After disappointing 4-0 and 3-0 losses to No. 11/12 University of Minnesota Duluth this weekend, Miami hockey’s losing streak extends to five games. The RedHawks have now been shutout for three straight games — the longest the team has gone without a goal in its recorded history starting with the 1998-1999 season.
“I’m not sure in my 25 years of coaching that I’ve seen a team go through some kind of adversity in such a short period of time,” head coach Enrico Blasi said at his weekly press conference.
The ’Hawks (10-17-3, 5-13-2 NCHC) fell into a two-goal hole after the first period on Friday night, and the Bulldogs (16-13-3, 10-10-0 NCHC) finished with a two-goal third period on Saturday night to take the National Collegiate Hockey Conference series.
Miami’s recent inconsistency and inability to come from behind coupled with facing hot goaltenders has led to the five-game slump and the RedHawks’ record to stand at 2-9-1 since the New Year. In the nine-team NCHC, the ’Hawks sit ninth with 17 points and trail Omaha with 24 points.
The Bulldogs broke a three-game losing streak with its two wins over the RedHawks and are now tied for third with 30 points in the NCHC.
Statistically, the RedHawks are not likely to move from their last place spot in the conference. With two series remaining in the regular season, however, the ’Hawks have an opportunity to gain momentum before the post-season begins on March 9.
“We have to focus on the things that we’re doing well,” Blasi said. “We’re working hard, we’re trying to execute the things that we’re doing, and we’re doing a pretty good when we’re focused and involved.”
On Friday, Miami would be outshot 13-4 by UMD in the first frame, though the game started uneventfully with the teams trading shots at either end of the ice. A power play allowed the Bulldogs to go up 1-0 at 8:19 of the first, as freshman defenseman Mikey Anderson beat Miami’s sophomore goaltender Ryan Larkin with a point shot.
Two minutes later, junior forward Billy Exell’s pass went off a RedHawk player and into the back of the net and he was credited with the goal that put his team up 2-0 only halfway through the first.
Miami man-advantages with eight minutes and then two minutes left in the game proved fruitless as the RedHawks retreated to their locker room trailing the Bulldogs 2-0 after 20 minutes of play.
In Miami’s previous series against St. Cloud, the RedHawks had strong second periods on both Friday and Saturday night, though the ’Hawks didn’t start the second period on time in Duluth.
The Bulldogs took advantage of Miami’s inability to start a comeback and scored only 3:15 into the period to go up 3-0. Sophomore forward Jade Miller’s third goal of the season spelled trouble for the uninspired RedHawks.
Seconds later, Miami earned a man-advantage but only managed a couple of shots as UMD’s sophomore goaltender Hunter Shepard turned away Miami’s chances. A 4-on-4 interrupted Miami’s power play, though neither team would score during the stretch.
For the minute Miami’s penalty kill unit was on the ice, it was effective in maintaining the three-goal differential. Seven minutes later, after a handful of shots from both teams, UMD went back on the power play. The RedHawks worked to block shots and junior forward Ryan Siroky even managed a short-handed shot.
The period marched on, but was ultimately uneventful before the horn sent the RedHawks into the second intermission down 3-0.
The third started out livelier than the second, and the RedHawks took to the power play less than a minute into the final frame. The ’Hawks peppered Shepard with shots and junior forward Kiefer Sherwood almost found the back of the net, but his shot rang off the post.
Miami escaped harm during another UMD power play with 14 minutes left in the game. The Bulldogs secured the win with a goal just before the halfway point of the third when freshman defenseman Louie Roehl put his team up 4-0.
For the rest of the period, the RedHawks managed four shots but couldn’t beat the Bulldogs.
UMD outshot Miami 35-16 as Shepard had 16 saves to earn the shutout, and Larkin had 31. The Bulldogs blanked the RedHawks on the man-advantage — as it went 0-for-4 — and the Bulldogs’ man-advantage went 1-for-4 on the power play.
“I thought last weekend we played not so inspired on Friday,” Blasi said. “But, I thought our guys came back and played a really good hockey game on Saturday and showed the character we have in our locker room.”
Saturday’s more inspired hockey was reflected on the stats sheet, as the RedHawks would go on to outshoot the Bulldogs 34-22 — notably limiting UMD to one shot in the second period, while generating 14.
Larkin turning away UMD’s early shots gave the RedHawks momentum to go the other way and pester Shepard. Freshmen forwards Phil Knies and Ben Lown forced Shepard to smother their close-range shots and stop play.
After 10 minutes of back-and-forth play, UMD broke the stalemate and senior forward Jared Thomas beat Larkin on a breakaway to put the Bulldogs up 1-0.
Undeterred, the ’Hawks played on to earn the game’s first power play. Sherwood again generated a scoring chance for his team, but it was Shepard’s weekend and he was determined in turning away the RedHawks’ chances.
True to the ever-changing momentum, the Bulldogs then got a power play and appeared to score with 6:12 left in the period. The officials determined the goal was a result of goaltender interference and the score stayed 1-0 for the rest of the period.
“We came out on Saturday night and played pretty inspired hockey,” Blasi said. “We got pucks to the net — second period was as good of a period as you’re going to play, we still held them to one shot. We did everything but score a goal.”
The second period was all Miami and UMD was less effective in blocking shots. Shepard was tested 5-on-5 before seeing four shots on Miami’s power play two minutes into the period.
The RedHawks generated the first 12 shots of the period and prevented the Bulldogs from generating any chances until halfway through the second frame. That shot at 10:35 would be UMD’s lone chance during the second period, even as the Bulldogs went on the man-advantage twice in the later stages of the period.
Blocked shots and improved offense left the score 1-0 after two, but the shot count 19-10 in favor of the ’Hawks.
The RedHawks took to the ice for the third period and picked up where they left off — outshooting the Bulldogs 6-1 in the early going. The third period was penalty free, however, and Miami threw pucks at the net to try and break Shepard’s wall.
Though incessant in their attack, the RedHawks caught an unlucky break when sophomore defenseman Nick Wolff threw a puck through traffic with 6:13 left to play. The shot hit freshman defenseman Alec Mahalak’s skate and bounced past Larkin to give UMD a 2-0 lead.
“That puck can go anywhere,” Blasi said. “Why it’s going in the back of our net? I don’t know.”
Frustrated but not defeated, the RedHawks played 6-on-5 hockey after Larkin was pulled with 3:41 left to play. The ’Hawks’ shots hit Bulldogs bodies and the ones that made their way to Shepard were dutifully turned away.
Sophomore forward Joey Anderson sealed the deal with an empty net goal and crushed the RedHawks’ hopes of a comeback with 23.8 seconds left in the game.
With the RedHawks outshooting the Bulldogs 34-22, Shepard was forced into making 34 saves on Saturday for back-to-back shutouts and Larkin made 19 to keep his team in the game. Both teams were unable to convert on the man-advantage.
On night two, the RedHawks also held an impressive advantage in the faceoff circle — winning 64 percent of the puck drops — undoubtedly contributing to Miami’s ability to control most of the game.
“Real good response on Saturday,” Blasi said. “Unfortunately, the results weren’t there, but the effort and the care-level in our locker room is still pretty high.”
The RedHawks host No. 12/12 North Dakota this weekend. Puck drop is 7:35 p.m. on Friday and 7:05 p.m. on Saturday. The series is Miami Hockey’s last home games of the season, and Saturday night will honor the RedHawks’ three seniors. Friday’s game will be broadcast on NCHC.tv and Saturday’s game will be broadcast on NCHC.tv and Fox College Sports Network.