Though Miami hockey played more complete games this weekend against No. 3/4 St. Cloud State University, the RedHawks’ turnovers from poor puck management led to a 5-2 loss on Friday night and a 4-0 loss on Saturday night. It is the third time this season the ’Hawks have been swept by their opponents, and the second time they’ve been swept by National Collegiate Hockey Conference opponents.
“That’s tough, it’s not easy,” head coach Enrico Blasi said at his post-game press conference on Saturday. “I thought our guys continued to work hard, it’s just not going our way right now.”
On Friday, a three-goal first period proved too large of a deficit for Miami to overcome and, on Saturday, St. Cloud’s hot goaltender and the Huskies’ numerous blocked shots prevented the RedHawks from finding the back of the net. The ’Hawks’ power play was ranked third nationally going into the weekend, but went 0-for-8 during the two-game series.
Miami (10-15-3, 5-11-2 NCHC) still occupies the ninth spot in the nine-team NCHC, while St. Cloud (19-6-3, 13-4-1 NCHC) now ranks first in the conference.
“We’ve got to be better at managing the puck,” Blasi said. “I know I sound like a broken record because I say the same thing, but it really is a matter of managing the puck better.”
On Friday, only two minutes into the game, St. Cloud’s junior forward Robby Jackson took advantage of a Miami turnover in the defensive zone. Sophomore goaltender Ryan Larkin couldn’t control Jackson’s shot and the puck bounced off a Miami defenseman to put the Huskies up 1-0 early.
Just over a minute later, freshman forward Blake Lizotte skated past static Miami defensemen and beat Larkin five-hole from the right wing. The goal at 3:18 of the first period made it 2-0 St. Cloud.
The RedHawks had a couple bursts of offensive pressure before the momentum was squandered. A neutral zone turnover led to a 3-on-2 rush and a junior forward Mikey Eyssimont goal. The RedHawks suddenly found themselves down 3-0 not even halfway through the opening frame.
A power play with 5:28 left to play in the first gave the ’Hawks the opportunity to mount a comeback, but their offensive efforts were fruitless. A penalty kill with 1:30 left to play in the period proved successful, however, and kept the Huskies’ lead to 3-0 heading into the first intermission.
“You have to manage the puck and we didn’t do that right from the get go,” Blasi said. “They put up a three spot on you in the first six minutes and you’re chasing the game.”
The second period started with Miami killing off the remaining 30 seconds of the first period penalty. The RedHawks had more jump to start the middle frame and looked more desperate to even the score.
Six minutes into the second and the ’Hawks’ efforts were rewarded with a goal from sophomore forward Gordie Green. Green’s shot from the slot bounced past St. Cloud’s junior goaltender Jeff Smith. Freshman forward Casey Gilling and sophomore forward Carter Johnson drew assists on the goal that made it 3-1.
Though the Huskies’ neutral zone play inhibited the RedHawks’ usually successful transition speed, two minutes later, Miami got its second goal. Freshman forwards Phil Knies and Ben Lown transitioned into the zone and Knies passed to Lown to draw Smith to the right side. Lown shot on net but the rebound came back to Knies on the left who scored into the open net. Knies’ 10th of the season made it a one-goal game with 12 minutes left to play in the second.
The goal energized the crowd at Steve ‘Coach’ Cady arena as the RedHawks started making smarter passes and better offensive plays. A save and smother from Larkin halfway through the period drew roars for the goaltender who was working to keep his team in the game.
As the period progressed, Miami was crashing the net looking for rebound opportunities and held the zone better than the first period. A power play with six and a half minutes left in the period couldn’t even the score, and the RedHawks went to their locker room down 3-2 after two.
“I thought our effort was good — I don’t think our team quit — but again, if you’re not ready to go and you’re not ready to play a high level game against St. Cloud, which is a great team, they’re going to make you pay,” Blasi said. “And, they certainly did that.”
St. Cloud came out of the break and forced Miami to play defense to start the third. The forward line of sophomore Carson Meyer, freshman Karch Bachman and junior Josh Melnick went the other way and Meyer almost found the equalizer off a pass from Melnick, but he fanned on his shot.
Larkin stood tall until another turnover at Miami’s blue line allowed St. Cloud to go up 4-2. Freshman forward Kevin Fitzgerald poked the loose puck through the five-hole at 7:00 of the third, after Larkin made the original save.
An unfortunate penalty after the goal prevented Miami from generating any offense in response, but the penalty kill unit worked hard and the RedHawks escaped harm.
A power play with 9:45 left to play and then a five-minute major on the Huskies allowed Miami to play five-on-three for a minute, though nothing came of the two man-advantage. The power play time ticked by and with just under three minutes left on the five-on-four, Blasi pulled Larkin to play six-on-four.
A shorthanded, empty net goal by Jackson with just over four minutes left to play sealed the deal for St. Cloud.
Discouraged fans streamed out of Goggin. Tape-to-tape passes and blades cutting the ice punctuated the final two minutes of play and the final horn disrupted the dead silence.
“When you turn the puck over as much as we did tonight, at some point it’s going to burn you,” Blasi said. “Unfortunately, the big ones were big and they’ve got a lot of skill in their lineup and they’re going to make you pay.”
The Huskies and the RedHawks were unable to capitalize on the man-advantage on night one and St. Cloud outshot Miami 30-28.
On Saturday night, with Larkin falling ill halfway through warm-ups, Miami started off strong in front of sophomore Chase Munroe. St. Cloud also started a different goaltender in freshman David Hrenak.
A power play three minutes into the game gave the RedHawks the chance to get on the board first. Quick passes from the four-forward power play unit couldn’t beat Hrenak, however, and St. Cloud kept the game scoreless.
Saturday success has eluded the RedHawks for most of the season, as they were 2-8-3 on night twos heading into the Saturday contest against St. Cloud. It would have been hard to tell on Saturday, however, as the ’Hawks were playing with a desperation and energy that hadn’t been seen on night twos since the beginning of the season.
The RedHawks and the Huskies traded power plays, though nothing came of either as the subdued crowd waited for the ’Hawks to give them something to cheer about.
With three minutes left to play, Miami began crashing the net and generating offense. A penalty kill with 1:17 left in the period cut into the RedHawks’ momentum, but the ’Hawks would return to their locker room outshooting the Huskies 8-6 and with the score locked at 0-0.
Almost immediately after the carryover penalty from the first period was killed off, the RedHawks went down a man to start the second. The ’Hawks escaped harm and a breaking Green picked up senior forward Conor Lemirande out of the penalty box for a 2-on-1. Lemirande’s shot didn’t beat Hrenak and his rebound bounced the wrong way to keep the game scoreless.
Almost four minutes into the second and St. Cloud broke the stalemate when sophomore forward Nick Poehling beat Munroe five-hole.
Four minutes later, and it appeared as if Miami would beat Hrenak at the other end of the ice. Junior forward Kiefer Sherwood, Knies, Lown and senior defenseman Louie Belpedio camped out in the Huskies’ end for over a minute — winning board battles and allowing the RedHawks to get partial changes for its best offensive effort all night.
A penalty kill with 7:36 left in the middle frame didn’t stop the RedHawks’ momentum and Green and Melnick even had a short-handed chance to punctuate the man-disadvantage.
Though down 1-0, the period ended with the RedHawks outshooting the Huskies 17-11 and a general feeling of hope because of how the ’Hawks were playing.
“For the most part, we played a good game,” Blasi said on Saturday. “We competed hard, we had our chances, we did a good job of limiting their chances.”
The third period started uncharacteristically slow for Miami and St. Cloud’s ability to hold the offensive zone frustrated the RedHawks early on.
Meyer had a chance to tie the game on a penalty shot 4:14 into the third, though Hrenak made an easy save on Meyer’s uninspired shot. Hrenak’s save didn’t stop the RedHawks’ efforts and, with 14 minutes left to play, the ’Hawks were outshooting the Huskies 21-12.
Another unsuccessful power play was costly for the RedHawks, as St. Cloud’s junior forward Patrick Newell would score two minutes later to put his team up 2-0 with 9:57 left to play.
Miami continued to throw the pucks on net, but it was Hrenak’s night between the pipes as he stopped shot after shot and the Huskies put bodies in between the RedHawk offense and the hot goaltender.
Munroe was tested at the other end of the ice with seven minutes left to play, as the RedHawks went down a man on a hooking call. The penalty kill unit worked to keep the Huskies to the outside and the deficit at two.
A power play with four minutes left in the game afforded the RedHawks a final chance to tie the game and split the series. After a media timeout, the ’Hawks took to the offensive zone with Munroe on the bench and an extra attacker on the ice.
An unfortunate miscommunication only six seconds into the man-advantage allowed Newell to score his second of the night on the empty net at 16:08 and senior forward Judd Peterson netted another empty-netter at 17:52.
The RedHawks played until the final horn sounded, but shoulders sagged in defeat in the waning seconds of play.
Hrenak finished with 30 saves to record a shutout and Munroe stopped 17 pucks in only his second career start. The Huskies were blanked on the power play, as the RedHawks’ penalty kill went 5-for-5 on Saturday, though the ’Hawks went 0-for-4 on the man-advantage.
“Not only does your power play have to capitalize against great teams in our league, but you have to make sure you’re managing the puck and playing good solid team defense,” Blasi said.
The RedHawks look to rebound this weekend, as they take on Minnesota-Duluth on the road. Puck drop is at 8:07 p.m. on Friday and Saturday night.