OXFORD, Ohio – Senior Ryan Larkin made sure to etch his name into the Miami record book in his final game at Cady Arena.
Larkin stopped 29 shots as the RedHawks blanked Nebraska-Omaha, 4-0 on Saturday, giving the goalie and MU consecutive shutouts for the first time since Jay Williams did it, also the last weekend of February, on Feb. 26-27, 2016.
It was only the second time in school history a RedHawks goaltender had shut a team out in both ends of a weekend series. Williams’ back-to-back blankings in 2016 was the other instance, also at Cady Arena, vs. Colorado College.
RECAP: After a scoreless first period, Miami took the lead at the 4:17 mark of the second period, when Grant Frederic threw a wrister from the top of the faceoff circle that hit a body at the top of the crease and caromed in.
The RedHawks (8-19-5) made it 2-0 just 87 seconds later, as the puck was tied up after a faceoff, Casey Gilling won the scrum and centered a pass to Ryan Savage in the slot, and Savage buried it.
Gilling extended the lead to three when he saved a clearing attempt at the point and threw the puck on net, which hit a Mavericks (13-16-5) defender in the slot and ricocheted just under the crossbar with 14:10 left in regulation.
With 11:27 to play, the RedHawks sealed it when Karch Bachman surged through two defenders to create a breakaway and had his shot denied, but the rebound sat at the edge of the crease where Gordie Green was able to poke it in.
STATS: Larkin recorded his eighth career save as he moved into solo control of sixth place all-time on Miami’s career leaderboard, passing Jeff Zatkoff.
He also takes sole possession of seventh place in career wins, picking up No. 37.
— Gilling and Bachman both finished with three points, as Gilling went 1-2-3 and Bachman was credited with three helpers.
It was the second career game with three or more assists for Bachman, who had just one in his previous 10 games.
Gilling led all RedHawks with five points on the weekend.
— Green ended the night with a 1-1-2 line, giving him four points on the series. He jumped two spots to No. 40 on Miami’s career points list with 113, passing Rob Vanderydt and Pete Shipman.
— Frederic’s goal was the second of his career. He had played 67 games before finding the net at Denver last weekend and now has two tallies in his last three contests.
— Savage scored for the second straight game and has three points in his last four.
— Matt Barry and Rourke Russell also pick up assists to give them points in consecutive contests.
— Miami improved to 3-1-1 all-time on Leap Day!
The RedHawks beat Kent State, 11-1 in 1980, tied at Western Michigan, 3-3 in 1992 and beat Ohio State, 4-3 in 2008. Their lone loss came at the Buckeyes in 2000.
STANDINGS: Miami is still in seventh place in the NCHC, but with the MU win and Omaha and Colorado College losses, the RedHawks pulled to within four points of the sixth-place Mavericks and five points ahead of the basement-dwelling Tigers.
North Dakota is at Omaha next weekend, CC has a home-and-home with Denver and Miami travels to Western Michigan.
The RedHawks own the NCHC tiebreaker vs. the Mavericks on head-to-head record, as Miami went 3-0-1 vs. UNO this regular season.
Omaha has a tough draw March 6-7 but MU would still have to make up four points, going at least 1-0-1 at Western Michigan, to climb a seed.
Miami would hold the tiebreaker over Colorado College on head-to-head goal differential unless the Tigers win out and the RedHawks earn one point, in which case CC would vault Miami.
Both scenarios are highly unlikely, as Miami is likely locked into the seven seed.
THOUGHTS: It was cool to see all six of the playing seniors honored in their final home game contribute in some way.
Larkin, Green and Bachman all played outstanding games, as documented above. Frederic scored a goal and was played a mistake-free game defensively, and Christian Mohs and Carter Johnson both played with energy up front, as this one of the better efforts we’ve seen from them this season.
It was also a stark reminder that those guys will not dress for Miami next season, and their contributions will be sorely missed on a team that has struggled with depth issues for several years.
But for a class that has not seen its teams reap a lot of on-ice success in their four years in Oxford, this was at least a great way for those players to conclude the Cady Arena chapter of their careers.
— One expected UNO, after getting blanked on Friday, to come out buzzing in this game.
It never happened. In fact, Miami led in shots, 11-1 and 25-8 at different points.
While the RedHawks and fans have every right to rejoice the slaying of their winter slump, Nebraska-Omaha is better than this. The Mavs average 3.3 goals per game despite playing as tough of a schedule as Miami has.
UNO goalie Isaiah Saville stopped 19 of 19 shots in the first period and the RedHawks finally broke through for two in the second.
Immediately following Miami’s first two goals, the Mavericks had a 31-second two-man advantage but could not convert.
For the balance of the game, the RedHawks played a smart, semi-conservative game, taking advantage of offensive opportunities that came but not allowing odd-man rushes as UNO got more aggressive.
— One bit of sad news: Phil Knies blocked a shot on that second-period penalty kill that and did not return.
It definitely hit him in the lower leg, and he stayed on the ice for about 30 seconds of play despite not being able to put any pressure on it before the puck was deflected out of play off the netting.
He had to be assisted off the ice and lingered by the threshold of the tunnel for several minutes before being escorted to the locker room, ending his night.
Seconds after he was hit, he and fellow forward Ben Lown stood in the line of fire right next to each other and Lown blocked a slap shot, but fortunately for Miami he was okay.
— Bachman was credited with the secondary assist on Frederic’s goal, but it really belonged to Gilling.
Bachman amazingly held the puck in the zone, controlled it and fed it to the point, but clearly Gilling and Green possessed it before Frederic’s shot.
— As if the Larkin double-shutout wasn’t sweet enough, as if the timing of the only other time it was done being the final week of February wasn’t oddly coincidental enough, Williams was at the rink this weekend.
If only Williams could follow the team the rest of the season…
— Once again, defensively the RedHawks didn’t commit the glaring errors we saw too often during that 0-9-2 stretch. Omaha had some decent chances, but rarely did players skate unabated into dangerous areas because of blown assignments, and Miami kept its egregious turnovers to a minimum.
Obviously this wasn’t Denver-North Dakota-Duluth the RedHawks were facing, but still, when MU has really struggled this season, that’s been an area that has gotten away from the team.
— There was another extended delay for a broken pane of glass in the non-Zamboni end. This season may have set a Cady Arena record for shattered panels.
To the crew’s credit, the practice has definitely seemed to help, as the puck was dropped again 10 minutes later. Delays in the past have been 20-plus minutes.
— Maybe miced-up refs aren’t such a great idea. The University of Miami was called for a penalty.
That should be a felony in the city of Oxford.
FORWARDS: B+. If there’s one issue here, it’s that the top line was the only one that really contributed on the score sheet. Back together again, the CKG line (Casey, Karch, Gordie) combined for 16 shots and eight points. It’s frightening at times to think about this team without the K and G of that line next season. Scott Corbett had four shots and three blocks plus a bogus interference penalty, but he was outstanding defensively and as an agitator on a team lacking for someone in that role. Chase Pletzke seemed to have an extra step and was around the puck all night, and he looks poised to take another step forward. This corps did take all three Miami penalties.
DEFENSEMEN: A-. A penalty-free game by the blueliners! Really liked Andrew Sinard and Rourke Russell’s play in this game, just doing the unsexy defensive thing, getting the puck out of trouble, winning boards battles and shutting down offensive rushes. Russell finished with four blocks, and Sinard got three shots through and seemed extremely confident. Jack Clement blocked three shots. Omaha finished with 29 shots but only a few were high-percentage chances.
GOALTENDING: A+. What a weekend for Larkin. Honestly, despite the fact that he faced 29 shots in this game, Friday was the more impressive shutout because the 19 he saw were tougher chances. Larkin shut down a few tough chances in this game, but as he always does when he’s playing well, he allowed almost no rebounds and was excellent positionally. What a way to go out for a four-year starter that has seen more rubber than the Michelin plant.
LINEUP CHANGES: Just one: Coach Chris Bergeron went with seven defensemen, so he added Frederic to the lineup in favor of forward John Sladic.
Sladic was solid on Friday and is the one player that should be reinserted into the starting lineup, but other than that, this seems like the group Bergeron should want dressing every night heading into the final weekend and the playoffs.
FINAL THOUGHTS: This team was at a low point after getting drubbed by Denver two nights in a row to cap off an 0-9-2 stretch, but a series against a more compatible opponent gave Miami a chance to shine again, and the RedHawks took full advantage.
It couldn’t have come at a better time, because the postseason is two weeks away, and MU would’ve been an easy two-and-out had it headed north or west for a playoff matchup this weekend before this sweep and immediately following last week’s egg laying.
Seniors playing their final games with nothing to lose can carry a team, so we’ll see if this corps can carry this momentum into Kalamazoo next weekend.