By John Lachmann
OXFORD, Ohio – Unlike Friday, Miami took an early multi-goal lead. But like Friday, the outcome was the same.
Despite scoring the first two goals of the game, the RedHawks fell to Western Michigan, 3-2 on Saturday at Cady Arena as the Broncos completed a four-game regular season sweep of Miami.
WMU (14-10-4) scored twice in the first 97 seconds on Friday. The RedHawks looked like they would turn the tables on the Broncos in the series finale, taking a 2-0 lead 14 minutes into the opening stanza.
But a three-goal second period by Western Michigan ultimately doomed Miami, which dropped to 4-11-2 in its last 17 games.
A weak one-timer somehow slid through the legs of Broncos goalie Lukas Hafner with 11:46 left in the first period to give the RedHawks the lead.
Sophomore defenseman Matthew Caito whipped a shot past Hafner less than six minutes later, ending the goalie’s night.
Josh Pitt cut the lead to one on a wraparound goal less than three minutes into the second period.
WMU’s Chris Dienes tied it when Miami sophomore goalie Jay Williams could not corral his wrister from the top of the faceoff circle, which tied the score with 12:42 remaining in the middle stanza.
Will Kessel’s quick wrist shot beat Williams with 29 seconds left in that frame to give the Broncos the lead.
Miami (10-13-3) had several glorious chances to tie it in the third period, but despite outshooting WMU, 13-6 in the final period, the RedHawks were unable to generate the equalizer.
Miami heads to North Dakota next weekend for a two-game series.
MORE MISERABLE CRAP: Coach Blasi – if you or any of your other coaching staff are reading, you might want to skip this section.
RedHawkey thinks you’re a very good coach and Miami would never have gone to eight straight NCAA Tournaments without you.
So you’ve been warned that the balance of this segment starting with the next paragraph does not tow the company line of rainbows and unicorns.
Andy Murray was the better coach this weekend and is one of the reasons Western Michigan took all six points.
That’s meant as a compliment to him more than anything. Murray coached in the NHL with the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings for 10 years and has his team in a much better place than Miami this season without a lot of skill players.
When Miami went down, 2-0 on Friday, it was obvious sophomore goalie Ryan McKay didn’t have it. Yet Blasi left him in for a third goal before yanking him. He finished 5-for-8 (.625).
Murray pulled Hafner after two goals, and he had faced 10 shots. The result: WMU came back to win and the RedHawks remained winless on the season in one-goal games, including three losses vs. Murray’s Broncos.
Murray pulled his goalie with 2.9 seconds left in the first period for an offensive zone faceoff. Murray called timeout with his team sucking wind after icing the puck, and later his tired unit iced the puck again and he sent a wing into to take a faceoff.
The wing chopped at the Miami center’s stick and got himself deliberately kicked out of the faceoff circle. That bought several valuable seconds for Murray’s five players stuck on the ice.
In short, he was creative. If the game plan isn’t working, he’ll change it.
Blasi didn’t pull sophomore goalie Jay Williams early enough on Friday (he had a chance during 15 seconds of offensive zone possession with 1:35-1:50 left down two and left him in).
And he did the same on Saturday, waiting until 1:05 left while Miami controlled it in the WMU zone while fans were screaming for Blasi to pull him.
For all of Blasi’s strengths, in-game and in-season creativity isn’t one of them. This RedHawks team hasn’t been good for almost three months now, starting with the third period of the home Wisconsin loss, and it has never gotten back on course.
Sorry coach(es). Your team is 10-13-3 and the talent level on your roster says you should be way better than that, so injuries or not you accept some responsibility, especially since in college you and your staff alone determine your roster.
Everyone has bad years. Heck, Red Berenson’s Michigan team didn’t make the tournament last year for the first time since the Reagan administration.
But unlike the CCHA which had only Berenson as the only coach that could be considered great until Murray came along late, the NCHC has several, which means it’s not going to get any easier for Miami in this conference.
In addition to Murray, who has some, including myself, wondering why he’s in Kalamazoo with his resume, there’s Dean Blais, who won two national championships at North Dakota.
Dave Hakstol is Blais’ successor at UND and has won 24-plus games in each of his first eight seasons. Minnesota-Duluth’s Scott Sandelin won an NCAA title in 2011.
Denver’s Jim Montgomery is in his first season coaching at the collegiate level, but he won two Clark Cups in the past three years coaching USHL Dubuque.
Any sane person who’s watched this team for any significant span has to believe that this team will be back in the top 10 and selling out Cady Arena again with Blasi at the helm.
But this one hurts because the talent was obvious early in the season.
And this part of course isn’t the hockey coaching staff’s fault, but this one hurts Miami sports fans and alums even more because of the abysmal football and basketball seasons.
Hockey could’ve saved the RedHawks’ sports season. Instead it’s becoming the latest casualty in what’s turning out to be a dreadful collegiate sports year in Oxford.
OTHER THOUGHTS: Overall, Miami played pretty well on Saturday, especially considering the RedHawks were missing two defensemen and freshman Matt Joyaux missed half of the game with an upper body injury.
He did return for the third period, however.
-- A lot will be learned by who plays the remainer of these gratuitous games with passion, and who mails it in. Junior forward Cody Murphy was the best Miami skater on Saturday, which is not surprising.
-- For some reason, Blasi is under the impression that sophomore forward Alex Gacek should kill penalties. Last season he thought Gacek could handle the point on the power play and two shorties were scored in consecutive games as a result.
Gacek has good speed and got off to a fast start but he has one point in his last 10 games and is not a qualified candidate to handle special teams duty at this point.
-- Freshman forward Devin Loe was scratched on Saturday, and obviously RedHawkey acknowledges this could be the result of an off-ice issue, but if it isn’t his lack of playing time is completely baffling.
Seven games, three goals, two assists, plus-5 rating. Granted it’s a small sample size but at this point can’t we see what he would do playing 15 minutes instead of six? Or zero?
TRIAGE UPDATE: Junior forward Jimmy Mullin was on crutches in the stands on Saturday, which obviously doesn’t bode well for his chances of returning soon.
There’s no update on freshman defensemen Johnny Wingels or Trevor Hamilton, who are both out with upper body injuries.
Matt Joyaux’s first-period injury didn’t look good but he did return. He has more than proven his toughness in his rookie season.
FORWARDS: B-. They played really well at times on Saturday. The third period was one of this corps’ best in a while, but they were unable to get one in.
Still, no even-strength goals and they continued to struggle completing passes, which is tough to comprehend in the fifth month of the season.
DEFENSEMEN: C+. Caito gave Miami a goal by a defenseman for the third straight night. It was Caito’s second in three games and the fourth for the team in that span (Ben Paulides has the other two).
This has been a tough season for this group, but it held WMU to 25 shots – including a pair of breakaways – and generated a goal.
GOALTENDING: D. The first goal on the wraparound wasn’t a deal killer, but the Broncos’ second and third markers should’ve been stopped.
The second goal, which Williams appeared to catch a piece of before it trickled in, was definitely a bad goal.
Williams saved himself from a failing grade by stopping two breakaways, something he has done at an amazing rate since coming to Oxford.
LINEUP CHANGES: Sophomore defenseman Michael Mooney dressed instead of Loe, but senior forward Max Cook played defense anyway.
That move proved beneficial as Matt Joyaux missed the entire second period and much of the second with an apparent upper body injury.
Williams started between the pipes as expected.
So what does Blasi do next weekend after both goalies underwhelmed in their last appearances? We’ll probably see both start one night.
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