Miami hockey swept the University of Connecticut this weekend in dominating performances. The RedHawks (3-3) shutout the Huskies (2-5) 3-0 on Friday and commandingly finished the two-game series with a 7-1 win on Saturday. The ’Hawks played an aggressive offensive game and a tight defensive game to secure the victories — minimizing mistakes from their previous three losses.
“[UConn] came out strong, but the way that we played in the beginning — chipping pucks, getting past them — that put them on their heels and took them off their game,” senior defenseman Scott Dornbrock said on Friday.
Friday’s game started like many others for the RedHawks, with a penalty kill 30 seconds into the first period. The ’Hawks showed early hustle on the kill and only allowed one shot, setting the tone of the game.
Once even on the ice, the Red and White took to the attack and tested the Huskies’ sophomore goaltender Adam Huska with close shots, backing him into his net. Miami sophomore forward Carson Meyer redirected a Dornbrock shot from the point into the top corner of the net to put his team up 1-0. Meyer’s first goal of the season came at 3:52 of the first and came from sophomore forward Karch Bachman before Dornbrock.
Dornbrock waited less than two minutes before beating Huska top-shelf, right side for his first goal of the season. The one timer from freshman forward Casey Gilling and junior forward Zach LaValle beat Huska’s glove at 5:28.
UConn pushed back after the second goal and almost snuck a puck past Miami sophomore goaltender Ryan Larkin, but the ’Hawks transitioned out of their zone and escaped harm. The ’Hawks’ clogged the neutral zone and had good positioning on the ice to control play.
Relentless, sophomore forward Gordie Green made it 3-0 only 9:07 into the period. Junior forward Josh Melnick and freshman forward Ben Lown assisted on the goal. A little over halfway through the first had the RedHawks outshooting the Huskies 11-4.
A UConn power play came four minutes later and the Huskies had a chance to start a comeback. A diving play at the blue line from freshman forward Phil Knies to clear the zone and big saves from Larkin epitomized the ’Hawks first period tenacity and they killed off UConn’s man-advantage.
“I thought we came out, played hard right off the bat,” head coach Enrico Blasi said on Friday. “I thought our energy was really good. We did a lot of good things in the first period. We made some nice little subtle plays in the process and we were able to find the back of the net.”
The second period was tighter than the first and UConn looked to match Miami’s first period speed. The ’Hawks adjusted, however, and broke up the Huskies’ passes to lock down their lead. UConn and Miami each had power plays before ending a scoreless second. Going to intermission, the RedHawks led the shot count 23-15 and where it counts 3-0.
“I think any time you get up to a lead like that, any team is going to push back,” Blasi said. “UConn pushed back, there’s no question about that, and we had to kill some penalties.”
The third was played similarly to the second, and the ’Hawks showed gritty determination to hold the Huskies scoreless with only four shots. While playing a sound defensive game, the offense forced Huska into making numerous saves — despite the three-goal lead, the ’Hawks didn’t play comfortably.
“At that point you have to manage the game right — you have to put pucks in good areas and make sure that you’re defending away from the puck,” Blasi said. “Maybe loose a little bit in the second and early in the third but, for the most part, we did a pretty good job of that. I feel like we took a step tonight.”
Larkin ended with 19 saves, good for his second career shutout. The RedHawks and the Huskies both went 0-for-4 on the power play. With an assist and a goal, Dornbrock had his fourth career multi-point game. Dornbrock attests that his team’s process put them in a position to win.
“This week we worked on valuing the process, not valuing the outcomes,” Dornbrock said. “We just wanted to play a team game.”
Whereas scoring was concentrated in the first period on Friday night, it was a five-goal third period that put Saturday’s game out of reach for UConn.
“Going into the third, I thought our guys responded really well. You could feel it in the locker room going out for the third period,” Blasi said on Saturday. “They were going to continue the process and value the process and that’s exactly what we did. We got a couple of lucky bounces, but I’m a big believer you work for those bounces, so it was a good team effort for sure.”
Miami had an opportunity to go up early in the first period, as LaValle was tripped up in UConn’s zone and would earn a power play for the RedHawks. Junior forward Kiefer Sherwood one-timed a Dornbrock pass to make it 1-0 at 3:40. Meyer earned the second assist on Sherwood’s second goal of the season and Miami’s first power play goal of the weekend.
Miami took the first eight shots of the game and UConn managed its first shot in the waning seconds of a man-advantage at 6:17. UConn couldn’t generate any more chances on a power play at 10:04, though the Huskies were hitting in an attempt to knock Miami off the puck and off its game.
Seventeen minutes into the period, shots were 14-2 in favor of the ’Hawks. With two minutes left in the opening frame, junior defenseman Grant Hutton fed his own rebound from the left faceoff circle to Green who was making a bid to the right side of the net. Green buried the puck and put his team up 2-0 to end the first period.
“I thought we came out with good energy tonight, got a couple goals right off the bat in the first period,” Blasi said. “Thought in the second period we weren’t able to find the back of the net and Larks made some huge saves on the breakaway and they were able to find the back of the net.”
Miami played physically in all three zones throughout the second period and out-skated UConn early. A UConn penalty eight minutes into the period tested Larkin and his defensemen, but Miami worked late on the man-disadvantage to take away shooting lanes.
For the next five minutes, the fans of ‘Coach’ Cady Arena groaned as Miami players almost found the back of the net again and again.
With 3:08 left in the period, it looked as if the RedHawks would have an opportunity to capitalize on their chances via a power play. However, the Huskies would go on to score their only goal of the weekend. Larkin made an impressive save but was caught down and out on the right side of the net, and the puck found senior forward Corey Ronan in the middle lane. Ronan knocked the loose puck past Larkin and cut the lead to 2-1 at the end of the second.
“I think you’re always wanting a little bit of sharper execution on the puck and better with the tracking and play without the puck,” Blasi said.
Five RedHawks would go on to score five goals in the third and, by the end of the period, RedHawks’ fans held up seven fingers on two hands to taunt the Huskies.
Knies started the high-scoring third with a wrap-around goal that caught Huska on the left side of the net and two minutes later on the power play, senior defenseman Louie Belpedio beat Huska point-blank from the point. On another power play, Melnick knocked in a loose puck in the blue of Huska’s crease to make it 5-1 not seven minutes into the third period.
“We’ve been working on scoring a lot of goals all year and putting yourself in game-like situations,” Green said on Saturday. “Guys were making plays and bearing down.”
With 7:37 still left in the period, Belpedio’s second goal of the night mimicked his first — this time, beating senior goaltender Tanner Creel top-shelf on his right side. A five-minute major spelled more trouble for the Huskies, though Miami couldn’t connect on the power play.
Larkin ended his solid weekend with a breakaway save on senior forward Jeff Wight, and freshman forward Austin Alger finished the ’Hawks high-scoring weekend with a goal at 17:36. Senior forward Conor Lemirande and sophomore defenseman Chaz Switzer assisted on the insult-to-injury, seventh goal of the game.
“I thought we did all the little things right, our goal was to get pucks in deep and keep chipping all night,” Green said. “I thought our speed took over and wore them down both games, so we were able to capitalize on some power plays and chances in the third.”
The RedHawks had 44 shots to the Huskies’ 18, and the ’Hawks went 4-for-7 on the power play and killed off all of UConn’s. UConn’s Huska made 28 saves and his reliever Creel made nine. Larkin ended the weekend with 36 saves on 37 shots, adding an assist on Green’s first period goal.
“I think it’s really important for your goaltender to be sharp,” Blasi said on Saturday. “It allows your team to play on their toes and gives you that extra confidence that you know he’s going to be back there.”
Thirteen RedHawks had points on Saturday. Notably, Green had a goal and two assists on the night and Belpedio had two goals and an assist. Belpedio was named the National Collegiate Hockey Conference’s Defenseman of the Week for his weekend’s efforts.
“Everyone played really well this weekend,” Green said. “All the lines were going, the defense too, Louie [Belpedio] had a couple big, nice goals at the end there. Everyone played really well all weekend.”
The RedHawks will take on their first NCHC opponent at home this weekend. Puck drop against Colorado College will be at 7:35 p.m. on Friday and 7:05 p.m. on Saturday.