By John Lachmann
MINNEAPOLIS – For Miami, the 4-3 loss to Denver in the NCHC championship game on Saturday was a microcosm of the 2013-14 season.
The RedHawks were inconsistent, made mistakes, dug themselves a hole and were almost able to dig themselves out of it.
Miami didn’t play for 60 minutes like in St. Cloud both nights or the way it did in Minneapolis the night before.
As Coach Enrico Blasi said in the postgame press conference, it’s hard to understand how his team could lack intensity at times in the game that decides whether it goes to the NCAA Tournament or not after working so hard to get to that point.
Perhaps it took all of the energy the RedHawks had to reach the final and they were simply out of gas. Maybe the success they had in previous weeks gave them the mentality that this victory would come easily after three straight wins against better teams in hostile environments.
Or maybe the increased travel finally caught up to Miami. Denver played in the WCHA prior to this season, so its teams are used to flying long distances to most of its road games.
Could it be that Denver was better at capitalizing on mistakes that were available to SCSU and North Dakota? Miami did play very well in its previous three tournament games but got some breaks as well. With the exception of the first Louis goal that came on a fluky carom off the boards, that didn’t happen on Saturday.
The best guess it was some combination of those four items.
This game also highlighted the problems this team has had all season. Mistakes by defensemen. Soft goals being let in by netminders. Poor passing by forwards who should complete more. Skilled veteran forwards not being the team’s best players in key games.
If writers can see these things from half a mile above the ice, surely the coaching staff which gets paid to notice and correct these things and has access to film saw them.
But the ample negatives have been discussed ad nauseum. Some good things happened in this game and in the past couple of weekends to give fans encouragement looking ahead as well.
Freshman forward Anthony Louis was one of Miami’s best forwards during this tournament. He scored four goals in four games, including at least one in each of the final three games, and he added one assist.
Louis recorded seven goals and seven assists the last 15 games after going 4-6-10 the first 23. Beyond the points, his forechecking and puckhandling improved drastically down the stretch.
Miami showed its four lines can compete with anyone. The RedHawks rolled their lines at St. Cloud because of the possibility of playing three games in three days and the result was Miami got goals from unlikely sources like sophomore Kevin Morris and freshman Justin Greenberg, whose marker in the final seconds vs. SCSU clinched the series.
The defensemen are getting better. It’s still not the shut-down group RedHawks fans have become accustomed to watching, but because of key injuries this group was faced with the nearly-impossible task of shutting down some of the top offensive teams in the country in the final month and at least held opponents in check for the most part.
Remember that sophomore Taylor Richert and freshman Johnny Wingels suffered season-ending injuries and Miami was down to the six blueliners who played this weekend.
Sophomore Ryan McKay was in net for all four tournament games and was so-so in the first game at St. Cloud, good in Game 2, excellent vs. North Dakota and mediocre in the championship.
But while McKay did allow four goals vs. Denver, and he probably would’ve wanted two of them back, remember that Miami would not have advanced to the final if he hadn’t stood on his head the night before.