Miami hockey weathered Bowling Green's pushback with grittier, chippier play on Saturday night to earn a 2-2 tie. The RedHawks are undefeated in their last three games thanks to an improved, and finally successful, process.
"[Bowling Green] works hard and they compete all over the ice," senior defenseman Louie Belpedio said post-game. "I think we weathered it pretty well and finally got to turn our game around. Obviously, not the result we wanted, but we'll take it."
The RedHawks (6-6-2, 2-3-1 NCHC) were more evenly matched on Saturday night against the Falcons (6-5-2, 5-2-3 WCHA) after dominating 6-3 on Friday night. The finale of the two-game series was marred with penalties and marked by increased physicality.
"Tonight we didn't have that same start. Give them credit, they wanted to fight back and they did," head coach Enrico Blasi said. "We'll take the weekend as a whole -- a win and a tie on the road, non-conference, hostile environment, good hockey team."
The Falcons came out fighting at the start of the first, catching the RedHawks in their defensive zone for shifts at a time. Miami played good man-on-man defensive coverage and stopped the couple of Bowling Green's early transition rushes.
A handful of penalties put BGSU on a 4-on-3 man-advantage but sophomore defenseman Grant Frederic dutifully cleared the puck, Bowling Green was called offside on the following reentry play and junior defenseman Grant Hutton came out of the penalty box and cleared the puck to begin the 5-on-4 disadvantage.
Another slew of penalties led to 4-on-4 play halfway through the first period. Belpedio had a good cycle around the net in the offensive zone, attracting two Bowling Green defensemen, but was unable to get the puck to an open man.
The Falcons began putting big bodies in front of Miami sophomore goaltender Ryan Larkin and would outshoot the RedHawks 10-4 in the opening period. Larkin blocked, bodied and padded down shots to keep his team in the game.
A neutral zone turnover led to an unfortunate BGSU breakaway. Junior forward Kiefer Sherwood valiantly tried to stop the play but his efforts were thankless and a penalty shot was awarded to freshman forward Brandon Kruse. Kruse beat Larkin five-hole with 34 seconds left in the period, sending the Falcons to the first intermission with a 1-0 lead.
"I thought we started really slow, but I thought we battled back hard," Belpedio said. "Obviously, that's what you want -- it's not easy to come here and play."
The second opened with four minutes of back-and-forth, chippy hockey with pucks knocked off both teams' sticks and passes not connecting with their intended recipients.
RedHawk sophomore forward Karch Bachman used his speed to collect a puck that slid back to Bowling Green's end after a faceoff. Bachman went right-to-left around the BGSU net for a backhander out in front, but sophomore goaltender Ryan Bednard stopped the attempt.
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The RedHawks continued grinding along the boards and Belpedio won a battle along the left half wall to bring the puck to the left side of the blue line. Belpedio ripped a shot through traffic that junior forward Josh Melnick redirected to tie the game 1-1 at 6:32 of the second period.
Larkin came up big when the 'Hawks were on the penalty kill, making a huge glove save through traffic on a shot from the middle of the blue line. On the ensuing play, freshman forward Phil Knies battled at the blue line to clear the puck and was tripped -- good for another round of 4-on-4 play halfway through the game.
Nothing came of the following 4-on-4 play, nor from a Miami power play with just over a minute left in the game. The RedHawks passed back and forth along the blue line, but couldn't get a shot off before the intermission horn sounded.
Miami outshot Bowling Green 13-8 in the second, good to bring the overall count to 18-17 in favor of BGSU.
"We knew [Bowling Green] was going to push back and I thought we were a little stuck behind in the first period, but I thought we got our legs in the second," Blasi said. "We got a good second period."
The third period mimicked the second, and Bowling Green managed the only shot in the first seven minutes of play. Undeterred, Miami found more of a wide-open game with better offensive zone entry and complete passes.
After gaining the zone and before the halfway mark of the period, Frederic threw the puck wide of the left side of the net and it popped out to sophomore forward Casey Gilling who shot through traffic. The shot from the left faceoff circle was stopped with a flash of Bednard's glove.
The RedHawks' slight offensive edge manifested itself in a power play with 8:39 left in the period. The power play unit started with four forwards and a good look before Larkin was forced to poke-check the breaking senior forward Tyler Spezia.
The 'Hawks struggled to gain the zone until Belpedio evaded the Falcons through the neutral zone and shot from the middle of the blue line, beating Bednard stick side. Belpedio's fifth goal of the season was assisted by sophomore forward Gordie Green and Hutton with 6:51 left in the game.
"It wasn't the up-and-down offensive game that we wanted with our speed -- we couldn't really use that -- but it was important for us to chip pucks and go to work," Belpedio said.
Bowling Green would not be shown up in their building and the Falcons tested the RedHawks' defense in the waning minutes of the game. Miami went on the penalty kill with 3:42 left in the game and Larkin, Knies and freshman defenseman Rourke Russell had good clears to inhibit BGSU's power play.
RedHawks fans sat at the edge of their seats and Falcons fans stood in anticipation of the intermission horn. The 'Hawks were caught icing the puck when Bednard had been pulled for the extra attacker, and were unable to clear the puck otherwise. Sophomore defenseman Alec Rauhauser took advantage, caught Miami players stuck on the right side and wristed in the tying goal from the left point with 37.8 seconds left.
"Not so much a breakdown, probably a good play on their part," Blasi said about the tying goal. "We had our chances to get the puck and we didn't win it. Any time you pull the goalie, it's nine times out of ten sometimes you block it, sometimes you don't. We didn't block it tonight and they scored. Give them credit."
The RedHawks came out flying to start the 5-on-5, sudden-death overtime period. The 'Hawks were determined -- freshman forward Ben Lown almost chipped a puck past Bednard's right side and a minute later, Belpedio almost beat Bednard with his own rebound on the left.
Five minutes ticked by, however, and the game would be counted as an official 2-2 tie in NCAA records.
"We'll take that, especially in a place like this," Belpedio said. "There was really no complaining and, obviously, they score with 37 seconds left so that's tough. We were looking to get the sweep, but we weathered them in overtime and got our chances and ended in a tie, but that's alright."
The following five-minute, 3-on-3 overtime period was essentially for show and was a display of offensive rushes and puck possession. Spezia eventually squeaked the puck under Larkin's left pad with 20.2 seconds left.
The Falcons ended with a 26-25 shot advantage, but the RedHawks went 1-for-4 on the power play while forcing BGSU to go 0-for-4. The 'Hawks were 3-for-8 on the man-advantage over the weekend, while blanking BGSU on all of their seven power plays.
Belpedio had his second-straight multi-point game with his goal and assist on Saturday night. Melnick finished the weekend with two goals and Hutton had four points in the two-game series via two goals and two assists.
"Anytime you go on the road in a hostile environment and get a win and a tie, we'll take that," Blasi said.
The RedHawks return home to face Cornell at the Steve 'Coach' Cady Arena this weekend. Puck drop is at 7:35 p.m. on Friday and 7:05 p.m. on Saturday.