BIG RAPIDS, Mich. – Miami’s special teams were anything but in the final minutes on Sunday.
The RedHawks allowed a go-ahead power play goal as time wound down in regulation, and after tying the score with a minute left, gave up a shorthanded marker in overtime as they fell to Ferris State, 4-3 at Ewigleben Ice Arena as the teams split the season-opening two-game series.
The brutal loss spoiled netminder Logan Neaton’s MU debut and snapped a 33-game winless streak against Division I teams for the Bulldogs (1-1), who went 1-23-1 last season with their lone win coming against D-3 Trine.
RECAP: Unlike Saturday, it was Miami (1-1) striking first in the series finale at the 2:43 mark of the first period, as P.J. Fletcher went backhand to forehand in the slot and wristed home a feed by Thomas Daskas, who had stole the puck at the blue line.
At the 7:20 mark, Ferris State tied it when Mitch Deelstra ripped a one-timer past Neaton on the stick side from the slot off a feed from behind the net after the Bulldogs outmuscled Miami on the forecheck along the end boards.
The RedHawks regained the lead with 4:13 to play in the opening frame when Matt Barry went far post with a wrist shot from just inside the left faceoff circle off a feed from Michael Regush, who had won a boards battle behind the FSU cage.
Neither team scored in the middle stanza, but the Bulldogs’ Anthony Venuto tied it at two at 4:08 of the third period when he whipped a one-timer past Neaton from the slot on a centering pass from Justin Michaelian.
Ferris State took its first lead of the game with 1:34 remaining on a 5-on-3 when Bradley Marek tipped in a blue-line wrist shot from Liam MacDougall at the top of the crease.
Still down a skater, Miami pulled Neaton and answered 34 seconds later, as Regush threw a pass from the wall to Jack Clement just outside the goalie crease, who jammed it into the back of the net to even the score at three.
The RedHawks killed the balance of the penalty, which extended seven seconds into overtime.
The NCAA recently changed the non-conference rule for extra sessions from 5-on-5 to 3-on-3, and the OT started 4-on-3 since Miami was still shorthanded.
Ferris State was then whistled for an infraction at the 1:00 mark and the RedHawks went to a 4-on-3 man-advantage, but Bulldogs’ Stepan Pokorny carried the puck all the way down the ice on a 1-on-2, threw it on net, coralled a juicy rebound and slammed it into the net to win it at 1:48 of OT.
STATS: Regush led Miami in points with two, both on assists. He also scored in Game 1, giving him a team-high three points in his first season as a RedHawk.
Barry snapped a 17-game goal drought and has two points already in 2021-22.
Clement had not found the net in 10 games.
— The RedHawks were 0-for-5 on the power play and allowed the 5-on-3 tally and the game-winning shorthanded marker, their second SHG against in two games to open the campaign.
They allowed one shorty all of 2020-21. The last time Miami surrendered shorthanded goals in consecutive games was Feb. 9-10, 2018 in a series vs. St. Cloud State.
The last time MU played a game in which both teams recorded an SHG was Feb. 13, 2015 against Colorado College.
THOUGHTS: It was opening weekend as college hockey began tiptoeing its way back to its pre-COVID landscape, Miami had won its first game and was 20 minutes away from a series sweep of a team that did not have a Division I victory in 2020-21.
So ultimately taking an ‘L’ in this contest put a major damper on the start of the RedHawks’ season.
While it’s easy to blame officiating for giving Ferris State a late 67-second two-man advantage, both penalties looked legitimate and the RedHawks also had a brief 5-on-3 earlier in the game.
And Ferris State was assessed a minor in overtime that gave Miami a 4-on-3, which is typically a death sentence for the shorthanded team.
The Bulldogs were fresher in the sixth and final full period of the weekend and fired 17 shots on goal in that frame against the RedHawks, who continued to battle but looked fatigued.
Trying to look on the bright side of a train wreck: It’s better to have a hiccup like this in early October when Miami is still clearly trying to figure out optimal lines and lineup combinations than in the stretch run of NCHC play.
— Preface this by saying that Ferris State absolutely deserved this win, because to not mention that makes the following sound like an excuse.
Obviously the NCAA is trying to cut down on the number of non-conference ties, which is great, but 3-on-3 overtime right out of regulation isn’t the way to accomplish that.
The funny thing is college hockey for years shied away from changing its overtime format when pro leagues favored 4-on-4 extra sessions because it didn’t want to bastardize the game to generate an artificial outcome.
Now college hockey’s governing body has swung 180 degrees the other direction.
So why not go to 4-on-4 to start overtime? It worked great in the NHL for years before that league adopted it, with teams receiving a point for a regulation tie.
Three-on-3s are more of a skills contest and are too random to use as a ‘all-in’ way to divvy up wins and losses. After five minutes of 4-on-4? That would at least give teams a chance to win playing something resembling real hockey.
— Miami must do better in its defensive zone along the boards. Both FSU even-strength goals were the result of winning those battles and finding open teammates in front of the net.
LINEUP CHANGES: Only two, one up front and the other in net.
John Sladic dressed on the fourth line in place of Jack Olmstead, playing on the fourth line with Chase Pletzke and Monte Graham.
Ludvig Persson, expected to log the majority of time in net this season, started Saturday.
FORWARDS: C. This corps combined for 19 shots and two of Miami’s goals. Fletcher seemed to step up a gear from Saturday, as all four transfer forwards ended the weekend with at least a goal or two points. Chase Gresock led this group with five shots. Thomas Daskas and Graham took the late penalties that led to the crucial Ferris State 5-on-3.
DEFENSEMEN: C. Clement scored the tying goal late, but as mentioned above, defending along the defensive-zone boards wasn’t up to par from this corps or the forwards. Hampus Rydqvist wins the VFTG most-improved blueliner award for the weekend. Will Cullen was whistled for two minor penalties.
GOALTENDING: C-. The elephant in the room – the final goal – obviously wasn’t pretty, but Neaton wasn’t bad otherwise, especially considering how much rust he was shaking off after logging 200 minutes the past two seasons combined. Small sample size, but he seems to very quick at flashing his pads to cut down low shots. He made a key save by kicking one close-range shot out in the first period made a similar stop in the second, and he also denied a breakaway.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Miami, as coach Chris Bergeron often said last season, is a team trying to learn how to win.
Clearly this outcome didn’t help.
But there’s still of ton of positives to take from the weekend.
Four transfer forwards that have already made an impact. Red Savage didn’t record a point in the two-game set but is already a top penalty-killing forward. Cullen gives Miami proved he will be another significant quarterback on the power play. The RedHawks look like they have a capable backup netminder in Neaton.
It’s never optimal to have a week off after such a devastating loss, but hopefully this team will be able to shake it off and build on the strides it made in its first two games.