OXFORD, Ohio – After struggling mightily to generate shots on goal the first two months of the season, Miami finished with its second-highest SOG total of the campaign with 31.
Unfortunately, the RedHawks allowed 44 shots, six of which found the net as No. 6 Western Michigan doubled up Miami, 6-3 at Cady Arena on Friday.
The RedHawks (3-11-1) matched the first two Broncos tallies in the first period, but after scoring its third, WMU never relinquished its lead.
Chase Pletzke scored twice and P.J. Fletcher notched a goal and an assist to pace Miami, which is winless in its last nine vs. the Broncos (0-7-2).
RECAP: Jason Polin gave Western Michigan (11-4) the early lead 5:18 into the first period when he penetrated after taking a drop pass and beat RedHawks goalie Logan Neaton on the far side from the right faceoff dot.
Miami tied it 14 seconds later. Joey Cassetti emerged from the boards with a loose puck and fed a wide-open Pletzke in the slot, and he skated around goalie Brandon Bussi – who had sprawled out on the ice – and shoveled it over the WMU netminder.
The Broncos went up 2-1 just 73 seconds later when Chad Hillebrand took a transition pass from Dylan Wendt with speed through the neutral zone and went in uncontested for a forehand wrister after Miami defenseman Hampus Rydqvist fell down skating back into his own zone.
The RedHawks tied it at two with 6:22 left in the opening frame when a WMU clearing attempt from the wall was tipped by Fletcher right to Pletzke – again wide open in the slot – and he buried a shot just under the crossbar on the stick side.
But the Broncos went ahead for good when a shot by Michael Joyaux from the point deflected off a Miami stick, and the resulting seeing-eye change-up hopped over Neaton’s right pad and into the net on the power play with 3:57 left in the stanza.
Western Michigan extended its lead to two midway through the second period on a 1-on-3 when Paul Washe pulled up along the boards and fed Ty Glover, who skated through two Miami defenders and slid a pass back to Washe at the right side of the cage for an easy tap-in.
The RedHawks again pulled to within one when Fletcher wristed the puck from the left wing while off-balance, and Bussi made the initial save, but the puck trickled to the opposite side of the cage, and Fletcher skated around the net and batted it home to make it 4-3 with 6:04 remaining in the second period.
The Broncos’ Cole Gallant fired a pass through two defenders to Scooter Brickey at the blue line, and he picked the top right corner of the net to put WMU back up by a pair at the 14:59 mark of that frame.
Western Michigan sealed it when Gallant centered a neutral-zone pass to Glover, and Glover skated through traffic and fired into the empty net with 1:44 left.
STATS: Pletzke’s multi-goal game was the first of his career.
He has four goals in his last four games and is now tied with Ryan Savage for the team lead at five.
— Fletcher picked up multiple points for the first time in his Miami career, going 1-1-2. He has three points in his last two games.
— Derek Daschke, Cassetti and Fletcher all picked up assists. Daschke leads the team with nine points, and Cassetti and Fletcher have eight apiece.
Rydqvist notched the other Miami assist, his first of the season and second of his career.
— The teams’ combined 75 shots were a season high for a RedHawks game this season. Western Michigan finished with 44, the most Miami has surrendered in 2021-22.
— This was the third time in four games MU allowed at least six goals, and the RedHawks have given up at least four markers in seven of their last eight contests.
THOUGHTS: Despite the final score, this was a much better effort by Miami than in any of its three previous games.
The RedHawks matched WMU in the first period, generating 16 shots. That’s about what they have averaged for a game the past six weeks.
While the opening 20 minutes was wide open, the second period was more conservative and was definitely Miami’s worst of the three frames, as the team butchered an extensive 4-on-3 and brief two-man advantage.
The Broncos led in shots, 20-8 in the final 20 minutes but the RedHawks matched WMU in effort. Miami was better at contesting loose pucks through extra physical effort along the boards and keeping sticks active.
Western Michigan has a great team, one of the best in all of Division I. The Broncos were the better team on paper and went out and proved it on the ice in this game.
But Miami hung with WMU for much of the game, and most importantly played with passion.
The RedHawks will rack up wins if they continue this intensity.
— Didn’t like two Miami plays: Goals 4 and 6 by WMU.
The fourth GA: RedHawks were within one midway through the second and Washe skated in 1-on-3, no one picked him up as he pulled up and held along the boards while Glover – who came in on a change while this was happening! – took his feed, skated through the flat-footed defense and fed back to Washe for a slam-dunk.
No. 6 – Yes, it was an empty netter, but Miami stood around and watched Western Michigan pick up the loose puck and skate through the defense.
The effort has to be consistent.
— Daschke made the underrated play of the night with his boards-battle win, at the end of which he tapped a pass ahead to a wide-open Cassetti.
— Officiating, something we try not to mention, was very inconsistent, with a couple of questionable calls early and late, although it in no way affected the final outcome.
LINEUP CHANGES: Miami made one switch both up front and on defense.
Forward Jack Olmstead was back in the lineup, replacing Brian Silver. Olmstead has a goal and two assists in 10 games.
On the blue line, freshman Nick Donato dressed for the second time. Alec Capstick was a scratch.
FORWARDS: B. This corps definitely stepped up the most. Pletzke was the first period star, and Fletcher seemed to be dialed up a couple of gears all game and was heady enough to follow his own shot trickling across the goal line and skating around to tuck it in. Scott Corbett played one of his best games of the season as well.
DEFENSEMEN: D. It seemed like this corps was caught flat-footed too many times, and part of that is because Western Michigan has excellent team speed and transition ability. Daschke was very good.
GOALTENDING: C-. Such a tough call here, as the only potential “soft” goal was the third one which hopped over his pad after deflecting off a teammate’s stick. It’s one of those games where, could he have, should he have, stopped more high percentage chances? The answer is yes, maybe at least one more, but his rebound control was again very good. His 43 saves are a season high for a Miami netminder. It appears Neaton has played well enough to deserve regular playing time moving forward, and competition is always a good thing.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Miami entered Friday riding a three-game poor-effort streak – a 7-1 loss at Denver, a 7-4 defeat vs. Long Island University and a win against LIU the next day. And by the way, the Sharks are an 18-month-old program without a long-term home rink or even a second jersey.
If the RedHawks had put forth the same effort in their earlier games, their record wouldn’t be this far under water.
Coach Chris Bergeron has admitted confidence has been an issue for Miami, so maybe the win over Long Island last Saturday helped in that department.
Hopefully Friday’s version of the RedHawks will take the ice every night the rest of the season.