Miami hockey’s season ended in heartbreaking fashion on Sunday night, as the RedHawks lost 4-3 in overtime to the No. 1 St. Cloud State University Huskies. The ’Hawks lost 5-2 on Friday night in Game One of the three-game National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoff series, but battled back to win 3-2 on Saturday night to force the finale on Sunday.
The RedHawks’ season comes to an end after the weekend, as they finished 12-20-5 overall and 6-14-4 in the NCHC. The Huskies (24-7-6, 17-4-4) advance to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff.
Statistically outmatched against the No. 1 team in the country and 2016 NCHC Champions, the RedHawks didn’t look it throughout the weekend.
Miami took three of the first four shots, though it was SCSU who found the back of the net first. Sophomore defenseman Jack Ahcan beat Miami’s sophomore goaltender Ryan Larkin with 6:02 gone by.
A power play in the later half of the period gave the RedHawks the offensive momentum they needed to eventually even the score. Junior defenseman Grant Hutton found junior forward Kiefer Sherwood who shot from the right circle to tie the game at one with 4:32 left in the period.
The teams went into the first intermission locked at 1-1.
The second period opened with an exchange of shots, but momentum swung to the Huskies after a slashing penalty was called on the RedHawks. SCSU capitalized only 16 seconds into the man-advantage off a one-timer from junior defenseman Jimmy Schuldt.
When the score read 2-1 with 8:43 left to play in the middle frame, Miami was whistled for another penalty but killed off the disadvantage. St. Cloud extended their lead to two, though, after freshman forward Blake Lizotte scored his seventh of the season at 15:14.
The 3-1 score favoring SCSU would stand for the rest of the period.
To start the third, the RedHawks were undeterred and rushed up the Olympic-sized ice to pepper St. Cloud’s goaltender freshman David Hrenak with early shots. Several one-timers missed the mark, but good hustle by Sherwood led to a rush into the Huskies’ defensive zone. Sherwood found sophomore forward Gordie Green in the goal crease and Green went around the net to beat Hrenak with 15:34 left.
Miami’s 3-2 deficit wouldn’t stand for very long, as freshman forward Easton Brodzinski put his team further ahead with a goal with 8:21 left in the game.
Four minutes ticked by before head coach Enrico Blasi decided to pull Larkin and the RedHawks camped out in the offensive zone for a stretch.
Junior forward Mikey Eyssimont, ranking eighth in points in the NCHC, buried an empty-net goal and Miami’s hopes of a last-minute comeback. Eyssimont’s Huskies took Game One 5-2.
Miami was outshot 29-26 and went 0-for-0 on the power play while St. Cloud went 1-for-3 on its man-advantages. Sherwood (1g, 1a) and Hutton (2a) each recorded multi-point games.
On Saturday, Miami started the game needing a win to force Game Three in the best-of-three playoff series. The desperation showed early, as the RedHawks uncharacteristically scored two first period goals.
The first came only 1:54 into the game, from a redirection by junior forward Josh Melnick off a freshman defenseman Alec Mahalak point shot. Sherwood notched the secondary assist.
The Huskies had a chance to tie the game with a power play at 7:17, but the RedHawks were rolling and kept turning away St. Cloud’s top-notch chances.
Four-on-four play ten minutes later left Hutton enough room to wrist his 11th goal of the season past Hrenak. The goal came with only 2:27 left to play and Sherwood and Mahalak notched their second points of the game via their assists.
The intermission horn sounded and sent the RedHawks up 2-0 into the first break.
The potent St. Cloud power play would spell trouble for Miami, even after the ’Hawks started the period with jump. With 14:04 left in the period, Miami was whistled for a 5-minute major. The RedHawks did a good job of keeping the Huskies to the outside until sophomore forward Ryan Poehling beat Larkin to make it a one-goal game with 3:37 left on the kill.
The remainder of the power play ticked by and the goalies battled to keep their teams in the game. Sherwood and Green and their 2-on-0 rush forced Hrenak to stretch and make the pad-save.
Miami’s first power play of the game came with 5:44 left in the second period, but it was the Huskies turn to turn away the ’Hawks opportunities.
Though outshot 13-7 in the period, Miami still led 2-1 where it counted.
The man-disadvantage again plagued the RedHawks early in the third. Ahcan tipped in a shot from senior forward Blake Winiecki to tie the game at two.
The rest of the period marched on, and Larkin withstood 10 more shots to send the game to overtime.
RedHawk fans held their breath as the 20-minute win or go home period started. Early rushes pushed both the Huskies and RedHawks fans to the edge of their seats, but it was Grant Hutton who elicited cheers from his bench.
Hutton wristed a shot past Hrenak 7:10 into the extra frame. Assisting on the goal, senior defenseman Louie Belpedio and freshman forward Phil Knies jumped on Hutton to celebrate Hutton’s second goal of the night.
The 3-2 victory was Miami’s first Saturday night regulation win since Nov. 18, as the ’Hawks were a pitiful 2-10-5 on night twos before the weekend. Larkin made 30 saves to earn the victory.
Sunday night looked much like Saturday’s, though the win or go home game sent the RedHawks home.
Playing in the third game in as many days and against the No. 1 team in the country, Miami hockey battled in a way they hadn’t before.
Larkin withstood early pressure from the Huskies, and his team went flying the other way to generate more scoring chances. It was Hutton, again, who found the back of the net. He ripped a shot to beat Hrenak top-shelf with 10:29 left in the first.
The teams traded power plays, but this time Miami took advantage of the man-advantage. Hrenak was burned for his poor rebound control and freshman forward Casey Gilling collected a loose puck to slip past the St. Cloud goaltender with 3:38 left in the period.
Larkin and his team withstood a late Huskies push and carried the 2-0 lead into the first intermission.
SCSU’s Schuldt wasted no time at the start of the second and scored on an early power play only 1:26 into the middle period. But, Miami responded immediately on the next shift and sophomore forward Karch Bachman put his speed to good use.
Bachman skated to the net and wrapped around left to right to tuck the puck past Hrenak. His 10th goal of the season came only five seconds after St. Cloud’s goal at 1:31.
The Huskies would outshoot the RedHawks 13-5 in the second period, but Larkin made timely saves and his team blocked plenty more shots to keep it 3-1.
The period calmed down after the initial frenzy until Eyssimont shot through traffic to make it 3-2 at 18:13 and into the second intermission.
St. Cloud carried confidence from its second goal into the third period. The RedHawks weathered the storm until 5:52 left in the game, when the Huskies tied the game. The ’Hawks visibly deflated when senior forward Judd Peterson’s redirection beat Larkin.
Though undoubtedly tired, the RedHawks almost won the game in its waning minutes — throwing puck after puck at Hrenak, he would make the saves and send his team to overtime.
The sudden-death overtime period started similarly to the previous night’s period. Rushes up and down the ice showed no early favorite and both teams played for the pride of victory and another weekend of NCHC hockey.
The No. 1 Huskies would not be outdone, however, and Eyssimont caught the RedHawks on an outnumbered rush to send his team to the Frozen Faceoff. His goal 8:14 into the overtime period ended Miami’s season.
Larkin sat unbelieving in his crease for several seconds after making 38 saves on the 42 shots he faced.
Notably, the only other time the RedHawks took on the Huskies this year was in February and resulted in 5-2 and 4-0 losses. St. Cloud was projected to finish second in the NCHC and surpassed those expectations, though Miami handed the Huskies their first loss since Jan. 26 on Saturday.
The ’Hawks graduate only three seniors in Belpedio, forward Conor Lemirande and defenseman Scott Dornbrock. Next season’s schedule will be announced in April.