Eleven forwards, eight defensemen, and two goalies. No reserve players, and missing three of their top-five scorers.
Those were the circumstances that Head Coach Chris Bergeron and the Miami University RedHawks hockey team had to deal with as they played their second and final two-game series of the regular season against the #2 ranked North Dakota Fighting Hawks.
However, despite the injury-laden roster, the RedHawks battled until the end in front of two impressive crowds, including a Saturday sellout of 3,101, the team’s biggest turnout since November 2021, also against the Fighting Hawks.
“We appreciate everyone showing up this whole weekend,” Bergeron said. “ We are in the entertainment business, and I think it was an entertaining weekend of college hockey. I hope our fans felt that. Thank you for coming on behalf of all of us.”
The fans who were in attendance had plenty to talk about as they exited Steve “Coach” Cady Arena, whose namesake was honored at Saturday’s game, bringing out around 85 total hockey alumni to support the founder of the program in his retirement.
The first of the two games saw the RedHawks fall in overtime 5-4 after blowing a 4-2 lead in the third period. Tallies for the home squad came from senior forwards Thomas Daskas and Ryan Sullivan, graduate student forward Albin Nilsson and sophomore forward John Waldron.
Even though the game resulted in a brutal loss, this version of the RedHawks looked much different than in previous home series, especially given the injury circumstances.
“We’ve got guys playing too many minutes,” Bergeron said. “We’ve got guys playing minutes that are not necessarily what they’re used to. When you’ve got as many people out as we’ve got out, and then to give an effort like that, I don’t think you say too many negative things.”
The primary reason the game was as close as it ended up was due to first-year goaltender Bruno Bruveris’ performance. Making big glove saves and a sprawling side-to-side save down the stretch, he kept the game in Miami’s favor.
“People can say what they want about me, with the results, let them say it,” Bergeron said. “That is the effort I’m looking for, and Bruno’s was outstanding.”
The other goaltender in this matchup was a familiar face, former RedHawk goaltender Ludvig Persson.
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His first game was certainly not one he will want to remember, as three of the RedHawks' four goals were ones that Persson will want to have back, and it was a point of emphasis for the team to come out and show the former Miami goaltender what they thought of him.
“A little bit of revenge, I guess,” Daskas said. “He could be here, but he didn’t want to, so I think that was the biggest thing. Just take it to him and show him that he shouldn’t have left.”
Persson not only had his former teammates attempting to make him uncomfortable in the net, but so did the Miami student section, which was packed both nights.
Among the other chants that are consistent at any Miami hockey game, there were those of “traitor, traitor, traitor” and boos any time Persson would touch the puck during play.
Nonetheless, Persson had the last laugh, as he continues his career year with two more wins now added to his stat line.
The second game of the series was Persson’s best game of the two and another great effort from the home team, as the RedHawks posted a second 30+ shot performance but only scored one goal in a 4-1 loss.
From the RedHawks' perspective, it was a good weekend of hockey despite the results, and that has been the tale of the tape for about three weekends now.
“It’s hard,” Bergeron said. “That’s three of the last five games that I have to look in [the player’s] faces, and they gave everything they have, and we were on the wrong side of one more play, and that’s very, very difficult. Again, you want to come at me, come at me, but leave the players alone because they’re giving everything they have.”
The results aren’t there yet, but there are plenty of tangible differences between this year’s team and last year’s, even with all of the players they are currently missing. Bergeron’s takeaway from this weekend’s series is that the RedHawks can play with any team in the country for 60 minutes.
However, the focus is now on taking the next step, improving on their execution, keeping it consistent, and winning games against teams like North Dakota and Denver University, who sit at the top of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) standings.