“We’re the eighth-placed team. There’s no pressure on us,” Miami head coach Enrico Blasi said last Monday. “We’re expected to lose, right? We’ve got to go and play our A-game.”
Though the RedHawks were expected to lose to No. 1 St. Cloud State, spurts of their A-game gave the Huskies trouble this weekend.
“I don’t think [the losses were] from lack of effort – a couple of plays that we might have wanted to execute a little bit differently – but other than that, I thought we were right there with them,” Blasi said.
But, ultimately, SCSU kicked Miami hockey from the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Tournament, handed the RedHawks their seventh series sweep and their 22nd and 23rd losses.
By way of those 5-2 and 6-1 losses, the RedHawks’ postseason run ended less than 24 hours after it started. The weekend, which was marked by an unsuccessful power play and a slew of shots allowed, looked like much of Miami’s (11-23-4, 5-17-2 NCHC) season — its fourth consecutive season under .500.
“As a team, we came out and battled hard,” junior forward Karch Bachman said. “We gave ourselves a chance both nights. We were in both of those games. We had a couple mistakes that cost us, and, at this point in the season, against a team like that, every mistake hurts you. Every play counts. It was just a tough weekend for us.”
The RedHawks and the Huskies (29-4-3, 19-2-3 NCHC) are no stranger to postseason matchups, as SCSU ended the ’Hawks’ season last year in game three of the best-of-three series.
This year, the Huskies took game one, and Miami surrendered three goals in the third period on Saturday night, failing to force a decisive game three.
“At the end of the day, we weren’t getting the job done in the third period,” Blasi said.
The third period decided both games this weekend, as it has all season. Friday and Saturday were the 21st and 22nd games this season when the RedHawks started the third period either tied or playing with a one-goal differential.
Entering the third period on Friday night, the RedHawks faced only a 3-2 deficit before the Huskies added two goals to secure the victory. And starting the final 20 minutes of play on Saturday, Miami and St. Cloud were tied 2-2 before SCSU outscored MU 4-1 in the final frame.
The ’Hawks only took two penalties on Friday against St. Cloud’s nationally-ranked No. 9 power play, killing one of them. And Miami gave itself a chance to complete the comeback with a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill on Saturday.
But the RedHawks’ lack of success on their own power play during the weekend (0-for-5) failed to provide much needed goals against the No. 1 team in the country. MU’s man-advantage finishes with a 15.6 percent success rate on the year.
“I thought our PK did a great job against the top power play in the country and our power play had some really good looks, but we just weren’t able to capitalize,” Blasi said.
Further stunting Miami’s offense, the Huskies outshot the ’Hawks 37-25 on Friday night and 45-21 on Saturday night. Of the RedHawks’ last 29 games, they have allowed at least 30 shots in 24 of them.
Junior goaltender Ryan Larkin stopped 32 pucks on Friday and 39 on Saturday.
Other heroes from the weekend include senior defenseman River Rymsha, who finished Friday with one goal and one assist, and junior forward Karch Bachman, who had two goals on Saturday for his second career two-goal game.
“In terms of Saturday, yeah, it was nice that I found my offensive touch a little bit there, but at the end of the day, that’s not something you focus on,” Bachman said. “When you lose and the season’s over, there’s really nothing to do with your individual game.”
Sophomore forward Ben Lown tallied one goal and one assist over the two games, while sophomore defenseman Alec Mahalak had two assists.
Rymsha, forwards Josh Melnick and Ryan Siroky and defenseman Grant Hutton all skated in their final collegiate hockey games in the Red and White jersey. Goaltender Jordan Uhelski and forward Zach LaValle will also hang up their collegiate hockey skates after the weekend.
“It’s not the weekend we were looking for,” Bachman said. “It’s not the way that we wanted to send out our senior class. This is the first class in a while that hasn’t won a championship at Miami. So, it’s frustrating for us, but it’s not something we can dwell on. For the rest of us here, we’re already forward looking and try to see what we can do next year.”