By John Lachmann
Miami fell out of the top-15 poll for the first time this season as Western Michigan completed its sweep of the RedHawks, 3-2 in Kalamazoo on Saturday.
Miami dropped to .500 for the first time since opening night and fell to 2-7-1 in its last 10.
Just 2:01 into the first period, Chase Balisy put the Broncos on top with the team’s third shorthanded goal of the weekend.
The RedHawks remained down a goal until sophomore forward Riley Barber tied it with 11:18 left in the second period.
Western Michigan took the lead for good with 2:08 left in the middle stanza on a goal by Taylor Fleming, and the Broncos sealed it on Nolan LaPorte’s goal with 15:14 remaining in regulation.
Barber scored again with exactly one minute to play with an extra attacker on but Miami was unable to tally the equalizer.
Barber now has 14 goals on the season, leading the team.
The RedHawks outshot Western Michigan, 38-23 including 19-5 in the final stanza. Miami was 0-for-8 on the power play and generated 16 of their shots on the man advantage.
The Broncos fired two shots on four power plays chances.
The RedHawks return home to face Nebraska-Omaha in a two-game series this weekend.
ANALYSIS: Miami dug its hole even deeper.
In addition to falling into last place in the NCHC this weekend, Saturday’s loss plummeted the RedHawks into a tie for 27th place in the all-important PairWise rankings, which determine who plays in the NCAA Tournament.
It’s absolutely inconceivable that a team with as much talent as Miami could drop to .500 this late in the season.
They’ve underachieved. It’s as simple as that. There’s not much else to say.
Now let’s look at the potential path to recovery.
Miami has 14 regular season games left – eight at Cady Arena where the RedHawks are 6-3-0, six on the road where they are 3-6-2.
The next three opponents on the schedule are Nebraska-Omaha (H), Colorado College (A) and Western Michigan (H). Miami must win five of those six to get to 14-10-2.
Then comes a road trip to North Dakota. A split there would put the record at 15-11-2.
The RedHawks host St. Cloud State and Minnesota-Duluth next. Miami needs three of 4 to get to 18-12-2, then earn a split in Denver to finish the regular season 19-13-2.
Even with a difficult schedule, that’s probably the minimum record the RedHawks would need to get in solid position for an at-large bid. And that’s assuming they don’t go two-and-out in the NCHC Tournament.
It won’t be easy for Miami to continue its NCAA Tournament streak, but this team still has an opportunity to get back in the race.
But the RedHawks have to start living up to their expectations on the ice. If they don’t they could be looking at a 6½-month offseason.