Back-to-back victories against the Bowling Green State University Falcons put the Miami University men’s ice hockey team back on track for the crucial last few weeks of the 2008-09 season.
“I think this was a big weekend for us,” senior captain Brian Kaufman said. “We said the last nine games we have was going to be our new season, so we’re going to try to win every one of them and take every one, one at a time.”
Saturday’s 3-2 victory gave the RedHawks a big confidence boost in the form of their first series sweep since Dec. 13-14. Additionally, the brotherhood’s senior class became the winningest class in Miami hockey history, clinching its 99th win with senior icers accounting for all three goals and four assists.
“It’s really special,” Kaufman said. “To think of some of the classes that have come through here in the past, to beat last year’s classes, is awesome. It’s something that hopefully someday will be broken, but it’ll take four good years.”
Junior Gary Steffes lit the lamp first on Friday night-a good first step in helping the ‘Hawks to overcome their recent Friday night deficit. Miami now owns a 14-0-2 record when scoring first on the season. BGSU sophomore goaltender Nick Eno left the pipes in an attempt to clear the puck away, but Steffes intercepted it and took advantage of the net minder’s absence.
For first appearance’s sake, it could have been a close game as BGSU sophomore Dan Sexton evened things up at 11:35 of the first frame with a power play tally off a dish from freshman Nick Bailen.
The brotherhood would not be bested, though, and senior Justin Mercier notched one more in his quest for 100-point club membership, firing an up-ice pass to sophomore Carter Camper who skated in alone to beat Eno stick-side with about five minutes remaining until the first intermission.
“(Camper) is a terrific hockey player,” Bowling Green head coach Scott Paluch said. “He’s so elusive and creative. He’ got tremendous vision. He’s just a terrific hockey player.”
That goal set the stage for what the Falcons would see of Miami for the rest of the game, as the Red and White then continued on to score four more goals, with plenty of shoving interspersed.
“It was physical out there for sure,” Miami head coach Enrico Blasi said, “but that’s the way it’s going to be for the rest of the year. Everybody’s playing for a spot in the tournament.”
After a very physical first half, the RedHawk power play was on display late in the second stanza. Sophomores Pat Cannone and Camper set the play up brilliantly before feeding it to junior Jarod Palmer, who found the net to give the Red and White an insurance goal.
Palmer carried that momentum into the final frame, and it wasn’t long before he lit up the scoreboard again at 8:52 in the third. Kaufman found the net for his sixth goal of the year in at 16:34, and sophomore Andy Miele notched his 10th goal of the season, hammering the final nail in the coffin when he blasted a pass from Palmer to beat Eno glove-side and close the scoring at 6-1.
“I thought we did a lot of good things for about 50 minutes of the hockey game, but I think mentally we just didn’t finish the game off strong,” Paluch said. “Miami’s too good a team and took advantage. We had some strange goals, some bouncy goals that we need to take look at. We just took too many penalties, and you can’t do that in a game like this.”
Both teams came away from the first period empty-handed despite numerous scoring attempts. The Falcons chose Jimmy Spratt to backstop them for the second half of the series, and the senior from Chesterfield, Mich., didn’t disappoint them, turning away all 12 Miami shots fired his way.
“I thought (Spratt) played great,” Blasi said. “Obviously did a good job of controlling his rebounds, and their D-corp did a good job of not giving us second opportunities, and when we did have second opportunities he was there.”
Freshman goalie Connor Knapp, meanwhile, faced down all seven of the Falcons’ attempts. The rookie net minder’s performance included a spectacular and daring dive all the way out to the blue line to deflect a puck and prevent a BGSU breakaway.
BGSU turned the tables at 9:21 of the second period when senior Brandon Svendsen put the Falcons on the board first. The power play point put the RedHawks in a weakened position that they have struggled with all season.
“We haven’t done that (come back after being down at the outset of the game) yet this year, so it was important for us to do that in the manner that we did it,” Blasi said. “You know, everything happens for a reason so hopefully that gives us some confidence going down the stretch … To have that confidence that we can come back.”
Barely two minutes passed before the RedHawks answered back with a man-advantage goal of their own. Amidst a Miami blitz, one shot found its way into the net-Kaufman’s second of the weekend.
Power play action continued to dominate the second stanza, and junior Josh Boyd aided the Falcons in pulling away again with another man-advantage tally just before the second intermission. The Red and White outshot the Falcons 20-9 in the period.
The brotherhood persevered and evened the score at two in the third when seniors Kaufman, Roeder and Bill Loupee combined for a 3-on-1 breakaway attack. Kaufman and Loupee played keep away from the solitary defenseman until an opportunity presented itself, and a well-placed pass to Roeder at 8:43 was all it took as the defenseman from Glenview, Ill., found the back of the net for the fifth time in his career.
The Red and White took the lead for the first time all night when Lacombe beat Spratt glove-side just over halfway through the final stanza. Loupee and Kaufman assisted on what turned out to be the game-winner for the RedHawks.
“We needed it for sure in the third and the guys did a good job,” Blasi said. “I felt, when we came out for the third we had a different kind of mentality in our game and obviously we were able to score two goals, and once we got the lead I don’t think our guys really gave them much.”
Freshman Will Weber’s five-minute major and game disqualification in the final 5:16 had the potential to change the game, especially when the Falcons pulled Spratt with 1:29 remaining in favor of a 6-on-4 attack. The RedHawks’ No. 2 penalty kill unit stayed cool though and cleared the puck over and over to secure the sweep.
“If you’ve got four guys out there working together really well it’s like having five guys,” Palmer said. “It just was all about teamwork.”
Up next for the Red and White is an away series against the Lake Superior State Lakers Feb. 13-14. The puck is set to drop at 7:05 p.m. on Friday and 7:35 p.m. on Saturday.