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Slow start vs. Denver dogs Miami

Denver had three power play chances in the first period and scored on two of them.

The Pioneers added another goal early in the second period for a three-goal lead it would not relinquish in Friday’s 6-3 DU win over Miami at Magnuss Arena.

The RedHawks (11-18-4) did pull to within a goal in the closing minutes but No. 5 Denver punched in a pair of late markers to seal the win.

Miami has lost 10 straight March games and is 0-9 in this month the past three seasons. The RedHawks are 0-7-1 on the road since their last victory outside of Oxford on Dec. 8, and they have a 2-10-2 overall record in their last 14 games.

RECAP: It was the Dylan Gambrell show early.

The DU forward scored on the backhand from the slot to open the scoring, and his shot from the same area was tipped in by Jarid Lukosevicius to make it 2-0.

Rudy Junda extended the DU lead to three when he took a behind-the-net feed from Kolin Olischefski, was denied by Miami goalie Ryan Larkin and batted home the rebound.

The RedHawks cut the deficit to two when Kiefer Sherwood knocked home a one-time pass from Phil Knies on a 3-on-1.

With 10:14 left in the second period, Logan O’Connor centered a pass to Henrik Borgstrom, and the puck hit off Borgstrom’s skate and into the net, making it 4-1.

Miami trimmed the lead to two with five minutes remaining in regulation when Conor Lemirande penetrated the zone and had his pass into the slot hit a Denver player and carrom in.

The RedHawks’ Casey Gilling’s feed also hit a Pioneers defender, deflecting off a stick and into the net with 3:57 remaining.

But a seeing-eye shot from the blue line by Adam Plant found the cage with 2:23 left to make it 5-3, and Colin Staub capped the scoring with an empty netter.

STATS: Slow starts have been the norm for Miami in recent weeks, as the team has been outscored, 9-0 in the first period its last seven games.

Miami’s Rourke Russell (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

The RedHawks also have not scored a power play goal in that seven-game span, going 0-for-22 on the man advantage.

Denver (18-8-7) had five power play chances, scoring on two of them. Miami was on the man advantage once.

— It was the first career multi-point game for Rourke Russell, who picked up two assists.

— Sherwood has scored in consecutive games for the second time this season and has a team-best three-game points streak.

— Gilling scored for the first time in seven games. Lemirande had not scored in his last 25 contests.

THOUGHTS: Did we mention the early power play goals for Denver?

An opponent just can’t give the Pioneers three chances in the first period and expect to win, especially on their home ice.

Then it was 3-0, and that pretty much sealed Miami’s fate for the night.

To the RedHawks’ credit, they battled until the end, trimming a 4-1 Denver lead to one before ultimately surrendering a fifth goal followed by an empty netter.

Being an early no-show has been a theme for Miami this season and is a tough way to make a living in the ultra-competitive NCHC.

— Both early goals were scored because Denver was allowed to control the slot. Gambrell skated laterally to get in there for his goal, and he did the same from the opposite direction on goal No. 2, which was tipped in by Lukosevicius – a player allowed to camp out at the top of the crease.

— It was a strange night for redirected pucks. Miami had one go in off a skate and another hit a stick, as both completely changed direction en route to the net.

One could argue the RedHawks got somewhat lucky in getting back into the game, since those consecutive goals took the score from 4-1 to 4-3.

To be fair, Denver also scored one – its fourth of the night – when a centering feed hit Borgstrom’s skate before finding its mark.

LINEUP CHANGES: Up front, Christian Mohs dressed for just the eighth time this year, and Zach LaValle was in the lineup for only the second time in eight contests.

Carson Meyer was the notable scratch, as the Columbus Blue Jackets draftee has struggled this season. It’s the second time he has not played this season. Willie Knierim was also out of the lineup.

No changes on defense.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Officially these games mean nothing for Miami, which has one clear route to the NCAA Tournament: Beat St. Cloud next week and win the NCHC Tournament.

But it would’ve been nice if there were more positives to be taken from this game.

The RedHawks did battle after falling behind by three, which is admirable in an essentially meaningless game, and Sherwood continues to shine after a sub-par first half.

That’s the boom from this one.

The negatives: Opponents didn’t pay a price in the slot – a recurring theme – the team got off to a slow start, etc.

Ideally, it would be nice to have momentum heading into the opening round of the conference tournament. Denver and SCSU are the elite of the elite in this conference, and Miami needs to show it can compete on the road against Division I’s best.

Unfortunately, this game did little to inspire confidence.

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Outmatched Miami held off Denver

OXFORD, Ohio – Despite being outshot by more than a 2-to-1 margin, Miami found a way to hold off No. 5 Denver.

Three times the RedHawks led by two goals but saw that margin shrink to one each time as they escaped with a 4-3 win over the Pioneers at Cady Arena on Friday.

Denver (11-6-4) practically played keep-away with the puck all night, won the overwhelming majority of battles to loose pucks, had a better passing game, etc.

Miami (9-8-2) was outplayed in pretty much every aspect except the one that counts: Scoring goals.

The final shot total was 47-19 in favor of the Pioneers, and the disparity was amazingly consistent: DU 16-16-15, Miami 6-7-6.

RECAP: Casey Gilling scored 70 seconds in after a strange carom off the boards left him with the puck alone in front of a wide-open net.

Freshman defenseman Rourke Russell slammed home a rebound early in the second period to make it 2-0.

Denver cut the lead to one later that frame, but Miami went back up by two when Josh Melnick made a ridiculous behind-the-back pass to Gilling for a blast from the top of the faceoff circle.

That made it 3-1, and the Pioneers again cut the lead to one before Louie Belpedio ripped one home directly off a faceoff win by Melnick.

Denver scored again late and nearly tied it in the closing seconds.

Miami’s Casey Gilling (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

STATS: Gilling finished with two goals and an assist for a career-best three points, and he was 11-6 on faceoffs. Melnick picked up a pair of helpers on each of the critical late goals. Goalie Ryan Larkin stopped 44 shots.

Dylan Gambrell scored twice on 12 – yes, 12 – shots on goal to pace Denver.

Miami was 2-for-4 on the power play and held the Pioneers to 0-for-5.

THOUGHTS: The process may have been ugly from a Miami perspective, but this Denver team is easily the best the RedHawks has hosted all year. The Pioneers’ skating, speed, defense and finishing ability shined in this game, and they are far more skilled than MU.

But despite being outmatched and not playing its best, Miami still found a way to win.

The RedHawks will need to beat a lot of ranked teams down the stretch if they hope to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015.

From an entertainment perspective this game ranked as one of the best at Cady Arena this season, as Denver came close to tying it a couple of times in the closing moments.

– Gilling is quickly moving up the Miami forward depth chart. He now has 11 points, with six coming in the last five games, and his hockey IQ extremely high. His faceoff percentage is top on the team.

– Despite being in the J-term, the RedHawks’ brought in a “sold-out” crowd of 2,277 without a student section. The university bought its tickets and gave them to faculty, which could potentially add new fans, especially with the excitement level of this game.

– We’re tweaking the write-up format a little so we can get to the key points quicker, make for easier reading and try to conserve a limited amount of weekend free time. And we’re coming to the conclusion that if we can’t pump out a gamer within a few hours of the final whistle it serves little purpose. So we’re going with one story with the recap included. Reader input is always welcome.

GRADES

FORWARDS: C. As is too often the case, Miami just doesn’t get much contribution by forwards not named Melnick or Gordie Green, and it’s now safe to throw Gilling into that list. Conor Lemirande played a lot on the PK and had a solid game overall. He picked up an assist and went plus-1. This corps finished with just 10 shots.

Miami’s Rourke Russell (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

DEFENSEMEN: C+. The good: Belpedio scored the eventual game winner, Russell also found the net and blocked six shots. The bad: Overall this corps was unable to contain Denver’s super-talented forwards, who were able to skate around in Miami’s offensive zone seemingly at will. Chaz Switzer added three blocks including a critical one in the final minute that may have prevented a goal.

GOALTENDING: A-. Rarely does a goalie deserve this high of a grade after allowing three goals, but Larkin made 44 saves for a .936 save percentage, and without a strong presence in net Miami would’ve lost for sure. Didn’t get a great look at the first Denver goal but the second and third ones were nearly unstoppable.

LINEUP CHANGES: None. This is the second straight game in which the same 19 were on the lineup card.

WRAP-UP: Miami was held to its second-lowest shot total of the season and allowed 13 more SOG than in any game of 2017-18 and was able to beat the fifth-ranked team in Division I.

The hockey gods were with the RedHawks in this one.

Analysis: MU unable to finish chances

OXFORD, Ohio – Friday’s game can be summed up in two themes.

One, Miami was unable to capitalize on its ample scoring chances.

Two, Minnesota-Duluth netted devastating, timely goals right after RedHawks surges to kill their momentum.

The final result: A 3-1 Bulldogs win over Miami at Cady Arena in the series opener.

The RedHawks hit four posts, missed multiple additional A-plus chances from in close and finished with 29 shots on goal in addition to those that drew iron.

Hunter Shepard, the No. 14 Bulldogs’ goalie who stopped 28 shots and played exceptionally, turned three SOG aside during a Miami power play, during which the RedHawks seemed to have the puck deep in their offensive zone for the duration.

Sixty-one seconds after that man-advantage ended, Miami was picking it out of its own net.

Then came Glassgate, when a pane of glass in the corner of the rink shattered and needed to be replaced. A UMD goal and a 15-minute delay later, any momentum the RedHawks still had was long gone.

That was late in a first period that saw Miami dominate, 11-4 on the shot counter (although the Bulldogs’ first two shots in the opening minutes were never counted).

Minnesota-Duluth (6-5-2) shut down the RedHawks’ offense in the second period, holding them to three shots.

But Miami (4-6-1) controlled play early in the third period, as Carson Meyer tied it on a power play.

The majority of play the first three quarters of that final stanza were played in the Bulldogs’ zone.

Then MU’s Casey Gilling was whistled for boarding. Then UMD scored. Then UMD scored again.

Game over.

Other thoughts…

– It’s encouraging that Miami was able to dictate play for large parts of a game against a ranked team. Though the RedHawks need to win a majority of these games, obviously, this was a good litmus test for MU and shows they can compete against ranked teams.

Miami is certainly better than Connecticut and swept that series. Dare we say the RedHawks appear stronger than Colorado College although the teams split that set. North Dakota is, well, really good, and MU went 0-1-1 there.

Duluth, on the rankings bubble with a lot of its key players from 2016-17 gone but boasting a strong freshman class and a lot of solid returnees? It’s intriguing to see how Miami fares against a team like that.

Process still matters, and the RedHawks largely passed that test on Friday, but the end result was obviously not what fans/players/coaches would’ve wanted.

– Game time: 2:40. That has to be one of the longest non-overtime contests in some time.

– Miami won 37 of 62 faceoffs, or 60 percent. This has been an area of weakness in recent years for the RedHawks, so the turnaround is welcome. Gilling was 11-6, Kiefer Sherwood 11-8 and Josh Melnick 7-6.

GRADES

FORWARDS: D+. Chances are great but Miami needed to score more than one goal. Faceoffs, as mentioned, were a strong suit. Four members of this corps took penalties (Sherwood, Gilling, Ryan Siroky, Conor Lemirande), and the PPG off the Gilling boarding call was devastating (and yes, that was the right call – he had a player lined up and pounded him with the numbers/letters showing). Sherwood turned it over on a clearing chance in the first period, and UMD put it in the net. Melnick had a pass picked on the PK and that ended up being the Bulldogs’ second goal.

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

DEFENSEMEN: B. This is a curious group, with several members appearing to be given the green light to jump into the offensive zone and others not. But it seems to be working, evidenced by a Bulldogs shot total of 19. Louie Belpedio is putting points up, but his defense is way better than last season (not sure how healthy he really was in 2016-17). Scott Dornbrock is also playing at a noticeably higher level, and his positioning is much improved. No opponent around Grant Hutton, whose defensive play is still underrated. Alec Mahalak did throw a puck along the boards on a failed clearing attempt that resulted in UMD’s third goal.

GOALTENDING: C-. This seems to be Ryan Larkin’s MO recently: He makes a couple of spectacular saves but allows a goal or two he could’ve stopped. The second UMD shot was a quickly-developing one-timer that he had no chance on, but he got glove on the first shot, which deflected over the goal line, and the third goal seemed to slide under his pads from well outside the top of the faceoff circle. His save percentage for season is still just .880, and this 16 of 19 performance did not help that.

LINEUP CHANGES: Up front, Sherwood, a healthy scratch in the North Dakota finale, was back in the lineup. He replaced Zach LaValle, who had played in nine of the first 10. Willie Knierim dressed for the second straight game, as Austin Alger was out for his second consecutive contest. It sounds like Alger may miss some time after suffering an undisclosed upper-body injury. On defense, Rourke Russell was back on the lineup sheet after missing his first game last Saturday. That sent Grant Frederic to the stands after he had played two games in a row.

Season preview I: New faces

Four forwards and two defenseman join the Miami program this fall.

Plus Christian Mohs enters his redshirt freshman season after injuring himself prior to 2016-17.

All of the incoming freshmen played their juniors hockey in the USHL, the top such league in the U.S., and Mohs thrived in the NAHL.

BoB takes a look at the new faces in Oxford this fall.

F Ben Lown, Omaha (USHL) – A product of the prestigious Shattuck St. Mary’s (Minn.) program, he scored 70 goals in two seasons in their youth development program. He logged the majority of 2015-16 in the NAHL and played his first full season of USHL hockey last year as an 18-year-old with a brutal Omaha team, going 11-12-23 with a minus-25 rating in 51 games. He’s super small at 5-feet-7.

F Christian Mohs, Minot (NAHL) – Mohs blew his knee out prior to last season and was reshirted. He played high school hockey for three years in his native Minnesota, and after a year of NA3HL, he joined Minot for 2015-16. In two seasons there he racked up 101 points in 118 games, including 35 goals. Mohs is already 22, so he has plenty of experience, but the question is how well he will do when he puts his repaired knee to the test. With hockey players, it often takes time to regain confidence.

F Casey Gilling, Muskegon (USHL) – Gilling played his first full season in the USHL in 2016-17, and he racked up 15 goals and 18 assists in 33 games, thriving after playing the previous season in the NAHL. He has good size for college at 6-feet-1, 185 pounds. He’s still just 19 and has over two full seasons of juniors experience under his belt.

F Phil Knies, Sioux City (USHL) – Knies was actually born in Slovakia but grew up in Phoenix. Another small guy at 5-9, 170, Knies thrived in his second USHL season. He scored 21 goals, set up 20 more and was plus-17 and picked up 10 points in 13 playoff games as Sioux City was a Clark Cup finalist.

F Austin Alger, Muskegon (USHL) – The younger brother of teammate Alex Alger, Austin recorded 43 points in 57 games last season with Omaha and Muskegon. It was his second season in the USHL and he nearly doubled his point rate over 2015-16. Alger is almost identical in size to his brother at 5-11, 167. He was named Mr. Hockey in Michigan his senior season of high school prior to his USHL career. He scored 86 goals in four prep seasons.

D Alec Mahalak, Youngstown (USHL) – In his first USHL game, Mahalak recorded three assists. That was the only contest he would play in for Youngstown in 2015-16, but he logged 58 games last season and tallied 23 points, including five goals. Mahalak is definitely small for a defenseman (5-9-171) but has good puck-moving skills and will hopefully be able to quarterback the power play at some point.

D Rourke Russell, Green Bay (USHL) – Last season, Russell made the jump from NAHL to USHL and thrived, dishing for 10 assists and recording a plus-15 rating in 59 games for Green Bay. He’s never scored a lot at any level but has a reputation as a solid shut-down guy. He is still building much-needed muscle for bone-crunching NCHC play. Russell is 6-1-176 and has a great hockey name.