After a dismal 3-1 loss to No. 11 North Dakota on Friday night, it was hard to believe that the same Miami hockey team showed up to the rink 24 hours later.
The RedHawks scored the first goal, were energized and won nearly all the board battles on Saturday to beat the Fighting Hawks 3-2. The RedHawks’ (8-4, 2-2 NCHC) win ended their two-game losing streak and snapped the Fighting Hawks’ (5-3-1, 1-1 NCHC) five-game win streak.
“It feels really good,” junior goaltender Ryan Larkin said. “That’s a really good team and they’ve had a lot of big wins so far this season. It feels good for sure, especially after last night – we didn’t think we played our best.”
The RedHawks certainly played less than their best on Friday. They were outshot 14-5 in the first period, and the onslaught put the ’Hawks down two goals to the Fighting Hawks after the opening 20 minutes. It still felt like Miami escaped relatively unscathed headed to the first break only down two.
North Dakota’s first goal came on the power play, and it would finish 1-for-4 on the man-advantage. Miami couldn’t convert on the power play and went 0-for-4 on the evening while only taking two shots with the extra skater.
With two seconds left in the second period, senior forward Ryan Siroky tipped a shot from the point from freshman defenseman Derek Daschke to beat UND. The momentum from the goal carried through the third period and there were flashes of the quick and purposeful Miami team that has drawn national attention in the polls.
Still, five third-period shots and two failed power plays spelled a 3-1 loss for the RedHawks.
“I thought [North Dakota] deserved to win,” head coach Enrico Blasi said. “When they win every battle and you don’t manage the puck well, when you don’t take advantage of your power plays, you’re not going to win many games.”
Especially against National Collegiate Hockey Conference opponents like North Dakota, the Friday-night RedHawks will not win many games. Five NCHC teams are ranked in the USCHO.com’s top-20 poll, including Miami whose split with UND kept them in at No. 20.
But the Saturday-night RedHawks have the makings of a team bound for success and their first over .500 record in four seasons. Resilience has become a reoccurring theme for Miami hockey.
The team started the game the right way, with a power play goal in the first period and the momentum didn’t slow.
“Last night we talked about starting the game off, getting in the fight early,” Blasi said. “I thought we did that tonight.”
The RedHawks showed no sign of fatigue during Game Two. Last year, the ’Hawks only won two Saturday games during the regular season. The energy that propelled Miami to victory this Saturday came from the blue line.
After sophomore forward Phil Knies left the game with an injury halfway through the first period, senior defenseman River Rymsha moved up to play forward. Rymsha had played as a forward before, and freshmen defensemen Bray Crowder and Andrew Sinard showed their maturity and the RedHawks’ depth by playing big minutes.
When the Fighting Hawks made it past the blue line, Larkin kept his team in the game and Miami sacrificed its sticks and bodies to block North Dakota’s shooting lanes.
Larkin finished the weekend with 63 saves on 68 shots. Notably, the goaltender and his team survived four minutes of 6-on-5 play when North Dakota attempted to tie the game in the waning minutes of the third period.
The Fighting Hawks got one back with 23 seconds left to play, but the goal horn sounded a 3-2 Miami victory and elicited cheers from an almost sold-out home crowd as the RedHawks swarmed their goaltender.
“We have a lot of different guys in a lot of different positions,” Larkin said. “Everyone contributes and knows their role and does a great job within their role. This year’s team is awesome.”
Veterans like senior forward Josh Melnick, sophomore forward Casey Gilling and junior forward Karch Bachman filled their roles as goal scorers on Saturday. Melnick opened scoring, Gilling (1g, 2a) gave the RedHawks back their one-goal lead in the third and Bachman scored the eventual game-winner.
Now 10 games into the season, the RedHawks are comfortable in their roles and continue to learn what it takes to beat conference opponents.
“You can’t only play well for one period and expect to win, especially against a team like North Dakota and any team in our conference,” Siroky said.
And the winning feeling from Saturday only excites the RedHawks moving forward.
“You can’t forget it,” Rymsha said. “You’ve got to know what it felt like and try to mimic it.”
This weekend, Miami will try to mimic Saturday’s game. The RedHawks still have yet to sweep an NCHC opponent, but have the chance to do so against Colorado College (4-5-1, 0-4-0 NCHC). Puck drop is 10 p.m. EST on Friday.