Miami hockey rallied from a 2-1 deficit against National Collegiate Hockey Conference opponents Colorado College to win 3-2 in overtime. Freshman forward Casey Gilling sent the game to overtime and junior forward Josh Melnick had the sudden-death goal that gave the RedHawks their first conference win of the season.
“That’s what’s in store for the rest of the year,” head coach Enrico Blasi said. “No surprise to me that in conference play it’s going to come down to the wire. It’s a tough league, tough teams, and I thought CC played extremely well tonight.
The RedHawks (4-3, 1-0 NCHC) and the Tigers (5-4, 1-2 NCHC) both played fast, gritty games marked by quick transitions. Once a team entered the zone, the opposing team had a hard time clearing the puck and short periods of offensive dominance defined the flow of the game. This showed on the shot sheet, though CC ended with a 30-29 edge.
“They were a really good team, and I thought this game was more fast-paced and physical than previous games,” Gilling said.
The first period set the back-and-forth tone. Both teams showed jump off the faceoff, though momentum would swing to CC as a penalty was called on Miami at 1:44 of the period. The RedHawks were able to kill off the Tigers’ man-advantage with the help of big saves from sophomore goaltender Ryan Larkin.
Different from last weekend’s match-up against UConn, Colorado responded more quickly and with more pressure to Miami’s offensive chances — often trapping the zone and making it difficult for Miami to transition. Sophomore forwards Carson Meyer and Karch Bachman had a give-and-go opportunity and came close to beating CC sophomore goalie Alex Leclerc. Shortly after, Miami went on the powerplay at 9:30.
The ’Hawks set up a cycle in the second half of the man-advantage and would end with three shots on goal. Miami had sporadic quality chances that were immediately matched by Colorado’s speed and quick transition. If a RedHawk wasn’t generating those chances, at the opposite end of the ice, a Tiger was.
Another power play for Miami closed the period with bursts of good play, but the ’Hawks looked to enter the second with more consistency.
“I thought we got off to a bit of a slow start and that definitely showed,” Melnick said. “After the first, we settled down and talked through it as a team and knew we wanted to get back to how we were playing against UConn, because we knew that was our best hockey.”
The Tigers killed off the remaining 30 seconds of Miami’s powerplay before going on a power play themselves. The ’Hawks cleared the puck repeatedly and efficiently to keep it 0-0. Senior defenseman Louie Belpedio took it upon himself to change the scoreless game.
Fighting off a CC forward behind his own net, Belpedio went coast-to-coast — shouldering off the Colorado forward and splitting the Colorado defense — to beat Leclerc on a wrist shot from just inside the blue line. The unassisted goal put Miami up 1-0 at 7:26 of the second.
Another penalty on Miami gave opportunity to Colorado to tie the game but Miami cleared the puck, won board battles and got physical to kill the penalty. Once sprung from the box, Bachman had a short breakaway on Leclerc though the trailing Meyer was tied up and couldn’t get his stick on it.
On the other end of the ice, Larkin made crucial saves to keep his team ahead. Most notably, a left-to-right diving save against an open CC man with just over five minutes left in the period. A 4-on-4 allowed the ’Hawks more space to generate chances. They went to intermission outshot 20-17 but up 1-0 where it counts.
“I think their speed and the fact that they were getting on pucks,” Blasi said about CC’s edge. “We did the same thing to them, we did a good job getting pucks in deep and getting after their D and they were turning pucks over too.”
The third started slower than the first two periods, but began with an early Miami penalty kill. Larkin again came up with a huge save on the kill — stretching right-to-left to make a kick-save on an open CC man. Two minutes after the first kill of the period, Miami would go on their second kill but would be unsuccessful in shutting out Colorado. Junior forward Trevor Gooch redirected a puck past Larkin to tie it 1-1 at 6:51.
Though only tied with plenty of time left in the game, the ’Hawks struggled to find clear shooting lanes to get pucks to the net.
“It was back and forth and most of the night you felt like you better manage the puck well or something bad’s going to happen,” Blasi said. “It was one of those games where turnovers really becomes a huge factor in a game.”
A turnover on a Tiger power play led to three Colorado players storming the net and freshman forward Christiano Versich putting one past Larkin with 4:40 left in the game.
CC began draining the clock, but with Larkin pulled and 1:14 remaining, Miami had a man-advantage and shortly took advantage. Sophomore forward Gordie Green came up the right side and passed to Gilling on the left out in front. Gilling tied it 2-2 off a one-timer at 19:09.
“That goal helped everyone out and refocused, get back on it and finish strong,” Gilling said.
The ‘Coach’ Cady arena, populated by vocal RedHawks fans and a small Colorado cheering section, tensed with anticipation of the five-minute, sudden-death overtime period.
CC surged into the extra frame, but Miami settled into its game. Halfway through the frame, freshman forward Ben Lown charged up the left side of the ice after a turnover in the neutral zone. Lown centered to Melnick who redirected the feed past Leclerc to secure the victory.
With the win, Miami is over .500 for the first time this season.
“Just a bounce really,” Blasi said of the game’s deciding factor. “Both teams can skate, both teams can push the envelope. Sometimes, it was a track meet out there. Not sure, as a coach, if you’d like to see that but we got a bounce at the end and it could have gone either way.”
The RedHawks went 0-for-2 on the power play and CC capitalized, going 2-for-6 on its man advantages. Larkin made 28 saves on 30 shots and Leclerc stopped 26 of the 29 pucks he faced. Miami went 57 percent in the face off circle and looks to play a better puck-possession, shooting game tonight.
“When we get away from not playing simple and carrying the puck too much we put ourselves in dangerous situations,” Melnick said. “So, just getting back to that and knowing that if we play that way we’ll be fine.”
Puck drop is tonight at 7:05 p.m. and the game can be watched on NCHC.TV.