Connor Matheny, The Miami Student
The Miami men’s hockey team split a two game series against the Western Michigan Broncos at home. The RedHawks lost 2-1 on Friday but battled back to win 4-3 on Saturday.
This weekend’s series helped Miami snap a four game losing streak. The team is now 9-11-6 overall, 5-7-4 in the NCHC and 6-4-3 at home. WMU is now 14-7-3 on the season, 8-7-1 in the NCHC and 4-5-1 on the road.
The weekend began with Friday’s loss to WMU that proved the RedHawks’ struggle with overcoming early deficits. Western Michigan’s first goal was scored six minutes into the first period. Michigan’s freshman defenseman Cam Lee’s shot from the blue line was redirected by a RedHawk through traffic and into the net.
Miami was able to draw a man advantage shortly after the goal, however WMU’s penalty kill unit had no trouble defending their net.
“I think we dodged a lot of bullets tonight, I thought [freshman goalie Ryan] Larkin played great,” head coach, Enrico Blasi said. “We made some plays where they didn’t capitalize, they had a couple of posts, but when you chase the game like that, you know you’re making critical mistakes and at some point it’s going to be in the back of your net.”
Late in the first, Miami’s freshman defenseman Jared Brandt was called for a tripping penalty with 54 seconds remaining in the period. With 9.8 seconds to go, Western Michigan’s sophomore defenseman Corey Schueneman carried the puck through center ice, stick-handled around Miami’s defense and snapped a shot past Larkin’s glove into the top right corner.
Miami caught a break and the coast-to-coast goal was ultimately waved off due to offsides by the officials.
“They had the better of us for most of the night,” Blasi said. “I don’t think we came out with any kind of energy, they took it to us right from the moment the puck dropped and we chased the game the rest of the way.”
Miami was out shot 16-4 in the first period.
Western Michigan’s willingness to shoot from any angle and aggressive forecheck allowed them to dominate in the first period. Similarly, WMU came out firing in the second and caught the RedHawks on their heels, but Miami was able to kill the remainder of the leftover penalty and drew a power play of their own with a little over four minutes gone in the second.
Miami began to find their rhythm and attempted to stifle the Bronco’s momentum. A minor penalty on Miami’s senior forward Colin Sullivan at the 7:20 mark put the Broncos up a man.
However, the Red and White were able to capitalize on a shorthanded chance when the puck was dumped into WMU’s zone by senior forward Anthony Louis.
A flurry of movement led to the goal as sophomore forward Kiefer Sherwood gave chase after the loose puck. Sherwood won the battle and fed sophomore defenseman Grant Hutton. Hutton setup junior defenseman and captain Louie Belpedio in the center for his sixth goal of the season to tie the game at one goal apiece.
Belpedio’s shorthanded goal was Miami’s second of the season.
Miami then killed the power play but could not contain Western Michigan’s freshman forward Hugh McGing, who scored a go-ahead goal amidst confusion in front of the RedHawks’ net with 8:16 left to go in the second.
Miami seemed to find some energy in the final period and fired ten shots at Western Michigan’s freshman goaltender Ben Blacker. The RedHawks were able to control the puck in the opposing zone and generate genuine chances however, Blacker did not let anything through.
With a minute remaining in the contest, Miami pulled Larkin from the net and set up its offense. The RedHawks were only able to get one shot on net before the puck was cleared and time expired.
The key to the Bronco’s victory was a mixture of blocked shots, a large volume of shots, and Miami’s inability to capitalize on their chances. The RedHawks were outshot 32-21 and went 0 for 4 on power plays.
“[Tonight was] a lesson that we’ve got to learn about being ready to go and playing a little bit more determined, a little bit more committed to the game and not put ourselves behind the eight-ball,” Blasi said.
Saturday night’s game provided an opportunity for rebound for the RedHawks, as they were able to hold on for a 4-3 victory over Western Michigan. Miami showed up with a chip on its shoulder and played aggressively for the whole game.
Sophomore center Josh Melnick’s two goals at 19:44 of the first and 1:19 of the second helped put Miami ahead, while Larkin’s 44 saves helped the RedHawks stay there. Larkin made numerous key saves in the second period — a puck passing him could have easily shifted the outcome of the game.
“The best player on the ice tonight was Larkin, there’s no question about it,” Blasi said. “He closed the door, they got a couple in the third period. I thought the last five, six minutes we really settled down, probably our best five minutes of the game — probably the weekend.”
MU lead the Broncos 4-1 going into the third period, but seemed to lose focus as Western Michigan was able to net two unanswered goals.
Furious late game action on both ends of the ice racked the nerves of the crowd until the sound of the final horn. The RedHawks were able to hold on despite being outshot 35-12 in the last two periods.
“I think we started playing our game, we started controlling the puck a little bit more and playing in their end,” Larkin said. “We had been in this situation before against Omaha, and things turned out differently. Western [Michigan]’s a good team, but we showed up for the last ten minutes and really got to it.”
Miami will not play again until February 10 at 8:30 p.m., when they have a rematch with St. Cloud State in St. Cloud, MN.