There was a little bit of everything this weekend for Miami hockey – a six-goal first period, backup goaltender heroics, power-play goals, reviewed goals, a shorthanded goal, four periods of overtime and a shootout.
But there were also howls of joy.
Those came on Saturday when the RedHawks capped the weekend against St. Cloud State University with a 3-on-3 overtime win. Playing the No. 1 team in the country, the ’Hawks officially tied the Huskies 4-4 on Friday and 2-2 on Saturday, but collected an extra conference point with the win in the extra frame on Night Two.
Miami’s locker room earned three National Collegiate Hockey Conference points after a shootout loss on Friday (one point) and that overtime win on Saturday (two points). The RedHawks are tied for second with Minnesota-Duluth in the NCHC standings, only behind St. Cloud (11-1-2, 4-0-2-1 NCHC).
“Our guys have an emotional investment that is very obvious,” head coach Enrico Blasi said on Saturday as muffled celebration music and the occasional cheer came from the locker room. “And when they’re fully invested and committed to playing the game the right way and everybody’s on the same page, it’s fun to watch.”
Coaches voted Miami (9-6-3, 3-3-2-1 NCHC) to No. 17 in the USCHO.com’s top-20 poll. The RedHawks were unranked last week, but climb to their highest ranking this season and their highest spot since Nov. 2015 (also 17th).
Frenzied hockey started the weekend, and neither team looked like the top-20 team they are. After the now No. 2 Huskies scored 1:08 into the first, the RedHawks went the other way and freshman forward Scott Corbett tied the game 11 seconds later.
A power play put SCSU back on top only 4:16 into the period. Another power play could have been trouble for Miami, but freshman forward Monte Graham scored his first collegiate goal on the penalty kill to tie the game 2-2.
Eight minutes passed before the Huskies struck again, making it 3-2 at 13:34. Again, the RedHawks answered. Junior forward Gordie Green sprung junior forward Karch Bachman for a slapshot and his team-leading seventh goal of the season.
The horn sounded mercifully and ended the back-and-forth, sending the teams to their locker rooms tied 3-3.
“I’m not sure how to take that first period,” Blasi said. “They’re a skilled hockey team, but we had a resilient group tonight — they kept coming back and finding a way.”
The RedHawks found a way all weekend – they would trail St. Cloud State six times, but rallied to tie every time. The ’Hawks were previously 1-4-1 this season when they didn’t score first.
Miami’s resiliency was led by an unlikely star.
Nine minutes into Friday’s first period with the score tied 2-2, a jam in front of the net knocked junior goaltender Ryan Larkin to the ice and sent him to the locker room. Senior goaltender Jordan Uhelski took the crease for the fourth time this season and stood on his head.
“When I was going in, I felt like I owed it to Shark [Larkin] to perform well and owed it to the team to perform well because our guys were going,” Uhelski said.
Timely glove saves and smothering pucks for whistles elicited roars from the home crowd, spurring Uhelski’s stellar performance. He stopped 31 of the 33 pucks he saw on Friday. And “UHaul” kept the guys going when he started on Saturday, making 28 saves off 30 shots.
“Not an easy situation yesterday to come into,” Blasi said on Saturday, “and then today he stood tall and he did what he had to do: he gave us a chance to win.”
There are no updates on Larkin’s status.
In front of Uhelski, the RedHawks won board battles, blocked shots and made tape-to-tape passes – arguably playing their most complete games all season.
In a rare move, Blasi copied his Friday night roster for Saturday night and, though slower as the game went on, the RedHawks didn’t succumb to the pressure. There were few puck management errors, and the ’Hawks dug deep to finish the weekend.
Unsung heroes include redshirt sophomore forward Christian Mohs and junior forward Carter Johnson who played in their eighth and ninth games of the season. Mohs finished the weekend +2 with three shots, and Johnson was physical and fast on the third line.
“We knew coming into the weekend, it was going to be a war,” senior forward Josh Melnick said. “That was one of our big focuses was winning those battles. It just goes to show, you bear down a little extra and good things happen.”
Five ’Hawks had multi-point weekends led by Corbett’s and sophomore forward Casey Gilling’s two goals each. Melnick, Green and sophomore defenseman Rourke Russell each tallied two assists.
Melnick’s game-winning overtime goal from Saturday won’t count in the NCAA record book and almost didn’t count on the ice. Reviewed for an offsides call, the Steve “Coach” Cady Arena and the Miami bench held their breath before the officials signaled the goal would stand.
“My heart kind of dropped a little bit,” Melnick said, then laughed, “but glad to see they called it a goal.”
This is the RedHawks’ best first-half since the 2014-15 season.
“I think we’ve proven, most importantly to ourselves, when we play the right way, we can play with anyone,” Melnick said.
The RedHawks won’t return to the Steve “Coach” Cady Arena until Dec. 30 when they take on the University of Guelph in an exhibition.
When asked if his team is ready for a break, Corbett laughed and said: “Yes, I would agree with that. I think we really battled this weekend. […] It’ll be nice to get a mental break here, focus on some school and come back at it.”