By John Lachmann
OXFORD, Ohio – In its first home game in front of its passionate student section in exactly two months, Miami had a chance to expound upon its five-goal win six days earlier.
Instead, the crowd factor was completely negated by two Western Michigan goals in the first 97 seconds in an eventual 5-2 loss to the Broncos at Cady Arena on Friday.
WMU’s Shane Berschbach tapped in a loose puck from the side of the net after a slap shot from Thomas Nitsche hit sailed wide and caromed back off the end boards 1:21 into the first period.
Sixteen seconds later, Sheldon Dries went in on a breakaway, and when Miami sophomore goalie Ryan McKay missed a poke check, Dries had an empty net to shoot the puck into.
With 8:59 remaining in the opening stanza, Berschbach went in alone and slid a backhander under the pads of McKay, ending his night after facing eight shots and allowing three goals.
Miami (10-12-3) cut the lead to two when junior center Austin Czarnik fired a perfect pass from the blue line to freshman forward Anthony Louis, who redirected it in from the slot.
But Western Michigan (13-10-4) made it 4-1 when Justin Kovacs jammed in a one-time pass from Colton Hargrove 23 seconds into a power play with 11:37 left in the middle frame.
The RedHawks again trimmed the lead to two on a blast from junior defenseman Ben Paulides at the blue line with 4:44 remaining in regulation.
Miami pulled its goalie, and Nolan LaPorte buried an empty netter from his defensive zone to close the door (LaPorte means “the door” in French) on the RedHawks.
Czarnik did finish with two assists. Sophomore goalie Jay Williams, who replaced McKay, stopped 11 of 12 shots in relief.
These teams wrap up their regular season series in Oxford at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday.
MORE MISERABLE CRAP: For the most part, Miami coach Enrico Blasi has managed to avoid injuries since Cady Arena opened in 2006, which certainly helps a team qualify for the NCAA Tournament eight straight seasons.
But the triage unit that is this team continues to see its casualties mount.
Here’s Miami’s current list of walking wounded:
F Blake Coleman (upper body)
F Jimmy Mullin (lower body)
D Johnny Wingels (upper body)
D Trevor Hamilton (upper body)
Coleman should be back soon, possibly next weekend. The status of the other three is unknown.
It’s unclear why sophomore defenseman Michael Mooney did not dress, with only six D-men supposedly healthy. He did so last Saturday, and perhaps he was injured in that game as well.
Instead, senior Max Cook played defense for the first time in his career at any level. Cook is certainly making the most of his final year in Oxford, and while he probably won’t take Erik Karlsson’s job, I’ve seen worse defensemen at the college level.
Cook wasn’t on the ice for any of the WMU goals.
RedHawkey has run the gambit of the Kubler-Ross model of grief over this team.
First there was denial (there’s NO WAY this team is this bad!), anger (this #@$*& team!! – to which Mrs. RedHawkey can attest), bargaining (if I give the mandated $500 Red and White gift, this team will get better), depression (it’s snowing for the 148th time this winter and I don’t have a tournament-bound NCAA team to watch) and now acceptance (so, is Spring Training here yet?).
But there are still some lingering thoughts about this game and the team in general.
-- This was easily the worst game of McKay’s career at Miami. He’s been great, RedHawkey is still a huge fan of his, but he flat-out didn’t have it.
He has a save percentage north of .900 just ONCE in his last seven games. Williams was 38-for-39 last Saturday and did a good job of damage control on Friday.
-- Down two goals, Blasi had a chance to pull Williams in the 59th minute and didn’t do it. Miami gained the offensive zone with 1:50 left and held the puck there for 15 seconds, yet Williams was left in.
Of all the hockey coaches on the planet, Blasi should best understand that teams can erase two-goal deficits late.
-- The line of Cody Murphy, Justin Greenberg and John Doherty was Miami’s best all night.
They continued to work hard and create scoring chances all game.
-- Freshman Devin Loe, who rarely took a shift the first two periods, needs to play more. He has three goals, two assists and is plus-5 this season in just seven games. Only Coleman, Czarnik and Barber average more points this season.
-- Czarnik notched two assists but wasn’t that sharp. Maybe all of the early ice time is catching up to him, but he didn’t seem to have his normal energy level and make uncharacteristic mistakes.
-- What in the world is going on with Kevin Morris? He has seven goals and five assists last season playing mostly on the fourth line and killing penalties but he is 1-4-5 in 2013-14.
Morris is the son of an NCAA coach, so it’s surprising to see him regress. He was a dominant penalty killer and shutdown forward last season, so bigger things were expected from him this season, but he has taken a step backward.
-- Wins and losses the rest of the regular season are meaningless. The at-large possibility is gone, the only way this team gets into the NCAA Tournament is by winning the NCHC Tournament.
Blasi said before the season that “every game is an audition”, and these final nine regular season games should be an audition for everyone on this team. Miami basically has nine exhibition games left, and players that don’t give 100 percent need to be benched regardless of status within the team.
-- It doesn’t look like this team has enough internal leadership. Czarnik is a fantastic player but he seems more suited for the assistant role than captaincy.
Unfortunately – at least from an on-ice perspective – there doesn’t seem to be that take-charge player like Pat Cannone, who earned a ‘C’ mid-season with his strong leadership.
Finally, thanks to the power of DVR, RedHawkey took a look at the bad things that happened defensively on the WMU goals.
Goal 1: Paulides missed a defensive-zone pass to Matt Joyaux, and it was intercepted at the blue line. Then he was nowhere to be seen as Berschbach stood alone by the net.
Goal 2: A dump-in pass hit the skate of Chris Joyaux and kicked to Dries, but Taylor Richart was in the vicinity and didn’t do nearly enough to stop him.
Goal 3: Paulides, Barber and Morris all let Berschbach accept a pass at the blue line with momentum and let him go in alone.
Goal 4: Matt Joyaux and Caito were way too high on the penalty kill, and WMU got behind them on a rush. Alex Gacek stood at the edge of the crease while two Broncos crashed the net, and Western Michigan had an easy goal.
FORWARDS: D+. Sometimes stat sheets lie, and Friday was one of those times. Miami was 1-for-5 on the power play with nine shots, but far too much of the time the forwards couldn’t get set up in the offensive zone.
The one goal was sweet on both Louis’ and Czarnik’s part, but the RedHawks generated too few quality chances.
The Murphy-Greenberg-Doherty line was Miami’s best all night.
DEFENSEMEN: C-. This area is hard to grade because Western Michigan only had 21 shots. But the few breakdowns were very costly.
Paulides did find the net (giving Miami a whopping total of seven markers by blueliners this season), but he was also a factor on two WMU goals.
Freshman Matt Joyaux also had an off-night.
GOALTENDING: D-. This grade is misleading. McKay deserves an ‘F’ for sure for his .625 save percentage, but Williams at least got the grade above failing.
Williams had no chance on the one goal he allowed and didn’t face any other high-percentage shots. He gave Miami a chance to get back in the game.
LINEUP CHANGES: Loe essentially replaced Mooney, and Cook shifted to defense. I’ve seen thousands of hockey games and I can honestly say I’ve never seen a player who has never played defense at any level moved back there.
That tells you how banged up this team is. And another defenseman on the team is playing with a significant upper-body injury.
Unless someone is deemed healthy there likely won’t be any lineup changes for Saturday because there isn’t anyone else available.
Williams definitely deserves the nod after his performance in his last two games, coupled with McKay’s slump.
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