By John Lachmann
Similarly to its series opener in Oxford last weekend, Miami took itself out of its first game in Grand Forks.
The RedHawks (10-14-3) fell behind by three and their rally came up a goal short as North Dakota held on for a 3-2 win over Miami at Engelstad Arena on Friday.
UND (15-9-3) opened the scoring when Michael Parks slammed the puck into an empty net after Mark MacMillan stole the puck from RedHawks sophomore goalie Jay Williams behind the net and centered it to a wide-open Parks at the top of the crease with 7:22 remaining in the opening period.
Williams was also assessed a tripping penalty after the goal, and just 91 seconds later on the ensuing power play, MacMillan beat Williams on the short side to give the former Fighting Sioux a 2-0 lead, ending Williams’ night.
Just before the second goal, Miami junior center Austin Czarnik was denied on a shorthanded chance.
With 13:56 to play in the second period, RedHawks junior defenseman Ben Paulides was trying to clear the puck at the side of the net, and it ricocheted off MacMillan and into the net.
Just over three minutes later, junior Cody Murphy got Miami on the board as he slammed home a pass through the crease by senior forward Max Cook.
RedHawks sophomore forward Sean Kuraly took a pass from freshman forward Justin Greenberg that hit his skates and batted it home with the extra attacker with 30 seconds to play, but UND survived the late onslaught.
Miami lost its third straight and is 1-7-1 in its last nine. The RedHawks also fell into last place in the NCHC by three points as Colorado College won on Friday.
The series wraps up at 8:07 p.m. on Saturday.
MORE MISERABLE CRAP: Miami actually played pretty well for most of this game.
This has been one of the frustrating aspects of this season: The RedHawks will look good for a while and then a catastrophic fail will occur.
That 91-second span killed Miami: 1) Williams didn’t play the puck well – a recurring theme with both goalies lately – and neither defenseman told him a forechecker was coming until it was too late. When freshman defenseman Matt Joyaux called for the puck, MacMillan could smell what Williams had for dinner, 2) Williams took a penalty, which was off camera, so what happened was unclear to the television audience, 3) Czarnik’s shorthanded chance was denied, and 4) at the other end Williams allowed a soft goal and it goes from potentially 0-0, 1-1 or even at worst 1-0 UND to 2-0.
The third goal was TML – typical Miami luck. On top of all of its other problems this season, the RedHawks have been pretty tough luck. I’d love to see how many posts they’ve hit this season (I know Paulides hit one Friday).
Anyway, Paulides is trying to clear the puck away from the crease and instead it hits MacMillan in the ankle or shin and caroms into the net.
To its credit, Miami played well before the 91 seconds of doom, was pretty good in the second period and was very good in the third, outshooting the no-names 11-4.
Some other thoughts:
-- A few of the garden gnome forwards didn’t score but had really strong games. Junior Alex Wideman nearly scored a couple of times, and freshman Anthony Louis was very active, forechecking more than usual. Greenberg was also strong, and his line with sophomore John Doherty and Murphy – which was the team’s best last Friday – was good again in this game.
-- This team has to do better on faceoffs. This was a problem last season as well, and Miami was dominated in the circle the first two periods before faring somewhat better in the third. As we pointed out last week, the coaching in this league is a step up from the CCHA. Western Michigan may have set a collegiate record for most icings in a game, and North Dakota iced the puck a ton as well. The reason: These teams don’t fear taking defensive zone draws when facing Miami.
-- Miami has taken far fewer dumb penalties this season, a positive not mentioned previously this season here (MU has 128 power play chances vs. 127 for its opponents), but the RedHawks didn’t help themselves on Friday. Going to the box six times on the road, in North Dakota, is a recipe for disaster. Sophomore forward Alex Gacek took two bad penalties and Paulides seems to be whistled for a minor once a game.
-- Coach Enrico Blasi must read RedHawkey, because his in-game management was outstanding on Friday. He took a shaky Williams out after the second goal to try to motivate the team, pulled McKay with two minutes left (and Miami scored with 30 seconds left), and he called timeout right after that goal to rest his fatigued players that had been on the ice for over a minute so they could finish the game. His players never gave up on Friday in one of the most hostile rinks for opposing teams in the country, and in a season that has been a major disappointment he and the team deserve credit for mounting their comeback.
-- The third period has been Miami’s Achilles’ heel much of this season, but the RedHawks outplayed UND late in this game. It’s unfortunate that Miami’s season has gone the way it has, but someone who hadn’t watched this team all year would likely be impressed with the RedHawks’ poise, and they battled until the final horn. A 3-2 loss in Engelstad after what happened the first 30 minutes is nothing to be embarrassed about.
-- North Dakota deserves a lot of credit for its backchecking and overall defensive play. There were a couple of times it looked like Miami had open looks or one-time chances and the lanes were shut down immediately or someone made a great play with his stick or his body. The former Fighting Sioux’s 2013-14 season hasn’t gone as planned either but they seem to be peaking when it counts.
-- One last thing on goalie’s records: Hockey needs to go to baseball’s philosophy regarding wins and losses. McKay takes the loss for stopping 21 of 22 shots and Williams gets off for giving up two goals on eight SOG. If a team never comes back and ties a game after the initial goalie is pulled it’s silly to credit the reliever with the loss. If anything McKay gave Miami a chance to get back into the game.
FORWARDS: B-. The power play looked decent, the team moved the puck better than in recent games for large portions of the game and Cook’s pass to Murphy was a thing of beauty.
Even in this forgettable season (to this point at least), Murphy always works his tail off.
DEFENSEMEN: C. There were a few breakdowns, and Paulides or Matt Joyaux bear some of the brunt for the first goal, as neither told Williams danger was near. And McKay was left completely alone on a centering pass and made a great save, so this corps deserves a grade of average.
They generated five shots on goal and no points. UND had 30 shots.
GOALTENDING: D+. Williams made two good saves before the 91-second nightmare. McKay had no chance on the botched clearing attempt and played well overall, although he doesn’t seem to be the robotic, technically-perfect goalie that dominated between the pipes last season.
Both are facing way more high-quality shots because of a younger, smaller defense, making their jobs tougher.
LINEUP CHANGES: Freshman defenseman Trevor Hamilton returned from his upper body injury, replacing sophomore Michael Mooney. Hamilton had missed the previous four games, and he didn’t have a particularly strong game.
Junior forward Blake Coleman tweeted that he had made the trip, but he did not play. It was the 10th straight game Coleman has missed with an upper body injury.
Blasi went with the same 12 forwards he used last Saturday.
It’s anybody’s net right now. McKay will probably get the start on Saturday, but neither he nor Williams has been particularly dominant recently. Blasi will likely continue the rotation unless one of the goalies plays himself into or out of the platoon.
TRIAGE UPDATE: Coleman did make the trip, so that means he was at least a major consideration for this series, so there’s a decent chance he could dress on Saturday.
Hamilton returned from his upper body injury but freshman defenseman Johnny Wingels did not. Wingels has been the better of the two, and Blasi seems to agree, so one has to assume Wingels is still unavailable.
Junior forward Jimmy Mullin was seen on crutches last week, so there’s no timetable on when he’ll be able to return to the ice.
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