By John Lachmann
OXFORD, Ohio – Miami’s lack of offense has been disappointing this season, but at least the RedHawks had managed to score at least one goal in each of their first 29 games.
That ended on Saturday.
No. 4 St. Cloud State blanked Miami, 3-0 at Cady Arena to earn a split in the weekend and four-game season series.
The RedHawks (11-16-3) had gone 34 games since being shut out, the last time being a 3-0 home loss to Michigan State in the second round of the CCHA Tournament on March 15, 2013.
Huskies goalie Ryan Faragher stopped 33 shots to earn the win.
St. Cloud State (18-7-5) scored twice in the first six minutes when players went in alone on Miami sophomore goalie Jay Williams.
The Huskies’ Jimmy Murray cut to the net from the left and slid the puck through Williams’ legs as RedHawks junior forward Blake Coleman took him down trying to get back on defense.
Coleman was assessed a double minor for hooking and elbowing, and SCSU made it 2-0 just 82 seconds later when David Morley roofed a shot after crashing the net uncontested on the right side while Miami was killing the first penalty.
St. Cloud State narrowly missed putting the game out of reach early, hitting two posts as Miami was able to kill the second minor.
Williams made a high-quality sprawling save in the second period to keep the RedHawks’ deficit at two.
But in the third period, Nic Down tipped in his 18th goal of the season while in the slot off a blueline shot by Ethan Prow with 5:50 remaining.
Miami outshot the Huskies, 33-26, with sophomore forward Sean Kuraly leading the team with five SOG.
The RedHawks drop to 2-9-1 in their last 12 games. The loss ensures Miami its first losing regular season in nine years.
Miami also will not host a playoff series for the first time since Cady Arena opened in 2006, as the team can finish no better than a tie for fifth in the NCHC.
Seventh-place Colorado College also made it tougher for the RedHawks to crawl out of the basement on Saturday, completing a sweep of Denver. Miami is now seven points back of CC with both have four regular season games remaining.
Miami will host Minnesota-Duluth next weekend, the final home games of the season, before wrapping up its regular season schedule at Denver the on March 7-8.
ANALYSIS: The first period showed that moving forward, the RedHawks will not be an elite team with this group of defensemen in their current state.
Coach Enrico Blasi doubled down with smaller defensemen this season and the move has clearly backfired. Miami has not recovered from the loss of Joe Hartman and Steven Spinell.
Having two players like them on the lineup sheet would bump everyone else down two spots and this team would likely be OK, but having 4-5-6 defensemen play 2-3-4 roles has exposed them.
To their credit they’ve battled hard all season and Miami has struggled through an inordinate number of injuries, but the RedHawks are in dire need of a Vincent LoVerde shutdown blueliner and a Chris Wideman-type power play QB.
St. Cloud State is a very good team, and after losing on Friday, everyone in the building knew SCSU would come out strong the first 10 minutes. As has been the case far too often this season, Miami was unable to answer the bell in the defensive zone.
FORWARDS: D. They generated a shot of shots but Faragher was outstanding. However, too many shots were right at the mock-Montreal ‘C’ in the middle of Faragher’s sweater.
Kuraly and junior Cody Murphy were maximum-effort players once again, and freshman Anthony Louis seems to be gaining confidence in his stickhandling ability in the offensive zone.
Sophomore Riley Barber doesn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders like earlier in the season, possibly due to the excessive ice time earlier in the season combined with his overseas trip to the World Juniors.
Four minor penalties resulted in two Huskies goals.
DEFENSEMEN: C-. With the above said, the last two periods weren’t that bad by this group, as it held SCSU to 17 shots in the final 40 minutes.
Freshman Matt Joyaux and junior Ben Paulides lost Murray on the first goal and the pair was on the ice for Morley’s free ride to the net on goal No. 2.
Blasi said earlier this week that senior forward Max Cook may move back to defense at some point, so we’ll see who’s in the lineup next weekend.
None of the six defensemen took a penalty in this game, which is definitely a positive.
GOALTENDING: B. This area has been tough to evaluate this year because of the much higher number of high-quality shots by opponents.
Williams was hung out to dry on the first two goals, but you’d like to see the goalie stop one of those. The third was a beautiful tip-in goal he had no chance on.
Williams also made a great save in the second
period, and his best friends – the posts – helped him twice in the first 10 minutes, preventing the game from getting out of hand early.
LINEUP CHANGES: Blasi went with the same 19 players on his lineup card on Saturday after Friday’s win.
The one surprise was that Blasi stuck with Williams on Saturday. Williams kept Miami in the game both nights, but Blasi typically has not ridden one of the other both games of a weekend series unless one has caught fire.
Sophomore Ryan McKay looked fine in practice, so it will be interesting to see what Blasi does in the final home games of the season next weekend.
Miami is still without junior forward Jimmy Mullin (lower body) and freshman defenseman Johnny Wingels (upper body).