We’re just 2½ weeks into the 2020-21 season, but Ludvig Persson has already etched his name among the top goaltenders in Miami history.
Persson stopped 26 shots as the RedHawks blanked No. 9 Denver, 3-0 at Baxter Arena in Omaha on Thursday, giving him back-to-back shutouts.
“He’s a calming presence, he’s an absolute worker,” MU coach Chris Bergeron said in an interview with MidCo Sports after the game. “I think this kid has the chance to be special.”
Phil Knies finished with a goal and an assist, and fellow senior forward Ben Lown went 0-2-2, just the second and third multi-point games for any Miamian this season.
Persson stopped 26 shots for the RedHawks (2-6).
RECAP: After a scoreless first period, Miami freshman defenseman Robby Drazner netted the first goal of his career when he wristed one from the blue line that beat goalie Magnus Chrona on the far side 40 seconds into the second frame.
The RedHawks extended their lead when Knies stole the puck behind the Denver net and the loose puck came to Lown, who fed a cross-crease puck to Matt Barry, and Barry buried a wrister just inside the far post with 12:47 to play.
With 93 seconds remaining, it was Lown who stole the puck down low and fed Knies in the slot for a deflected empty netter to cap the scoring.
STATS: Although Miami was still outshot, it was the smallest negative SOG ratio the RedHawks have had all season.
Denver (3-5) ended the night ahead, 26-22 in that category.
— It was the fifth multi-point game of both Knies’ and Lown’s careers.
— Drazner’s goal was the first of his career. He also has one assist in 2020-21.
— Persson became the just the second freshman in Miami history to record back-to-back shutouts. The RedHawks’ rookie record for consecutive shutout minutes is held by Cody Reichard, who ran off a string of 141:41 without a goal in 2008-09.
Persson has not been scored on in 123:09.
— The RedHawks had been outscored, 19-5 after the first period, but flipped the script on the Pioneers, running off three unanswered goals in the final 40 minutes.
THOUGHTS: Hockey is amazing sometimes.
Miami was the favorite vs. Colorado College two days ago but was walloped by the Tigers. On Thursday, the RedHawks dominated the Pioneers, ranked No. 8 in Division I.
Effort makes so much difference in this sport, and for the blue-collar sports fan, that’s one of the things that makes it great.
The RedHawks’ effort was excellent, and more importantly, consistent. They never let up. They extended their lead in the third period and didn’t sit back and play not to lose.
A forced turnover by Knies pressuring in the offensive zone, a touch pass by Lown through the crease and a well-placed wrister by Barry and a one-goal lead became two.
The empty netter epitomized the night. Faceoff win by Casey Gilling, good clear along the boards by Derek Daschke, the diminutive Knies wins a boards battle by the blue line, getting the puck out of his defensive zone, pressure by Lown after the clear, which forced a turnover, and this time Knies batted home the one-timer to seal it.
Denver has amazing talent, and one-quarter to one-third of its roster will play in the NHL, which is a heck of a lot more NHLers than this Miami team will produce.
But working harder than a more-skilled team can produce victories, as the RedHawks proved in this game.
Said Bergeron about this game vs. the Colorado College contest: “The word that came to mind after our last game was ‘disappointing’. Tonight, I’m proud of our guys.”
— Thought the Knies-to-Lown-to-Barry goal was the turning point of the game.
Early in the third period, leading, 1-0, Miami was handed a two-man advantage for 1:37 but failed miserably in its attempt to extend the lead. Anyone who’s watched hockey for any length of time knows that the team that kills a 5-on-3 typically gains an emotional boost that often flips the momentum.
And again, Denver: Top 10 with tons of skill. Miami: Not ranked and a bit less skill.
RedHawks fans have seen this film too many times the past six seasons: A one-goal lead after two is squandered, and the team finishes with fewer than three points.
But 25 seconds after the latter penalty expired, Knies generated that crucial turnover that led to the Barry goal.
Game changer: Two-goal lead with 12:47 left.
And Miami kept the pressure on. The RedHawks have faded late in several games thus far this season, but they generated 10 shots – their highest total of any period – and kept Denver’s high-percentage chances to a minimum.
— Speaking of Barry, his name came up in the postgame interview with Bergeron. Bergeron said he had a “heart-to-heart” after the Colorado College loss, saying he didn’t like Barry’s effort.
Barry responded with that crucial goal, one of his best overall efforts of the season, and his newly-created line with Lown and Knies was the team’s best all night.
Knies and Lown, who were linemates for most of their first three seasons and have always had solid chemistry, had not played together much in 2020-21 but were reunited along with Barry, and the line proved extremely effective.
And both blocked multiple shots on the penalty kill, helping Persson preserve his clean slate.
— Bergeron went with eight defensemen again despite MidCo stating that Bray Crowder was out with an injury. That means he played eight of the nine D-men on the roster.
Bergeron did this another time earlier this season. That would be Game 6, which was Miami’s other win.
— Persson was obviously outstanding.
He again came out of nowhere after seemingly being out of position to deny a would-be goal, and once again, rebound control and positioning were excellent. Dating back to juniors, he now has nine shutouts in his last 28 appearances.
It’s a very small sample size, but Persson has been exceptional through four games and has a chance to be the biggest rebuilding block on Miami the next couple of years.
A stud goalie can carry a team to a significantly higher level than it would’ve achieved with an average one (a la Jeff Zatkoff who went 27-8-1 with a 1.72 GAA and .933 save percentage in 2007-08 with an overall so-so D-corps), so if Persson can continue to play at a very high level, he could help speed up the rebuild movement, both by making the team competitive earlier than expected and by doing so make the team a better recruiting target.
Rival Ben Kraws has played well to this point, so it will be interesting to see how Bergeron handles his goalies moving forward. Miami has games on Saturday and Sunday, which means the RedHawks will have played 10 games in 19 days by weekend’s end, so it seems likely Bergeron will wrap up pod play with his current rotation.
LINEUP CHANGES: Bergeron went minus-1 up front from Game 7, and Scott Corbett and Jack Olmstead did not dress. Caleb Rule was in the lineup for the fourth time in five games.
Skating eight defensemen, Miami added one spot, and seniors Alec Mahalak and Rourke Russell returned after sitting the previous contest.
Dylan Moulton was a scratch after playing the previous two games.
It was mentioned during the broadcast that Crowder was injured, although no follow-up information was provided.
Olmstead and Corbett were not in the lineup for the first time this season. It’s unclear in either was hurt, but Corbett – because of the bang-up style he plays – missed a handful of games his first two seasons. He seemed to play well against CC, so it doesn’t seem likely he would’ve been a healthy scratch.
STANDINGS: Miami now has seven points, tied with Western Michigan for last place in the NCHC. Colorado College is a point ahead of both teams but has two games in hand over the RedHawks.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Bergeron didn’t care for Miami’s effort the previous three games – including the 1-0 win over Nebraska-Omaha – and he said so in the postgame interview, even calling out a player by name.
Sports fans hear literally thousands of interviews given by coaches in their lifetimes, which are mostly – and understandably – spin to paint their programs in a positive light.
But Bergeron doesn’t spin. If he says something in an interview, he means it, 100 percent.
And he’s already shown in the Omaha pod that he’ll bench skilled players if he’s not happy with their output.
His actions back up his words.
Hopefully more top recruits will see how Bergeron is running this program and will want to be a part of it.