There was an excellent chance Miami’s stay in this season’s NCHC Tournament would be a short one, after the RedHawks finished last in the conference and opened the playoffs at No. 2 North Dakota.
But the hope was they would stick around for more than one period.
The RedHawks gave up three goals in the first six minutes as they fell to the Fighting Hawks – host of the NCHC Tournament – 6-2 at Ralph Engelstad Arena in the opening round on Friday.
It was the fourth-worst season in Miami history in terms of winning percentage (.240) and the sixth campaign the RedHawks could not get past their first-round opponent in the conference tournament.
RECAP: At the 14-second mark, UND’s Jordan Kawaguchi took a centering feed from Collin Adams in the slot, deked and pitchforked a backhander past Miami goalie Ludvig Persson to give the Fighting Hawks the early lead.
With 14:33 left in the first period, UND’s Louis Jamernik fired a bad-angle loose puck from bottom of the faceoff circle through Persson.
Nine seconds later, Adams scored on another Kawaguchi feed as the two skated through the Miami defense and a tap-in one-timer to make it 3-0.
The RedHawks cut the deficit to two at the 11:14 mark of that frame when Casey Gilling fought off multiple defenders along the boards and fed a pass to Phil Knies, who wristed one home from the faceoff dot.
But with 5:36 left in the stanza, Riese Gaber took a cross-ice pass from Adams and had his initial shot denied by Persson but was able to corral the rebound and lift the puck by him and give North Dakota a 4-1 lead.
Midway through the second period, the Fighting Hawks extended their lead to four on a one-time blast from the point by Jacob Bernard-Docker.
Miami’s Rourke Russell whipped a shot from the top of the faceoff circle that beat UND goalie Adam Scheel with 2:58 to play in the second frame to make it 5-2.
Adams and Kawaguchi hooked up again on a 2-on-1 with 14:50 remaining, and when Persson denied a point-blank shot, trailer Brendan Budy batted home the rebound to cap off the scoring.
STATS: Russell led the RedHawks with two points – his fourth career multi-point game – and wrapped up his Miami career with his second goal in an many games.
Russell had three previous goals in his four years at Miami.
— Knies scored for the first time in 14 games and finishes his RedHawks career with 49 points.
— Gilling earned an assist to give him points in his final three games of 2020-21, and he ended the year second on the team with 15 points and 77 for his career.
— Joey Cassetti also picked up a helper, his second this season.
— Miami finished with its lowest winning percentage since 1990-91 and – largely because of the abridged season – tied for the fewest wins in its history (5).
THOUGHTS: Miami was in a deep hole just 14 seconds in and was out of the game by the six-minute mark.
The RedHawks lack the offensive firepower to erase a three-goal deficit, especially on the road, especially at North Dakota when it’s ranked No. 2 in Division I.
To its credit, MU mixed in some good hockey and didn’t let the game get out of hand, but this season’s RedHawks team — which averaged fewer than two goals a game — can’t afford a start like that.
We saw this pattern far too often this season: Miami would play well for a while and then a mistake would end up in its own net, and then another.
After seeing Colorado College nearly take out sixth-ranked St. Cloud State earlier in the day, playing without most of its regulars and down to four D-men in the third period, it was disappointing the RedHawks never gave themselves a chance in this one.
— Love seeing three of the seniors earn points in their final games. Russell, Knies and Lown all ended up on the scoresheet, capping off quality careers in Oxford.
The other seniors – Ben Lown, Alec Mahalak and Grant Valentine – will be missed as well. We’ll be writing more about that class next week.
LINEUP CHANGES: Two skaters did return from injury for the season finale – Ryan Savage and Ben Lown.
Scratched in their place were Bray Crowder and Michael Holland.
NEXT UP: 2021-22, hopefully with a full schedule, fans at Cady Arena and a better on-ice product in what will be Coach Chris Bergeron’s third season.
FINAL THOUGHTS: This was a tough season, in every way.
We’ll be looking back at the COVID season in more depth in coming weeks, but for now, Miami fans should appreciate the fact that there was a season to follow.
The Ontario Hockey League – a Canadian juniors league that rivals the NCAA in some ways – still has not dropped the puck this season and may never play a game. The Western Hockey League, also under the OHL umbrella, is also in hold-out mode.
Many teams in Division I opted out of 2020-21, and most didn’t play anything close to a full and/or balanced schedule.
The RedHawks at least were able to do that. The schedule was eventually reduced to 24 games, and MU played 24.
And Miami played hard for 24, plus Friday’s season finale.
If the 2021-22 RedHawks are going to take anything from this season, hopefully it’s that work ethic.