BIG RAPIDS, Mich. – It’s well documented that Miami struggled offensively last season.
But the RedHawks made major strides toward fixing that problem on opening night of 2021-22, scoring the final five goals after falling behind by two in a 7-4 win over Ferris State at Ewigleben Ice Arena on Saturday.
Ryan Savage recorded his first career multi-goal game on a line with his brother, freshman fourth-round draft pick Red Savage, who was playing his first career game.
Miami (1-0) opened the season with a win for the first time in three years and won its first Game 1 on the road since 2013.
RECAP: Ferris State (0-1) opened the scoring at 2:52 of the first period when Jake Transit stole the puck shorthanded behind the net, went in uncontested and switched from the backhand to forehand and in the same motion, stuffing it past RedHawks goalie Ludvig Persson.
Just 18 seconds later, Miami capitalized on its man-advantage as Ryan Savage buried a one-timer from the inside edge of the faceoff circle off a feed from behind the net by Will Cullen.
The Bulldogs regained the lead when Antonio Venuto was tripped while going in alone, giving him a penalty shot, which he converted with a high wrister to make it 2-1 Ferris State with 9:03 left in the opening frame.
Michael Regush netted his first career goal for Miami just over two minutes later on the power play when a blocked shot caromed to him in the slot, and he whipped a wrister home to tie the score at two.
Ferris State again went up by one with 4:23 to play in the stanza on an odd-man rush, with Marshall Moise lighting the lamp on a one-timer from the slot.
FSU extended its lead to two when Sam Skinner banged home a loose puck from the right faceoff dot with 18 seconds left to cap off the first period, giving the Bulldogs a 4-2 lead.
Trailing by two at the first intermission, the RedHawks were a different team the final 40 minutes.
At the 2:34 mark, Jack Olmstead stole the puck behind the net and centered a pass to Monte Graham, who slammed it in from the side of the cage to cut the deficit to one.
Just 24 seconds later, Miami evened the score at four on another centering feed from behind the net, this time from Thomas Daskas to Joey Cassetti in the slot for the one-time marker.
Ryan Savage gave the RedHawks their first lead of the game with 5:56 left in the middle frame when he carried the puck from behind the net to the slot, turned and wristed it into the back of the net for his second tally of the game.
With just 15 seconds left in the period, Matt Barry teed up a one-timer for Chase Gresock at the top of the left faceoff circle, and Gresock ripped a slap shot top shelf on the power play to make it 6-4.
Chase Pletzke chased down a loose puck and tapped it in for an empty netter with seven seconds to play.
STATS: Three RedHawks finished with two points as 12 of 19 skaters ended up in the scoring column.
Savage’s two goals were a career high, and Graham finished with a goal and an assist, his first multi-point game since Nov. 15, 2019 and his third as a Miamian.
Cullen added a pair of helpers in his RedHawks debut.
— MU ended the night with three power play goals for the first time since its season finale in 2019-20.
THOUGHTS: After starts of 1-3-2 and 0-5 in coach Chris Bergeron’s first two seasons behind the RedHawks’ bench, a road win in front of a loud Ferris State crowd has to do wonders for the team’s psyche.
Miami was a completely different team in periods two and three vs. the opening stanza, and despite having its players come from all over the Division I landscape via the loosened transfer rules due to COVID, it looked like they’d been skating together for years.
The RedHawks were far from perfect but this comeback road win in a hostile venue to open the season is still impressive.
— Persson was shaky early, as he allowed a near goal on the first shot he faced, a wrister from the left point that snuck through, hit the post and lay flat by the side of the cage for a couple of seconds before the RedHawks were able to locate and clear it.
Then four pucks got behind him in the opening stanza.
But like the rest of the team, he was a different Persson the final 40 minutes, stopping the final 17 shots including a waist-high deflection from the top of the crease in the third period that he gloved cleanly.
— The five transfer skaters combined for two goals and three assists. Gresock and Regush found the net in their Miami debuts, Cullen picked up a pair of helpers and Thomas Daskas also notched an assist. P.J. Fletcher went plus-2.
The four forwards all played on the top two lines, and Cullen was on the second defense pairing.
At least through one game, acquisitions via the off-season transfer portal look like major wins for MU.
FORWARDS: A. Miami scored 49 goals in 25 games last season and hit one-seventh of that on opening night. Left out of the above was the play of highly-touted freshman Red Savage, and while he didn’t record a point, he showed amazing potential. Bergeron made an excellent call by putting him on the third line to keep the pressure off the 18-year-old Detroit draft pick and put his brother Ryan on his right side. It’s telling how much confidence Bergeron has in him that he sent him over the boards for the first penalty kill of the season. Scouting reports praised his defense but wasn’t big on his offensive game, but he made huge strides with the U.S. National Development Team in 2020-21 and he made a couple of dynamic moves and showed he has plenty to offer in that area. Olmstead and Graham were both very solid on the fourth line.
DEFENSEMEN: C-. Both Derek Daschke and Cullen made egregious first-period turnovers that ended up in Miami’s net early on, but both – as well as this entire corps – was much better the final two periods. As expected, Bergeron used Daschke as the lone D-man on the first power play unit, and he went with Cullen and Dylan Moulton, a sophomore the team has high expectations for, on the second unit. Daschke and Cullen both recorded assists on the man-advantage, and Cullen added another at even strength. This entire group still needs to cut down the odd-man chances against and opponents’ high-percentage scoring chances. Jack Clement and Hampus Rydqvist looked much more physical than last season.
GOALTENDING: C-. Like the defense, Persson hit the reset button after 20 minutes and was back to his all-NCHC self the rest of the way. The four goals in the first period weren’t all on Persson, but didn’t make any key saves in that frame and looked very shaky. Persson gets a ‘D-‘ for the opening period and an ‘A’ for the rest of the contest.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Ferris State may have won one game last season, but the Bulldogs went into COVID protocol just as last season started, then after a week of being able to practice, they were quarantined again.
In short, they never had a chance to get into game shape in 2020-21 and that gave them little chance to be competitive in the final season of the WCHA.
Ferris State has also added a quality recruiting class, and Ewigleben is a hostile place to play with a fans a couple thousand loud.
So this wasn’t just a glorified exhibition.
Miami had to fight from two goals down after 20 minutes to beat a hungry team playing in front of home fans for the first time in nearly two years.
The RedHawks won 13 games in Bergeron’s first two seasons, but if they play with the same resiliency in all 34 games of 2021-22, they could earn a lot more victories.