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Miami secures last in NCHC with loss

OXFORD, Ohio – The preseason NCHC poll picked Miami to finish last in the conference.

The RedHawks proved those voters correct as No. 12 Western Michigan pounded them 6-1 at Cady Arena on Saturday, sealing eighth place in the eight-team league.

Miami (11-21-4) actually tied Omaha for the bottom spot but lost the tiebreaker. The RedHawks will head to St. Cloud State next weekend in a best-of-3 NCHC Tournament opening-round series.

Wade Allison recorded a hat trick and added an assist, and Colt Conrad ended the night with a goal and three helpers to pace the Broncos (20-13-1).

RECAP: Just 57 seconds in, Allison stole the puck at his own blue line, setting up a 2-on-1 as he tapped home a return feed from Dawson DiPietro.

With 6:06 left in the opening period, WMU’s Colt Conrad threw a hard pass from the top of the faceoff circle to DiPietro, who tipped it in from the side of the crease on the power play to extend the Broncos’ lead to two.

Western Michigan’s Ethen Frank made it 3-0 when he skated into the zone on the right wing and ripped a shot past goalie Ryan Larkin from the top of the faceoff circle five minutes into the second period.

The Broncos scored each of the next two goals 12 seconds into power plays.

Miami’s Ben Lown (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Conrad held the puck in on a clearing attempt, drove the net and whipped it under the crossbar with 12:24 left in the second period, and Allison held the puck behind the Miami net, maneuvered the puck onto the end of his stick and threw it around the net and in to make it 5-0 with six minutes left in the that frame.

Ben Lown scored Miami’s lone goal on a laser from the high slot that snuck inside the far post three minutes into the third period, but a faceoff-dot wrister from Allison capped the scoring 57 seconds later.

STATS: It was Lown’s first goal in 21 games and the first assist for Knies in 17 contests.

— Miami was outshot, 25-9 the first two periods.

— The RedHawks allowed three power play goals on five chances and were 0-for-3 themselves on the man advantage with just two shots.

— Opponents have scored 25 goals in Miami’s last five games.

THOUGHTS: Nothing to see here: Western Michigan scored in the opening minute and sent a number of fans to the exits by the end of the second period with a five-goal lead.

At least Friday created the illusion of being close for the first two periods.

Ticket face value for these games was $25 each, and in terms of bang for the entertainment buck, this weekend rated lower than Howard the Duck.

Mike Babcock and other have famously said that it takes no skill to kill penalties.

Regardless of any talent disparity, Miami’s PK has been abysmal for quite a while, and a poor penalty kill has been directly proportional to the RedHawks’ overall struggles.

Miami finished the regular season 59th out of 60 in the NCAA in at 73.5 percent. During the RedHawks’ final 24 games they were 65.8 percent on the PK and 61.8 percent over their last 10 contests.

GRADES

FORWARDS: D-. Not much positive other than the Lown goal. An undisciplined offensive-zone penalty by Casey Gilling penalty ended up in the Miami net 12 seconds later. Like Friday, Miami’s top forwards had very few shots, and no one up front had more than two SOG.

DEFENSEMEN: D. Not many highlights here except a couple of big Grant Hutton hits. Liked the play from the big guys – Bray Crowder and Andrew Sinard.

GOALTENDING: D. There were a couple of shots Larkin had no chance on but others were stoppable. Overall he finished 20 of 25 (.800). Jordan Uhelski was 6-for-7 (.857) in relief.

LINEUP CHANGES: Rourke Russell was scratched for the first time this season, as Sinard replaced him.

Up front Carter Johnson dressed and Christian Mohs sat.

STANDINGS: At 5-17-2, Miami finished last in the NCHC for the second straight season and was seventh in 2016-17. As a result, the RedHawks will head to the road for the first round of the league tournament for the fourth straight season.

Both MU and Omaha ended the regular season with 18 points, but the tiebreaker came down to goal differential in head-to-head games, and the Mavericks outscored the RedHawks by one in their four meetings, 11-10.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Miami went 3-12-1 to end the 2013-14 regular season and finished last in the conference, setting up a series at top-seeded St. Cloud State.

The RedHawks swept the Huskies on a clinching goal by Justin Greenberg in the closing seconds of Game 2 and came within a goal of winning the NCHC championship.

So there is hope.

But it would’ve been nice to see an inkling of improvement from this team in the waning games of the regular season, and it never happened.

Five straight losses and a woeful 2-16-4 record since mid-November.

It would be quite a story if the RedHawks could somehow advance to the Frozen Faceoff with their resume.

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Western Michigan hammers Miami

OXFORD, Ohio – Miami hung with No. 12 Western Michigan for the first two periods, but an early Broncos surge in the final frame sealed the RedHawks’ fate.

WMU scored twice in the first three minutes of the third period and three times overall in that stanza en route to a 5-1 win over Miami at Cady Arena on Friday, handing the RedHawks their fourth straight loss.

Colt Conrad finished with a goal and two assists and Trevor Gorsuch stopped 22 shots to pace the Broncos (19-13-1).

RECAP: WMU’s Jade McMullen carried the puck along the boards before sending a one-time pass to Corey Schueneman, who ripped it by Miami goalie Ryan Larkin to open the scoring 9:11 into the game.

Miami’s Phil Knies (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Conrad extended the Broncos’ lead 3:41 into the second period when he skated across the blue line on a 3-on-2 rush and wired a shot past Larkin on the power play.

Phil Knies cut the RedHawks’ deficit to one on a one-timer from the right wing faceoff circle off a pass by Brian Hawkinson that snuck through Gorsuch with 6:04 left in the middle frame.

But Lawton Courtnall batted home a loose puck in the slot to make it 3-1 WMU at the 1:53 mark of the third period, and 41 seconds later, Cam Lee stole the puck in the offensive puck and centered one to a streaking Dawson DiPietro, who directed the puck into the net.

Wade Allison tapped in an empty netter with 6:29 left to seal it.

STATS: Knies scored his sixth goal of the season and his third in the last six games.

— Hawkinson’s assist extended his points streak to four games, the longest of his career.

Jonathan Gruden also picked up a helper on that goal and has points in three straight contests.

— Miami has struggled mightily in the third period, as the RedHawks have been outscored, 20-4 in the final 20 minutes of their last 12 games.

— MU reached the 20-loss mark for the third straight season.

THOUGHTS: This was not an entertaining game to watch.

Western Michigan really didn’t play that well. Miami (11-20-4) was awful.

There was no flow. Icings and faceoffs halted play continuously in the opening minutes, and there were so many penalties in the second period the referees’ arms needed to be iced down at intermission from all the delayed calls.

It was 2-1 for about eight minutes and Miami did lead in shots through 40 minutes but it never really felt like the RedHawks had a chance.

Too many turnovers, no transition, trouble completing passes, substandard compete level, mediocre goaltending, weak power play isn’t going to win many games in the NCHC.

GRADES

FORWARDS: D. This corps simply didn’t create enough quality scoring chances and finished with 13 shots by 13 skaters. Knies scored but that line went minus-5. Josh Melnick: 2 shots. Gordie Green: 1 shot. Karch Bachman: 0 shots.

DEFENSEMEN: C-. Generated some shots but most were low percentage from the outside. More turnovers than usual, especially along the wall. Derek Daschke did have SOG and Grant Hutton four.

GOALTENDING: D-. Larkin should’ve stopped the first two goals, as they were from outside with no traffic, as both beat him to the glove side. The third was kind of fluky, the fourth was on a net crashing situation and the fifth was an empty netter. He made 19 saves for an .826 save percentage.

LINEUP CHANGES: Scott Corbett returned up front but did not look 100 percent. He missed the last four games with an upper-body injury.

Christian Mohs was also back in the lineup after sitting for the last two.

Out were Carter Johnson – who scored last Saturday – and defenseman Andrew Sinard as the RedHawks went with 13 forwards rather than the usual seven defensemen.

FINAL THOUGHTS: The point of this weekend was to play better hockey and build momentum heading into the postseason.

This game did nothing to move toward that goal.

Close again but Miami falls to WMU

Once again No. 20 Miami felt short by the slimmest of margins.

The RedHawks lost by one for the second straight night, 3-2 at No. 14 Western Michigan on Saturday after dropping a one-goal decision the night before.

Miami (9-9-4) fell to the .500 mark for the first time since the start of the season and are winless in their last eight, going 0-4-4.

Matthias Samuelsson fired in the game winner from the high slot early in the third period after Western Michigan had taken two previous one-goal leads, only to have Miami answer both times.

The RedHawks were without standout Josh Melnick for the second straight night, and regular starting goalie Ryan Larkin also did not play.

Miami’s Derek Daschke (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

RECAP: Western Michigan (13-6-1) won an offensive zone faceoff and Cole Gallant dropped a pass to Josh Passolt, who whipped it past Miami goalie Jordan Uhelski 2:12 into the game.

The RedHawks tied it with 5:43 left in the opening frame when Ben Lown skated in on the right wing and centered a pass that hit a skate and caromed to Derek Daschke, who was wide open in the slot and slammed it home.

Miami’s Jonathan Gruden (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

With 6:51 left in the middle stanza, Colt Conrad fed Passolt on a 2-on-1 for a one-timer that put Western Michigan back on top, 2-1.

Miami again pulled even when a 2-on-1 became a 2-on-0 as the Broncos’ lone defender, Cam Lee, blew a tire in his defensive zone. Jonathan Gruden took a pass from Brian Hawkinson and after his initial shot was denied, he poked it past goalie Trevor Gorsuch with 1:26 remaining in the second period.

But Western Michigan regained the lead for good as a well-placed wrister by Samuelsson from between the faceoff circles beat Uhelski with 14:35 left in regulation.

STATS: Passolt scored twice and finished the weekend 3-1-4 as he is almost certainly on his way to a weekly league award.

— Lown ended the night with a team-best two points, both on assists for his first multi-helper game of the season and the second of his career.

— Daschke scored for the fourth time this season, tying him with Grant Hutton for the team lead among defensemen, and Gruden’s goal was his second of the season, as he has four points in his last six games.

— Opponents have scored against the RedHawks in 13 straight periods.

— Both teams had three power plays but only 2:11 of time on the man-advantage. That’s because twice after Miami took penalties, WMU was whistled for a minor of its own within seconds.

So it’s a rough 0-for-3 for both teams.

THOUGHTS: Miami didn’t play badly at all, especially considering it was in a hostile arena against the hottest team in Division I, but once again the win didn’t come.

WMU deserves a lot of credit for the weekend sweep, as the Broncos are flat-out impressive in every aspect, and it’s easy to see why they’re second in the NCHC.

Western Michigan was ranked No. 14 coming into this weekend and was unbeaten in its previous eight. Make that 10 now and watch that ranking go up on Monday.

— Daschke’s line was impressive enough – one goal, six shots, three blocks, only Miami skater with a plus-rating – but he was a defensive menace to WMU all game, poking loose pucks away and getting his stick in the way of passes. Plays well beyond his 22 collegiate games.

Miami’s River Rymsha (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

— Speaking of defensemen, River Rymsha was a standout in this game by laying out a couple of huge hits and playing great shut-down defense.

Rymsha’s father, Andy Rymsha, was interviewed on CBS College Sports during Friday’s game. Andy Rymsha played for Western Michigan and logged six NHL games with the Quebec Nordiques.

— Hutton has stepped his level up the past few games at both ends of the ice. He has four assists in his last four games and has played better in his own end as well.

Miami’s Jordan Uhelski (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

— Uhelski in net was a major surprise. Was this a message to the team that it was too reliant on Larkin to make big saves, or are they pacing Larkin, who has already logged roughly 5,000 minutes as a RedHawk and been banged up several times during his Miami career?

Uhelski made a phenomenal save on a breakaway and was solid overall.

— Melnick remained out with a lower body injury. Hopefully it will not linger into the upcoming four-game homestand.

— Win No. 10 has been a major hurdle for this program the past few seasons. Miami is 1-17-6 in its last 24 games chasing its 10th win.

LINEUP CHANGES: Just Uhelski for Larkin. Uhelski stopped 30 of 33 shots.

Coach Enrico Blasi likes to have his lineups pretty well set around this point of the season, and with the exception of Melnick and Larkin, this looks like the 20 he will head into the stretch run with.

STANDINGS: Miami dropped to sixth in the conference at 3-5-2, leading just Omaha and Colorado College.

The RedHawks slipped to No. 26 in the PairWise, which determines which teams earn at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament. Miami would need to climb to 14th or better to warrant consideration.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Despite a lot of the positives surrounding the program, the winless streak is becoming unwieldy.

The RedHawks are at .500 for the first time since opening night, which isn’t going to get them into the NCAA Tournament, regardless of how difficult their league schedule is.

The effort is there, the passion is there, the process is there, and while those are all great things, the wins still need to be there at the end of the season or else this team will once again be done playing by St. Patrick’s Day.

Special teams doom Miami at WMU

Miami’s special teams were not very special on Friday.

No. 14 Western Michigan scored twice on the power play. No. 20 Miami had zero goals on the man-advantage despite a five-minute 5-on-4 at the beginning of the third period.

Miami’s Josh Melnick (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Those tallies were the difference as the Broncos edged the RedHawks, 4-3 at Lawson Arena in a weekend series opener.

Miami extended its winless streak to seven games (0-3-4) while WMU is now unbeaten in its last nine.

Josh Melnick missed just the second game of his RedHawks career. He was out with an apparent lower body injury.

RECAP: The Broncos’ Colt Conrad penetrated from the point and wristed one from the slot into the far corner of the net on the power play to open the scoring 10:27 into the first period.

Miami (9-8-4) tied it 91 seconds later when Gordie Green and Karch Bachman played give-and-go entering the offensive zone, and Bachman threaded a pass to Green at the side of the net for a tap-in.

WMU (12-6-1) jumped ahead again when Ethen Frank fielded a pass through the slot on his backhand, pivoted and threw it in at 1:36 of the second period.

Frank set up Hugh McGing off a break with 4:12 remaining in the middle stanza.

Miami deficit to one when Bachman slid a pass from along the end boards to Green, who shoveled it home, making it 3-2 with 12:15 left in regulation.

Passolt put WMU back up by two with his second goal of the night on a 4-on-3 with 8:17 remaining.

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

Just 82 seconds later, the RedHawks’ Scott Corbett stole the puck in the corner and centered to Brian Hawkinson, who capped off the scoring.

STATS: Green scored twice and has three goals in two games. He went through a nine-game stretch without finding the net prior to that, so his rejuvenated scoring is welcome for Miami.

Bachman also finished with two points, both on assists. It was his first career multi-assist game.

Grant Hutton had gone eight consecutive games without a point but he picked up a helper and has at least one in three straight, going 0-4-4.

— Miami was on the power play for 7:39 but generated just three shots.

— MU won just 21 of 69 faceoffs (30.4 percent).

— The RedHawks have allowed 12 power play goals in their last eight games and are just 63.6 percent on the penalty kill in that span.

— Opponents have scored against MU in 10 straight periods.

— Melnick missed his only other game on Oct. 29, 2016.

THOUGHTS: It’s always a learning experience when Miami plays on national TV and Dave Starman does color.

Miami’s Alec Mahalak (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

The CBS College Sports analyst said that Miami defenseman Alec Mahalak will win conference player of the year one day.

Mahalak did play one of his better games of the season on Friday.

— Starman was very complementary of a number of RedHawks players, including Bray Crowder, Carter Johnson and Derek Daschke.

— Starman also spoke highly of these programs’ futures, saying “the best days were ahead” for both Miami and Western Michigan.

Miami’s Scott Corbett (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

— Bachman’s speed once again resulted in a goal, as he won the race to his self-pass along the boards and eventually spooned one to Green for the marker.

— What a play by Corbett to set up Hawkinson’s goal. He stole the puck in seemingly in one motion thrust the puck to the edge of the crease where Hawkinson buried it.

— Yes, Melnick is one of Miami’s better faceoff men, but 21-48 in the circle? Really? Overall the RedHawks have been much better on draws than in recent seasons.

— The penalty kill has been brutal. On Thanksgiving, MU was 84.5 percent on the PK for the season. That number has plummeted to 76.5 since. Miami has allowed 10 power play goals in six games while scoring just four PPGs in that stretch.

LINEUP CHANGES: Melnick was the only player not in the lineup from Saturday’s game against Providence, and Johnson dressed in his place after sitting the last two.

He played on the line with Bachman and Green.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Another one that falls into the “near miss” category, Miami hurt itself with three offensive zone penalties (good catch, Starman) and finished 4-for-6 overall shorthanded.

It’s really tough to win on the road when you give a team six power plays including a 4-on-3.

Taking the second period off didn’t help. The RedHawks were outshot, 16-4 in that frame and allowed a pair of unanswered goals that put WMU ahead for good.

And yes, Melnick’s unexpected absence hurt Miami in multiple areas, but the Broncos were without one of their best as well in Wade Allison.

As has often been the case recently, the RedHawks were right there all night and didn’t give up.

But they didn’t quite do enough to win.

Preview: Miami at Western Michigan

The two hottest teams in college hockey are Providence and Western Michigan.

Miami played PC last week, and this weekend the RedHawks face the Broncos.

WMU, riding an eight-game unbeaten streak that includes a 3-0-1 record vs. North Dakota and Minnesota-Duluth, has vaulted into second place in the NCHC. However, the Broncos are only two points ahead of Miami, which is tied for fourth.

These teams meet again in Oxford to wrap up the regular season on March 8-9, so WMU will have a major hand in determining where the RedHawks finish in the conference standings.

BoB takes a look at the upcoming series between these teams:

WHO: No. 20 Miami RedHawks (9-7-4) at No. 14 Western Michigan Broncos (11-6-1).

WHERE: Lawson Arena (3,667), Kalamazoo, Mich.

WHEN: Friday – 7:05 p.m.; Saturday – 7:05 p.m.

MIAMI RADIO: WKBV-AM (1490), Richmond, Ind.

WESTERN MICHIGAN RADIO: WZOX-FM (96.5), Kalamazoo, Mich.

TV: Friday – CBS College Sports.

NOTES: Over the past three seasons, Western Michigan has taken major strides offensively, an area in which the Broncos had previously struggled since the formation of the NCHC.

WMU has scored 67 times in 18 games for a 3.72-goal clip, the sixth-best rate in Division I.

Josh Passolt has been a breakout sophomore season for the Broncos, leading the team in goals (11) and plus-minus (plus-15) and is tied for the WMU points lead with 19. Four of his markers have been game winners.

Colton Conrad is tied with Passolt atop the team points leaderboard, as Conrad is pacing Western Michigan in assists with 13. He is also exceptional in the faceoff circle, having won 57.0 percent of his draws this season.

Like Passolt, Hugh McGing has also enjoying a statistical blow-up with 10 goals, including five on the power play. He has 18 points and 35 penalty minutes.

Ethen Frank has already eclipsed his rookie season goal mark, posting eight this season after notching seven freshman year, and Austin Rueschoff is another significant offensive threat with six goals and eight helpers.

Philadelphia Flyers second-round pick Wade Allison, one of the NCAA’s scoring leaders last season before he tore his ACL, is back on the ice for Western Michigan and could bolster its offense even more.

Allison has played eight games and is 2-2-4 after posting a 15-15-30 line in just 22 games in 2017-18.

Other regulars up front for WMU are Dawson DiPietro, Cole Gallant, Drew Worrad, Paul Washe, Jaden McMullen and Lawton Courtnall – son of former NHLer Russ Courtnall.

Cam Lee leads Broncos blueliners in goals (5), assists (10) and points (15) while notching a plus-10 rating.

Defenseman Corey Schueneman has recorded eight assists and nine points, and Buffalo Sabres second-rounder and Team USA product Matthias Samuelsson, who just returned from winning silver in the World Juniors, has scored three times and picked up five helpers.

Luke Bafia, Kale Bennett and Jared Kucharek are the other key cogs of WMU’s back end, and Michael Joyaux – younger brother of former RedHawks Chris and Matt Joyaux – has dressed for 10 games.

During their current eight-game unbeaten streak, the Broncos have allowed just 12 goals, and they have held their last three opponents to one goal apiece.

Goaltender Trevor Gorsuch is having a stellar senior season, going 9-2-1 with a 1.95 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage. He had six career wins and was sub-.900 entering this year.

Ben Blacker, who was dominant his freshman season, took a step back in 2017-18 and has made just two starts this year, posting just an .870 save percentage. He’s actually third on the team in goaltender minutes played behind Austin Cain.

Miami has started games slowly at times this season, and if that happens this weekend Western Michigan will make the RedHawks pay. The Broncos are tops in the NCHC in first-period goals with 27 – that’s 1.50 per game.

WMU has been best at even strength, as just 14 of its goals have come on the power play and another pair shorthanded.

The RedHawks are winless in their last six – they actually haven’t won since Nov. 17 – but they have four ties in that span, including one at now-No. 7 Providence and two at home against No. 1 St. Cloud State.

Ryan Larkin (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Miami’s Josh Melnick is riding a seven-game point streak, with three goals and five assists in that span, and Ryan Siroky has four points in his last three contests.

The RedHawks are 16th in college hockey in defense, giving up 2.30 goals per game. Goalie Ryan Larkin is seventh in D-I save percentage at .931 and is tied for sixth in shutouts with three.

With 142 meetings, Miami has played Western Michigan more than any other foe except Ohio State and is 68-63-11 vs. the Broncos, but WMU holds a 35-25-7 edge in Kalamazoo.

The RedHawks have played OSU 151 times, and with that series currently dormant, Western Michigan will soon move into first place on MU’s most-played opponents list.

The Broncos have always played well at home and are 6-2-1 at Lawson Arena this season.

NCHC preview: Western Michigan

In 2016-17, Western Michigan finally reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the NCHC era.

Last season the Broncos regressed to four games under .500, posting their second-lowest winning percentage under coach Andy Murray.

But WMU could surprise, as the team returns its top eight points-producers and a talented eight-man freshman class that includes the Broncos’ second-highest NHL draft pick ever.

WESTERN MICHIGAN

NCAA titles: 0.

COACH: Andy Murray (9th season, 118-116-34, .504).

2017-18 RECORDS: 15-19-2 (10-13-1 NCHC, 7th place).

POSTSEASON: Swept at Minnesota-Duluth in the first round of the NCHC Tournament.

RINK (capacity): Lawson Arena (3,667).

MIAMI VS. WESTERN MICHIGAN LAST SEASON: 2-2.

ALL-TIME SERIES: Miami leads, 68-63-11.

SCHEDULE VS. MIAMI: Jan. 11-12 – at Western Michigan; March 8-9 – at Miami.

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: F Dawson DiPietro, F Wade Allison, F Hugh McGing, D Cam Lee, D Corey Schueneman, G Ben Blacker.

KEY NEW FACES: D Matthias Samuelsson, F Paul Cotter, D Jared Kucharek.

KEY LOSSES: D Paul Stoykewych, D Neal Goff.

NOTES: All three of Western Michigan’s 30-point skaters were sophomores last season, and with its top eight points leaders back again this fall, the Broncos’ offense looks formidable.

Dawson DiPietro dressed just once his freshman year but led WMU in assists (22) and points (35) in 2017-18. Wade Allison led the team in goals with 15 and notched 30 points.

Hugh McGing racked up 21 helpers and 30 points overall.

Colt Conrad was another key contributor up front, finishing 9-18-27, and Austin Rueschhoff notched 10 goals as a freshman.

Paul Cotter enters his freshman season after being selected by Las Vegas in the fourth round of this summer’s NHL draft. He was named to the USHL’s all-rookie team in 2017-18 following a 39-point campaign.

Three of the Broncos’ returning defenseman tallied at least 15 points last season, led by Corey Scheuneman’s 26. He scored five times – all on the power play.

Cam Lee picked up six goals and 18 assists, and Luke Bafia racked up 15 assists in addition to his lone goal, which was a game winner.

Mathias Samuelsson, son of former Pittsburgh Penguin Kjell Samuelsson, is expected to make an immediate impact on the blue line. He was drafted by Buffalo with the opening pick of the second round this June, the second earliest any Bronco has ever been selected.

He has played 105 games for the U.S. National Team.

Another newcomer for Western Michigan is Mike Joyaux, the youngest of the three Joyaux brothers. Both Chris and Matt played for Miami.

Following a stellar freshman season, goalie Blacker struggled in 2017-18, going 12-13-2 with a 3.17 goals-against average and .893 save percentage. Neither backup impressed in limited action.

Like many NCHC teams, Western Michigan scored plenty but also gave up its share of markers. The Broncos were No. 11 in the NCAA in goals per game but fourth last in average goals allowed.

NOTE: BoB previewed each opposing NCHC team leading into the 2018-19 season. This is the seventh and final installment.

Here are the links for the remaining snapshots:

Colorado College
Denver
Minnesota-Duluth
Nebraska-Omaha
St. Cloud State
Western Michigan

Blown lead again costs Miami

OXFORD, Ohio – Groundhog Day should’ve been on Saturday instead of Friday.

Miami, seemingly caught in a never-ending loop of evaporating leads, yet again saw a two-goal advantage vanish in a 3-2 loss to Western Michigan at Cady Arena on Saturday.

A sweep of the Broncos that would have seen the RedHawks climb to within a game of .500 instead ended in a mercurial weekend split.

After playing so well on Friday and taking a 2-0 lead on Saturday, holding that advantage would’ve pulled Miami within four points of an injury-plagued WMU team that is without its best offensive weapon.

The Broncos would’ve been in a three-way tie for fourth place, and finishing in the top four in this conference is so important because it means home-ice advantage for the NCHC Tournament.

Instead, Miami is now 10 points behind WMU, and with eight games left, closing that gap will be nearly impossible with the RedHawks’ remaining schedule.

RECAP: The RedHawks caught an early break, as a Western Michigan goal midway through the first period was waved off after a review because it was determined the play was off-side.

Carter Johnson celebrates after scoring his first career goal (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Miami took advantage, as in the final minute of the opening frame, Casey Gilling whipped a shot just under the crossbar on the near side to put his team ahead.

The RedHawks went up by two when Carter Johnson tipped home a blue-line blast by Louie Belpedio at the 1:46 mark of the second period for his first collegiate goal.

But the Broncos ran off three straight goals in that decisive middle stanza.

Ethen Frank streaked through the slot, took a feed from Austin Rueschhoff and beat Miami goalie Ryan Larkin on his backhand less than two minutes later to make it 2-1.

Western Michigan tied it with exactly four minutes left in that frame on another Frank goal. Frank was a trailer on a 2-on-2, and he took a pass in the high slot from Dawson DiPietro and buried it.

Just 74 seconds later, the Broncos took their first lead of the weekend when Lawton Courtnall stole the puck from Conor Lemirande, went coast-to-coast and beat Larkin on the glove side from the slot.

Miami outshot WMU, 8-0 in the third period and had 7:36 of power play time but was unable to generate the equalizer.

THOUGHTS: From its highest-profile games to Saturday, damage control has been a decade-long issue for Miami teams.

Once again, a pair of critical goals against occurred in quick succession.

A glance at the RedHawks’ collapses this season alone:

– Game 2: Kasper Bjorkqvist scored the game winner one second left to lift Providence to a 2-1 win.

– Game 8: Miami led 1-0 after one period, Colorado College tied it in the second and Westin Michaud netted the winner in the final second of the second period.

– Game 11: Miami and Minnesota-Duluth were tied, 1-1 late in the third period, but Jared Thomas and Scott Perunovich found the net 76 seconds apart as the Bulldogs won, 3-1.

– Game 14: Miami was 36 seconds away from a win and sweep at Bowling Green, but Alec Rauhauser found the net with the extra attacker as the Falcons salvaged a 2-2 tie.

– Game 18: Like this weekend, Miami had beaten Western Michigan in the opener in Kalamazoo. But in the finale, the RedHawks blew a 3-1 lead as Wade Allison recorded a natural hat trick, cutting the deficit to one midway through the second period, tying it with 4:02 left in regulation and winning it in overtime.

– Games 21-22: Not blown leads but just pointing out how Miami has let games get away. In Game 21, UNO ran off 11 goals vs. Miami, a quarter-century worst mark for the RedHawks, and the Mavericks scored consecutive goals 41 seconds and seven (!!!) seconds apart. The next night, UNO scored four times in a 10:53 span of the second period, and the RedHawks tried to come back but fell short, 4-3. Three of those goals against were in a 5:13 window.

– Game 24: Another blown two-goal lead. Miami led, 4-2, but Colorado College cut the deficit to one late in the second period and Trevor Gooch tied it midway through the final stanza.

– Game 26: Miami was ahead, 2-0 but allowed the final three goals in the second period, including two 74 seconds apart.

— Weird that WMU was whistled for too many men twice in the first 3:18 minutes of the first period.

— Miami actually held the Broncos without a SOG the entire third period.

LINEUP CHANGES: None.

GRADES

FORWARDS: C. Congratulations to Johnson for his first career goal on a sweet tip-in, and this corps – as well as the entire team – was solid for the first half of the game but seemed to run out of gas down the stretch. Gilling’s goal was a snipe, and it’s pretty obvious he’s going to be a major part of this team for the next three-plus years. Lemirande’s turnover hurt on the third goal, and it’s been a recurring theme that trailers have scored against Miami because no one has picked them up.

DEFENSEMEN: B-. A decent but not great night for the corps. Louie Belpedio picked up assists on both Miami goals. Western Michigan did miss a few Grade-A chances and hit multiple posts. The trailer issue applies to the blueliners as well. Miami has gotten burned far too many times this season when opponents have entered the zone unabated.

GOALTENDING: D+. Larkin only made 13 saves and should’ve made at least one stop on the three WMU goals. He does see a lot of Grade-A chances but Miami needs him to stop more pucks.

FINAL THOUGHTS: A 6-2 finish or better is the only way Miami could re-gain at-large consideration after yet another blown lead costs this team valuable league points and costs the RedHawks in the PairWise.

The RedHawks are now 25th and would need to be over .500 to earn a berth.

Miami isn’t as talented as some of the teams in this conference but as documented above, it should have a better record than 10-13-3.

The window is closing quickly for the RedHawks, who will host a St. Cloud State team that is No. 2 in the PairWise.

Miami ends skid, tops WMU

OXFORD, Ohio – Often a team can actually gain momentum after taking a penalty when it comes up with a critical kill.

That was the case on Friday when Miami turned a potentially disastrous start into a 4-2 win over Western Michigan at Cady Arena.

The RedHawks came out sluggish, getting outshot 4-1 in the opening minutes. Not the start to a four-game homestand they wanted after an 0-3-1 road trip.

Then they were whistled for a pair of penalties, setting up a two-minute two-man advantage for the Broncos.

But Miami killed the majority of the 5-on-3 and a WMU minor wiped out the rest. The RedHawks were a different team the balance of the game and ultimately snapped their five-game winless streak.

Miami forward Kiefer Sherwood (photo by Cathy Lachmann).

RECAP: The first period was scoreless, but Miami finally broke through when Kiefer Sherwood stole a pass in the offensive zone, threw a shot at the net that hit the end boards and caromed to a wide-open Ben Lown, who tapped it in 1:08 into the middle stanza.

The RedHawks made it 2-0 when Gordie Green batted in a bad-angle rebound off a shot from the blue line by Louie Belpedio at the 4:47 mark of that frame.

Western Michigan’s Corey Schueneman beat Miami goalie Ryan Larkin high on the glove side for a 5-on-3 goal with 10:18 left in the second period.

But Miami answered with a two-man advantage of its own when Grant Hutton wired a shot through from the top of the faceoff circle off a feed by Alec Mahalak with less than four minutes remaining in the middle frame, making it 3-1.

The RedHawks sealed it with 3:26 left in regulation on a Belpedio wrister from the center of the faceoff circle.

Ethan Frank capped the scoring with a blast that beat Miami’s Ryan Larkin directly off a faceoff in the closing seconds.

STATS: Belpedio finished with a goal and an assist, and Sherwood and Josh Melnick recorded two assists each.

It was the second straight multi-point game for Belpedio and the third in a row for Sherwood, who extended his team-best points streak to eight games.

Melnick has 10 points in his last nine games, and he was 12-6 on faceoffs.

Larkin stopped 20 shots to earn the win.

THOUGHTS: This win was obviously much needed and much appreciated, and Miami played well and deserved it.

That said, it also comes with a little frustration because the RedHawks showed how well they’re capable of playing, and if they did that more they wouldn’t be in such a dire spot.

Full disclosure on this win: WMU is seriously banged up, most notably missing stud Wade Allison who was 15-15-30 in 22 games. He’s likely lost for the season.

That definitely hurt the Broncos’ offensive attack, and they generated just two shots on five power plays that included multiple minutes of 5-on-3 action.

Still, this was the best overall home game Miami has played since beating Duluth on Nov. 18.

The RedHawks are capable of playing with these NCAA Tournament-bound teams, they just haven’t done it nearly enough, especially as of late.

— NCHC contests typically don’t feature a lot of 5-on-3s, but there were three in this game and would’ve been a fourth had Miami not possessed the puck through a delayed penalty until the power play expired.

Both teams scored once on the two-man advantage.

— The power play has been particularly explosive for Miami as of late, racking up 10 goals on the man-advantage the past five games. MU is converting at a 35.7 percent rate during that clip.

Unfortunately, that positive work during this stretch has been negated by a 54.5 PK percentage, as they are just 12-for-22 since the start of their road series at UNO.

GRADES

FORWARDS: C+. As a group, RedHawks forwards only had 16 shots and nearly half came on the power play. They accounted for two of the goals (Green and Lown). Sherwood struggled in the first half but has regained that 2016-17 form, and he stepping up on defense as well. His steal led to the first Miami goal.

DEFENSEMEN: B+. Hutton and Belpedio both scored, and after the whole team struggled out of the game, the blueliners did a good job of limiting Western Michigan’s scoring chances. Hutton was exceptional in his own end and deserved first star, not third, as he won loose puck battles and muscled people off the puck all night. It was a physical game and this corps was up to the challenge.

GOALTENDING: B-. Like many starts this season, Larkin was solid, controlled his rebounds and stopped the routine shots but didn’t come up with either of his toughest chances.

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

LINEUP CHANGES: Thank heavens Grant Hutton missed last Saturday’s game due to illness and not something worse. He was back in the lineup after missing just the second game of his career last weekend.

His return sent Grant Frederic back to the scratch list.

Up front, Willie Knierim was back on the lineup card as Zach LaValle did not dress. Carter Johnson suited up for the third straight contest.

FINAL THOUGHTS: This win gets Miami to within three points of seventh place, and while home ice is still a longshot, the bottom half of the league is clumped together and the RedHawks still have a game in hand over most.

If the RedHawks play like they did on Friday, they could make a run at an NCAA berth. But consistency has not been MU’s MO in 2017-18.

 

 

Analysis: WMU was the better team

OXFORD, Ohio – Despite being outshot by more than a 2-to-1 margin in the series finale, Miami salvaged a win and split the weekend series.

The RedHawks lost on Friday but edged Western Michigan, 4-3 at Cady Arena on Saturday.

And at the risk of sounding blasphemous, the Broncos were the better team this weekend. To go one step further, WMU is the better team at this point of the season.

The Broncos piled up 79 shots in two games while holding Miami to 40. They were in the offensive zone more, made better passes, got sticks in the lane more often on defense and were superior at keeping would-be goal scorers from getting good looks.

There’s a reason Western Michigan is No. 10 in college hockey.

To Miami’s credit, it had success getting behind the WMU defense, scoring shorthanded on a 3-on-2 and again on a penalty shot resulting from a shorthanded break by Josh Melnick (which is not technically a SHG – not sure hockey’s scoring rules make sense there).

Anthony Louis beat the D as well, passing to Willie Knierim for a goal.

The RedHawks were extremely opportunistic on the power play, going 2-for-3 on Saturday, with Grant Hutton burying one from the blue line and Melnick somehow tipping home a laser pass from Kiefer Sherwood at the top of the crease.

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

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

And, of course, there was Ryan Larkin. The freshman goalie was 30 of 31 through two periods in Game 2 before two tipped pucks beat him in the third. But without Larkin in net, Miami likely would not have earned a point this weekend.

This is the challenge that awaits the RedHawks in each of their final eight regular season contests. They will need to find a way to win more close games than they lose against some of the top teams in Division I, teams that are frankly better than Miami right now.

They will need to play their best hockey of the season every period, and can’t afford starts like the on they had on Friday or their finish on Saturday to earn much-needed wins.

Fortunately for Miami, a hot goalie can neutralize a better team, and the RedHawks have a netminder capable of stealing games like he did in this one.

Other thoughts…

Standings: All eight teams in the NCHC have played 16 leagues games, or two-thirds of their 24-game conference schedule. Miami trailed Western Michigan by five points heading into the weekend, and with both teams earning three points, WMU returned to Kalamazoo leading by the same margin. The RedHawks did pass St. Cloud State, moving into sixth before heading north to face the Huskies. Miami is up to 22nd in the PairWise and needs to go three games over .500 the rest of the way to be eligible for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

– Miami has just one even-strength goal in its last three games. It scored five times this weekend after being shut out in its finale at Nebraska-Omaha, and the RedHawks netted two power play goals, one shorthanded and another on a penalty shot this weekend. Knierim has recorded the only even-strength goal for Miami in that stretch, and it was also his first career game winner.

– Hutton’s PPG was just the fifth this season by a Miami player not on the first unit (Melnick-Sherwood-Louis-Carson Meyer-Louie Belpedio). Hutton has two goals on the man advantage, Scott Dornbrock has one and just two have been scored by non-defensemen not among those four on the first unit (Justin Greenberg and Gordie Green, one each).

– Miami’s weekend high for shots in a period was 10. Western Michigan eclipsed that in five of the six.

– There was little flow in this game, which took 2:34 to play and featured 79 faceoffs.

GRADES

FORWARDS: B-. It’s hard to argue with results, and this corps did score three times, including two goals by Melnick. When this team hits, it tends to play better, and we saw plenty of contact dished out by Ryan Siroky, Conor Lemirande and others. Still, just 15 shots for 12 forwards, and they did little to prevent WMU from racking up 47 shots. And then there’s their 28-51 record on faceoffs. If it wasn’t for their shot efficiency their grade would be significantly lower.

DEFENSEMEN: C. Hutton scored on a sweet wrister, and Colin Sullivan picked up an assist on his Hail Mary pass. But then there’s the 47 shots allowed, which this group bears a substantial amount of responsibility for. Louie Belpedio was better than on Friday but still isn’t quite in top form. Chaz Switzer was back in the lineup and was once again improved over the first half of the season.

GOALTENDING: A-. Could be the first A-range for a goalie surrendering three goals on this site. Even though he allowed three goals, Larkin won this game for Miami. He turned 44 shots aside, including a spectacular save on a late chance by the Broncos. Larkin controlled almost every rebound, an impressive feat since a lot of the shots he faced had mustard on them.

LINEUP CHANGES: The only change for Miami was Alex Alger returning to the fourth line, while Bryce Hatten was scratched. Justin Greenberg was out for the fifth straight game, and was seen in the concourse wearing a boot on his foot, which he did not put any pressure on. He will obviously miss at least a couple more weeks, and his faceoff prowess and defensive and PK skills have been sorely missed by the RedHawks. Grant Frederic also did not dress for the second consecutive contest.

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.