By John Lachmann
MINNEAPOLIS – Miami’s entire season, especially since the start of the NCHC Tournament, has been all about drama.
Saturday was no different, as the RedHawks erased a two-goal deficit in a three-minute span only to give up two third-period tallies less than six minutes apart in a 4-3 loss to Denver in the conference final at Target Center.
The defeat ends Miami’s dramatic bid to run the table in the first-ever NCHC Tournament and before the first team in four years to earn a bid to the NCAAs with a losing record.
The RedHawks swept then-No. 4 St. Cloud State on the road and blanked No. 13 North Dakota in a road-game atmosphere a night before this game.
“We had no energy – our guys came out flat,” RedHawks coach Enrico Blasi said. “I guess that’s my fault, I’ll take full blame for that. That was unacceptable in the championship game.”
A rip by the Pioneers’ Nolan Zajac beat Miami sophomore goalie Ryan McKay just 3:13 into the first period at the end of a power play to take the early lead.
Denver (20-15-6) made it 2-0 when Daniel Doremus drove down the right win and wristed one around RedHawks sophomore defenseman Chris Joyaux, and when the rebound came out in his direction he reached around Joyaux and poked it in on the backhand.
Miami (15-20-3) cut the lead in half when the puck took a strange bounce around the boards in the corner and kicked straight out to RedHawks freshman Anthony Louis, who roofed a shot on the power play with 6:52 left in the middle stanza.
Exactly three minutes later, an unassisted seeing-eye shot from the blue line by sophomore center Sean Kuraly tied it at two.
Zac Larraza gave the Pioneers a 3-2 lead just over a minute into the third period on a wrist shot from the top of the right faceoff circle that beat a screened McKay through the five hole.
With 13:13 left in regulation, a defensive zone turnover led to a one-time laser by Denver’s Emil Romig in the slot that gave the Pioneers another two-goal lead.
“I thought at 2-2 we were going to get some momentum, and then (Denver) comes out in the third period, we make a couple of mistakes, they score a couple of goals," Blasi said. "Really just indicative of our year – every time we make a mistake it cost us.”
The RedHawks look dejected immediately after that goal. But once again Miami would not go away as Louis netted his second goal of the night, knocking home a loose puck in the crease with 1:33 left to make it 4-3 with an extra attacker.
“Obviously we weren’t going to quit, but we weren’t good enough all night,” Blasi said. “We started off slow, we gave them way too much room, they took advantage of it.”
The RedHawks generated four good chances with McKay out -- two by Louis -- but they could not generate the equalizer.
Kuraly finished with a goal and an assist, and Louis' goal was his fourth in three games.
Miami finished the season with a losing record for the first time since 2004-05, and its run of eight consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances – the second-longest streak in Division I – comes to an end.
“I take blame for the entire year, and we’ll get better,” Blasi said. “I guarantee that.”