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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: Home finale still meaningful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other thoughts…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GRADES

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

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

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

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

Analysis: Close doesn’t count in hockey

Having watched a lot of hockey at a lot of levels, it’s not hyperbole to say this is one of the most frustrating teams to watch in this lifetime.

Unfortunately, that cliché about “close” counting doesn’t refer to hockey and hand grenades, or else Miami would be in much better shape after its 3-3 tie at No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth on Friday.

Because in many ways, close is what the RedHawks (9-16-7) are to being a successful team and not one mired seven games under .500, facing a brutal road series to advance in the NCHC Tournament in two weeks just to extend their season. And it’s frustrating that they’ve not been able to close teams out too many times this season.

Close – amazingly – is what Miami is to defaulting to home-ice advantage in that round despite a 5-12-5 league record, as the team is only six points out of that elusive fourth seed. Frustrating because with Duluth and Denver running away with the top two seeds, the points threshold for that seed is lower than in any of the four seasons of the NCHC.

Close in forward depth, as this team has true offensive stars in Anthony Louis, Kiefer Sherwood, Josh Melnick and Carson Meyer. Gordie Green’s stock has soared the past two months, and Willie Knierim seems to be figuring it out at a steady, big guy, 19-year-old-in-D-I pace. Frustrating because the other seven forwards on the roster have a combined total of seven goals.

Close at defense, an area BoB highlighted at the beginning of the season with half of its studly blue line from 2015-16 graduating, as Grant Hutton is becoming a leader among this group and youngsters like Chaz Switzer appear to be gaining confidence. Frustrating because that progress has been too slow for some, veterans are making too many unforced mistakes and opponents are still setting up shop in front of the Miami net far too often with over 90 percent of the regular season in the books.

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

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

Well past close to “arrived” status in net, as Ryan Larkin has been a savior for this team – pun intended – as he has faced far too many A-plus scoring chances this season but still owns a .912 save percentage. Even that area is frustrating because he appears to be either tiring or losing a bit of confidence and has allowed the occasional soft goal in recent weeks that never would’ve gone in during December or January.

Close because this team showed a flash of excellence when it ran off five straight wins around the holidays and outscored its opponents, 18-2 in the third period and overtime during that span, with Melnick netting a pair of highlight-reel OT winners. Frustrating because the RedHawks suffered through an 0-7-3 span – their longest winless stretch in a quarter century – and are currently 1-8-2 in their last 11 during their most important games when they were given every chance to move up both in PairWise and the NCHC standings to earn their way into the NCAAs. And oh yeah, they’ve been outscored, 16-4 in the third period in their last seven, giving up multiple goals in the final stanza in every one of those contests.

This weekend is a microcosm of close and frustrating. Miami came back from 2-0 on Thursday to tie the second-ranked team in college hockey on the road, then after the Bulldogs (20-5-7) surged ahead again, the RedHawks again evened the score at three. Finally UMD buried a power play chance with a minute and a half left. Miami salvaged a tie on Friday and earned the extra league point.

The RedHawks have played some of their best hockey against top-ranked opponents like Minnesota-Duluth. This was probably the toughest series on Miami’s entire season schedule, and even without its captain, MU hung with the Bulldogs both games.

But it’s the story of the season: the RedHawks couldn’t get the win either night. Close doesn’t count in hockey.

Very frustrating.

Other thoughts…

– Is this series an example, like we talked about last week, of a team that is playing loose because home ice and PairWise are no longer factors? At six games under .500 heading into this weekend, these outcomes really don’t matter except for NCHC Tournament seeding. That takes a lot of pressure off a team that was in a bad place after the recent St. Cloud series. The focus now is getting better next weekend and preparing for that all-important best-of-3 in two weeks.

– How much of an impact does the return of Justin Greenberg and the loss of Louie Belpedio have on this team? Greenberg’s injury hurt the team on the penalty kill and in the faceoff circle, and Louie Belpedio missed this weekend after being kneed last weekend. Those changes can affect the chemistry of a team – positively or negatively – and based on where Miami was for the Denver series and where it was this weekend, it seems like the RedHawks got a boost from Greenberg and were more fired up after losing their captain.

– And on the latter, BoB wishes a speedy return to Belpedio, who is a team leader on and off the ice and a delight to talk to. He’s had some struggles this year with penalties and turnovers, but captaincy on this team is very difficult. We even saw it affect Austin Czarnik, one of the best Miamians in team history and a current NHLer who could play there for the next decade.

– In fairness to the above, injuries really have played a role with this team, as Meyer, Larkin, Belpedio, Greenberg and Jared Brandt have all missed time this season, and with just three extra skaters on the team, Miami doesn’t really have the depth to absorb personnel losses. Christian Mohs hurt his knee before the season even started and has been out for the season, which put the RedHawks shorthanded from Day 1.

– Miami was mathematically eliminated from home ice after failing to secure three points on Friday. Long story as short as possible, if the RedHawks won out and Nebraska-Omaha won on Saturday then was swept next weekend, and St. Cloud State was swept, that would be best albeit super-unlikely scenario, as Miami would finish in a three-way tie with whatever the Sioux are calling themselves these days and the Huskies. But the RedHawks would still be 3-4-1 against those two teams and would end up with a six seed. So much for the suspense.

– In the bizarre stats area, Hutton is now tied with Melnick for best shooting percentage on the team, as both have scored nine times on 49 shots (.184). Maybe Brandt’s first career goal in Oxford last Saturday instilled confidence in him, as he had 27 shots on goal all season entering this weekend and fired six times in these two games, finding the net twice.

– Tapping the old memory banks to recall a team that was more self-strangulation inducing, the 2000-01 Cincinnati Mighty Ducks come to mind. That team had to use 12 goalies during the regular season and lost player after player to Anaheim and Detroit, that team’s affiliates. They finished above .500 but took an early exit from the playoffs.

Analysis: League tourney last hope for season

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.

Other thoughts…

– 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.

GRADES

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.

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

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

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.

Miami holds off late WMU surge

OXFORD, Ohio – In its final regular-season meeting against No. 10 Western Michigan, Miami finally earned its first win of 2016-17 vs. the Broncos – barely.

Miami forward Josh Melnick (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Miami forward Josh Melnick (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Thanks to Josh Melnick’s two-goal performance, the RedHawks took a three-goal lead into the third period and held on for a 4-3 victory at Cady Arena on Friday, as they wrap up their pre-playoff slate 1-3 against WMU.

Miami (9-11-6) took the lead just 1:38 into the game on the power play when Grant Hutton and Gordie Green traded passes at the blue line, and Hutton whipped a hard wrist shot that found the net.

But just 21 seconds later, the Broncos (14-7-3) tied it when a Colt Conrad corralled a missed WMU shot at the side of the net, wrapped around the cage and shoved it across the goal line.

With 17 seconds remaining in the opening period, Miami went ahead for good as Kiefer Sherwood fired a slap pass to Josh Melnick, who tipped it in from the top of the crease on the man advantage.

Melnick extended the lead to two just 1:19 into the middle stanza when he was hauled down on a shorthanded breakaway and converted the ensuing penalty shot, beating goalie Ben Blacker on the forehand after slowing down as he approached the net.

The RedHawks made it 4-1 less than four minutes later. Colin Sullivan fired a pass the length of the ice, which was chased down by Anthony Louis, and Louis dropped a pass to trailer Willie Knierim, who was at the side of the net. Knierim poked at the puck once, and the rebound sat in the crease momentarily before Knierim buried the rebound.

Les than two minutes into the third period, Western Michigan’s Sheldon Dries tipped a blueline pass from Cory Schueneman through the legs of Miami goalie Ryan Larkin, cutting the RedHawks’ lead to two.

Five minutes later, the Broncos’ Neal Goff netted his first goal of the season as his slap shot from the blue line deflected off a Miami skate and into the corner of the net to make it 4-3.

Larkin stopped 44 shots, including one on a blast from the edge of the faceoff circle late in the third period to preserve the lead, for his second-highest save total this season as Miami snapped a four-game winless streak.

It was the second multi-goal game of Melnick’s career. His other one also came this season and at home in a 3-2 win over St. Cloud State on Jan. 6.

Knierim netted his fourth goal of the season, with all coming in his last 13 games. Hutton recorded his sixth marker of the campaign.

The RedHawks moved into sixth place in the NCHC, passing SCSU, which lost on Saturday. Miami moved up two shots to 22nd in the PairWise rankings.

MU is off next week and heads back to the road for a weekend set at St. Cloud State on Feb. 10-11.

Analysis: Why the sudden turnaround?

OXFORD, Ohio – One of the more captivating things about hockey is how teams that appear dead on the frozen water at one point of a season can quickly reverse that negative trend.

The Miami everyone wanted to play in November and early December has made a significant move in the conference and PairWise the past month, as it won its fourth straight game on Saturday, 4-1 over St. Cloud State at Cady Arena.

The RedHawks (7-8-5) were in last place in the NCHC after their 10th straight non-win on Dec. 9 and dipped as low as 42nd out of 60 teams in the all-important PairWise Rankings, which determine at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament and seeding.

Thirty days later, Miami has shifted into a tie for fifth in the conference and is a point away from fourth. In theory the RedHawks could move as high as third with a pair of wins next week.

MU is up to 28th in PairWise and has much work to do to warrant at-large consideration, but the team is still up 14 spots in a month with plenty of hockey remaining against high-quality opponents.

So what’s the difference? A quick summary…

Health. A young Miami team already lacking a ton of depth couldn’t catch a break in this department the first 16 games. Carson Meyer, Louie Belpedio, Ryan Larkin, Jared Brandt and Josh Melnick – all major contributors on RedHawks Version 2016-17 – missed a combined 15 games with various injuries and illnesses. All are currently healthy now and playing at a high level.

Third-period turnaround. As documented previously, Miami was outscored, 14-3 during its 0-7-3 run in the third period. During their winning streak, the RedHawks have netted 11 goals in the last frame. Opponents: 2. They’re finishing stronger and appear in better shape than earlier in the campaign. Miami found ways to lose games it led the first couple of months and now is pulling them out late.

Power play. With plenty of minutes under its belt as a unit, the Belpedio-Melnick-Anthony Louis-Kiefer Sherwood-Meyer group has impressed with its puck movement, and after going six straight games without a goal on the man-advantage (0-for-19), Miami is 4 of 13 (30.8 percent) in the three contests since.

Melnick on fire. The sophomore scored one time in the first 16 games but has found the net in four straight, netting five goals and setting up another in that span. That includes two overtime winners and the tying goal on Friday. He wins the hardest-to-figure-out-how-he-scored award, as after watching his Saturday goal live and several more times on replay it was still unclear how the redirected the puck in. Both OT goals were highlight-reel quality but also required slow-mo.

Confidence in other forwards. Forgive if anyone is left out, but among freshmen, Gordie Green is getting better every game, so is Willie Knierim. Alex Alger is a solid fourth-line pest, and Karch Bachman has a great shot and better speed, and he has huge upside.

Defense is a little more stable. Miami isn’t quite where it was last season, but that’s because Matthew Caito and Taylor Richart were about as steady as it gets in the NCAA in terms of shut-down D-men. With their departure the returning blueliners are higher in the depth chart consistently facing better forwards, and it’s a tough adjustment. But Grant Hutton, who was so strong as a freshman, is becoming more consistent, and Grant Frederic continues to improve and has been better about staying out of the box. The RedHawks allowed 90 shots in a weekend series in Denver – remarkably tying both games – but has surrendered an average of just 24.0 in the eight games since and had outshot opponents in seven straight before Saturday’s game.

Sherwood is taking over portions of games. There are times now when no one can take the puck away from Sherwood, and he’s exponentially tougher to defend with his passing game evolving. His double-clutch before sliding a pass through to Green for Miami’s second goal on Saturday is a prime example: Teams can no longer play for that lethal shot from the left faceoff circle. The NCHC clearly has the scouting report on Sherwood’s happy zone, but he is moving around on power plays and inflicting damage elsewhere, having adjusted to the conference’s adjustment. And he scored the RedHawks’ first shorthanded goal of the year to open the scoring.

And of course, a little puck luck. As everything seemed to be going wrong for Miami, that intangible made things worse at times, as the RedHawks hit posts and were victimized by bad bounces. The Hockey Gods appear to be balancing things out recently, as opponents are drawing iron and not getting breaks they were the first couple of months.

GRADES

FORWARDS: B. This corps scored a goal shorthanded, at even strength and on the power play. The forwards really didn’t generate a ton of chances, but they cashed in on the Grade-A opportunities. And St. Cloud State always seemed to have sticks and bodies in the shooting lanes. If we had to nit-pick, the bottom two lines didn’t do a whole lot and haven’t scored much all season. We could also mention that 12 forwards managed just 17 shots and a few were weak one at an idle goalie.

DEFENSEMEN: B. It’s been a gradual process, but the blueliners are getting beaten less often than in weeks past. The Huskies entered this weekend averaging nearly 3½ goals per game but had limited chances and just one marker in this game, thanks largely to this group. This was one of Hutton’s better games, and he added the cherry on top with the ENG in the final minute after intercepting the puck at center ice. Scott Dornbrock blocked five shots.

Ryan Larkin makes one of his 28 saves on Saturday (Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Ryan Larkin makes one of his 28 saves on Saturday (Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

GOALTENDING: A. Notice how goaltending wasn’t mentioned before. The reason is that Larkin has been steady throughout, and without him Miami would not have seven wins. That said, he was even better than usual in this game, stopping 28 shots, with his lone blemish being a heat-seeking laser off a drop pass. Larkin faced some difficult shots but as is his MO allowed a very limited number of rebounds.

LINEUP CHANGES: Same six on D, same goalie, just one change up front. Carter Johnson was scratched for the first time this season in favor of Alger. With four straight wins and the team playing its best hockey of the season, the lineup card probably won’t change a whole lot.

Big third keys Miami win over St. Cloud

OXFORD, Ohio – The third period that was the bane of Miami the first half of the season has become the team’s best friend.

From right to left, Kiefer Sherwood, Louie Belpedio and Anthony Louis celebrate during Saturday's win (Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

From right to left, Kiefer Sherwood, Louie Belpedio and Anthony Louis celebrate during Saturday’s win (Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

The RedHawks scored three times in the final stanza to secure a 4-1 win over No. 20 St. Cloud State at Cady Arena on Saturday as Miami recorded its first weekend series sweep since last February.

MU also extended its winning streak to four games and is now unbeaten in its last five. The RedHawks had gone 0-7-3 prior to their winning streak.

Miami (7-8-5) tallied its first shorthanded goal of the season midway through the first period when Kiefer Sherwood stole the puck at center ice, skated in and buried a shot on the far side just under the crossbar.

The score remained 1-0 until the crucial third period. Sherwood double clutched before threading a pass through two defenders and onto the tape of Gordie Green, who scored from the side of the net with 18:58 left in regulation.

The Huskies (9-10-1) cut the MU lead in half with 6:02 to play when Jimmy Schuldt left a drop pass for Jake Wahlin, who wired one past RedHawks goalie Ryan Larkin.

But Miami regained its two-goal lead 72 seconds later when a power-play blast from the blue line by Louie Belpedio was tipped home by Josh Melnick, making it 3-1.

Grant Hutton intercepted the puck, skated in uncontested and tapped home the RedHawks’ final goal with 43 seconds left.

Miami had scored nine third-period goals in its first 16 games but has netted 11 in its past four contests and at least two in each game during its winning streak.

Melnick extended his goal-scoring streak to four games with five in that span. Sherwood has four markers in his last four contests.

Sherwood finished with a goal and an assist, giving him points in five straight and eight during his streak. Anthony Louis picked up a season-high two helpers and also had a five-game point streak (2-5-7).

That gives Louis 112 points for his career, tying him for 39th on the team’s all-time career leaderboard with Pete Shipman and Rob Vanderydt.

Larkin stopped 28 shots to earn his third consecutive victory.

The win moved Miami into a tie for fifth with the Huskies in the NCHC standings with 13 points, and the RedHawks are just one behind fourth-place Western Michigan.

MU jumped one spot to 28th in the PairWise Rankings.

The RedHawks’ next four games will be on the road. They will travel to North Dakota next weekend for two games and head to Nebraska-Omaha the following weekend for a pair.

Analysis: Win Saturday is a must

OXFORD, Ohio – Surely Miami’s winless streak has to end on Saturday, right?

If the RedHawks can’t at least earn one win on its home ice against Colorado College, MU will have to beat a top-20 team to snap its skid, since every one of its remaining opponents is ranked.

The RedHawks skated to their 10th straight non-win on Friday, tying the Tigers, 1-1 at Cady Arena. It was Miami’s third consecutive NCHC deadlock, and the team has yet to win in conference play (0-4-3).

After its series finale vs. CC on Saturday, MU is off the next two weeks, then it’s off to Ohio State. The Buckeyes are ranked No. 10 in the USCHO poll.

Here’s the remaining schedule with team rankings.

at No. 10 Ohio State
No. 17 ST. CLOUD (2)
at No. 8 North Dakota (2)
at No. 20 UNO (2)
No. 18 W. MICHIGAN (2)
at No. 17 St. Cloud (2)

(then it really gets fun)

No. 2 DENVER
at No. 1 Minn.-Duluth
No. 8 NORTH DAKOTA

Now back to this series.

The Tigers entered this weekend having lost seven straight and had allowed 31 goals in that span. Only one of their first 14 opponents had been held to one goal, yet Miami was unable to get out of the binary range.

Considering both teams’ woes, it’s sort of fitting that neither team would come away from Friday with a win.

But this can’t happen for Miami on Saturday if it wants to salvage this season.

The RedHawks’ finale against CC is their 17th game of the season. A win would put them at 4-8-5, and they would probably need to go at least 12-5 for get into PairWise-at large consideration.

A tall order, certainly, but a loss in this one would force a 13-4 finish or better. Reference the above remaining schedule to see Miami’s chances, or any NCAA team’s odds of winning 13 of 17 against those opponents.

Twelve wins in 17 would give Miami 43 points with a win vs. Colorado College and 40 with a loss. That could be the difference between an all-important fourth seed and home-ice advantage in the first round of the NCHC’s or a fifth seed and a road trip in a hostile rink to extend its season like in 2015-16.

The RedHawks have a ton of work to do if they hope to get back into NCAA consideration but that workload increases substantially if they can’t pick the only low-hanging fruit remaining on their schedule.

Other thoughts…

Miami's Gordie Green (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Miami’s Gordie Green (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

– This game was actually pretty boring, which can be expected when two teams that aren’t playing well show why their records are where they are. But just based on Friday’s 65-minute sample, it doesn’t look like Colorado College has the talent to compete in this league, while Miami is underachieving among other issues. Heading into the second half of the year, the RedHawks are in the better position to turn things around.

Miami forward Karch Bachman (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Miami forward Karch Bachman (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

– Coach Enrico Blasi has been playing with the lines, and one interesting combination was Gordie Green, Josh Melnick and Karch Bachman. Green was a solid point producer in the USHL but he has just four this season and two since opening night. Bachman has blazing speed and a great shot but he hasn’t been cast into a role in which he can thrive. Green set up Bachman with a couple of great passes and Bachman nearly found the net. It’s a small line with a ton of speed and has a lot of potential.

Miami forward Josh Melnick (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

Miami forward Josh Melnick (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

– Speaking of Melnick, he was double-shifted nearly the entire second period, joining the fourth line as well as his own. Colin Sullivan was listed as a forward but played a significant amount of defense and Melnick absorbed much of his ice time up front.

– Can’t take credit for this line – heard it used by Mike Babcock but not sure if he was the originator either – but if Miami’s power play gets much worse the RedHawks want to consider declining penalties. In six minutes on the man advantage Miami generated one shot. MU has not scored a PPG in five games.

– The attendance for this one was a season-low 1,992 despite class still being in session. That’s the worst gate total at Cady since Jan. 9 during the J-term. If this team doesn’t get better expect a half-empty arena the second half of the year.

GRADES

FORWARDS: D+. Colorado College isn’t an impressive lot yet Miami scored just one goal. The RedHawks had some dominant stretches but that should be a given against a team that is 3-11 and ranked in the bottom 20 percent of college hockey. Louis did have eight shots. Justin Greenberg continues to get better on faceoffs and may be the team’s best forward on draws at this point.

DEFENSEMEN: B. This corps kept the mistakes to a minimum, which has not always been the case this season. Grant Frederic quietly seems to get better every game. The strange thing with Miami’s defensemen is that three seasons ago only Matthew Caito appeared to have the green light to join the rush, and the other blueliners would act like they had bungie cords tied to them when they reached the blue line. Now all six/seven jump in all the time, sometimes even going behind opponents’ nets. Can there be a happy medium?

GOALTENDING: B+. Ryan Larkin was solid as usual but didn’t see a ton of high-percentage shots. He continues to do a fantastic job with positioning and controlling rebounds. Not sure what happened on the goal – it was a weird angle and seemed to surprise Larkin. It didn’t look like he saw it very well. What a goalie allows one goal his team should win most nights.

LINEUP CHANGES: Can this team ever get completely healthy? Jared Brandt missed his second straight game with an upper body injury but shouldn’t be out much longer. He has been a solid stay-at-home defenseman on a Miami team that has really needed a solid stay-at-home defenseman. The RedHawks played their other seven defensemen, with Sullivan listed at forward to start the game. At forward, Willie Knierim was a rare scratch and Alex Alger sat for the third straight game.

Miami ties Colorado College

OXFORD, Ohio – At least Miami won the shootout.

Although the RedHawks officially tied Colorado College, 1-1 at Cady Arena on Friday, MU picked up the extra league point by topping the Tigers in sudden-death penalty shots.

Despite earning two of a possible three points, Miami (3-8-5) saw its winless streak extended to 10 games and has yet to win an NCHC game, as its league record is now 0-4-3.

The RedHawks’ last three conference games have ended in ties.

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

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

Miami (3-8-5) took the lead early, as Anthony Louis netted his team-leading 10th goal. Kiefer Sherwood slid a short pass to Carson Meyer before being hit the blue line, and Meyer eluded a defender before connecting with a streaking Louis, and Louis buried the one-timer 3:16 into the first period.

Colorado College (3-11-1) evened the score with 3:36 left in the second period as Luc Gerdes stole a puck deep in the offensive zone and threw the puck in from a bad angle along the goal line.

The RedHawks outshot the Tigers, 28-18 over the final two periods and overtime but could not regain the lead, going scoreless over the final 61:44.

Miami is now 0-7-3 during its skid, the team’s longest winless stretch since 1991.

Despite leading the RedHawks in goals, Louis’ was his first in six games. He has picked up points in 12 of his last 14 contests.

Sherwood earned his first point in four games, and Meyer has now tallied a point in all three games since returning from an illness, going 2-2-4.

RedHawks goalie Ryan Larkin stopped 25 shots.

Miami moved into a tie for seventh with the Tigers in the NCHC by winning the shootout, however the RedHawks fell further in the PairWise, slipping to a tie for 43rd.

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