By John Lachmann
No. 6 Miami won its first 10 games this season when scoring at least three goals.
Unfortunately for the RedHawks, a late shorthanded goal put an end to that streak as Miami and Northern Michigan played to a 3-3 tie at the Barry Events Center in Marquette, Mich., on Saturday.
The RedHawks (12-5-5) earned the extra point in the league standings by winning the postgame shootout.
Miami finished 0-1-1 on the weekend, its first series loss of the season, and tied the season series, going 1-1-2 vs. the Wildcats.
It appeared Northern Michigan (9-10-4) was headed for a sweep when the Wildcats' Kory Kaunisto knocked in a pass from Matt Thurber with 4:47 left in the first period.
NMU extended its lead in the first minute of the middle stanza on a rebound shot by Erik Higby.
But after Miami killed a major penalty taken by senior forward Curtis McKenzie, the RedHawks went on to score the next three goals.
First it was freshman defenseman Matthew Caito knocking home a shot off a big rebound on the power play with 4:17 left in the second frame.
Just over two minutes later, freshman Riley Barber pinched on a penalty kill and followed up a shot by sophomore forward Austin Czarnik with the game-tying goal.
Caito struck again with 4:37 left in regulation with a shot that deflected in off a Northern Michigan player, but the Wildcats' Ryan Daugherty stole the puck and scored on a shorthanded breakaway with 2:25 left to force overtime.
It was the first shorty allowed by Miami this season.
Sophomore forward Jimmy Mullin scored the lone shootout goal, giving the RedHawks the additional league point in the fifth round of penalty shots.
The two points kept Miami in second place in the CCHA, one point behind Notre Dame and two ahead of Western Michigan. However, despite losing on Saturday, the Fighting Irish have three games in hand over the RedHawks and the Broncos have two.
Miami will take on Wisconsin in Madison next weekend, the RedHawks' final non-conference games of the season. Friday's game is at 9 p.m., and the series finale will be at 8 p.m. on Saturday.
ANALYSIS: So Miami finally scores more than one goal and it's the first time in 15 games the RedHawks allow more than two in game. The last time an opponent scored three goals vs. Miami was Nov. 2 at Ferris State.
Let's start with the positives.
Obviously breaking out of its scoring slump is a positive for Miami. The RedHawks solved one of the top goalies in the CCHA three times in the final 30 minutes, which will hopefully carry over to next weekend and beyond.
Barber finished with two points. It took Barber 13 less games than Czarnik last season to score his first goal after returning for the World Juniors. There's always concern about a lag for players who join Team USA over the holidays, but Barber showed no ill effects of the 11,000-mile trip and nine games overseas.
Czarnik won 18-of-27 faceoffs. For all of his strengths he has struggled in the faceoff circle this season, and with him taking draws on the top line that cuts down Miami's scoring chances and is especially a hindrance on the power play.
The RedHawks once again showed an ability to overcome adversity, erasing a two-goal lead as well as what had to be unbelievable frustration at their lack of scoring.
It was tough enough for Miami fans to watch such a talented offense struggle, but it had to be almost unbearable for the players themselves to experience that drought on a shift-by-shift basis.
Caito's two goals tripled the number of tallies recorded by Miami defensemen this season. It has almost seemed at times the young blueliners have played too conservatively, and it would nice to see the occasional offensive contribution from this talented corps.
Miami's penalty kill was excellent again. Not only did Northern Michigan not score on any of its six power plays, Barber scored shorthanded. How good has this unit been this season? The RedHawks have allowed just 12 goals on the man advantage and erased six of those with shorthanded goals for a net of minus-6 on the PK.
Miami freshman goalie Ryan McKay denied all five penalty shots as the RedHawks netminders remained perfect in the shootout. As in, having not allowed a single goal, not just winning the shootouts.
Miami did score a power play goal for the first time since Dec. 15 at Ohio State, but giving up a shorthanded goal with a one-goal lead late is completely unacceptable and undoes any other special-teams positives.
I'm usually a big fan of using four or five forwards on the power play, but a better call might've been to have a second defenseman on the ice when NMU scored its shorty.
The RedHawks also spent all but five seconds of the final 3:40 on the power play – including a 15-second two-man advantage – but were unable to score the game winner.
And despite scoring three goals, Miami still isn't getting any scoring balance from its lines.
Czarnik-Barber combined for four points, Mullin assisted on the go-ahead goal (and believe me, no one is happier to see Mullin get on the scoresheet, but he was out there with Czarnik because McKenzie had been booted and the point is that secondary lines aren't producing) and Kuraly had the other point by a RedHawks forward, and that was on the top power play line.
One more note: It's highly doubtful McKenzie getting run from the game was an accident, and it should be noted that the score was 2-0 Northern Michigan when he left.
No one's going to admit this publicly, but I'd bet money this was a tactic to fire up a stagnant team, and it was a brilliant maneuver by whomever…and we'll leave it at that…and one that obviously worked. I seriously doubt McKenzie intended to take a five-minute penalty, but the team was rejuvenated.
Finally, I know Miami's had success with them this season and I've made my opinion on the subject pretty clear in the past, but how much more convincing do we need that shootouts are bad for hockey?
Nine shooters failed to score on their penalty shots before Mullin put the shootout out of its misery. In addition to countless other arguments I have against the glorified coin flip, by becoming a regular occurrence "the most exciting play in hockey" is now studied and practiced regularly by goalies in preparation, further evidenced by the 10 percent success rate between these teams on Saturday.
FORWARDS: C. They only scored one of the goals, although they generated five assists and were largely responsible for Caito's first goal.
They also share the blame for Northern Michigan's shorthanded goal, as there's no excuse for allowing a breakaway late with a one-goal lead.
Despite Czarnik's 18-9 mark, Miami continued to struggle in the faceoff circle. The rest of the team went 11-26.
DEFENSEMEN: B. It was a breakout game for Caito, who not only scored his second and third goals, he blocked a team-high five shots.
This corps held the Wildcats to 25 shots and just 14 at even strength.
GOALTENDING: C. How good has McKay been? He had not allowed more than one goal in any of his first seven outings. But everyone knew he wasn't going to finish the season with a goals-against average below one.
His save percentage for the game was .880, which is below average, but he redeemed himself somewhat by stopping all five penalty shots in the shootout.
LINEUP CHANGES: Just one: senior Steve Mason played on the fourth line and junior Max Cook sat after playing on Friday.
Forwards junior Bryon Paulazzo and freshman John Doherty and defensemen sophomore Ben Paulides and freshman Michael Mooney were scratched both games.