks back, a movie could have most definitely be made about the season.

Consider the drama…a senior goaltender being summarily dispatched after an on-ice incident. A horrible first half of the season made mediocre with a solid second half. A senior captain, burdened by the ‘C’ struggling to regain his form. A Miami team that faces a formidable foe this weekend struggling to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes afloat.

A lot of drama.

This weekend, Miami has to find a way to win two of three games against a squad they have not beaten this season. Though Miami is 1-0 all-time (in Minnesota even) against Minnesota-Duluth (15-14-5) in the postseason, the RedHawks went 0-3-1 against them this season including dropping two in suffering an awful sweep last weekend when they were playing to host this series in Oxford. The RedHawks were outscored 8-1 and were never really in either game. Jay Williams was pulled on Friday and the team didn’t play well in front of him either night. On the bright side, freshman netminder Evan McCarthy saw his first collegiate action in the Miami net – so there’s that.

If Miami cannot rally this weekend, and frankly next (in all likelihood, they’re going to have defend their NCHC Frozen Faceoff title in order to qualify for the NCAA Tournament), it will mean that Miami will have missed the Tournament in two of the past three years. What’s worse is that like in the 2013-14 season, they were supposed to host one of the regional brackets in, yep, Cincinnati. At some point, you begin to wonder if this program has plateaued? Have we seen all that it has to give?

But that’s something we’ll consider in greater depth if the team fails to advance this weekend or next.

Duluth is built from the net out led by sophomore netminder Kasimir Kaskisuo who merely led the conference with a 1.69 GAA in conference play while ranking second with a .932 save percentage. The Bulldogs are also blessed with four solid defenders including Willie Raskob, Neal Pionk, Carson Soucy and Andy Welinski who make it hard on opposing forwards in front of Kaskisuo. Up front, UMD has a stable of solid forwards including Kyle Osterberg, Dominic Toninato, Alex Iafallo and Karson Kuhlman. It’s a deep roster that maybe won’t wow you with statistics, but one that has a threat on every line. It will be a challenge for Miami to contain UMD, something they obviously did not do last weekend.

But, I told our friend and UMD PXP man Bruce Ciskie before last weekend that I felt whichever squad won last weekend’s series, and as such home ice, would lose the following weekend when it really counts – at least for Miami.

And, as we wrote after last weekend’s sweep, Miami has over the past few seasons, found a way to make a run through the NCHC Tournament reaching the championship game in the league’s first two seasons of existence. Two years ago they went on the road after finishing dead last in the regular season and upset Penrose Cup champ St. Cloud in Minnesota and defeated North Dakota in Minneapolis before falling by a goal to Denver in the title game. That Miami squad also needed to capture the Frozen Faceoff title to advance to the NCAA Tournament. Last season, Miami finished second in the regular season and then breezed to a Frozen Faceoff championship. In doing so, the RedHawks lost their top two goal scorers, Riley Barber and Blake Coleman to injury and suspension, respectively, in the title match against St. Cloud. One thing is certain, St. Cloud wants no part of Miami in this tournament.

So, Miami can do this and they’re going to have to again. And, despite the record against UMD this year, I have a strange feeling they will find their way to Minneapolis again. And, the gang at USCHO sees this series as incredibly tough to pick as well.

Love and Honor,

Miami advances.

Preview: Miami at Minnesota-Duluth

WHO: Miami RedHawks (15-16-3) at Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (15-14-5).

WHAT: NCHC best-of-3 quarterfinal series.

WHERE: Amsoil Arena, Duluth, Minn.

WHEN: Friday–8:07 p.m.; Saturday–8:07 p.m.; Sunday–8:07 p.m. (if necessary)

TV: None.

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

MINNESOTA-DULUTH RADIO: All three nights–WWAX-FM (92.1), Duluth, Minn.; KQDS-FM (95.5), Grand Rapids, Minn.; WJJY-FM (106.7), Brainerd, Minn.; WXCX-FM (105.7), Pine City, Minn.

NOTES: Miami was swept in Duluth last weekend, and the RedHawks return to UMD with their season on the line.

Miami is 0-3-1 vs. Minnesota-Duluth and has scored just four goals against Kasimir Kaskisuo and the Bulldogs this season.

And that has been the MO for UMD – it has allowed just 68 goals in 34 goals for a 2.00 average, with Kaskisuo posting a 1.86 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.

Only two Bulldogs have reached the 20-point mark, with just Tony Camenaresi over 30 (9-22-31). Austin Farley has 13 goals and 14 assists for 27 points, including eight of UMD’s 20 power play tallies.

Tied for 22nd in the PairWise rankings and a game under .500, the axiom of the year is that Miami needs to win this series to have a shot at an NCAA Tournament berth, and the RedHawks probably need to win the NCHC Tournament to earn a spot among the national field.

Miami has yet to win against Minnesota-Duluth this season, finishing the regular season 0-3-1 vs. the Bulldogs, and the RedHawks were swept in Duluth last weekend, getting outscored, 8-1.

It doesn’t look good for MU, but consider that the RedHawks are 7-2 all-time in the NCHC Tournament and 4-1 in this round including 2-0 on the road.

Miami has won this round both seasons of the NCHC’s existence to advance to the Frozen Faceoff in Minneapolis.

The RedHawks also have not lost a best-of-3 series since 2009 when Northern Michigan rallied to win Games 2 and 3 at Cady Arena after losing the series opener.