Emily Brustoski | Video Editor
As the final minute ticked away on the scoreboard at the Steve “Coach” Cady Arena on Saturday night, a “thank you seniors” cheer rang out from the sparse student crowd that remained.
Eight-and-a-half by 11 inches headshots of the seniors were taped to wooden sticks, and students weakly waved the photos as the final horn sounded.
Grant Hutton, Josh Melnick, Ryan Siroky, Zach LaValle, Jordan Uhelski and River Rymsha had skated a victory lap of sorts before puck drop. LaValle had moon-walked through half of his and Hutton and Melnick, the RedHawk co-captains, hugged in the tunnel before taking to the ice to salute the crowd.
But as the seniors and the rest of the RedHawks gathered at center ice to thank their fans for the last time this season, they raised their sticks after a 6-1 loss to No. 12 Western Michigan (20-13-1, 13-10-1 National Collegiate Hockey Conference).
“We just need to get better,” Melnick said on Saturday. “This wasn’t our weekend at all, but I think we know — I’ve mentioned it several times throughout the year — when we play the right way, we’re a good team, and we didn’t do that this weekend.”
The pitiful 6-1 showing on Senior Night followed a 5-1 loss to the Broncos on Friday. The losses secured the last seed in the NCHC standings, slating the RedHawks (11-21-4, 5-17-2 NCHC) to play the No. 1 St. Cloud State Huskies in the first round of the upcoming conference tournament.
“We’re not going to make any excuses since we didn’t play well,” Melnick said. “You know, we just didn’t have our jam. I don’t know, honestly, it just wasn’t our weekend.”
Though the weekend started with back-and-forth play, Miami surrendered a goal halfway through the first period on Friday night to give Western Michigan a 1-0 advantage.
Competitive play followed during the second period, but WMU scored on the power play 3:41 into the period to extend its lead. Sophomore forward Phil Knies got the RedHawks on the board with four minutes left to play, and the teams retreated to their locker rooms, as the Broncos led 2-1.
The third period proved deadly for the ’Hawks as WMU scored two goals in the opening three minutes. MU head coach Enrico Blasi pulled junior goaltender Ryan Larkin early and Western Michigan added an empty-net goal at 12:31 to secure the 5-1 victory.
“I thought we played well in the first two periods,” Blasi said. “Third period — they wanted it more than us.”
On Friday, the second half decided the game while, on Saturday, the game was decided through the first two periods.
WMU scored only 57 seconds into the first period and ended the first 20 minutes with a 2-0 lead.
The Broncos’ defense was stifling in the second, and the RedHawks only managed three shots on net while Western Michigan scored three goals – two of which were on the power play.
Opening the third period down 5-0 on Senior Night, sophomore forward Ben Lown attempted to start a comeback with his goal 3:13 into the final 20 minutes. WMU’s junior forward Wade Allison scored under a minute later, completing a hat trick after scoring in the first and second periods, and halted the comeback hopes.
Many had trickled out of the “Coach” Cady Arena after the second period and left after Allison’s third-period goal, but the remaining crowd applauded Miami’s team for the final time this season.
“We didn’t start the game off exactly the way we wanted,” Blasi said. “Anytime you give up a goal in the first minute, it puts you on your heels. We weren’t even close to playing 60 minutes. I don’t think our team gave up or anything like that, but we were just a little bit behind all night.”
The RedHawks didn’t lead for the entirety of the weekend and are now 1-19-4 when not scoring the game’s first goal.
Western Michigan scored four of its 11 goals on the power play, as Miami’s penalty kill went 6-for-10. Playing on the man-advantage wasn’t as fortuitous for the RedHawks, as they had nine power play chances but didn’t score during any of them.
Larkin stopped 19 of the 24 shots he saw on Friday and 20 of the 25 he saw on Saturday. Blasi put Uhelski in net for the third period on Saturday, and Uhelski stopped six of the seven shots he saw.
“We’ve got to play 60 minutes,” Blasi said on Friday. “Obviously, if you want to move on in the playoffs, you’ve got to play 60 minutes. Forty’s not good enough, 35’s not good enough, 25’s not good enough — you’ve got to play 60 minutes.”
Miami hockey travels to play St. Cloud State for the first round of the NCHC Tournament this weekend. The RedHawks take on the Huskies in a best-of-three series starting at 8:07 p.m. on Friday and 7:07 p.m. on Saturday. If needed, Game Three will take place at 7:07 p.m. on Sunday.