Miami locked itself into the No. 7 seed in the NCHC Tournament, but it won’t know its first-round opponent until about 10:30 p.m. EST on Saturday.
No. 17 Western Michigan scored twice in a 16-second window late in the first period and rode those goals to a 5-2 win over the RedHawks at Lawson Arena on Friday.
Entering this weekend, Miami (8-20-5) had a chance to catch Omaha for sixth place but needed to gain four points on the Mavericks. Last-place Colorado College had the opportunity to overtake the RedHawks but would’ve had to win twice, and the Tigers managed just one point vs. Denver on Friday.
It was the sixth straight road loss for Miami, which has been outscored, 30-9 away from Oxford during that stretch. The RedHawks dropped to 0-7-1 in their last eight games vs. Western Michigan and are now a game below .500 vs. the Broncos all-time.
RECAP: The game was scoreless for the first 16 minutes, but Western Michigan’s Jason Polin put his team ahead on a 3-on-2 when he corralled a pass through the slot from Mattias Samuelsson, took a stride and fired it into the short side of the net with 3:54 left in the opening period.
Sixteen seconds later, the Broncos’ Hugh McGing skated coast-to-coast and whipped one top shelf inside the near post from the right wing faceoff dot.
It took just 56 seconds for Miami to answer, as Casey Gilling fired a slap shot from just inside the blue line that hit a Western Michigan skate and caromed to a wide-open Gordie Green at the center of the left faceoff circle, and he banked it in off another Broncos skater for a power play goal, making it 2-1.
WMU (17-13-5) regained its two-goal lead midway through the middle frame when Austin Rueschhoff stole the puck along the boards and tried to slide a pass through the top of the crease, but it hit a Miami player and ricocheted in.
With 5:02 left in the second stanza, the Broncos’ Polin intercepted a clearing attempt and whipped it from the top of the faceoff circle through traffic and into the far side of the cage, giving WMU a 4-1 lead.
Miami trimmed the lead to two with one second left in that period, as Carter Johnson tipped in a wrister from the point by Jack Clement.
Western Michigan sealed it when Rueschhoff fired a shot the post, and the rebound bounced through the slot to Wade Allison, who settled it and wired one just under the crossbar two minutes into the third period.
STATS: The goal for Green gave him 114 career points, vaulting him into a three-way tie with Andy Cozzi and Andy Greene for No. 38 on Miami’s all-time leaderboard.
Johnson’s goal was his second of the season and fifth of his career.
— Gilling earned an assist, giving him points in three straight games to lead the team. He is 1-5-6 in that stretch.
— Defensemen picked up the other three helpers. Derek Daschke snapped a five-game point drought, Andrew Sinard earned his second assist in four games and Clement notched his first point in 14 contests.
— Miami won both sides of the special teams battle. The RedHawks scored a power play goal for the third straight game, going 1-for-3 to improve to 4 of 13 in that span.
They were also 4-for-4 on the PK – including an extended 4-on-3 – and have killed all 11 chances they have faced the last three contests.
— Miami won just 16 faceoffs or less than a third of the game’s draws. None of the eight RedHawks skaters who entered the circle had a winning record there.
THOUGHTS: It’s bizarre to see a game in which so many goals deflected in off skates, sticks, bodies, posts, etc.
That said, Western Michigan was the better team and earned this win. The Broncos finished with 46 shots – the third most Miami has allowed this season – and the RedHawks needed 13 in the third period just to get to a respectable 30.
Once again it was defensive coverage, with highly-skilled WMU skaters coasting into the zone uncontested. That’s how the Broncos scored their first two goals – 16 seconds apart – and Miami never recovered.
The RedHawks didn’t play a horrible game, but their weaknesses were definitely exploited by one of the better teams in the NCHC.
— The first period was pretty even early, but Western Michigan started taking control the later in the frame it got. Then the Broncos scored twice in 16 seconds to take a 2-0 lead.
Miami, to its credit, came right back and scored.
The Broncos were dominant in the middle frame, and they took their foot off the gas and tightened up defensively in the third.
In terms of in-game coaching, Andy Murray is probably the best in the conference. It never felt like Miami had a chance to close the gap in the third period.
— That fourth goal by Western Michigan was devastating, and it was scored because Miami was absolutely unable to clear the puck for about two minutes. It was the second period – the stanza with the long change – and the Broncos were able to change up all of their skaters, but the only time during that possession the puck came out of the zone, only one RedHawk was able to change.
Miami’s Matt Barry tried to fire one from behind his net out of the zone, but Polin intercepted it and threw it into the net.
— What is wrong with the RedHawks on faceoffs all in the sudden? Sixteen of 49 for 32.8 percent? No wonder WMU generated 46 shots.
It was encouraging to see Miami seemingly turn this area around early in the season after struggling in the circle for several seasons, but the RedHawks have seemingly reverted.
— If there’s a positive, it’s Miami’s continued improvement on the penalty kill. The RedHawks have been in the bottom 10 percentile of the NCAA most of this season, but they’ve gone three games without allowing a power play goal.
LINEUP CHANGES: One forward and one defenseman.
John Sladic returned to the lineup after sitting on Saturday for just the second time this season. He replaced Phil Knies, who suffered a lower-body injury last Saturday.
Alec Capstick was also back on the ice after not dressing for either game vs. Omaha. Bray Crowder did not play for the first time in 15 games.
STANDINGS: From a standings perspective, what Miami does on Saturday is irrelevant, as the RedHawks are locked into seventh place.
The only question is whether North Dakota can hold onto first place in the conference. The Fighting Hawks lead Duluth by three points and UMD holds the tiebreaker.
With North Dakota playing at Omaha and the Bulldogs hosting St. Cloud State, the chance of UND losing the top seed is pretty slim but still possible. Omaha did win Game 1 on Friday.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Game 2 is basically an exhibition for Miami.
A win does nothing for the RedHawks in terms of standings, but it would certainly give them momentum heading into another hostile road series to open the NCHC Tournament.
But they’ll need to play better than they did in this game if they hope to salvage a split to finish the regular season.