OXFORD, Ohio – What a kickoff to Senior Weekend for Ryan Larkin.
The senior goalie, playing in his final home series for Miami, stopped 19 shots en route to blanking Nebraska-Omaha, 3-0 at Cady Arena on Friday.
And he picked up an assist, marking the first time an MU goalie has shut out an opponent and recorded a helper since Jeff Zatkoff on Oct. 28, 2006.
That snapped an 11-game winless streak for the RedHawks, who pivoted 180 degrees from their last game, a 7-0 loss at Denver.
RECAP: Miami opened the scoring with 3:10 left in the first period, as Casey Gilling and Gordie Green played give-and-go, with Green receiving the feed in the faceoff circle and centering it to Karch Bachman, who was crashing the net, and he shoveled home a one-timer from the top of the crease.
With 5:47 left in the middle frame, Matt Barry slid a pass from behind the net to the side of the cage, where Ryan Savage slammed it home for a power play goal to make it 2-0.
Green sealed the game with 17:42 remaining in regulation when he skated through all three zones before whipping a shot from the slot across his body and inside the post on the man-advantage.
Larkin made three spectacular saves in the final frame, one on an odd-man rush, another on a one-time feed from point-blank range and again when an Omaha skater cut through the top of the crease alone with the puck.
STATS: The shutout was the seventh of Larkin’s career, tying him with Zatkoff for sixth on Miami’s all-time leaderboard.
It was his fourth career assist, moving him even with Charlie Effinger for second in RedHawks’ history in goalie helpers.
With his 36th win, he is now tied with Mark Michaud for No. 7 on the team’s career wins list.
— Green and Gilling finished with two points apiece, with Green going 1-1-2 and Gilling notching a pair of helpers.
They were career points Nos. 110 and 111 for Green, who moved into a tie with John Malloy for 42nd all-time.
Green snapped a nine-game goal drought. Gilling had been held to one point in his previous eight contests.
— Bachman and Savage also snapped goal-less skids. Bachman had not scored in eight games and Savage six.
— Miami allowed just 19 shots, the fewest for an opponent since Alabama-Huntsville on Oct. 7, 2018.
— Special teams were just that: The RedHawks snapped a three-game power play slump by scoring twice on five chances, and they were perfect on four kills after going 4-for-9 on the PK last weekend.
STANDINGS: Colorado College lost to Minnesota-Duluth, so Miami moved ahead of Tigers and out of the NCHC basement.
The RedHawks lead CC by two points, 17-15 and are seventh behind sixth-place Omaha.
THOUGHTS: You know it’s a good night when your goalie finishes with more points than the other team’s 20 players combined.
This is the kind of hockey we often saw early in the season and not so much recently.
It’s been said before that it’s understood this team isn’t as talented as most of the others in the NCHC, or all of Division I for that matter.
But play hard and get better. Fans dish out a lot of money and those who have been doing for five straight losing seasons deserve at least that.
They got it on Friday.
And it wasn’t a one- or two-person thing. It was truly a team thing.
Yeah, Larkin was outstanding. Green’s assist and goal were both beautiful plays.
Savage slyly snuck in before ramming a feed home from Barry in another video-genic moment, and Bachman did the same on his feed from Green.
But there were the unsung guys, too. Monte Graham battled defensively all night, and Jack Clement kept winning 50-50 battles and moving the puck out of harm’s way. Andrew Sinard played his smart, conservative game and broke up a 2-on-1 late by racing back into his defensive zone.
Chase Pletzke and John Sladic played well together and seemed to have an extra step. Derek Daschke did his two-way thing and shut down any opponent in his area code with the puck while also exceling in the transition game as usual, and Alec Mahalak – battling the injury bug all season – was the best version of himself and generated four shots.
Scott Corbett played a strong game both physically and offensively, and so did Carter Johnson. And let’s not leave out undersized juniors Ben Lown and Phil Knies, who created space and weren’t pushed around.
Mental note: Prepare for hate mail from those who were not mentioned…my apologies, but really, all 19 skaters were better than last weekend.
— Special teams were every bit as good as the numbers. Miami possessed the puck for most of its power plays, even carrying over to the ensuing 5-on-5 when the RedHawks didn’t convert, and MU put on a defensive clinic on the PK, clearing the puck countless times, not allowing offensive-zone entry and killing time with its forecheckers.
— Larkin was spectacular, especially in the third period when Omaha played more aggressively to try and catch up.
He denied three A-plus chances in that frame, and let’s not forget the lateral save he made in the first minute, otherwise this game might have gone a different route.
Larkin only made 19 saves, but that doesn’t mean it was an easy night for him.
FORWARDS: B. Pretty much went over this before, but it was a much better effort by this group, as well as the defense. The power play forwards were so much better than in recent games in terms of puck possession. This corps was pretty solid defensively for the most part as well.
DEFENSEMEN: A-. Keeping in mind this wasn’t a ranked opponent, but still, the blueliners were much better about defending in the D-zone and not allowing opposing skaters free access to the slot and the sides of the Miami net. They made better decisions in clearing the puck and won more 50-50 pucks as well.
GOALTENDING: A+. It was only 19 shots, but Larkin absolutely had to earn his shutout, especially in the third period. This blanking has to help Larkin’s confidence after he allowed seven goals at Denver last weekend and was hung out to dry most of the night due to poor coverage and turnovers by both the forwards and defensemen.
LINEUP CHANGES: Other than the continued goalie rotation, there were three.
Sinard back in at defense, Christian Mohs and Johnson returned up front.
Blueliners Grant Frederic and Alec Capstick did not dress, nor did forward Brian Hawkinson.
So Larkin and Ben Kraws both gave up seven goals last weekend, but Larkin made 48 saves while Kraws turned 24 shots aside, and Larkin pitched the shutout in this game.
Does than mean the rotation broken for Saturday and Larkin returns between the pipes for senior night?
Seems logical. Stay tuned.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Not to be a downer, but if Miami had played like this all season it would have more than seven wins and five ties.
On a personal level, the past couple of seasons, it hasn’t always been fun to come to the rink down the stretch. The RedHawks have been mired in winter slumps each of the past four years and their fate in the conference tournament sealed well before the final weekend, making the trek to the rink more of a perfunctory task than a joyous one.
This season, despite six wins overall and a 2-9-3 home record entering this weekend, there hasn’t been that I’d-rather-stick-my-face-in-front-of-a-Karch-Bachman-slapshot feeling while driving north on U.S. 27.
Until this series.
And that’s because of the dumpster fire that was last weekend’s Denver series and the sub-par effort against Western Michigan the Saturday before.
Based on that most recent three-game track record, even the most passionate fan had to question if seeing these games was a better option than watching the 2009 national title game on a loop.
But it was enjoyable, and this game makes Saturday’s home finale something to look forward to rather than an event to dread, as has too often been the case in recent seasons.
A lack of confidence has been arguably the biggest issue for Miami during its recent 11-game winless streak.
The RedHawks certainly didn’t have that problem in this game and will hopefully take that momentum into this game, the final weekend of the regular season and the playoffs.