A cohesive Miami hockey and an emotional game for starting goaltender Jordan Uhelski led to a 5-1 RedHawk victory over the University of Alabama-Huntsville Chargers on Saturday night.
"We've got 10 new faces in the line-up, and you can practice all you want, but game atmosphere is totally different," Miami head coach Enrico Blasi said. "The crowd, the opposing team is out to get you. I thought, for the first game, we did a lot of good things."
The RedHawks move to 1-0-0 and the Chargers fall to 0-1-0.
For Miami goaltender Uhelski, it was the first time in his collegiate career he didn't skate out with the Chargers. A graduate student, Uhelski transferred from Alabama-Huntsville and got the nod to start in net as a RedHawk last night.
"It was a weird game," Uhelski said. "There was a little bit of emotion at the beginning, not necessarily nervousness or anxiousness, but a weird respect for what Huntsville has done for me for the past four years."
Wearing stars and stripes "Heroes Jerseys," the RedHawks dressed eight of its 10 new players including Uhelski and the other graduate transfer, River Rymsha on defense.
An early miscommunication in Miami's zone floated the puck back to empty ice and showed its opening-night jitters. It took several minutes for either team to roll a system, but the RedHawks settled in after a defensive zone face-off and transition out of their end.
"I thought our guys had a lot of good energy, maybe too much energy," Blasi said. "I thought we had a great crowd and they were really loud, and our guys were maybe a little too amped up."
Only 4:48 into the game, junior forward Carter Johnson sidestepped a UAH skater at the RedHawks' blue line and weaved his way through traffic to crash the right side of the Chargers' net. He poked the puck past UAH sophomore goaltender Mark Sinclair for his second collegiate goal.
Freshman forward Brian Hawkinson and Rymsha picked up assists on the play that gave the RedHawks an early 1-0 lead.
The Chargers responded a minute later off their first shot of the game. Junior forward Austin Beaulieu beat Miami defensemen to the right face-off circle and then beat Uhelski stick side to tie the game at one apiece.
"There was never a shred of doubt, there was never an ounce of blame put on me, especially for me for my first game," Uhelski said. "And that goal goes in right away, the guys came right away and were like, 'Hey, don't even worry about it. We've got you.' They did everything they needed to do the rest of the game and it was amazing."
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Undeterred, Miami's junior forward Karch Bachman answered 42 seconds later. Bachman skated from the blue line up the left side into Alabama-Huntsville's end and crossed in front of the net to catch Sinclair off his right post.
The goal at 6:30 put the RedHawks up 2-1. Sophomore defenseman Alec Mahalak and sophomore forward Casey Gilling logged assists.
Miami had three power plays throughout the rest of the period, but the Chargers kept the RedHawks to the outside and the 'Hawks couldn't get the puck on net to generate any chances.
Alabama-Huntsville reenergized after its third penalty kill and forced the RedHawks onto their heels in the waning minutes of the period, though the 'Hawks escaped harm.
The first ended with the RedHawks outshooting the Chargers 11-4 and leading 2-1 where it counted.
"I thought the first two periods, we did a lot of good things," Blasi said. "We were a little sloppy at times. A little bit in our structure, we weren't as disciplined as we needed to be. [Alabama-Huntsville] work extremely hard and they come after you."
The RedHawks came out flying in the second period and set the pace for the remainder of the second frame.
The 'Hawks' speed showed when Bachman intercepted a UAH pass in the middle of the ice, passed to his right winger junior Gordie Green skating up the right side. Green tapped it back to Bachman and a spin-move gave Bachman space for a shot on net that almost beat Sinclair.
Minutes later, Johnson's speed through the left side of the neutral zone into the middle of the UAH zone was halted by a high hit from Chargers senior captain Kurt Gosselin. The hit warranted a 5-minute major penalty for contact to the head and a game misconduct.
Johnson did not return to the game.
"I haven't heard anything bad, so I think that's good," Blasi said after the game. "That was a nasty hit, and I'm sure the league is reviewing it right now. Those things happen, and we've got to make sure we fight through it."
Johnson's absence was avenged when Green tapped in a rebound on the power play at 4:42. Freshman forward Derek Daschke and Bachman recorded assists on the goal that gave Miami a 3-1 advantage.
The rest of the power play passed uneventfully, though a Chargers' power play two minutes later led to a couple shorthanded chances for the RedHawks.
After winning a battle on the MU blue line, Bachman continued to battle an Alabama-Huntsville defenseman before finally getting his stick free to take a shot from the slot. Sinclair made the save and moments later stopped Miami sophomore forward Phil Knies' shot from almost the same spot.
Six minutes later, Hutton stopped a Chargers' shorthanded chance through the middle. A streaking Hans Gorowsky had a step on Hutton through the center, but Hutton managed to tie up the senior forward's stick without drawing a penalty and kept Miami's two-goal lead.
The RedHawks ended the period outshooting the Chargers 29-14, now up 3-1.
In the final period, Miami slowed down to play a less hectic style of hockey and passes found the tapes of sticks instead of the half-walls.
"Our team wants it so much, sometimes you press and when you're amped up like that and you're pressing, your passing's off and your timing's off," Blasi said. "They responded in the third period like I thought they would. They did a good job. As a staff, we were extremely happy with our third period."
Alabama-Huntsville went on the power play 32 seconds into the third, but the RedHawks had their sticks down to break up passes and chipped pucks out to kill off the man-disadvantage.
At the other end, Sinclair stood on his head to make early saves in the period and keep Alabama-Huntsville in the game.
One came when senior forward Josh Melnick won a battle at center ice to start an offensive rush with freshman forward. Gruden skated up the right side and forced Sinclair to meet him before he tapped the puck back to Melnick on the left. Melnick ripped a high shot, but Sinclair got in front of it.
But there were only so many saves the goaltender could make when the RedHawks kept throwing pucks at the net.
Halfway through the period, the RedHawks established an offensive zone cycle and camped out in the Chargers' end. A partial change brought Daschke on to the right point. A point-to-point pass from Hutton put the puck on Daschke's stick and he didn't hesitate. The one-timer beat Sinclair five-hole, dinged off the goal post and hit the back of the net to make it 4-1.
"I couldn't really see my shot, I heard it hit the post and then I saw the red light went on," Daschke said. "I didn't know what to do at first. I didn't know it went in, and then I put my arms up in the air and I was pretty excited."
Hutton recorded the assist on Daschke's first collegiate goal, and Green picked up the other helper.
Two minutes later, in a show of Miami's defensive capabilities, Hutton bodied a UAH player off the puck after breaking his stick in his own end. The effort prompted Chargers freshman defenseman Bailey Newton to charge Hutton, and he was whistled for the penalty.
The power play passed with the RedHawks taking a couple shots, though nothing beat Sinclair.
That would happen on Miami's final power play of the night with three minutes left in the game. Melnick won a battle on the half wall to get the puck to Gruden who passed to Hutton in the center. Hutton ripped a shot past Sinclair at 17:43 of the period, capping scoring and securing a dominant 5-1 victory.
"It's just a building block. I sent out a text yesterday to the guys yesterday: it's one of many," Uhelski said. "We have extremely high goals. We see ourselves in the national championship, that's where we want to be, and today is the first day to start that and what a start."
Uhelski finished with 17 saves off 18 shots. Sinclair faced 38 shots and came up with 33 saves. The RedHawks went 2-for-8 on the power play and 2-for-2 on the kill. Four RedHawks had multi-point games - Green, Daschke, Hutton and Bachman all finished with a goal and an assist.
"All in all, after a first night, obviously, you're pleased to get the win and we've got a short turnaround here and then we'll get ready to go tomorrow," Blasi said.
Miami wraps its series with Alabama-Huntsville at 3 p.m today at the Steve 'Coach' Cady Arena.