y John Lachmann
OXFORD, Ohio – It was a microcosm of Miami’s season: The RedHawks could not catch a break and lost a close game.
Minnesota-Duluth (15-13-4) scored midway through the second period and held on for a 1-0 win at Cady Arena in Miami’s home finale on Saturday.
The RedHawks complete their home slate 7-9-1 and 2-8-1 in their final 11 in Oxford after starting the season 5-1 in their own building.
Overall, Miami is 2-11-1 in its last 14 games.
The RedHawks also dropped both decisions over the weekend by one goal as they slipped to 1-9-3 in games decided by a goal or less in 2013-14.
Miami (11-18-3) also clinched last place in the NCHC, meaning the RedHawks will travel to North Dakota, St. Cloud State or Nebraska-Omaha for a best-of-3 series to open the conference tournament. UND and the Huskies are tied atop the standings with UNO three points back.
Kyle Osterberg scored the lone goal of the game with 10:55 left in the second period off a one-time feed from Justin Crandall off an offensive-zone faceoff win.
Aaron Crandall stopped 30 shots as Miami was blanked for the second time this season, with both shutouts coming in the last three games.
RedHawks sophomore goalie Ryan McKay returned to the net after sitting the last three games. He was 29-for-30 but suffered his sixth straight loss, and he has not earned a win since Nov. 30 at Bemidji State.
Miami wraps up its regular season schedule with a pair of games at Denver next weekend. The following week is the first round of the NCHC playoffs.
ANALYSIS: Sometimes stat sheets flat-out lie, and that was the case on Saturday. This was actually one of the best overall showings by Miami in some time.
And while a 1-0 implies “boring”, this game was anything but.
Miami’s defense really stepped up, its forwards helped out on the back end and generated more good scoring chances, the goaltending was solid and the RedHawks were physical (plenty of Miami fans don’t like Blake Coleman but how much more energized has this team become since his return?).
Miami deserved a better fate in this game, as they dominated everywhere but on the scoreboard, and Crandall was outstanding in net, making a highlight-reel sprawling save in the final minute with his team shorthanded.
The RedHawks’ defense also kept most of the Bulldogs’ shot to the perimeter, and their one goal was a rip from the slot off an excellent centering pass.
That all said, UMD was a .500 team entering this weekend and was 8-10-2 in league play entering the weekend.
This has been an incredibly difficult season for everyone involved in the Miami program, from coaches, players and parents to fans. This wasn’t supposed to happen, certainly not this season, and eight years of incredible success breeds an expectation of continued success in a program, from top to bottom.
And on a personal note, it’s tough to say goodbye to a lot of wonderful people that go to games – players and their parents who make incredible sacrifices so their children can pursue their hockey dream, other fans, ushers and everyone else who is a part of the gameday experience.
For those related to the seniors and anyone who may not return in the fall, unfortunately we’ll likely never cross paths again, and that’s a shame but also a part of hockey.
Finally, there was a bit of a dust-up after the game. Nothing suspension worthy, and in fact only two 10-minute misconducts were handed out (Coleman received one for Miami).
Yeah, I know I’ll catch hell for this, but I’m glad to see it. There, I said it. I just wish something like this had happened months ago when this regular season was salvageable. No one really crossed the line – sophomores Sean Kuraly and Chris Joyaux tackled people, the goalies pushed a couple of players, which is always hilarious at any level, and there was some pushing and shoving.
And by the way, the officials are supposed to wait until and postgame skirmish is diffused before allowing teams to leave their respective benches, and clearly the situation on the ice was not resolved when others became involved.
Maybe that’s why no other players were assessed penalties. The confrontation will likely be reviewed by the league but it’s doubtful any supplemental discipline will be assessed.
Coaches and league brass can spin it anyway they want, but at the end of the day, everything that happened after the final whistle was good for Miami and the league.
The RedHawks have needed a spark for months, and they finally got one. Perhaps it’s because of the lack of extensive bus trips, which can be bonding experiences, but this team never seemed to galvanize this season and it’s been a poorly-kept secret that there has been infighting between players. It’s obvious even if you read between the lines if you follow players on Twitter.
Two players briefly exchanged words before a faceoff regarding positioning on Saturday and after one said his peace to the other he skated away shaking his head.
This isn’t uncommon on teams,
of course. Remember the 1980 U.S. Olympic team? It was the New England blue-collars vs. the Minnesota white-collars.
So back to this being good. The 1980 U.S. team collectively hated Herb Brooks and it brought the players closer. Maybe this team figured out that its members had each other’s back during this pseudo-scrap.
Even if this season is a write-off, any bond that formed on Saturday could carry over to 2014-15. Only two players on this team are seniors, so the overwhelming majority will be back.
The fans, all 2,627 of them, loved it. I didn’t see a single one visibly show an ounce of disgust.
And hey NCHC, I’ve seen countless online remarks and heard numerous ones in person that this league has no identity. Very few natural rivals. It’s mostly a collection of displaced teams as a result of the Big Ten picking off members and leaving the remaining teams to fend for themselves, right?
Guess what: UMD has four seniors including Crandall. Miami has two. These teams, with almost all of their current rosters intact, will meet again next season. And none of their players will forget what happened at the end of this game.
If the NCHC lacked rivalries, which is a fair criticism but not one the league could do much about when it formed, it has one now. And that’s a net positive for league, which would probably never admit that for obvious reasons.
FORWARDS: C-. Maybe a generous grade considering Miami was shut out, but this corps really did play pretty well. Crandall stood on his head and the RedHawks missed on a couple of shots but technically this was one of the best games this group has played recently.
RedHawkey was critical of Kuraly last night for his penalties, and sophomore forward Alex Gacek point total of one in his past 16 games has been an area of criticism here, but the line of Kuraly-Gacek-Alex Wideman was Miami’s best all night.
Again, some nights the stats sheets lie, because they combined for two shots, but they had the puck in the offensive zone more than any line, and Coach Enrico Blasi rightly rewarded them with more ice time as the game progressed.
DEFENSEMEN: B. Minnesota-Duluth managed 30 shots, but most were from the outside and McKay was able to make mostly easy saves.
The third pairing of freshman Trevor Hamilton and sophomore Michael Mooney played well, and the contact to the head penalties both received were questionable. Mooney also received a coincidental minor for getting tied up with Dominic Toninato, which was a net positive because he took of one of UMD’s best players.
Especially for Hamilton, a player who came from the U.S. National Development Team, who's still very young and is expected to be a part of this team's future on the blue line. It was encouraging to see him end his home campaign with a strong performance.
GOALTENDING: A-. It’s easy to say McKay saved the day and is the better choice over sophomore Jay Williams, but it isn’t that simple.
Yes, McKay did play well, and that was great to see. He didn’t fully seem like his confident 2012-13 self, as he still got out of position a little and froze the puck more often than usual.
But to be fair McKay did not face the number of high-percentage shots Williams has seen in recent games.
I’m not a big fan of goalies platoons, I prefer riding the hot hand, but in this case the split seems to work. McKay has not exceled when he has been ridden hard, and Williams was better when he shared the crease as well.
LINEUP CHANGES: Sophomore forward Kevin Morris was back in the lineup and sophomore forward John Doherty was scratched. That was only change among the skaters.
McKay saw his first time between the pipes since North Dakota and was fine.
As a season ticket holder as well as a journalist RedHawkey has been reluctant and vague about report injuries since that could potentially hurt the team. But at this point it’s pretty obvious junior forward Jimmy Mullin (lower body) and freshman defenseman Johnny Wingels (upper body) will not return this season.
Sophomore defenseman Taylor Richart apparently has been out with an upper-body injury since the North Dakota series as well.
If casual fans are coming up to me and telling me the above, obviously opponents know these facts as well.