Miami hockey played a complete game with effective positioning and scoring up and down the roster to dominate Bowling Green State University 6-3 in the teams' season openers last night.
"For the most part, I think that's the closest we've played to 60 minutes tonight," junior defenseman Grant Hutton said post-game. "The job's done tonight and now we focus on tomorrow and getting the sweep."
The RedHawks (6-6-1, 2-3-1 NCHC) were resilient against a Falcons team (6-5-3, 5-2-3 WCHA) that was quick through transitions, but a team that couldn't beat the 'Hawks' consistent play.
"I thought positionally we were pretty good, we focused on that during the week," head coach Enrico Blasi said post-game. "I thought our effort was pretty good, our execution was good most of the time. It's such a battle out there, they're a big strong team and they come at you in waves and they play a tough, hard game."
Bowling Green's big team started the game with a strong shift that forced Miami to start its game on time. The RedHawks responded and settled into determined, quick play that led to a tripping penalty three and a half minutes into the game.
The 'Hawks' power play didn't generate the first goal, but the shift afterward did. Sophomore defenseman Grant Frederic trapped the zone and took a shot that rebounded to freshman forward Ben Lown in front of BG's goaltender freshman Eric Dop. Lown shot once, twice and a third time before finding the back of the net to put Miami up 1-0 at 6:15 of the first.
"You always want to get the first goal," Hutton said. "Sometimes it works in your favor and sometimes it doesn't."
A penalty kill several minutes after Lowns' goal could have been trouble for the RedHawks, but battling to clear the puck led to a 4-on-4 situation for a minute and a half. Miami and Bowling Green traded 3-on-1 rushes and played coast-to-coast, but 5-on-5 play ultimately resumed with Miami maintaining the one goal lead.
The Falcons fought back for several shifts and eventually found the equalizer off a Connor McDonald shot from the top of the right faceoff circle. The junior defenseman's goal came with 6:10 left in the period.
Miami continued to play their game and junior forward Kiefer Sherwood's wrist shot from the center of the blue line put his team back on top. The goal through traffic was reviewed, but deemed good, so the RedHawks went to intermission up 2-1.
"It was a big response from their team in the second period when they tied it up -- we got a little bit loose in our game," Blasi said. "Give them credit, they took advantage of that, but then we got back to our game."
The 'Hawks jumped right back into the game and started the second by trapping the offensive zone. Hutton grinded along the boards at the blue line to get the puck to Lown whose shot ricocheted behind the net to junior forward Josh Melnick in front. Melnick hammered the puck home on the right side for the two-goal lead at 2:59 of the second.
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Bowling Green pushed back following the goal, making it difficult for Miami to escape their own zone and clear the puck past the neutral zone. Sporadic good looks came from the Melnick, Lown and sophomore Gordie Green forward line, though the RedHawks were caught behind transition rushes for a couple minutes.
The Falcons went the other way after a Green breakaway, and a puck-focused positioning breakdown left Brett D'Andrea open on the left side to put the puck past Miami sophomore goaltender Ryan Larkin. The senior forward's goal came just past the halfway point of the game at 10:34.
Miami went on the penalty kill a minute after the goal after the goal and effectively kept BGSU to the outside. A turnover inside BGSU"s blue line led to a senior forward Tyler Spezia breakaway and unassisted goal with 5:47 left in the middle frame.
The tying goal was revitalizing for the Falcons and they clogged the neutral zone, before being penalized with 2:42 left in the period. A fortunate BGSU loose stick, gave Hutton the space between the circles to wrist the puck past Dop for the go-ahead goal at 18:25.
Not a minute later, Hutton found the back of the net through Dop's five-hole and a screen. Freshman forward Phil Knies and Frederic fed Hutton for the goal with 58 seconds left in the period. Good to put Miami up 5-3, the RedHawks took another two-goal lead into the intermission.
"That power play goal was huge," Blasi said. "Then we did a real good job getting the puck out of the zone, playing positional hockey -- doing the things we're supposed to be doing and then we get rewarded again."
The three-goal second and five-goal game led BGSU head coach Chris Bergeron to start the third with sophomore Ryan Bednard in net. Miami tested Bednard early, but looked more evenly matched against the Falcons. At the other end, Larkin stood tall against another BGSU breakaway to keep the game 5-3.
"The game's fast and things happen quick and sometimes you're going to get loose and your goaltender is going to have to make some saves," Blasi said. "We believe in Larks and he came out big."
The third was back and forth, more physical and neither team appeared dominant disregarding the scoreboard. The RedHawks buckled down to limit the Falcons' chances.
With seven minutes left, Bowling Green caught Miami in their own zone and played desperately enough to draw a penalty. Senior forward Conor Lemirande took a seat, forcing Larkin to smother a puck on the left side. Spurred on by their goaltender, Miami's penalty kill unit was effective in killing the remainder of the man-disadvantage.
The Falcons pulled their goalie for an extra attacker with just under three minutes left in the game. Undisciplined play, however, led to Miami going on the power play with 2:15 left to play. Bowling Green would gain the offensive zone and tie Miami up 5-on-5 with an extra-attacker.
Sherwood battled behind Bowling Green's goal after his team escaped the defensive zone and got the puck to sophomore forward Carson Meyer on the right side who slapshotted it cleanly. The empty-net, security goal came with 17.3 seconds left in the game.
The RedHawks would go on to win 6-3 and outshot the Falcons 27-14. The 'Hawks were 2-for-4 on the power play, while shutting down Bowling Green's three chances. Larkin had 11 saves, BGSU's Dop stopped 12 of the 17 shots he faced and Bednard stopped the nine shots he saw.
"It's about focus -- we've been working on that a lot in practice, getting pucks to the net regardless of where you are," Hutton said. "Getting pucks to the net, getting traffic, getting bodies and we know if we do that then we'll get the opportunities and I think you saw that tonight."
Six Miami players had multi-point nights. Hutton had the game-winning goal, another goal and an assist to match Sherwood's goal and two assists for three points. Frederic (2a), senior defenseman Louie Belpedio (2a), Lemirande (2a) and Lown (1g, 1a) finished with two points.
"It's all about the flow of the game and getting everybody involved," Blasi said. "When you're doing those things, everybody's in the game, everybody's on the same page, you've got all five guys on the ice doing what they're supposed to be doing and working off each other and so, the details of the game are there."
Miami looks to sweep the series tonight at 7:07 p.m. at the Slater Ice Arena.
"We're going to have to be ready," Blasi said. "This is their place, we have to be ready to go, we have to be ready to battle and it's going to be a tough game. We have to be ready to go."