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Miami drops weekend series to sixth-ranked Minnesota Duluth

<p>Hockey will travel to play Minnesota Duluth again this weekend on Feb. 5 and 6.</p>

Hockey will travel to play Minnesota Duluth again this weekend on Feb. 5 and 6.

The Miami RedHawks fell in both games to the sixth-ranked University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs last weekend in a series at Steve “Coach” Cady Arena.

Miami lost 2-1 on Friday night and 6-3 on Saturday to a talented Duluth squad that boasts eight National Hockey League (NHL) draft picks in its starting lineup.

The RedHawks leaned on freshman goaltender Ludvig Persson on Friday to keep them in the game. Miami was outshot 27-15 and couldn’t get much momentum offensively all night. 

Duluth’s first goal was every hockey coach's nightmare, coming with only 11 seconds left in the period after a turnover by Rourke Russell.

“We were adamant that the first and last minute has not been our friend this year, and yet we have a senior turn the puck over with 15 seconds left,” Miami head coach Chris Bergeron said.

The Bulldogs struck again midway through the second period when junior forward — and Philadelphia Flyers draft pick — Noah Cates found his linemate, sophomore Quinn Olson, backdoor for an easy tap-in past a sprawling Persson. 

Late in the second period, Cates made contact with the head of a Miami player and was given a major penalty and ejected from the game.

The RedHawks failed to capitalize on the five-minute power play resulting from the hit. 

Miami finally scored 16:17 into the third, when freshman winger Michael Holland buried a rebound for his first collegiate goal, making the score 2-1 in favor of Duluth with just under four minutes left.

That is where the game would stay, as the RedHawks were unable to find the back of the net again, and the Bulldogs took Game One of the two-game series. 

“Duluth plays the game the right way,” Bergeron said. “They have some of the best players in the league, if not the country . . . and our guys went in there and fought.”

Saturday night’s game started badly, as the Bulldogs scored two goals in their first four shots on net. In goal, the RedHawks decided to start Ben Kraws, a sophomore who hadn’t seen game action in more than a month.

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Rust was apparent early (along with penalties and poor team defensive play while short-handed), as Kraws struggled to keep the puck in front of him to start the game. 

The Bulldogs struck again early in the second period after Duluth’s Olson grabbed his own rebound after firing a puck off the post and found the back of the net. 

The RedHawks finally scored 5:14 in the second period, when sophomore forward John Sladic tipped a shot from junior Derek Daschke past Duluth netminder Ryan Fanti.

The teams traded punches for the rest of the period, but the score stayed 3-1 until 5:54 into the third period, when Duluth sophomore Luke Loheit buried the rebound from a Matt Cairns shot to make the score 4-1.

Miami struck back just 36 seconds later, as senior forward Casey Gilling scored from the slot with assists from junior Jack Olmstead and Swedish freshman Hampus Rydqvist. 

After another Duluth Goal to make the score 5-2, Miami brought the score back within two with less than four minutes remaining in the game when freshman forward Matthew Barbolini put the puck home during a five-on-three RedHawks power play. 

With about a minute left, the RedHawks finally pulled Kraws to get an extra skater on the ice. The effort was futile, however, as Duluth’s Cole Koepke beat all six Miami skaters to a loose puck with five seconds left and buried the empty net goal to seal the Bulldog victory.

Despite the score, it was an impressive effort from the RedHawks. Miami outshot the sixth-best team in the country, 35-32, and played with intensity throughout the series, managing to give a team with much more NHL talent on its roster a pair of good games. 

“From an effort perspective, that was the best back-to-back games we’ve had all year long,” Bergeron said. “Our guys hung in there. They fought, they scratched, they clawed.”

He also lamented the fact that so many regulars were missing in such close games. The team had to move a defenseman — 6’6” junior Bray Crowder — to forward for the second game against Duluth because so many offensive players were unavailable due to injuries. 

Due to a scheduling quirk caused by COVID-19, Miami travels to Duluth, Minn. next weekend to play another series against the Bulldogs.

Regarding the unusual schedule, Bergeron preached mental toughness.  

“We’re playing the same team, they're really good,” Bergeron said. “We know that. But we also know that we can dig in . . . and give ourselves a chance.” 

The RedHawks and Bulldogs face off again next Friday, Feb. 5, at 7 p.m., then the next night at 5 p.m.