For the first time in 92 days, after customary stick taps to thank the home crowd at the Steve ‘Coach’ Cady Arena, Miami hockey skated off the ice to a victorious rendition of the fight song on Saturday night.
The RedHawks defeated the University of Nebraska Omaha Mavericks 4-2 to snap a 15-game winless streak and nine-game losing streak.
“It feels awesome,” senior forward Josh Melnick said. “We missed this feeling a little bit. [It] definitely feels good to be back in the win column.”
For the first time in 13 games, the RedHawks (10-16-4, 4-12-2 National Collegiate Hockey Conference) scored the first goal and didn’t look back. Disciplined play, junior goaltender Ryan Larkin and a perfect penalty kill led the ’Hawks to the much-needed victory over the Mavs (9-17-2, 5-12-1 NCHC).
“I thought we came out hard,” head coach Enrico Blasi said. “I thought our first period was as good as we’ve looked — not that we were bad last night — but I thought that we had a little bit more jump, a little bit more urgency in our game.”
Though Miami lost the opening faceoff, they weren’t without the puck for much longer and had sustained offensive zone play for the opening five minutes.
Following a 3-0 loss last night, RedHawk Derek Daschke broke UNO’s senior goaltender Evan Weninger’s almost 68-minute shutout 7:50 into the first period.
Melnick fed Daschke from the left faceoff circle, and the freshman defenseman beat Weninger blocker side. Junior forward Gordie Green picked up the secondary assist.
Just under a minute later, sophomore forward Phil Knies knocked a loose puck past Weninger, but Weninger’s mask popped off during the play and the goal was waved off.
The third line was undeterred and, three minutes later, Knies battled for the puck inside the blue line to set up sophomore forward Casey Gilling. Weninger couldn’t control Gilling’s shot from the slot, and the rebound popped to Knies crashing the net.
Knies took it upon himself to bury the puck and signal the good goal as part of his celebration.
The period ended with a late penalty on sophomore defenseman Rourke Russell, though the horn sent the RedHawks to their locker room with a 2-0 lead.
It was the first time Miami led by two after 20 since its last victory on Nov. 17, 2018.
“Scoring the first goal is a big part of any game,” Blasi said, “But, in our conference, it’s a big deal because you’re playing on your toes, and you’re playing confident. For us, it was a big first period, a big boost, for us.”
Though the Mavericks boasted the eighth-best power play in the country entering the weekend, the RedHawks effectively killed the 47 seconds left on the power play to open the second period.
Miami had its own opportunity on the power play with 13:44 left but failed to capitalize.
When 5-on-5 play resumed, a 3-on-2 Miami rush transpired at center ice and freshman forward Scott Corbett carried the puck up the left side. Corbett’s bullet of a shot bounced past Weninger five-hole to put the RedHawks up 3-0 at 9:35 in the second.
Green picked up his second assist on the night, and freshman defenseman Andrew Sinard tallied the other assist.
The Mavericks battled back before the end of the period, clawing back into the contest with 9:18 left to play. Freshman forward Chayse Primeau scored his second of the weekend, catching the left side of the net open with Larkin sprawling on the right.
Junior forward Tristan Keck and freshman forward Tyler Weiss assisted on the goal that cut the RedHawks lead to 3-1.
Just under four minutes later, a flurry of play in front of Larkin forced bodies to screen the netminder. Senior defenseman Jalen Schulz took advantage, and his team pulled within one with 5:25 left in period two.
“Second period there, things got a little shaky,” Melnick said. “We kind of let off the gas, but our message was to get back to what we were doing.”
The third period was all Nebraska Omaha, as it tried to complete the comeback.
But it had been 92 days and 15 games, and it was the RedHawks’ night.
Larkin made save after save, and the skaters in front of him blocked shot after shot.
Melnick finally sealed the deal with 3:44 left to play after a 3-on-1 rush. Perfect right-to-left passing from junior forward Karch Bachman to Green to Melnick beat Weninger for the fourth time.
The Mavericks’ pulled their goaltender with 2:50 left to play, but the RedHawks hung on to end one of The Brotherhood’s longest losing streaks in program history.
“I liked the way we played tonight,” Blasi said. “Even though we bent a little bit in the second period, we still came out in the third period and tried to play the game the right way. It was a sign of our team and what we were doing in the first half [of the season].”
For the first time since Jan. 5, Larkin started and finished the weekend in net. He stopped 33 of the 35 shots he faced on Saturday night.
“I think he’s just like everybody else on the team,” Blasi said. “When things are going well and he’s seeing the puck, he’s feeling good and the team feels good.”
Weninger made 22 saves on 26 shots, though the Mavs outshot the ’Hawks 35-26.
Three RedHawks had multi-point nights – Green (3a), Melnick (1g, 1a) and Corbett (1g, 1a) – en route to victory.
The RedHawks enter their bye week and won’t be back in action until Feb. 22 when they take on the University of Denver.
“Sometimes going into this upcoming week and no games, guys might want to take things a little easy,” Melnick said, “But this week is so important for us and we need to continue this momentum.”
Puck drop on the 22nd and 23rd is 9:07 p.m. The games can be watched on NCHC.tv.