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Hockey shows promise amidst losses to UMD

Courtesy of UMD Athletics
Courtesy of UMD Athletics

Amidst the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs' series sweep of Miami hockey, the RedHawks generated offense and found success on the power play and penalty kill.

Just in time.

"I think we took steps in the right direction," junior forward Gordie Green said.

After a 4-2 Friday night loss and a 6-5 Saturday night defeat, Miami (11-19-4, 5-15-2 National Collegiate Hockey Conference) sits tied for seventh in the NCHC with 18 points. The University of Nebraska Omaha also has 18 points.

The 'Hawks now look to their final series of the regular season this weekend against Western Michigan University at the Steve "Coach" Cady Arena.

The two games, and UNO's two games against North Dakota, will decide whether Miami will finish seventh and face the No. 2 team in the NCHC or place eighth and face the No. 1 team in the country and the conference - St. Cloud State.

To end the regular season with a win or two, the RedHawks will need to imitate the games they had against the UMD Bulldogs (21-9-2, 14-7-1 NCHC) and then some.

"Especially the Saturday game, there were spurts of the game where we were taking it to them and just getting that confidence going into this last week and going into playoffs," Green said.

Miami hockey finally broke UMD goaltender Hunter Sheppard's nearly 270-minute shutout of the RedHawks, a stretch that dated back to Feb. 2018. Sophomore forward Phil Knies scored 9:29 into the second period on Friday night to snap Sheppard's streak.

Knies' goal pulled the RedHawks within one at 2-1, and senior forward Ryan Siroky responded early in the third period to once again narrow the deficit. Siroky's goal made it 3-2, but Minnesota-Duluth pulled away with 12 minutes to play and sealed its 4-2 win.

A wild back-and-forth Saturday night followed. The Bulldogs and RedHawks traded a pair of goals, then finished with a power play goal apiece to end the first period tied 3-3.

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In the first 10 minutes of the second, UMD scored before Miami answered with two goals of its own. Through 40 minutes, the RedHawks led 5-4, but the Bulldogs netted two in the final frame to grab a 6-5 victory and complete the sweep.

But for a team that averaged 2.28 goals per game before the weekend, the RedHawks' two-goal and five-goal outings combined for the highest-scoring weekend Miami has had since Nov. 2nd and 3rd (4-1 W, 6-3 L).

It was the first time the RedHawks have netted five goals since their 6-0 win over Colgate on Oct. 27. The 'Hawks scored five goals on only 19 shots on Saturday.

"It just builds confidence," Green said. "And we're getting more quality chances, and we had a few more where we could have scored."

Miami's scoring came from up and down the bench, from both veterans and rookies.

Senior defenseman Grant Hutton (1g, 2a) and forwards Siroky (2g) and Josh Melnick (1g, 1a) had multi-point weekends. Freshmen forwards like Jonathan Gruden (1g, 1a) and Brian Hawkinson (2a) also contributed to the high-scoring weekend.

The RedHawks' leading goal-scorer, Green, finished the series with a goal and an assist, while junior forward Carter Johnson scored an unassisted goal for only his second of the season.

"I think that's always important for any team, when you've got all four lines going and all the defensemen -- that's huge for confidence," Melnick said. "It's good for us, at this point in the year. We've got playoffs coming up here in two weeks."

Regardless of who was scoring, the RedHawks were scoring on the power play. The man-advantage finished 3-for-6 on the weekend and was crucial to Miami's attempted comebacks.

Playing against the lethal Bulldogs, who ranked eighth nationally on the power play before the series, the 'Hawks didn't take a single penalty on Friday and went 2-for-4 on the penalty kill on Saturday.

"When you stay out of the box, you have a better chance to win the game for sure," Melnick said. "That was huge."

Though it was a positive high-scoring weekend for Miami, goaltenders Ryan Larkin and Jordan Uhelski both saw more than 30 shots on Friday and Saturday.

Junior Larkin stopped 28 of the 32 shots he faced, while senior Uhelski stopped 33 of the 39 he saw. Through the 'Hawks' last 25 contests, they have allowed 30 shots or more in 22 games.

And the RedHawks continue their inability to play without the lead, now registering 1-17-4 when opponents score first.

The Brotherhood will try for the first goal as it wraps the regular season against the No. 12 WMU Broncos this weekend. Puck drop is at 7:35 p.m. on Friday and 7:05 p.m. on Saturday.

The Brotherhood will honor Siroky, forward Zach LaValle, Hutton and Melnick as well as Uhelski and defenseman River Rymsha -- the team's two graduate transfers -- on Saturday for senior night.

"It's obviously going to be very emotional for our seniors for the last couple games at Goggin," Melnick said. "For sure, it'll be emotional. But it's our last weekend to get ready and tune up the small details we need to focus on before playoffs."