By John Lachmann
St. Cloud fans may disagree but this was one of the most entertaining college hockey games I’ve ever seen and probably the best series.
The difference between the two nights was on Friday, Miami played well and the Huskies didn’t. On Saturday, both teams played well and the RedHawks won anyway.
Blasi said something interesting in the presser:
“Playing on the road in the playoffs – we knew we were going to do it way back in January,” Blasi said. “The guys worked their tails off to get ready for this. The effort that we put in this weekend probably started about a month ago and they guys believing that we can play the game the right way and see what happens, and that’s what happened tonight.”
So this weekend has been Miami’s primary focal point for a month. For the Huskies, who are a near certainty to make the NCAA Tournament, this was just another stepping stone to the tournament.
For RedHawks fans, this weekend was 90 percent jubilation and 10 percent “where has this been the past four months?” If Miami had played like this most of the season it wouldn’t be potentially facing the end of its season on a nightly basis at this point of the season.
But let’s focus on the 90 percent. This weekend’s wins reach well beyond this weekend.
Most of the players coming into Oxford in 2014-15 are expected to be role players. After this season, the RedHawks lose third-liner Max Cook and Bryon Paulazzo, who has been scratched three straight games.
For the most part, those currently wearing the Red and White ARE Miami Version 2014-15.
How much tougher would it have been for the players, coaches and fans to face a 6½-month off-season having gotten buried this weekend? That means the RedHawks would’ve finished 3-14-1 in their final 18 (4-14-1 if they took it three games) with almost all of the same faces that contributed to Miami’s worst season in nearly a decade expected back in the fall.
After these games in St. Cloud, the RedHawks could lose 30-0 next Friday and this will still be considered a constructive month.
This weekend reinforced what pretty much everyone with eyes saw in October: This team has the talent. But what we saw the following four months was that when adversity struck, Miami folded.
Not to downplay the adversity this team faced. Upper body, lower body, middle body injuries. You name it, someone had one of the three. Especially upper body. Bad bounces, posts and crossbars.
Even the officials seemed to conspire against the RedHawks, as freshman defenseman Trevor Hamilton was assessed a phantom OT penalty that led to a 5x3 goal and a Miami loss in Providence.
But when St. Cloud State scored with 0.1 seconds left on Friday to force overtime, the rejuvenated RedHawks came out in the extra session and won the game.
Miami fell behind by two on Saturday and came back to tie the score. The Huskies took the lead on a 5x3 goal after a questionable first penalty (the one to create a two-man advantage was legitimate), and the RedHawks came back again and scored.
And in the closing seconds, rather than brace for overtime, Miami pushed the play into the St. Cloud zone and Greenberg scored the series clincher.
Fans of both St. Cloud State and North Dakota have been saying for a while they didn’t want to face the RedHawks in the tournament.
They saw the potential in this Miami team. Fortunately, the RedHawks players have finally figured out that they’re a formidable foe as well.
FORWARDS: B+. Kuraly gets better every game, and it’s starting to translate to significant point totals.
He’s become a good faceoff guy and has learned to better use his size to his advantage this season.
And it’s so much fun to watch Cody Murphy when he’s playing well, and he has been for a while.
Murphy isn’t the most talented forward on the team, but plays the game at 120 percent all the time and his shot is lethal.
Louis continues to look more confident with every game, especially since this team’s resurgence since Blake Coleman’s return.
Barber’s pass on Louis’ goal was just sick.
Two dings: Czarnik made a bad clearing pass that resulted in the first SCSU goal and Kuraly, Barber and Louis stood in the slot while Murray unloaded for the Huskies’ second marker.
DEFENSEMEN: B. This group has had a tough year and injuries have not helped. But this corps has also seemed to play better in the past month.
Hamilton looks more comfortable handling the puck and has started dishing out the occasional hit, and sophomore Michael Mooney saved Barber’s bacon after a bad neutral zone turnover nearly resulted in an uncontested look at the net for SCSU.
The top pairing of sophomores Matthew Caito and Chris Joyaux also had solid games.
Freshman Matt Joyaux’s penalty that set up the 5x3 goal was not smart at all, but he helped set up Greenberg’s game winner.
The second goal was head scratching. As mentioned above, all three forwards were pretty much standing around, and while Hamilton was at least shadowing SCSU’s top scorers,
junior Ben Paulides was way out of position during the entire sequence and almost at the blue line while Murray slammed home a shot uncontested.
GOALTENDING: B. McKay has struggled on back-to-back nights on occasion and RedHawkey has been critical of how he’s gotten away from his technically-correct positioning that made him so dominating as a freshman.
But on Saturday he looked like that cool, unflappable freshman who posted a 1.39 goals-against average and .946 save percentage – both the second-best numbers in those categories in all of college hockey.
McKay was bumped by his own player and partially screened on the first goal, and the second and third were both uncontested rips from the slot.
He did have one scary moment when a wrister from the blue line slid threw his pads and rolled just wide of the net. Otherwise, he had a good night.
LINEUP CHANGES: None. Blasi typically picks a lineup by this time of the year and rides it through the tournament, so this is likely the 19 he’ll take into battle with him next weekend in Minneapolis unless someone returns from injury.
Link to game story here .