Miami hockey’s special teams and sophomore goaltender Ryan Larkin came up big on Friday night to beat No. 5 ranked Cornell 2-1. The RedHawks’ power play was 2-for-2 and their kill 4-for-4, as they withstood The Big Red’s offensive pressure at Steve ‘Coach’ Cady arena.
“I thought they did a really good job — the way our D-core came together,” head coach Enrico Blasi said in the postgame press conference. “Really our forwards did a really good job of blocking shots and helping them out a little bit. It was a gutty performance tonight, Cornell took it to us but we had to find a way to win.”
The RedHawks (7-6-2) are now undefeated in four straight and move to over .500 for the first time this season. Last night was only the second time The Big Red (9-2) have lost this season, the other time coming against No. 1 ranked Clarkson University.
Statistically outmatched entering the matchup, the ’Hawks matched The Big Red’s offense with determined positioning to clear the puck and generate chances. Larkin stood tall and made 29 saves to earn first star honors.
“[Resiliency is] very important,” sophomore forward Gordie Green said. “Playing a Top-5 team at home and to go down early — and taking it to us especially that first five — we just stuck with our game plan and played well.”
The first several shifts of the game were dominated by Cornell, but Miami looked competitive early. Four minutes in, Larkin was screened and senior forward Alex Rauter found the back of the net through traffic from inside the right side of the blue line.
The ’Hawks battled for the next three minutes before junior defenseman Grant Hutton was whistled for a checking from behind major and, ultimately, a game misconduct. Miami would play down a man for five minutes and down a defenseman for the rest of the game.
Though Cornell camped out in Miami’s zone, the RedHawks’ penalty kill worked to keep the Big Red to the outside. Crucial board battle wins, good sticks for clears and stops from Larkin allowed Miami to kill off the entirety of the penalty and gain some momentum.
The Big Red clogged the neutral zone but the Red and White were undeterred and entered the zone — good for a couple of shots. Miami was effective in its offensive to defensive zone transitions and wasn’t caught behind rushes, as the ’Hawks have been in the past.
For their efforts, the RedHawks drew a penalty with just under four minutes left in the period. Senior defenseman Louie Belpedio got his team rolling with a shot from the point, looking for a deflection. It was freshman forward Casey Gilling, however, who found the equalizer 33 seconds into the man-advantage. Belpedio and Green recorded assists on the goal at 16:35.
The RedHawks’ goal was invigorating and the ’Hawks won board battles to compete with the Big Red. A late interference penalty tested Miami’s penalty kill, but the special teams unit had good positioning and avoided becoming puck-focused to go to intermission with the tie.
“I thought they took it to us in stretches, especially early we didn’t have our legs.” Blasi said. “Credit to them, they’re a good hockey team — they’re not a Top-5 team for nothing. They play a really good brand of hockey. They’re in your face a lot, but they took it to us early. We got our legs a little bit after the five-minute kill.”
The second period started with Miami killing the leftover seconds of the penalty. The RedHawks’ play then forced Cornell to ice the puck several times and the ’Hawks attempted six shots in the opening minutes.
Another penalty tested Miami’s PK 6:12 into the middle frame, but the unit didn’t leave an open man. Junior forward Kiefer Sherwood forechecked and almost got between a pass from Cornell’s freshman goaltender Matthew Galajda to an open man. The RedHawks forced the Big Red into several offside situations and killed the man-disadvantage.
The RedHawks’ offensive momentum was stunted with yet another penalty past the halfway mark of the period and the game. Larkin came up big with a glove save through traffic and a sprawling left-to-right save. Belpedio came out of the penalty box and found the puck on his stick for an offensive jump after the defensive play.
As the second period ticked along, Cornell found their pushback with six minutes remaining. The RedHawks found themselves winning fewer battles and having a harder time getting out of their own zone. Larkin weathered the storm and continued to make crucial saves.
The physicality of the game culminated in sophomore forward Willie Knierim and freshman forward Morgan Barron wrestling in Miami’s end. The fans at the ‘Cady’ arena stood to cheer on the energizing efforts of Knierim as both players left for their locker rooms with grabbing the facemask and game misconduct penalties.
Miami’s second power play of the night with 2:17 left channeled the RedHawks’ second period efforts into grinding a continuous, minute-long cycle in Cornell’s end. Fans sat on the edge of their seats before rising to their feet when Green beat Galajda top, left corner from inside the left faceoff circle.
“We were out there for a while, just working it around,” Green said about his goal. “Gilling gave me a nice cross-ice pass and I was looking for [Karch] Bachman back door, but then their guy went down and I saw the short side and tried to shoot for it.”
The go-ahead goal was scored with 53.2 seconds left in the period with assists from Gilling and junior forward Josh Melnick, and the RedHawks went into the second intermission with the lead.
Cornell started the third with a new netminder — senior Hayden Stewart — and Miami started the third with a different style of play, one that was almost entirely defensive.
The RedHawks were conservative and worked out of their zone to get past the middle line to clear pucks and get quick line changes. Cornell pushed but sophomore forward Karch Bachman broke through the Big Red defense for a breakaway. Bachman almost beat Stewart going left-to-right but Stewart padded the puck away.
Halfway through, Miami took only its second shot of the period. ‘Coach’ Cady arena grew quieter as the clock counted down and the RedHawks played to keep their lead.
An icing call on Miami forced the ’Hawks into their own end with 2:17 left in the game. Cornell used its timeout, then Miami burned its to rest the bodies on the ice and prepare for the Big Red’s empty net man-advantage.
The arena held its breath as Cornell ground a cycle and crashed the net, looking for redirections and deflections. RedHawk bodies got between the Big Red shooters and Larkin. When Larkin saw the puck, he saved it.
Freshman forward Ben Lown had the chance for an insurance goal, but hit the post. Luckily, the goal was unneeded and the horn sounded to signal a 2-1 Miami victory.
“Our main focus was getting pucks out and getting pucks deep and winning the blue line battles,” Green said. “I think we did that, especially the second half of the period, they didn’t really get a whole lot of chances until the 6-on-5 chances.”
Cornell took more than twice as many shots as Miami, tallying 30 to the RedHawks’ 13. However, the ’Hawks aforementioned special teams led the way to the victory as both stats were perfect for the night. The Red and White bodied down 19 of the Big Red’s attempted shots.
“I think it’s all about winning little battles,” Blasi said. “I think it was probably, if you look at the video, I think they had the edge on us in one-on-one battles. I thought we did a good job of blocking shots and Ryan Larkin made some big saves when he had to. We had good opportunities.”
Gilling and Green both ended the night with multi-point games, each recording a goal and an assist. Belpedio led the team with three shots and anchored Miami’s defense.
“I was pleased with the way we blocked shots, I was pleased with keeping them to the outside,” Blasi said. “We have to be a lot better [Saturday] night, start to finish.”
The Red and White look to sweep the Big Red tonight at 7:05 p.m.