Miami hockey settling into their system salvaged a National Collegiate Hockey Conference split against Minnesota-Duluth this weekend. The Bulldogs scored first on Friday and Saturday, but the RedHawks had a bigger second period on Saturday night to win 3-2 after surrendering 3-1 on Friday.
“This weekend, we came in wanting the sweep,” sophomore forward Carson Meyer said at Saturday’s post-game press conference. “Unfortunately, we dropped the first one but we knew tonight [Saturday] was going to be a battle and we just stuck with it and were pretty resilient from the start. It’s clear that guys are buying in and doing what coach is asking of us, and it paid off tonight.”
The first period on Friday started with physicality that would mark the two game series, as UMD (6-6-2, 2-4-0 NCHC) clogged the neutral zone with big bodies unmatched by MU (5-6-1, 2-3-1 NCHC).
As the period progressed, the RedHawks found the offensive zone and threw pucks at the net to jump out to a 4-1 shot advantage halfway through. A power play with 8:28 remaining gave the ’Hawks good looks — sophomore forward Gordie Green fed freshman forward Casey Gilling from behind the net and Gilling took a shot from the right-side that rang off the crossbar.
Miami rolled through several more offensive chances and gained momentum that was then squandered with a turnover. Minnesota-Duluth rushed off the turnover to Miami’s sophomore goaltender Ryan Larkin and senior forward Jared Thomas managed a shot from the slot that slid past the left side post. At 14:33 UMD went up 1-0.
A delay of game from a broken pane of glass gave both teams time to regroup after the goal, though the first intermission came with the ’Hawks outshooting the Bulldogs 11-4 but down 1-0 where it counted.
“I thought we started the game off well and then our process went south,” head coach Enrico Blasi said on Friday. “We play good teams in our conference and they’re going to make you pay.”
The second period was punctuated by penalties, but was back-and-forth so that the middle frame would be scoreless. Before Miami went on its first penalty kill of the period, it had good positioning and hustle to trap the offensive zone. Then, during their first penalty kill the RedHawks limited the Bulldogs’ scoring chances.
At 12:50 of the middle frame, UMD was awarded another power play and the ’Hawks’ penalty kill wasn’t as clean as before but was still effective. A late slashing call on UMD had the teams play 4-on-4 for 14 seconds before Miami went on the man-advantage.
The Miami power play and the one after proved fruitless, as UMD had good sticks between passes and were adept at clearing their zone. A push in the waning seconds of the period wasn’t enough and the ’Hawks retreated to the dressing room still trailing 1-0.
“We chased the game in the second period, got it back tied in the third,” Blasi said. “Then we take a couple foolish penalties and they get the momentum and the two goal lead.”
The RedHawks started the period with good puck possession but couldn’t generate any quality scoring chances in the opening two minutes. A power play at 1:53 energized the ’Hawks and quieted the crowd at Steve ‘Coach’ Cady Arena before Meyer scored from the slot. Almost four minutes into the period and on the power play, sophomore forward Karch Bachman passed to senior defenseman Louie Belpedio at the point who fed Carson for the equalizer.
Power plays came and went for both teams and the RedHawks led the shot count 24-14 at the period’s halfway mark as they abandoned their earlier habit of too many passes in favor of throwing pucks at sophomore goaltender Hunter Shepard.
The Bulldogs’ fourth power play of the night proved successful — Miami defensive bodies blocked necessary shots before Thomas’ one-timer from just in front of the right faceoff circle beat Larkin top left corner. A goal 1:16 later from freshman defenseman Scott Perunovich gave UMD insurance and ultimately the 3-1 victory.
The ’Hawks outshot the ’Dogs 29-19 and were 1-for-5 on the man-advantage. Larkin made 16 saves, Shepard made 26 and the Bulldogs were 1-for-4 on the power play.
“We don’t have a choice — you have to come back,” Blasi said. “We have to be a little bit more determined with and without the puck.”
Early in the first on Saturday, Miami got caught in its own zone but Larkin stood tall and held the puck to slow the game down. Play evened to a back-and-forth game, as the RedHawks matched the Bulldogs’ physicality and the grittier period progressed.
UMD found the back of the net first at 12:35 when a rebound from a right-side shot popped to sophomore defenseman Nick Wolff on the left. Larkin was caught on the right side and Wolff’s shot bounced off the net, under the crossbar to put UMD up 1-0.
The RedHawks proved resilient and battled to earn a power play with 5:43 left in the period. After a couple shots, the ’Hawks were whistled for tripping and played 4-on-4 before successfully killing the Bulldogs’ power play.
With less than two minutes left in the opening frame, Larkin was tripped behind the net and sophomore defenseman Chaz Switzer defended his dependable goaltender — ultimately earning a fighting major and game misconduct that put Miami back on the kill.
A 4-on-3 power play for the RedHawks afforded junior forward Josh Melnick a scoring chance in the final seconds of the period, but the Bulldogs went to the locker room with a 1-0 lead.
“I thought it took us a little bit to get our legs tonight. I don’t think we had it right off the bat in the first period,” Blasi said on Saturday. “I thought they had the better of us in terms of some energy and getting to loose pucks.”
The second period opened with time left on Miami’s 4-on-3, leading to an aggressive start for the ’Hawks as they indeed found their legs. The Red and White rolled through a 4-on-4 with a Bachman to junior forward Kiefer Sherwood scoring chance, a penalty kill with tenacity and a quicker game with better directed physicality.
Miami’s patient proces play was finally rewarded when sophomore forward Willie Knierim worked the puck from behind the net to junior forward Ryan Siroky. Siroky beat Shepard in the top left corner for his second goal of the season at 13:43. Belpedio picked up the secondary assist.
A 4-on-4 at 14:16 led to a quality chance for freshman forward Ben Lown, who streaked up the right side of the ice before pulling up and throwing the puck back to junior defenseman Grant Hutton. Hutton had a good shot and then a big rebound Miami couldn’t put a stick to.
Offensive pressure culminated in Miami winning a faceoff and Meyer scoring his second night in a row with 1:39 left in the period. Meyer jammed the side of the net, collected his own rebound and beat Shepard from a tough angle to put his team up 2-1 into the second intermission.
“We know we’re not going to score goals making fancy plays, especially against a good team like that — any team in that conference, for that matter, you’re not going to score fancy goals,” Meyer said. “Coach has been on us chipping pucks, getting them in, getting them deep and grinding down low on the forecheck, creating turnovers and getting pucks to the net and it’s been working for us.”
It took only three minutes into the third period for Miami to put an insurance tally on the board. Melnick settled a pass from Green on the left side to beat Shepard and put the RedHawks up 3-1.
“Obviously, scoring two goals in the second period was huge and I thought we started the third period off really well and we played a pretty good third period,” Blasi said. “Melly’s goal is huge, obviously, to get a two goal lead and it’s nice to close this out with a big win in our conference.”
The period ticked by as Miami’s good cycle movement, a handful of rushes from Lown and smarter unit play kept the RedHawks’ two goal lead. As the period drew to a close, UMD pulled Shepard for the extra attacker and junior forward Parker Mackay cut the Bulldogs’ deficit to one with a minute and change remaining.
This was the ’Hawks’ game, however, and they hung on to split the series with the ’Dogs.
“Coach told us to take it five minutes at a time. So, we made it our goal to win five minutes of every period,” Meyer said. “Whether we won the last five minutes or not, we would reset and take the next five minutes. That’s kind of how we mentally reset to get ready for the next shift.”
UMD outshot Miami 29-24, though the RedHawks’ attempt at playing a more complete game paid off as they played in front of Larkin so he stopped 27 of those shots.
“I thought the process was pretty good tonight and we got rewarded,” Blasi said.
The ’Hawks’ lineup looked slightly different with junior forward Zach LaValle a healthy scratch after being a staple to the team’s early season. Freshman forward Austin Alger also sat both games, allowing Blasi to mix up the lines in an attempt to generate offensive production.
“Guys are interchangeable,” Blasi said. “The way we play, guys should be able to feel comfortable in our system. Sometimes, you just never know if you make a tweak here or there and all of a sudden spark somebody.”
The RedHawks look to spark their offense again this Friday and Saturday in a non-conference matchup against Bowling Green. Puck drop is 7:37 p.m. on Friday and 7:07 p.m. on Saturday.