One week after getting outscored 19-1 over a two game series against St. Cloud, Miami hockey was competitive in both games with No. 5 Denver this weekend.
By the end of the first period on Friday, both teams had scored two power play goals.
Sophomore defenseman Hampus Rydqvist scored both of Miami’s on ostensibly identical plays. Both shots came from the right point of the offensive zone and they were both assisted by seniors Matt Barry and Bray Crowder.
Miami’s first-year forward Red Savage found the net at even strength to give Miami the 3-2 lead with 15 seconds remaining in the first period.
The score stayed there through the second period after both teams tightened up defensively. Much more time was spent battling in the neutral zone in the second, and neither team could get much going, although sophomore goalie Ludvig Persson made a few excellent saves to preserve the tie.
Then, just 23 seconds into the third period, Savage swatted home the rebound of a point shot from junior defenseman Alec Capstick to make the score 4-2.
Miami has had trouble late in games all season. Coming into this weekend, the RedHawks had blown six third period leads and lost three more games that were tied in the third.
For a while it looked like this game wouldn’t make seven. Persson was holding strong and the RedHawks weren’t making life too hard on the Swedish netminder.
But with three minutes left in the third, a point shot snuck between Persson’s legs and into the net. Then, with eleven seconds remaining in regulation and their own net empty, Denver tied it up.
Two minutes into the 3-on-3 overtime, the Pioneers finished an easy cross-crease opportunity to end the game. Miami played pretty well on Friday. Their defensemen had no trouble retrieving the puck and moving it up ice. The forwards did a good job controlling the puck and taking it with them into the offensive zone. They got outshot at a two-to-one clip, but they seemed to be keeping up with Denver on close scoring chances. They also took nine penalties.
“I definitely thought there was some energy,” head coach Chris Bergeron said after the game. “But then you get down to execution and it's always the next step after you bring the energy and the compete level; you hope to execute at a high level, which again, I think we did for most of the night.”
Miami entered Saturday’s third period with another chance to win. They were tied with Denver 2-2 and had the momentum after outscoring Denver in the second period.
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Again, the RedHawks couldn’t win the game in the third. Denver’s Ryan Barrow found a loose puck in the slot about five minutes into the frame and sent it through traffic past Persson. Denver scored an empty netter to seal the game with about a minute left.
“Over the course of six periods we answered: what happened last weekend is not who we are.” Bergeron said after game two.
It was a promising series for the RedHawks — definitely something to build on. It appears that last weekend’s games vs St. Cloud were at least a semi-effective kick in the ass, because the RedHawks stuck with the fifth best team in the country and a bona-fide national title contender in Denver all weekend.
They were a couple plays away from a series sweep for Crawford’s sake!
They got outshot again on Saturday night 46-21.
“Nobody talks about ‘shoot the puck, shoot the puck, shoot the puck’ more than us,” Bergeron said. “And we still have guys that just want to get cute and again, it comes back to … if you’re not going to do what we’re asking you to do, we’re going to have to give someone else a chance. That’s why we have to be healthy.”
One thing Denver had this weekend was a lineup with 12 players who have been drafted by an NHL team. Red Savage is the only skater on Miami’s roster who has been drafted to the NHL.
Savage should be a star for Miami until the Detroit Red Wings decide that they need him. This weekend he looked the part. He was driving play on offense and putting pressure on Denver’s defensemen, especially down low in Miami’s offensive zone. He showed off his shot and his nose for the net and was rewarded with two goals on Friday and an assist on Saturday.
His numbers could have looked even better if teammates had capitalized on a couple of beautiful passes to the slot. He also rang at least one shot off the post. He used his body effectively and he was noticeable on the defensive end. After a slow statistical start to the season, he’s recorded eight points in his last ten games. Savage is coming into his own.
Red wasn’t the only ‘Hawk to stand out this weekend. Sophomore winger Matt Barbolini has continued to look more aggressive than he did in his first season-and-a-half at Miami. He finished the weekend with three points and might have been on the ice more than any other Miami forward. He looked great on the penalty kill.
Sophomore forward PJ Fletcher played well on Miami’s top line Friday but left the game with an apparent injury on Saturday.
Sophomore center Thomas Daskas was excellent defensively and looked like the type of player that every good team has in its bottom six. Rydqvist made use of his immense skill and speed, despite a couple of seriously ugly turnovers early in Saturday’s game.
Ryan Savage showed off a good shot and forechecking ability, and he seems to play better when he’s on the ice with his brother. Seniors Monte Graham and Derek Daschke were dependable as usual.
The results of this weekend are certainly promising for the RedHawks. It was easy to see that there are multiple players on this team that could be part of a successful squad in the future. They just need to put it all together.
The good thing about Miami playing in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference is that their season is never over until they lose in the playoffs. No matter what, Miami will have a chance to win a best-of-three series to advance to the conference semifinals this March. If they can build off of a good performance like this they could shock some people.
Miami is off this weekend, but they host No. 16 Omaha next time they hit the ice on February 11 and 12. Both games start at 7 p.m.