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Miami hockey swept by Western Michigan before heading to first round of NCHC playoffs

The RedHawks begin their postseason push this weekend against North Dakota
The RedHawks begin their postseason push this weekend against North Dakota

The Miami University RedHawks hockey team has had another not-so-stellar season.  They end the regular season with a conference record of 1-21-2 and an overall record of 7-24-3 and will open the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) Tournament against the No. 1 University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks. 

Last week, the RedHawks traveled to the No. 15 Western Michigan University Broncos for their final regular season series. The Broncos were the only conference opponent the RedHawks defeated during the regular season, winning 4-3 on Jan. 13.

Heading into Western Michigan’s barn with the scheduled senior night for the Broncos on Saturday, the RedHawks were looking to repeat that January result, but it was not in the cards. 

Game 1: 3-2 Loss

Like most of their recent Friday games, the RedHawks played well for most of the 60 minutes. Goals from graduate student forward Albin Nilsson and senior defenseman Dylan Moulton put Miami up 2-0 by the early part of the second period. 

However, the Broncos showcased why they’re a top-ranked team.

Senior Luke Grainger and junior second-line center Matteo Constantini scored two goals to tie the game. A combination of poor play at the blue line, some poor defense in the slot and goaltender Logan Neaton falling over gave Western Michigan the lead and the game, something that head coach Chris Bergeron would like to forget.

“Their game-winning goal is a play we would like to have back,” Bergeron said. “When you play good teams like Western Michigan and the teams we’ve been playing in the regular season, you can’t make mistakes like that.”

Bergeron mentioned that this game is another in a long line of contests that the players have not been happy with, but said their resolve and willingness to keep working is exciting, and they deserve better.

“The results are poor and unacceptable, but this group has been a good group to be around every day,” Bergeron said. “Sometimes, the results tend to make you not want to come to the rink, not want to practice, not want to buy into what’s going on, but these kids have not done that, and their effort tonight says it.”

Game 2: 6-1 Loss

The second game of the series was not only Western Michigan’s senior night, giving them an extra bit of energy, but the RedHawks’ effort and execution didn’t live up to game one. 

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“Our power play was disappointing early,” Bergeron said. “[The result] could have been much different had we taken advantage of a power play opportunity or two in the first period. Instead, they ended up with shorthanded goals, and the place was crazy with energy.”

The senior class had a strong game against the Broncos on Friday, but they weren’t as impactful on Saturday, which was a significant reason the offense fell way short of the Broncos' total.

“That will be up to [the senior class],” Bergeron said. “They didn’t play poorly. Their energy and juice got worse as the game went on, just like everybody else’s, as the score got out of hand. But they didn’t play poorly last night; they didn’t play poorly at times tonight; they just didn’t find themselves on the scoresheet, and we need them on the scoresheet.”

Previewing No. 5 North Dakota

The RedHawks begin their postseason push this weekend against North Dakota.

College and professional sports are about having short memories. As the great Ted Lasso says, “be a goldfish.” For the RedHawks, their last month and a half have been full of close games with a few strong efforts that have resulted in losses, and the slate needs to be clear for the upcoming NCHC playoff matchup against the No. 1 seeded Fighting Hawks.

“Find a way to cut loose the last six or seven weeks in particular,” Bergeron said. “Take away the good and realize that when we play right, we can play with anybody and hopefully get right in the head, which is very difficult. These are young people; they’re human beings. The last six, seven, whatever it is, weeks have been difficult on them.”

Miami has been blown out of the water in recent history by the now six-time Penrose Cup Champion Fighting Hawks. North Dakota is 15-1-1 in the last 17 games against Miami and is looking to continue that success in the first round of the postseason.

For the RedHawks, the secret to success is limiting turnovers and controlling possession and momentum on the road, which they did not do in the first series at North Dakota but did in the second series in Oxford.

“They have such good players that [when] you give them that opportunity, they will take full advantage of it,” Bergeron said. “They will create enough on their own. So, our message to our boys is ‘let’s not give them things.’”

Going into a less-than-favorable situation in the playoffs makes the effort much more important for a team like the RedHawks, a group looking to play spoiler against a North Dakota squad they almost beat earlier in the year.

“We have to be ready to engage in this battle,” Bergeron said. “We can’t stand around and watch them play; they’re too good for that. We need to go nose-to-nose with them and give ourselves an opportunity.”

For Neaton, the RedHawks' starting goaltender, the process leading up to the series is about staying present in the moment and not looking a day further than he needs to.

“For me, nothing changes,” Neaton said. “It’s one save at a time. If I look too far ahead, that’s normally when things don’t go the right way.”

The Fighting Hawks are a team full of weapons, namely forwards Jackson Blake – a sophomore  Hobey Baker candidate and potential finalist after a career season – junior Cameron Berg, senior Riese Gaber, sophomore Owen McLaughlin and first-year defenseman Jake Livanavage.

So, coming into a hostile environment, how does a team coming off some rough recent matchups stay with a team riding high like North Dakota?

“I think for us, it’s got to be about belief,” Neaton said. “You look at a season where you’ve won one league game, and then you have to win two out of three. Focus on the process, execute the right way, buy into a game plan, and then the chips will fall where they may. The pressure isn’t on us. The pressure is on them to do what they’re expected to, and we can play the spoiler.”

This best-of-three series against North Dakota will not only be important for the team’s pride about this season, but it could be a series to build from moving forward for the young players on the roster.

The games will take place on Friday, March 15, at 8:07 p.m., Saturday, March 16, at 7:07 p.m., and if needed, Sunday, March 17, at 7:07 p.m.