By John Lachmann
OXFORD, Ohio – After dominating for the first 17 minutes, Miami surrendered a pair of goals in a 53-second window and was never able to recover.
The RedHawks dropped their second straight game at Cady Arena, 3-1 vs. Denver on Friday. No. 12 Miami had not suffered consecutive home losses since Oct. 27-28 when Lake Superior State swept the RedHawks.
The shots were 13-2 in favor of Miami when the Pioneers’ Trevor Moore centered the puck from along the boards, and the puck hit Ty Loney as he crashed the net and slid in with 2:58 remaining in the first period.
Less than a minute later, Moore scored his sixth goal of the season, going top shelf after Denver won a faceoff cleanly in its offensive zone.
The RedHawks continued to dominate in the shot column but could not solve Pioneers goalie Sam Brittain.
The shots were 30-11 in favor of Miami before its lone goal – a rebound shot that junior forward Alex Wideman stuck in the short side after an initial shot by sophomore forward Riley Barber handcuffed Brittain and rolled to Wideman.
It was the third goal in two games for Wideman, and Barber recorded his fifth point in his last three.
The RedHawks drew a late power play on a slashing call as junior center Austin Czarnik was taken down after cutting to the net.
But Brittain made three saves during the man advantage and Grant Arnold was able to deposit an empty netter with 10 seconds left.
The final shot total was 34-12 Miami. It was the fewest shots in a game surrendered by the RedHawks since Feb. 10, 2012.
In addition to the loss in the standings – which made Miami 1-4-1 in its last six – the RedHawks also lost junior forward Blake Coleman.
Coleman was injured near the bench in the second period, tried to gut it out but eventually went down the tunnel and did not return.
Coleman, tied for the team lead with 10 goals, is expected to miss significant time with an upper body injury.
Miami has typically been lucky at dodging the injury bug in recent years, but it has bit the RedHawks hard in 2013-14. Junior Connor Murphy is also out with an upper body injury and sophomore goalie Jay Williams was recently unavailable with an undisclosed injury.
Junior forward Jimmy Mullin was also out for two games during the recent road trip with a banged-up wrist.
The crowd, one of the smallest in Cady Arena’s seven-plus year history, was less than half capacity at 1,492 because of the heavy snow that blanketed Oxford during the afternoon and early evening.
The series wraps up a 7:07 p.m. on Saturday. Miami has an exhibition game scheduled for Dec. 31 at 4 p.m. but will not play another regular season game until Jan. 10 when it travels to Western Michigan.
ANALYSIS: This was one of the most frustrating games of the season. Miami dominated the first 17 minutes of the game.
The first goal was a little fluky, the second was off a lost defensive zone faceoff where the RedHawks were a bit late to react and the third was an empty netter.
Not once the entire game did Denver sustain pressure in the offensive zone for any length of time.
Sophomore goalie Ryan McKay had to make one good save in the opening stanza on a player that cut the net but he could’ve studied for his finals most of the game.
Despite 34 Miami shots, many weren’t of the high-percentage variety. Too many times Brittain had clean looks at outside shots, which any goalie is going to stop 999 times out of 1,000.
The Pioneers weren’t that good on Friday and Miami has to win games like this. Denver entered play averaging 2.4 goals per game, and with the RedHawks’ offensive fire power they should come away with three points most nights.
Two things were head-scratching about this game from a coaching perspective: Czarnik and Barber were on the ice way too much and McKay wasn’t pulled early enough on the late power play.
Coach Enrico Blasi is riding his two studs way too hard, even using Czarnik on defense during penalty kills, a position he has never played before. They don’t track time on ice in college but I’d be shocked if either played less than 24 minutes.
If they were baseball pitchers they would’ve both been at around 140 pitches on Friday.
Plus Czarik is a smaller guy – smaller guys wear down quicker – and Barber may return to the World Champions, and both need to be in peak shape come March, not gassed as both currently are at the end of games.
In his defense, Coleman leaving obviously forced Blasi to shuffle his lines and Blasi’s MO is to use the three to four months of the season to find a lineup and lines he’s comfortable with for the stretch run.
And of course with Miami’s inexplicable inability to score despite an abundance of offensive talent, it makes sense Blasi would tinker with his lines more.
On the late power play: The penalty came with 2:45 remaining. McKay stayed in, which is understandable at that point. But the RedHawks had two more faceoffs and took a time out with 1:39 left with the puck in the offensive zone and McKay stayed in net before finally departing with 1:06 to play.
With five forwards on the power play, a fresh sophomore defenseman Matthew Caito could’ve jumped on and likely blocked any attempt at the net even if Denver did get control on a 6x4.
With the top unit out there for the entire man advantage, everyone was out of gas by the time the empty netter hit the twine.
The best-case scenario is Miami wins and hobbles into the break with a 2-4-1 record in its last seven, hopefully retaining its ranked status.
The worst scenario is another loss, which would drop the RedHawks to .500 heading into Christmas, in which case they would be looking at the prospect of needing to get hot just to get into the tournament against a schedule that doesn’t get any easier.
FORWARDS: D. They got the shots, plenty of them, but most weren’t high quality. And the scoring column, the ultimate stat, read ‘1’ at the end of the game.
A couple of positives: senior Max Cook played one of his better games of the year. Mullin had a few good looks again but is seemingly snakebitten. He’s way too good to have one goal at this point, and every chance he gets hits a post or a goalie makes a ridiculous save.
There hasn’t been as unlucky of a goal scorer on this team since Curtis McKenzie his junior year.
Wideman seems to score in bunches, and he’s on fire right now. Miami can use all the scoring it can get at present, so hopefully he keeps it up.
DEFENSEMEN: A. First ‘A’ of the year for this corps. It was certainly their best game at Cady Arena this season. As mentioned above, not once did Denver sustain pressure in the offensive zone.
Freshman Johnny Wingels stood out among this group. He made some good defensive plays, some solid outlet passes and jumped in the play a little, which is a rarity for a blueliner on this team.
GOALTENDING: C+. McKay was 9-for-11, so there’s not much to grade him on. The first goal was unlucky and the second went in on a very good shot. McKay had one difficult save in the first period.
LINEUP CHANGES: The Coleman injury will open up a forward spot for some time. With Coleman being a bigger, more physical player on a team lacking this attribute up front to a degree, senior Bryon Paulazzo may dress for a while.
Freshman Devin Loe was back on the top line and classmate Justin Greenberg also dressed (it was just the third time this season both have played).
With Murphy still hurt they may both be in the lineup again on Saturday.
After playing the first 15 games, freshman Trevor Hamilton sat for the second straight game on defense, and Wingels played for the third straight night, and played very well.
With sophomore Chris Joyaux appearing healthy, both Joyauxs, Caito, Richart, Paulides and Wingels appear to be the best six blueliners on the team right now.
Will Williams return between the pipes on Saturday? This was the first time in six games McKay has not allowed three goals. Not saying that’s all on him, but if Williams is ready to go (and he looked fine in warm-ups) he might start on Saturday.
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