Inconsistent play through 60 minutes led to Miami hockey falling 2-1 to National Collegiate Hockey Conference opponent Colorado College. Two second period Tiger goals and the RedHawks’ inability to finish plays in the third led to the teams splitting the two-game series.
“We’re at home and you have to come to play every night,” head coach Enrico Blasi said at his post-game press conference on Saturday. “Our conference is tough — you know that teams are going to be well prepared and they’re going to be ready to battle.”
The RedHawks (4-4, 1-1 NCHC) came out flying, looking to catch the Tigers (6-4, 2-2 NCHC) off their physical and fast game from Friday night. For the first six minutes, Miami forechecked and generated four shots while holding CC to zero.
A couple of power plays for the RedHawks afforded a handful of opportunities, but the Tigers were adept at clearing the puck and blocking shooting lanes to keep it a 0-0 game.
With just over four minutes left in the period, freshman forward Austin Alger made a play off his feet just inside the CC blue line to gain the zone. Alger found junior forward Ryan Siroky who then fed senior forward Conor Lemirande at the right faceoff circle. Lemirande buried the puck five-hole to put Miami up 1-0.
Not ten seconds later, a CC power play gave the Tigers the opportunity for a tying tally. Undeterred, senior defenseman Louie Belpedio won several board battles to allow the RedHawks to clear the puck and kill time. Junior forward Kiefer Sherwood managed to work behind CC’s net to feed sophomore forward Karch Bachman in front, though Bachman fanned on the short-handed shot.
A late penalty on Miami tested their defense again, but the RedHawks went into intermission with a 1-0 lead.
“I thought we had a good first period and I thought we had a lot of momentum,” Blasi said. “The second and third periods were CC’s — they played extremely well in the second period, got the goal lead. Then we got into penalty trouble again, a little bit undisciplined and that’s the way it goes.”
Though Miami killed the leftover penalty, CC changed the tone of the game two minutes into the second period. Freshman forward Tanner Ockey’s one-timer from the slot was the result of a defensive zone turnover and resulted in a 1-1 tie at 2:05 of the second.
The RedHawks weathered the Tigers’ storm — sophomore goaltender Ryan Larkin held pucks to earn necessary faceoffs, all four lines generated several chances and ’Hawks fans weren’t nervously holding their breath.
The air was sucked from the ‘Coach’ Cady arena shortly before the intermission, however. Another penalty put Miami back on the kill with 37.9 seconds left in the period. Junior forward Josh Melnick and sophomore forward Gordie Green hustled in CC’s end, emptying the tank and attempting to drain the power play and period clock.
With seven seconds on the clock, CC streaked through the neutral zone before junior forward Westin Michaud beat Larkin top right corner from the left side with 0.1 seconds in the period. After 40 minutes, the ’Hawks found themselves down 2-1.
“I think their second period they were a little more intense, they were a little more determined to get pucks,” Blasi said. “They were moving their feet and we were kind of just letting them do whatever they wanted to do and we didn’t have an answer for it.”
The third period started with a surprisingly calm Miami team, one that went four minutes without a significant scoring chance.
A power play at 4:14 of the third attempted to set a comeback in motion. Senior defenseman Scott Dornbrock tried to blast a puck through traffic and Belpedio’s shot from the middle of the ice was almost redirected past CC goalie sophomore goalie Alex Leclerc.
In Miami’s own zone, Green and freshman forward Phil Knies pestered a CC player off the puck but the play was deemed interference and Green would take a seat. For 11 seconds, 4-on-4 hockey would be played. Colorado’s junior forward Mason Bergh slapshotted his way to a goal, but officials reviewed the play and determined that a CC player interfered with Larkin and the goal was waved off.
A tripping penalty to Melnick gave Colorado a chance on the 5-on-3, but only for a faceoff — the Tigers were whistled for holding off the faceoff and play would go to 4-on-3. Arguably the hardest penalty to kill because of the open ice, Larkin came up big with two point-blank, bodied-down saves to kill off both man-disadvantages.
Miami tried for the tie, but chance after rare chance was shut down by either Leclerc or big CC bodies. Penalties plagued Miami and, with five minutes left, the RedHawks had to take two minutes to kill CC’s power play. A shorthanded chance from freshman forward Ben Lown and noticeable physicality ended Miami’s PK.
The ’Hawks had a game-changing opportunity with 1:01 left in the game as Colorado would take a turn in the penalty box, allowing Miami a man-advantage and the opportunity to pull Larkin for the extra attacker. A shot from junior defenseman Grant Hutton from the left side whizzed by Leclerc, but rang off the post.
The crowd rallied behind the RedHawks, cheering whenever the ’Hawks entered the zone. A final RedHawk rush wasn’t good enough to find the back of the neck and the tying goal. The game ended 2-1, good for Miami to split the series with Colorado after winning 3-2 in overtime on Friday.
“We tried to come back in the third,” Blasi said. “I thought we had some good chances, but their goaltender made some pretty big saves or we missed the net, and they did a good job.”
Colorado ended with 14 shots to Miami’s 27. CC also went 1-for-8 on the powerplay, whereas Miami went 0-for-6 on Saturday. On the weekend, the Tigers went 3-for-14 and Miami went 0-for-8 on the man-advantage.
“You put a team on the power play and your flow starts to go south and that’s what happened,” Blasi said.
After their conference opening weekend, Miami sits in the middle of the NCHC pack — fourth of eight teams with a .500 record overall and in conference play. CC sits at third in front of Miami after this weekend.
“We just let them back in it,” Blasi said. “Credit to them, they did a good job getting back into it. We didn’t have an answer for it.”
Next weekend, Miami looks to answer against North Dakota. Puck drop is at 8:37 p.m. on Friday and 8:07 p.m. on Saturday. Both games can be watched on NCHC.TV.