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Analysis: That dreaded 6-on-5

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – Ahh, 6-on-5 hockey.

Earlier this month it helped Miami tie that Colorado College home game in regulation, which eventually turned into a win.

But over the past eight years it has largely been RedHawk kryptonite, including Saturday’s 2-2 tie at the Slater Family Ice Arena in which Bowling Green scored the equalizer with 37.8 seconds left in the third period.

It was also the second time in 2017-18 Miami surrendered a decision-altering goal against in the final minute. Providence beat the RedHawks by scoring with 0.9 seconds left opening weekend.

An inability to close out wins is a legitimate criticism of Miami teams the past few years, but to the team’s credit it runs 6-on-5 drills all the time in practice.

Is it coaching? Is it heart? Is it just bad luck? Is it a statistical anomaly? Hard to say, but it’s definitely real.

On the flip side, there were 13 goals scored this weekend, and the RedHawks had eight of them in a road series against a team ranked in the top one-fourth of the PairWise.

They went 1-0-1 on Friday and Saturday, their best road series record since sweeping Nebraska-Omaha in late January of 2016. That was 22 months ago.

Overall Miami deserves a grade of ‘B’ for the weekend, but it would be tough to finish one or two spots out of the NCAA Tournament field because the RedHawks saw a win flipped to a tie because of yet another extra-attacker goal.

Other thoughts…

– Here were go with another edition of meaningless-3-on-3-exhibitions-suck. Regular readers have heard this rant before and can move on to the next long dash.

But seriously, can anyone please tell me why, for the love of God, we’re risking injury to some of the best Division I hockey athletes, for a demonstration between two non-conference opponents? It was 2-2 after the requisite five-minute overtime. So the game is officially a tie. Just leave it at that.

For whatever reason the teams played a five-minute 3-on-3 afterward, and while it was announced that the game had been completed, few on or off the ice got the memo. With a game story to complete on this end, following a mad ending to the actual game – which was highly entertaining, by the way – there was zero attention given to the skills competition on the deteriorating ice that was 30 minutes of game play old. Apparently BGSU won that, because the team and fans celebrated like they won Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. In reality it meant absolutely nothing.

College hockey wants it both ways in this situation. It detests ties, so it creates “decisions” through artificial means like these. But the “wins” are utterly meaningless, and the process does a disservice to its fans.

We asked about going to a 4-on-4 for overtime like the NHL did, and the NCAA’s position – according to a conversation with NCHC commissioner and NCAA rules committee member Josh Fenton a couple years ago – is that college hockey believes overtime should be played by the same rules as regulation, and that means five players a side.

If conferences choose to alter rules beyond those five minutes, they may do so, but for NCAA purposes a game needs to be 5-on-5 for 65 minutes. After that, the league can hold an arm-wrestling competition at center ice to determine a “winner” from a points perspective if it so chooses.

OK. Respect that argument. Don’t agree, but respect it.

But the reality of that position is few games are resolved in five minutes of 5×5. It was 22 percent in the last sample studied on this end. In the NHL, which uses 4×4, that percentage jumps to between 40 and 50, depending on the season.

That leaves 78 percent of games that are tied through three periods, and the NCAA feels a compulsory need to generate a non-tie outcome at the expense of legitimacy.

Please, either break all ties by sane means or cut down the chance of ties and leave the occasional one alone.

– Love the weekend series at the in-state rival and hope these two can play four a year, since Ohio State has decided to bail on its annual home-and-home with Miami. The RedHawks and Bowling Green are less than three hours distance driving, and the teams can drive back on Saturday nights to cut out on the expense of a second game-night hotel stay.

– Staff at BGSU was top notch. Lots of Miami fans were in attendance, and the games got chippy, but never saw or heard about any problems.

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

– Ryan Larkin’s save percentage is not where he would want it, but he had a solid weekend. He faced a lot of high-percentage shots and stopped most.

– Grant Hutton and Louie Belpedio are giving the RedHawks a dominant defensive tandem it has not had in some time. One wonders if Belpedio was ever truly healthy in 2016-17 and Hutton seemingly gets better each shift.

– Didn’t think the penalty shot should’ve been awarded. It was close though. Kiefer Sherwood did all he could to prevent the goal and did commit a penalty, but it should’ve just been a two-minute power play.

GRADES

FORWARDS: C-. Only two points from this entire corps: Josh Melnick’s goal for his tip-in and Gordie Green’s assist for an outlet pass that hit Belpedio in stride, as he crossed the blue line and blasted one home. Carson Meyer has to stop taking penalties – he had 12 more PIM in this one.

DEFENSEMEN: B. Belpedio fired the shots that resulted in both Miami goals. Hutton picked up an assist. Both were stellar defensively. This group was shaky in the first period but got better as the game progressed.

GOALTENDING: B+. Larkin faced a lot of quality chances as usual, and the only goals he allowed were on a penalty shot and a well-placed wrister from the high slot on a 6-on-5.

LINEUP CHANGES: There was only one: Casey Gilling was back in the lineup, sending Carter Johnson to the bench. It was the first game missed by Gilling all season.

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Analysis: Eerie parallels to Plymouth

A week after winning an exhibition against Team USA, 7-5 on the road, Miami beat Maine by the same score in its first regular season road game of the season on Friday.

The odds of winning back-to-back road games by that score are pretty long, but it gets weirder.

– Grant Hutton had never scored multiple goals in a game prior to last week. He netted two vs. the USNDT and two vs. Maine.

– Josh Melnick had never recorded three assists – or even three points – in a game. His line was 0-3-3 in both contests.

– Got one better: The last time Miami and its opponent had both found the net at least three times in the second period? Oct. 17, 2009. The RedHawks outscored the U-18 squad, 4-3 in the middle stanza last week. On Friday both teams connected three times in that frame.

And that wild game 5-5 road tie eight years ago to the date? Nope, it wasn’t against Maine, but it was at the closest Division I school to Orono – at New Hampshire, less than 200 miles away.

Winning a road exhibition had to instill confidence in a team that had gone so long between victories. Traveling over 1,000 miles to beat a Division I team is way better.

The freshmen have a win under their belt after an 0-2 start including a brutal ending to Game 2. The sophomores finally got back on the winning track after a seemingly eternal winless streak and the veterans needed the pick-me-up as well after a lack of success Miami’s past couple of seasons.

Other thoughts…

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

– Amazing how Grant Hutton went from a zero-goal freshman campaign to being one of the biggest defenseman scoring threats in recent history. He netted nine last season and has three in three games in 2017-18.

That’s 12 in 39 games. The rest of the RedHawks entire D-corps has the same number in that span.

Also, Hutton’s goals have all come on the power play, as he is in a nine-way tie for first in the NCAA in PPGs and among just three defensemen with three man-advantage tallies.

– Love seeing Karch Bachman score. He seems to create a scoring chance every time he’s on the ice, and he was rewarded with ice/power play time on the Kiefer Sherwood line. Here’s hoping he gets more time on the man-advantage and the penalty kill, where he held his own vs. Providence. He’s got great speed, a great shot and an active stick that creates turnovers. He could break out this season.

– We saw the Josh Melnick-Gordie Green chemistry in Plymouth, and that was on display again on the east coast. They were on the ice together for five of Miami’s goals, and one or the other was out there in each of the team’s seven markers.

– Casey Gilling: 16-4 in the faceoff circle on Friday. This is a very welcome stat, as it’s an area in which the RedHawks have struggled in recent years.

– On the flip side, Miami still has work to do defensively, as it has allowed 10 goals in six periods (albeit one of those games didn’t count), and it won’t score seven goals a game the rest of the season. Ryan Larkin faced 25 shots and allowed five goals last night, and his save percentage is just .857 thus far. His defense needs to help him see fewer high-quality chances, and he needs to stop more of the ones he does face.

Analysis: MU growth a work in progress

OXFORD, Ohio – The French phrase “comme ci, comme ca” applies perfectly to Friday’s game.

Miami and Maine skated to a 3-3 tie in the series opener and first game played between these teams in Oxford, and like many ties, the overall performance and the outcome was neither good nor bad for the RedHawks.

Here are some of the pros and cons from this contest from Miami’s perspective:

PROS

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

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

– Anthony Louis has been a good player since setting foot in Oxford, but he appears to have taken a major step up this season. He is playing solid defense, attacking loose pucks and eluding defenders, things he had not done regularly his first three seasons, and that extra effort resulted in a two-goal performance. The second goal especially was the result of beating a defender, something we had not seen him do often previously. He generated nine shots on Friday, many coming because of his hard work.

– Any nervousness from Louis Belpedio was a distant memory. Belpedio struggled early vs. Ohio State, perhaps under the burden of his newly-earned captaincy, but he was fantastic on Friday. He especially stood out quarterbacking the power play, as he puck movement in that capacity was exceptional.

– The man advantage deserves its own bullet point. Miami was only 1-for-8 but the aforementioned puck movement was excellent from the top unit.

– Kiefer Sherwood had seven assists all of last season, but he picked up his third and fourth of the season in this game. He was a feared goal scorer and started to take off in the second half of last season, but he is turning into an all-around force now as he shifts from the wing to center. His brilliant pass to Grant Hutton led to Miami’s first goal, and he picked up the secondary helper in the tying goal on the power play as the RedHawks thanks to solid puck movement in the offensive zone.

– The third line was excellent at puck possession. A pair of sophomores, Ryan Siroky and Zach LaValle, plus senior Justin Greenberg, were arguably Miami’s top threesome in this one, playing a grind-it-out game.

– The wide bodies were solid on the fourth line. Conor Lemirande was a force vs. Ohio State and looks a lot better with the puck this season as well as physically stronger. At 6-feet-6, that’s a scary concept if he continues to improve. Freshman Willie Knierim looked a lot more confident in this game than last week. Patience will be key for fans with Knierim, who is the youngest player on the team and still learning to play with his huge frame. He won’t score 25 goals this season, but watching him develop should be fun the next four years.

CONS

– Topping the list is that Maine didn’t look as good as Ohio State, and Miami still couldn’t come away with the win. True, process counts more than wins and losses at this point, but even with a young team, the RedHawks need to win games on home ice, and they have a pair of ties to open their Cady Arena slate.

Miami's Grant Hutton scores on this second-period shot (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Miami’s Grant Hutton scores on this second-period shot (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

– Turnovers were costly. Defenseman Chaz Switzer was stripped for Maine’s first goal and normally-solid fellow blueliner Grant Hutton couldn’t handle a deep puck in the third period, ultimately leading to the Black Bears’ final goal. Even reliable Josh Melnick couldn’t clear one in the second period and Maine scored later in the shift with tired Miami players caught on the ice.

– Too many long shifts in the D-zone. Kind of a corollary to the turnovers note, which were obviously a contributing factor, Maine possessed the puck in the offensive zone for extended periods far too often in this game.

Other thoughts…

– Overall this team is progressing well despite having half of its lineup consist of freshmen. The schedule will get tougher really soon, though, and Miami still has work to do if hopes to compete in the NCHC.

– Could’ve missed the memo, but the linesmen kicked players out of the faceoff circle at an alarming rate, and often it was difficult to see the cause.

– The faceoff thing was more noticeable because this game featured 72 faceoffs and largely lacked flow as a result. A lot of icing and off-sides, plus 13 penalties.

– Offensive zone faceoff, 1.0 seconds left in regulation, not sure why goalie Ryan Larkin wasn’t pulled. Almost every coach at this level or above puts a sixth attacker on in this situation.

GRADES

From left to right, Josh Melnick, Kiefer Sherwood and Anthony Louis celebrate a Louis goal (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

From left to right, Josh Melnick, Kiefer Sherwood and Anthony Louis celebrate a Louis goal (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

FORWARDS: B. This corps scored two of Miami’s goals and fired 29 shots, with Louis netting both markers and accounting for 9 SOG. Karch Bachman did take a bad penalty, firing an opponent’s stick down the ice. Overall the line chemistry seems to be improving.

DEFENSEMEN: C. Defensemen turnovers directly created two goals for Maine, which cannot be overlooked despite the blueliners’ overall solid play. Hutton scored a goal, balancing out him losing the puck, and Belpedio finished with six shots and picked up the primary assist on the tying goal.

GOALTENDING: B. Stopping 18 of 21 doesn’t look great on paper, but Larkin had zero chance on the second goal, the third was an absolute laser and the first was essentially a close-up breakaway. He controlled all of his rebounds and made a couple of high-quality saves.

LINEUP CHANGES: The only change was on defense: Grant Frederic played with Bryce Hatten sat. Frederic looks like he has potential, and his size is impressive, but he was a tough tentative in this one. That will hopefully go away with more playing time.