Video by Emily Brustoski
After its first win since early January on Friday night, Miami hockey fell 3-2 to the Western Michigan Broncos on Saturday night. The RedHawks allowed three goals in the second period, and were boxed out by the Broncos’ defensive efforts.
“I thought we started off the game well and in the second period we got loose, got out of our structure and started chasing the puck instead of playing our positions,” head coach Enrico Blasi said in his post-game press conference. “Good teams make you pay — that was pretty much the difference in the game tonight.”
The No. 1 nationally ranked Miami power play was less effective on night two than night one, going only 1-for-7 on Saturday. Though the RedHawks’ penalty kill went 4-for-4 and the ’Hawks outshot the Broncos 28-16, Western Michigan capitalized on a couple of Miami turnovers and poor defensive play.
Miami (9-13-3, 5-9-2-0 NCHC) has yet to sweep an National Collegiate Hockey Conference opponent and sits ninth in the nine-team NCHC after the weekend. No. 15 Western Michigan (14-13-1, 9-9 NCHC) snapped a four game losing streak on Saturday and now sits third in the conference.
Not a minute into the game, Western Michigan was whistled for too many men on the ice and Miami had an early opportunity to control the game. The RedHawks’ power play was lackluster, though it forced sophomore goaltender Ben Blacker into making two saves.
Almost immediately after the too many men penalty expired, the Broncos incurred another disadvantage on the same call. This time, sophomore forward Carson Meyer almost found the back of the net off a pass from freshman forward Phil Knies. Knies moved the puck right to left, but Meyer fanned on his shot and Western Michigan would survive the disadvantage.
The Broncos skated the other way after the penalty expired, and Miami was forced into defensive play. Western Michigan had their turn at a power play with 13:19 left in the period.
The RedHawks withstood a minute of the Broncos’ offensive pressure before sophomore forward Dawson DiPietro fired the puck from a cross-ice, right-to-left pass. The goal was reviewed, however, and it was ruled the Broncos had entered the zone offsides. The period would remain scoreless and the ’Hawks killed the rest of the penalty.
An offensive cycle from the RedHawks was interrupted with another penalty just past the halfway point of the period. This time, the Miami penalty kill had good sticks and more hustle to clear the puck and effectively kill time.
The period wound down and, with five minutes left, the shot count showed 5-3 in Miami’s favor though the RedHawks seemed behind most of the play. Sophomore goaltender Ryan Larkin could be heard directing traffic to try to help his team transition out of the defensive zone.
To end the period, a hooking penalty was whistled on Western Michigan and the ensuing RedHawk power play struggled in the early going. Then, with 37.2 seconds on the clock, freshman forward Casey Gilling beat Blacker on the right side to put his team up 1-0 heading into the first intermission. Senior defenseman Louie Belpedio and junior forward Josh Melnick notched assists.
The second period started with early offensive pressure from the Broncos, though only 1:46 into the middle frame and the RedHawks jumped to a 2-0 lead. Sophomore forward Carter Johnson scored his first goal of his collegiate career by tipping in a Belpedio point shot. Sophomore forward Gordie Green logged the secondary assist.
Any jump generated from Johnson’s first goal was squashed by Western Michigan’s answer two minutes later. Freshman forward Ethen Frank had a short breakaway off a rush and beat Larkin to make it a 2-1 game.
Undeterred, the forward line of junior Kiefer Sherwood, freshman Ben Lown and Knies almost found the back of the net, but Knies fanned on a centering pass. Freshman defenseman Alec Mahalak then fed an energized Johnson out in front, but Blacker made the point blank save to keep it a one-goal game.
A 4-on-4 situation came and went without change to the scoreboard, and then the Broncos couldn’t capitalize on a following power play as Larkin made impressive glove saves to get necessary stops.
A RedHawks’ offensive rush up ice with four minutes left to play in the period led to a turnover and the Broncos raced back the other way. DiPietro fed Frank who shot from the inside of the right faceoff circle, beating Larkin high glove. Frank’s goal tied the game 2-2.
Another turnover cost the ’Hawks another goal 1:24 later. This time, sophomore forward Lawton Courtnall had an open lane toward the left side to rip a shot past Larkin and give the Broncos their first lead of the weekend — one they took into the intermission.
“You can’t chase the game,” Blasi said. “We let it get away from us in the second period and that’s on us. Give them credit, they’re a good hockey team, but we turned the puck over and they made us pay.”
In a game of momentum, Miami started the third looking to regain some they had earlier in the game. A power play opportunity 1:20 into the third gave Miami the chance to tie it, but the RedHawks looked tentative with their playmaking and couldn’t net the equalizer.
Western Michigan withstood the pressure and head coach Andy Murray burned his timeout to rest tired Bronco bodies after an icing call. The break didn’t prevent undisciplined play, and the Broncos would go down a man for the sixth time.
Johnson had been cross-checked dangerously into the boards and the RedHawks would have five minutes to try to even the score. Five minutes came and went, as Miami’s power play was sluggish and uninspired.
“Any time you’re on the power play for five minutes, sometimes the power play gets too relaxed and that was the case,” Blasi said. “We weren’t ready to go, we weren’t intense on it and they outworked us.”
The fruitless power play took the wind out of Miami’s sails and, though Western Michigan didn’t generate any spectacular offense, the Broncos did a good job of limiting Miami’s chances by sealing the boards and getting between passes.
The period ticked on and with three minutes left, the crowd at Steve ‘Coach’ Cady arena held its breath. Blasi mixed up the offensive lines in an attempt to net the tying goal and then pulled Larkin with 1:30 left. A power play with 35.8 seconds left gave Miami a two man-advantage, though the horn sounded and sealed the 3-2 loss.
“We had opportunities to shoot the puck and we wanted to be cute with the puck,” Blasi said. “We want to make the ‘pretty play’ instead of getting pucks to the net which gave us some success earlier in the game.”
Blacker stopped 26 of the 28 shots he saw, and Larkin stopped 13 of the 16 he saw. The Broncos’ Frank ended with two goals and, at the other end, Belpedio was the only RedHawk with a multipoint game (2a).
“We went into the game knowing that puck management was going to be a key issue,” Blasi said. “Turns out, we were right, but we didn’t do a very good job of managing the puck so it cost us another game.”
Miami looks to right the ship this weekend against No. 3/4 St. Cloud State. Friday’s game starts at 8 p.m. and will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network. Saturday’s game will have an earlier start at 7:05 p.m.