Video: Emily Brustoski
In its last home series of the season, Miami hockey took five of six conference points from No. 12 North Dakota this weekend, beating the Fighting Hawks 4-3 in overtime on Friday night and officially tying 2-2 on Saturday night.
The RedHawks sent their three seniors out of the ‘Steve Coach Cady’ arena with the team’s first five-point weekend against a National Collegiate Hockey Conference opponent this season. Captain and forward Louie Belpedio, forward Conor Lemirande and defenseman Scott Dornbrock have ridden the program’s ups and downs and helped weather the storm this weekend against a desperate North Dakota team.
“I’ve been crying for the past 20 minutes, but I’m proud of the group,” Belpedio said at Saturday’s post-game press conference. “I think it’s a big step forward. We didn’t get the complete sweep, but it’s kind of a storybook ending in my eyes. It meant more to everyone to win 3-on-3, to be honest — we had a two-goal lead and we blew it. To find a way to come back, it was special for me, Lem and Dorny.”
After the weekend, Miami (11-17-4, 6-13-3-1 NCHC) still sits eighth in the eight-team NCHC, though the ’Hawks broke a four-game losing streak and a three-game scoreless streak with its win and the tie. North Dakota (14-11-9, 8-9-5-2 NCHC) now sits fourth in the conference.
“I thought this weekend we were consistent in winning most of our battles and at least being engaged in the battles,” head coach Enrico Blasi said on Saturday. “I’m pleased with the way we played all weekend long. The kind of talk that was on our bench and the enthusiasm that was on our bench were all good signs.”
The weekend started like many others for Miami, as it went down 3-0 early. However, the RedHawks managed two third-period goals to battle back for the tie, and then freshman forward Ben Lown earned the victory less than a minute into the overtime period.
The ’Hawks started the game with an early power play, though the Fighting Hawks’ senior goaltender Cam Johnson turned away the chances Miami generated. It was then Miami’s sophomore goaltender Ryan Larkin’s turn, as he made a quality stop when North Dakota went on the power play a minute later.
It was North Dakota’s freshman forward Grant Mishmash who started the scoring at 13:54 of the period, after Miami got stuck away from the puck for a stretch.
Even though Miami earned two more power plays in the first, and outshot North Dakota 7-4 in the opening frame, Mishmash’s goal would be the only one of the period. The RedHawks went to the locker room down 1-0.
“I thought we started the game really well,” Blasi said on Friday. “Another one of those games where our energy is good, our enthusiasm is good, we’re doing a lot of good things, getting a lot of posts and getting a lot of good looks at the net, but not being able to score.”
Not even two minutes into the second period, and Miami found themselves down 5-on-3. North Dakota took advantage and junior defenseman Christian Wolanin scored only 33 seconds into the power play to make it 2-0 at 2:17 of the second.
The RedHawks had the opportunity to battle back on a power play, but it was the Fighting Hawks who found the back of the net. Junior forward Shane Gersich’s initial breakaway shot was turned away by Larkin, but senior forward Johnny Simonson buried the rebound. Simonson’s goal put North Dakota up 3-0 with 12:25 left in the second.
Miami’s response came less than a minute later, however, and it maintained possession of the puck until junior forward Josh Melnick found freshman defenseman Alec Mahalak for Mahalak’s first collegiate goal and his team’s first goal of the game. Belpedio logged the secondary assist.
The 3-1 score would stand for the remainder of the period, though Miami went to intermission up 8-7 on the period’s shot count.
“I think a big change for us was staying positive throughout the whole game on the bench,” freshman forward Ben Lown said. “We didn’t get down, we knew they scored a couple, but that didn’t make us give up. We stayed relentless.”
And the RedHawks were relentless in the third, making it a 3-2 game only 1:42 into the period. Lown found junior forward Kiefer Sherwood in the offensive zone, before Sherwood fed freshman forward Phil Knies for a wraparound goal.
With momentum swinging in their direction, the ’Hawks tied the game 2:18 later. Melnick found sophomore forward Gordie Green in the slot and Green found the net for his 13th of the season.
The period ticked by, and the teams traded power play opportunities. The RedHawks and the Fighting Hawks stood behind their penalty kill units, and the goaltenders duked it out to force overtime. Miami outshot North Dakota 11-6 in the third period and carried that momentum into the extra period.
The first overtime shot ended the game, after junior defenseman Grant Hutton got the puck from the blue line to Lown streaking up the right side. Lown caught the Fighting Hawks in the middle of a line change and beat Johnson blocker side to secure the victory and take the three conference points.
“It was a big building block for us tonight,” Lown said. “We played a hard 60 [minutes], a full 60. We had a few breakdowns, but we didn’t give up.”
Miami decidedly outshot North Dakota 27-17, forcing Johnson to make 23 saves. Larkin stopped 14 shots, while Lown (1g, 1a) and Melnick (2a) logged multi-point games.
“Tonight was one of those nights when we started to get some bounces,” Blasi said. “We haven’t been getting them in the last month, maybe we haven’t worked for them, but tonight we worked for them.”
On Saturday, the teams would again play extra minutes and Miami would again score in an extra frame. However, Sherwood would score the game-winning goal during 3-on-3 hockey. The completion of the initial 5-on-5 extra frame logged the game as an official tie in NCAA books, but the NCHC opponents played for an extra conference point.
“These are the type of games we’re going to be in for the next few weeks and you’re going to have to play them and we’re getting some good practice doing that,” Blasi said on Saturday.
The teams traded scoring chances in the opening 20 minutes, as Miami sought its first NCHC series sweep for the season and North Dakota played for home-rink advantage in the NCHC tournament.
Even after the teams had their chances on respective power plays, Johnson and Larkin sent their teams to their locker rooms scoreless after the first period.
A carryover penalty from the first followed the RedHawks into the second period, though the ’Hawks would kill off the disadvantage. A five-minute major seemed to spell trouble for Miami’s penalty kill unit, but it was the Red & White’s turn to score short-handed.
Melnick streaked towards North Dakota’s net after collecting a turnover at his blue line. Melnick buried the puck underneath Johnson’s skate, and the officials took a minute before noting the good goal. Melnick’s unassisted goal made it 1-0 with 15:37 left to play in the second.
The rest of the period went by penalty-less and fairly quietly, as both teams ended the second with eight shots apiece.
Starting third periods strong, as the RedHawks have been doing as of late, led to a goal only 26 seconds into the final frame. Sherwood one-timed a puck past Johnson off a pass from Miami’s sophomore forward Carter Johnson. Green picked up the secondary assist on the goal that made it a 2-0 game.
The Fighting Hawks would not go quietly, as they fought back into the game with 4:20 gone by. Junior defenseman Hayden Shaw snuck a shot past Larkin. Almost eight minutes later, junior forward Nick Jones tied it at two.
Miami withstood North Dakota’s resulting offensive pressure and did a good job of blocking shots with their bodies and sticks to keep the Fighting Hawks from finding many clear shooting lanes. Winning one-on-one battles and even leaping to keep the puck on their sticks disrupted North Dakota’s chances.
The regulation horn sounded, and the series finale would end during free hockey.
“We had to weather a couple of shifts there in the third period, but I liked our pushback,” Blasi said. “I thought we started to make plays and take it back and get pucks to the net again.”
Miami was caught on its heels for most of the 5-on-5 overtime, but the RedHawks boxed out the Fighting Hawks and sent the game to 3-on-3 play.
With wide-open ice and more opportunities for play-making, the teams traded rushes before Sherwood found himself alone on the right side of the rink. He buried the game-winner and was mobbed by his team.
Sherwood attests the game was significant as the last home game of the season, and the last game for the three seniors in the RedHawks’ locker room.
“That one was special because of all the sweat, blood and tears that [the seniors] have given this program and you can see it, they’re still in the locker room because it’s really emotional,” Sherwood said after wiping tears from his eyes. “They’ve led by example and helped groom so many classes and helped us adjust. To help send them off on a high note was really big for us.”
North Dakota outshot the RedHawks 30-27, and went 1-for-3 on the power play. However, the RedHawks finished with those crucial 5-of-6 points from the weekend.
“I wish we would have played like this weekend, all year,” Belpedio said. “That’s in the past, but all we can do now is build from this. I would definitely say when we play like that, we can play with anyone. We’ve beaten a ton of top teams and you just saw it out there.”
The RedHawks travel to Denver to take on the No. 4/5 Pioneers this weekend. The final regular season series starts on Friday at 10 p.m. and Saturday at 9:05 p.m. Both games will be broadcast on NCHC.tv and Friday’s game will appear on CBS Sports Network.