OXFORD, Ohio – As much of a struggle as this season has been for Miami, at least the RedHawks notched their signature win in the final game of their home schedule.
Ludvig Persson stopped 44 shots as Miami equaled its widest winning margin in 14 months by shutting out No. 8 Minn.-Duluth, 4-0 at Cady Arena on Saturday.
MU (7-23-2) won three of its final four home games after going 1-10-1 in its first 12 contests in Oxford.
Miami wraps up its regular season next week in Western Michigan.
RECAP: The RedHawks took the lead 4:05 into the first when Brian Silver stripped the puck at the blue line, skated in for a breakaway and roofed a shot on the short side from the slot for his first career goal.
Miami extended its lead to two with 12:07 left in the second period on a 3-on-1, as Chase Gresock fired a quick wrister inside the far post from the left faceoff dot.
The RedHawks went up, 3-0 on a Matt Barry power play goal, as he shoveled home a pass through the crease by Matthew Barbolini.
Gresock capped the scoring when he flicked a hard wrister from the red line into the center of the empty net with 1:31 to play.
STATS: Persson’s 44 saves is a career high for him in a shutout.
That was the third perfect slate of his career, moving him into sole control of eighth place on Miami’s all-time leaderboard, and his season save percentage has climbed from .880 to .893 in his last five games.
— It was Gresock’s sixth game back from injury and his fourth multi-point game in that span, including two two-goal performances.
Despite missing 15 games he is one off the team lead in goals with eight.
— Two other RedHawks recorded two points – Barry went 1-1-2 and Barbolini picked up two helpers.
Barry has nine points in his last eight games and has racked up multiple points four times in that span.
Barbolini – who sat out Friday for the first time all season – is 1-6-7 in his last six games.
— P.J. Fletcher and Derek Daschke also earned assists. Fletcher has seven points in six games and Daschke has nine in eight contests.
— Miami was perfect on five penalty kills and is 11-for-12 (91.7 percent) in its last three games).
— The RedHawks have scored 12 goals in the second period the last seven games and snapped a three-game scoreless streak in the opening frame.
THOUGHTS: A head coaching change. The worst world-wide pandemic in over a century prematurely ending one season and stripping another of a traditional format. Thirty-year lows in winning percentage.
Miami’s senior class dealt with 500-level life issues at a young age in their time in Oxford and have not experienced much on-ice success in their RedHawks careers, so it made this win in the seniors’ final home contest – in dominant fashion at that – very special.
Regardless of what happens in the coming weeks, at least for one game this team gave fans a snapshot into what could’ve been if injuries and other factors hadn’t intervened.
If the goaltending is good enough…Persson was 44-for-44. Can’t do better than that.
If the team can generate enough offense…a transfer scored twice, a veteran and a rookie also found the net.
If the defense can hold…granted UMD generated 44 shots but many were from the outside and were easily snared by a goalie glove. The D-corps will never match the early-teens Miami units that held opponents to 25 shots and maybe two quality chances a night, but this group played hard and kept most shots to the exterior.
If the team can be physical enough…rejuvenated Scott Corbett has been bashing skulls for weeks, and Matthew Barbolini has also laid out some quality hits.
PK (5-for-5), check. Power play (1-for-4), check.
Saturday checked all of those boxes, and overall the RedHawks have played well every night since 19-1 weekend.
— Gresock has been an absolute game changer since returning, and a lot of it is veteran leadership. Another vocal senior voice from a guy who wore a letter his last two years at Merrimack can’t be underestimated.
— No reviews: 2:16 game time. It wasn’t even completely dark outside in Oxford when this one ended.
Not saying replay needs to go away at all, but it shouldn’t be a three-times-a-game occurrence.
— Coach Chris Bergeron had Silver on the ice for the final minute of regulation on Friday, when Miami was down two and skating 6-on-5, which seemed odd considering the fourth-liner had one career point.
But obviously Bergeron saw something, because in this game, Silver not only scored his first collegiate goal on hockey’s version of the pick-six, he drew an interference penalty at the offensive blue line that led to Barry’s second-period tally.
— That’s two straight seasons with fans in attendance MU has ended the home slate with a shutout win. The RedHawks, behind Ryan Larkin, actually blanked Omaha twice to wrap up the 2019-20 home schedule.
— Persson’s father, Anders, who lives in Sweden, was at Cady Arena for his son’s shutout. Because of the obvious travel, it’s the only home series he has been able to attend this season. Very cool.
LINEUP CHANGES: Just one.
Joey Cassetti was banged up on Friday, and Barbolini – who missed his first game of the season in the series opener – returned to the lineup.
FORWARDS: B. The result (four goals) is great, but this corps generated just 16 shots, with six from Gresock, four from Fletcher and two more by Barry. That means the other nine centers and wings combined for four SOG. Also, 25 percent shooting is unsustainable. As mentioned above, Silver played his best game of the season and Corbett continued his recent push, as he was outstanding defensively and punished opposing skaters physically.
DEFENSEMEN: B. It’s natural to look at the shots on goal against when evaluating defensemen, but this corps played a fundamentally sound game, and most of the shots against were from the outside. And ultimately, hey, it was a shutout, and a blueline corps should almost always reap some of the praise from that. It was one of the better shut-down games this season for Jack Clement and Andrew Sinard.
GOALTENDING: A+. Persson actually faced tougher chances on Friday (evidenced by three going in), but he was even better in the finale than in the opener. Saturday he was stellar from opening puck drop to final horn. His rebound control and positioning were exemplary, and he kept his cool during a 22-shot, third-period barrage. He faced 96 shots on the weekend and has recently seen more rubber than Jenna Jameson in the late 1990s.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Ever have a bad day on the golf course, and after 17 dreadful holes and several outbursts of expletives that would make Andrew Dice Clay blush, you hit a great approach shot and knock down a windy, downhill 20-footer to make par on that intimidating 18th?
So then you replace those three clubs you threw into the woods and the putter that you lit on fire after that four-putt, apologize to the retiree on the adjacent property that you struck with an errant tee shot and offer to pay his medical bills, and voila, you’re back on the links the following week.
That’s the 2021-22 Miami hockey home schedule this season. The RedHawks actually hosted 16 games this season, and after an imbroglio of 15 pretty good, decent, bad, really bad and I’d-rather-be-in-a-mosh-pit-at-a-Miley-Cyrus-concert-than-watch-this bad, MU put together its best effort of the season in its Cady Arena finale.
And as a bonus, after almost certainly knocking Omaha out at-large consideration, the RedHawks may have just dealt the same fate to Duluth.
The beauty of this time of year in collegiate winter sports is getting hot at the right time can override a poor first few months. Despite its overall record, Miami is playing some of its best hockey of 2021-22 entering the final week of the regular season.