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 – The end of the regular season couldn’t come quickly enough for Miami.
The RedHawks lost their finale, 5-2 to No. 15 North Dakota on Saturday as they will limp into the playoffs with an eight-game winless streak and one victory in their last 13.
After a scoreless first period, the Fighting Sioux took the lead 2:34 into the second period when Ludvig Hoff stole the puck from Miami’s Conor Lemirande and threaded a pass to Chris Wilkie, who was wide open in the slot and wired a shot home.
The RedHawks (9-18-7) tied it on the power play when Grant Hutton fired a shot from just inside the blue line, and after goalie Cam Johnson made the initial save, Kiefer Sherwood slammed home the rebound from the side of the net with 14:51 left in the middle stanza.
UND (18-14-3) went ahead for good with 4:24 left in that frame when Tucker Poolman took the puck from along the boards, skated from behind the net to the top of the crease and buried a backhander just under the crossbar.
On a 3-on-2 break, Poolman fed Trevor Olson in the slot, and Olson found the net to make it 3-1 with 15:42 left in regulation.
Miami did trim the lead to one when a blue line blast by Chaz Switzer tricked through Johnson with 11:12 to play for Switzer’s first career goal.
But 35 seconds later, it was Poolman again, scoring off a Dixon Bowen feed on a 2-on-1, giving North Dakota a 4-2 lead.
Bowen sealed it with 3:30 to play with an empty netter.
Sherwood finished with a goal and an assist, accomplishing that for the second straight game as he ended the weekend with a team-best four points.
The RedHawks were limited to 11 shots, their lowest total in the Cady Arena era and one off the team record low of 10, which Miami ended up with twice, most recently in 2000 vs. Michigan.
Miami had already locked up a seven seed in the NCHC Tournament, which starts next weekend. The RedHawks will travel to Minnesota for a best-of-3 series in the opening round against third-ranked and second-seeded Minnesota-Duluth.
The games will be on Friday, Saturday and – if necessary – Sunday. Miami needs to win that tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament.
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.
If only Miami was as good in the first 60 minutes as it has been in overtime and beyond.
The RedHawks and No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth tied, 3-3 at Amsoil Arena on Friday, and Miami came away with the second league point thanks to a 3-on-3 winner by Justin Greenberg.
MU (9-16-7) has played in 10 overtimes this season, winning three and tying seven. Of the five league ties that went to a 3-on-3, the RedHawks have picked up the extra point three times.
The two points gives Miami a razor-thin margin to earn home-ice advantage for the first round of the NCHC Tournament, but it would need a lot of outside help in addition to a sweep of North Dakota next week.
The Bulldogs (20-5-6) took the lead at the 13:00 mark of the first period when Alex Iafallo sprung Dominic Toninato down the left wing with a neutral-zone pass, and Toninato skated in and beat RedHawks goalie Ryan Larkin on the short side from the center of the faceoff circle.
Miami tied it when Anthony Louis skated across the blue line and dropped a pass for Jared Brandt, who blasted a shot from the high slot that snuck through Hunter Miska and tricked in with 11:09 left in the second period.
With 1:02 left in the middle stanza, the RedHawks took their only lead of the weekend when Grant Hutton ripped a shot from the blue line that beat Miska.
UMD made it 2-2 on an Adam Johnson slap shot from along the boards, beating Larkin on the glove side.
Parker Mackay put the Bulldogs back on top when he snuck in front of the Miami net and batted home a pass from Jared Thomas with 11:48 remaining in regulation.
The RedHawks scored the equalizer when a shot by Gordie Green from the high slot eluded Miska with 3:25 left in the final frame.
It was Green finding the net again in the 3-on-3, taking a pass from Scott Dornbrock, firing a shot that was stopped by Miska, corralling the loose puck and burying the rebound.
Hutton has scored in three straight games and Brandt connected in his second consecutive contest. Green netted his sixth marker of the season, with five coming in the last 15 games.
Brandt and Green both finished with two points, giving Brandt his first career multi-point game. Green has recorded multiple points three times.
The tie extends Miami’s winless streak to six games but does end the team’s five-game losing streak. The RedHawks have just one win in their last 11 (1-8-2) and finish their regular-season road slate with just one conference win.
Miami wraps up its regular season with a two-game set vs. North Dakota at Cady Arena next weekend.
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.
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.
OXFORD, Ohio – So it’s official: Miami will enter the NCHC Tournament with a losing record for the third time in four years.
That seemed like an inconceivable concept four years ago when the RedHawks joined the newly-formed league, having at that time qualified for eight straight NCAA Tournaments, including a pair of Frozen Four berths and a national championship game appearance.
Yet, here we are after the RedHawks suffered their second consecutive 5-2 loss to No. 2 Denver at Cady Arena and their fourth straight defeat overall. They are 1-7-1 in their last nine.
One of the tougher things to comprehend about this extended swoon is that Miami (9-15-6) is hosting the NCAA regionals for the third time since 2013, and now there’s about a 90 percent chance the RedHawks will not play a single NCAA Tournament game in Cincinnati.
And many have been so upset about Miami’s placement in the NCAA brackets over the years. It’s fair to say fans, players and coaches have no right to complain about that ever again. This spring the RedHawks would’ve traveled a whopping 35 miles south for their regional games, and the Frozen Four is just a five-hour bus trip away in Chicago, a city no college hockey team calls home.
Hockey has been THE sport in Oxford since the Goggin Ice Center and Cady Arena opened in 2006, with students camping out in front of the facility for days just to get into games when Miami was regularly the top-ranked team in Division I.
The number 3,642 was ingrained in the heads of those who followed the program: That was the attendance figure when games were sold out, which was almost always in the first half decade of the new facility.
In 2016-17 the high-water mark was 3,032 vs. Nebraska-Omaha, perhaps because some thought the “O” on the Mavericks’ jerseys stood for Ohio State. The RedHawks are averaging 2,528 this year.
Football has always been an easier sell in southern Ohio, and those RedHawks wrote quite a story this season, starting 0-6 before winning their last six and falling by a point in their bowl game.
They averaged 17,110 in 2016, and while of course schools have plenty of crossover fans, at a school like Miami that is in a rural area with many of its alumni an hour or more away – often much more – it doesn’t take a genius to realize more of those graduates will bring themselves, their families and their money to Yager rather than the ice center a mile south this fall when they visit Oxford.
In sports, fans have short memories and winning solves a lot of problems. Team morale and fan support – the latter of which ultimately generates that all-important revenue – will go away when this program starts winning again.
The sooner that happens Cady Arena can sell out games again as it tries to regain its spot atop the Miami sports pecking order.
– One of the most disappointing things about this 1-7-1 slide is there’s little fire being displayed. Some decent hits are being dished out, but goalie Ryan Larkin gets poked at and bumped on a regular basis and rarely has anyone shoved an opponent out of the crease. For that matter, when’s the last time there was any kind of skirmish? Not advocating a 1970s Boston Bruins line brawl, but some opponent hatred would be nice to see. This is the fourth season of the league, so the players are all too familiar with each other, yet there seems to be almost no animosity. This season Miami is not one of the most skilled teams in the NCHC, so it needs to grind out wins, and emotion is a huge part of hockey. Louie Belpedio played on the edge the most when Miami was reeling off five straight wins, but he had gotten away from that during this skid. And he’s the captain, so the example to the rest of the team comes from the top. Then when Belpedio was injured late Saturday, Jared Brandt did some light shoving but everyone else on the ice seemed checked out. Kind of mind blowing that your captain is laying on the ice, the victim of a kneeing major, and only one player on the ice seems upset.
– Speaking of injuries, Kiefer Sherwood got banged up late in the second period, giving everyone quite a scare, but he not only returned for the third period but seemed to be back into that game-takeover mode we’ve seen on occasion.
– Despite having just two true scoring lines, Miami was scoring at a decent clip, but the offense has dried up the past few weeks. The RedHawks have scored just 12 times in seven games and have netted more than two goals just once in that span. When you figure that MU has five of those goals have been on the power play and one more was shorthanded, the team has just six even-strength markers in seven games, or 0.86 per.
– And it’s been open season on the Miami net in the third period. Opponents have scored 12 times in five games in the most previous five games. Three of those were empty netters, but that’s still 1.8 per game with a goalie in net.
– Some of the leadership on the team has been disappointing in recent games. Anthony Louis picked up an assist, but he’s an assistant captain and is not playing like one. Too many turnovers, too little interest in any aspect other than offense. Belpedio had not been playing with that edge he had earlier in the year, when he got under the skin of opponents. Not sure how they’re perceived in the locker room, but despite being sophomores, Grant Hutton and Josh Melnick have done a better job of leading by example on the ice.
– Larkin has been sensational this season, but after the fifth Denver goal it was probably time to give him a rest. The last thing a team wants is its goalie lacking confidence, and a season like this could send a netminder to the psych ward.
– Gordie Green doesn’t seem to have a confidence problem. He seemed a bit cautious early this season, but he generated two breakaways and was a nightmare for Denver on its power plays.
FORWARDS: D. Carson Meyer’s shot that resulted in the first Miami goal was sweet, but there were few other positives among this corps. Really liked Zach LaValle’s hard-nosed play, and Sherwood seemed rejuvenated in the third period after getting banged up. Twelve forwards generated 17 shots and were outclassed by Denver overall in every aspect. The RedHawks did fare better on draws, going 30-32 with Sherwood finishing 9-9.
DEFENSEMEN: C-. Hutton ripped home the second Miami goal on the second power play unit, and he finished with five SOG, which is just as solid a strategy for that corps as any other, as the RedHawks have three PPGs from their non-top four forwards, with two by Gordie Green, who is transitioning to that top line. It was Hutton’s third power play goal of the season. For the most part it wasn’t a good night for the other five, with Scott Dornbrock and Grant Frederic struggling early. Denver finished with 38 shots, with 16 in the third period while the Pioneers were leading. This group still seems too eager to jump into the play in non-pinch situations.
GOALTENDING: D+. It’s so difficult to grade Larkin poorly, because even when he allows a borderline goal, he typically stops one that most wouldn’t to counter that. But in this game he surrendered a weak second goal, was beaten on a wicked shot for Goal No. 3, and he should’ve had the fifth one as well. He made a couple insane saves, including one in which he sprawled across the crease to cover the post on a one-time.
LINEUP CHANGES: Just one: Colin Sullivan was scratched in favor of Alex Alger. That gave Miami 12 true forwards, since Chaz Switzer has apparently cracked the top six, having playing in six straight games. Sullivan dressed in 21 consecutive games.
OXFORD, Ohio – Game 2 of Miami’s home series vs. No. 2 Denver bore a striking resemblance to Game 1.
Fall behind, tie the score at two, allow the final three goals.
And ultimately, drop its fourth straight game by an identical 5-2 score as the Pioneers swept the RedHawks at Cady Arena on Saturday.
Miami (9-15-1) is now ensured a losing record in both the regular season and conference play.
MU’s night starting promisingly enough, as Carson Meyer opened the scoring with a bad-angle shot that eluded goalie Tanner Jaillet just 4:10 into the first period.
But in another similarity to the series opener, Denver (22-6-4) would net its first two goals less than 90 seconds apart.
Troy Terry penetrated the zone, skated in and beat goalie Ryan Larkin after toe-dragging the puck to tie the score on the power play with 7:04 left in the first period.
The Pioneers pulled ahead when a shot from the left faceoff circle snuck through Larkin’s pads with 6:22 remaining in the opening stanza.
In 42 seconds, Miami had gone from leading 1-0 to trailing, 2-1.
The RedHawks did tie the score on the man advantage when Grant Hutton blasted one by Jaillet 4:08 into the middle frame.
But Denver took the lead for good 2:22 later, as Terry skated across the slot and whipped one into the top corner of the net.
Romig made it 4-2 when he scored on a one-timer off a pass by Colin Staub from behind the Miami net with 14:55 left in regulation.
Exactly 10 minutes later, Tariq Hammond capped the scoring when he beat Larkin low to the stick side moments after a potential fifth Denver goal was waved off.
With time running out, RedHawks defenseman Louie Belpedio was kneed and left the game. He did put pressure on his leg but was still helped off the ice. The Pioneers’ Jarid Lukosevicius was assessed a major penalty and a game misconduct.
Meyer snapped a six-game goal drought but has points in his last three. Hutton found the net for the second time in five contests.
Anthony Louis picked up an assist, becoming the 34th player in Miami history to rack up 120 career points. He is in a five-way tie for 30th with 45 goals and 75 helpers.
Miami remains in seventh place in the NCHC, five points out of both fifth and sixth, and dropped to 28th in the PairWise Rankings.
The RedHawks travel to Minnesota-Duluth for a two-game set next weekend.
OXFORD, Ohio – Three seasons ago, Miami suffered through a 3-12-1 second half.
When it became obvious Miami Version 2013-14 would have to win the NCHC Tournament to earn a berth to the NCAAs, preparation for a difficult road series to the open that years’ conference tournament trumped results of the final few regular season games.
We’re almost to that point after the RedHawks’s 5-2 loss to No. 2 Denver at Cady Arena on Friday, as Miami is mired in seventh place in the league standings and would need to make up seven points with five games left in the regular season to earn home ice for the first round of the NCHCs, not to mention pass three teams.
And the RedHawks (9-14-6) are out of games vs. two of those three teams they would need to eclipse: Nebraska-Omaha and St. Cloud State. The other is North Dakota, which Miami hosts to close out the regular season in two weeks.
Moving ahead of at least one of those teams would be beneficial, as the RedHawks are currently seventh and would play the league runner-up between Minnesota-Duluth and Denver in a best-of-3.
Duluth didn’t work out particularly well last year, and facing the Pioneers in a long series at altitude isn’t particularly appealing either. Western Michigan appears the favorite for the three seed, and Miami didn’t come close to winning either of its games in Kalamazoo, either.
And while the four seed is up for grabs – St. Cloud State currently holds that spot after beating the RedHawks twice on its home ice last week – the five seed may be the toughest in the league, as that team’s opponent is not ensured a spot in the NCAAs and often has a lot more to play for than the relatively safe top three seeds in this league.
Denver (21-6-4) was the better team on Friday and was in both games in Colorado, which RedHawks goalie Ryan Larkin singlehandedly flipped from losses to ties with his stellar play. We’ve seen first hand that Western Michigan > Miami. It’s not a stretch to assume to same about UMD, currently the top-ranked team in PairWise.
That’s where we are with five games left until the NCHC Tournament. It’s not pretty.
Then again, in 2013-14 the RedHawks went to St. Cloud and shocked the Huskies, sweeping them on their home ice and ultimately falling just short in the league’s championship game in Minneapolis.
So Miami’s season is still far from over, but the team’s path is similar to that of three years ago: Need a road series win against a top-10 team then a pair of wins at the Frozen Faceoff.
The odds are long, but the RedHawks have pulled rabbits out of their hats before when things looked their gloomiest.
– Denver’s game-winning goal by Will Butcher was a microcosm of Miami’s season. Offensive-zone faceoff win, check. Skate into the slot uncontested. Check. Fire a grade-A shot past a RedHawks goalie who has to be in need of a support group at this point. Check and mate. It was a 4-on-4 and no one picked up Butcher, who has a great shot and should’ve been a defensive priority on that play.
– Speaking of summing up this team on one play, on defense, there was a fairly routine situation in the first period that turned into another point-blank chance that Larkin turned aside in which Miami D-men Jared Brandt and Louie Belpedio failed to pick up the shooter despite being seemingly well positioned. BoB said the loss of three quality defensemen to graduation (Matthew Caito, Taylor Richart, Chris Joyaux) could be the toughest thing for this team to overcome. The current D-corps, with the exception of Grant Hutton, just isn’t making anyone pay the price for establishing prime real estate in Miami’s zone. A physical, shut-down set of blueliners has been a staple of RedHawks hockey for two cycles of classes, we’re not getting that, Nos. 1-6, on a regular basis. They have far too often freelanced deep into the offensive zone and gotten caught as well.
– The officials certainly didn’t cost Miami this game, but that played a major role by assessing a body checking penalty to Conor Lemirande along the benches (OK, technically they called it interference, but that player had just unloaded the puck, and aren’t those skaters still fair game for the first second at least?). Of course, that went into the net, and after the RedHawks failed to pick up yet another trailer who skated into the slot without paying any kind of price, Colin Sullivan took a penalty right after, and that also ended up in a waved off Denver goal. That was overturned after an eight-minute delay, and there’s a 2-0 lead for the Pioneers with Tanner Jaillet in net. The calls weren’t very good either way, and the linesmen were awful at dropping pucks for faceoffs and in their judgment of kicking playoffs out of the circles.
– These lengthy reviews have gotten ridiculous. We saw a 14-minute delay vs. Western Michigan and another eight-minute stopped in this one. Yes, Friday’s call went Denver’s way, but there really needs to be a limit on these stoppages. If a pregnant pause is long enough that players need to skate to keep their legs fresh, as was the case in both of these instances, it needs to be shut down. Of course we want to see all calls made correctly, but most reasonable people realize that college hockey isn’t the pros, or even Division I football or basketball with unlimited HD angles. If a call can’t be overturned in two minutes, the call on the ice stands. Originally that was a good enough stance for the NFL (actually it was 90 seconds), so it should be fine for hockey at this level.
– Some positive? Josh Melnick had the presence of mind to grab the puck before the linesman got it after Brandt scored the tying goal, realizing it was the first of the freshman’s career. And it was a beautiful shot. Brandt has gone from the NAHL to playing on the top pairing, facing opponents’ top forwards as a freshman, which is an incredibly difficult role in this league.
FORWARDS: D. The Gordie Green-to-LaValle hook up was nice, but this corps did little else. Denver has an excellent coach in Jim Montgomery, and clearly his staff figured out how to shut down Kiefer Sherwood and Anthony Louis, who combined for three shots. Carter Johnson was 6-5 on faceoffs, but overall Miami was an embarrassment on draws, finishing 25-47. Melnick was 9-17 and Sherwood was 5-16. Twelve forwards, 13 shots.
DEFENSEMEN: D+. The Brandt goal earns this corps the plus. Too many Pioneers skated around defenseman en route to the net. Too many times Denver skaters took direct lines toward high-percentage scoring areas without being challenged. Too many times we’ve seen this exact MO.
GOALTENDING: B. Yes, Larkin allowed four goals on 31 shots, but he got almost no help. The first two Denver markers were both on the power play. Goal No. 1 was on a rebound after he had stopped two point-blank chances from the side of the net, and the puck leaked into the slot. Goal No. 2 was tipped at the top of the crease because a player was left there uncontested. Goal No. 3 was on a wide-open shot from the slot because – say it with me – no one picked up the shooter. Goal No. 4 pinballed but again the scorer was allowed to camp out at the top of the crease. Larkin made the save of the year by coming across the crease and shutting down an A-plus chance. If his D-corps isn’t going to show physicality, maybe he should take a page from Jay Williams take matters into his own hands. An occasional penalty for laying a little lumber is a small price to pay to end this trend of seeing high-caliber scorers practically have their mail delivered to the top of Miami’s crease. This has not been a strong regular season, but imagine how much worse it would’ve been if Larkin wasn’t this team’s primary goalie?
LINEUP CHANGES: Defenseman Grant Frederic was back after sitting for four straight games, as Miami went with the seven-defenseman approach with Sullivan cryptically listed as a forward. Forward Alex Alger did not dress. Forward Justin Greenberg missed his eighth straight game with a lower-body injury and was still in a boot. His faceoff prowess was sorely missed.