It took a period and a half, but Miami erased a three-goal deficit Saturday. Unfortunately for the RedHawks, Niagara spoiled the comeback by regaining the lead with just 20 seconds left.
In the final game of the calendar year, the Purple Eagles edged Miami, 5-4 at Cady Arena, salvaging a series split in the first-ever set of games between these teams.
The RedHawks (7-11-2) are off next week and will travel to Denver for a series against the defending national champions on Jan. 13-14. Following those contests, MU will bus to Omaha for a two-game set against the Mavericks before returning home to host North Dakota.
RECAP: At the 7:05 mark of the opening period, Niagara (10-6-2) forward Casey Carreau stole the puck in the corner and centered it to a wide-open Carter Randklev for a slam-dunk one-timer in the slot.
Ryan Naumovski took a feed in the slot off a turnover, juked left and beat Miami goalie Ludvig Persson with 7:01 left in the frame, giving the Purple Eagles a 2-0 lead.
NU extended its margin to three on a shorthanded goal by Albin Nilsson, who stole the puck at the blue line, skated in alone and roofed a backhander with 11 seconds left in the frame.
Off the ensuing faceoff, the RedHawks’ Hampus Rydqvist whipped a pass through the neutral zone to a streaking Joey Cassetti, who skated in with a defender on his back and tucked a backhander under goalie Chad Veltri to make it 3-1 with two seconds left until first intermission.
Miami pulled to within one when John Waldron skated from the blue line to the side of the net, eluding multiple defenders before shoveling a pass across the top of the crease to a wide-open Matthew Barbolini for an easy marker at the 3:38 mark of the second period.
Niagara re-established a two-goal lead less than four minutes later when a Miami defensive-zone clearing attempt was batted into the air by Lars Rodne, and Ryan Cox’s baseball swing on the floating puck beat Persson.
The RedHawks made it 4-3 just 2:15 after that goal when Ryan Savage stepped into a hard wrister and beat Veltri top shelf with 11:40 left in the middle stanza.
Miami completed the comeback with 10:56 left in regulation, as P.J. Fletcher fed a pass through traffic to Artur Turansky, who skated into the slot and picked the top right corner with a wrist shot.
But Niagara won it with time running out, as Shane Ott corralled a loose puck behind the net and centered it to a wide-open Nilsson, who jammed it in from the top of the crease.
STATS: Barbolini has scored in three straight games and is just the third RedHawk to do that this season, joining Waldron and Cassetti.
Waldron’s streak actually ended in this game, as he fed Barbolini for his goal.
Both are riding four-game points streaks, as Waldron has five goals and two assists in that span and Barbolini is 3-3-6.
— Turansky finished with a goal and an assist for his first career multi-point game. Rydqvist went 0-2-2, recording multiple points for the second time this season.
— Cassetti found the net for the second time in three games. Ryan Savage snapped a 13-game goal drought.
— Fletcher picked up his fourth assist in three games and Axel Kumlin also notched a helper, his second in three games.
— Miami did not take a penalty in this game. The last time a RedHawks opponent has not had a power play was Michigan State on Oct. 16, 2021 in East Lansing.
— It has been over four years since MU has scored at least four goals in three consecutive games. The last time the RedHawks accomplished that feat was Oct. 26-Nov. 2, 2018 vs. Colgate and Omaha.
THOUGHTS: Niagara and Miami seem pretty evenly matched, and the RedHawks had the better weekend, but the leak of defensive lapses from Friday elevated to a full-blown gush a night later.
Miami allowed four breakaways in the opener after giving up maybe that many all season to that point, and in this game the slot in front of Persson should’ve been covered with a ‘Welcome’ mat.
Depth, late implosions and shut-down defense were three of the top issues for Miami in 2021-22 and all have largely been addressed and corrected, so hopefully this weekend’s woes in that latter realm against a team the RedHawks have never faced before are an aberration.
It would not be in MU’s best interest to take a step backward defensively heading into Denver, which already beat the RedHawks soundly in Oxford.
— Somehow this loss was easier to accept before watching the replay of the decisive goal.
Both defensemen — Jack Clement and Dylan Moulton — were tying up one guy behind the net, then a third Niagara skater enters the general area and Fletcher also skates behind the blue line, leaving three Purple Eagles in the offensive zone against two RedHawks freshman forwards who are still developing their defensive games.
Clement and Moulton weren’t linemates all game — Zane Demsey was on the top pairing, but he’s more of a shut-down specialist at this point.
With all of the experience out there a Niagara skater should not have been left alone in front of the net with time winding down.
Miami would’ve had the advantage in a 3-on-3 as well, with Waldron and Barbolini at the top of the ticket.
— As much of a gut-punch as this was, the RedHawks did have the no-penalty thing, although this crew that has not done games in Oxford in recent history didn’t call much. The teams combined for six man-advantages all weekend.
Miami had the only PPG, although it allowed a shorty nine seconds prior.
— Waldron, wow. Do yourself a favor: Even if you were at the game, watch the replay of Miami’s second goal. Waldron has played fewer than 20 Division I games and is already a top-two offensive threat on the team. He has seemingly gotten better every game for six weeks.
— Kudos to the Goggin Arena staff for one of the quickest turnaround times in rink history for a broken pane of glass. Play resumed less than 10 minutes after a hard check shattered the glass near the Niagara penalty box. Check back in 24 hours for photographic evidence.
LINEUP CHANGES: On defense, Michael Feenstra and Robby Drazner were scratched, with Nick Donato and Alex Murray dressing in their place.
Donato was badly missed, as he was out six games with an upper-body injury. Murray was in the lineup for the fifth time in seven contests.
All 12 forwards from Friday skated again on Friday and Persson was again in net.
STANDINGS: The latest PairWise has Miami tied with Union (remember when that team was really good just a couple year ago?) and Maine for No. 39.
FORWARDS: A-. The puck movement — and that includes defensemen at the points — was exceptional much of the night. The thing that’s so encouraging is the number of freshmen in this corps that are continuing to improve at a clip that reminds one of a 1980s Timbuk3 song. The veterans came up big as well, with Cassetti, Barbolini and Savage all finding the net. This success came despite Red Savage (World Juniors) and Blake Mesenburg (undisclosed) being out of the lineup. Savage should be back for the road trip, Mesenburg should be back for the North Dakota series at the latest.
DEFENSEMEN: C-. Too much pinching and too few results. The starting seven D-men had combined for 24 points this season entering Saturday, and only two had more than three in 2022-23. Does this really seem like a team that should have its blueliners regularly jump into the play? Niagara’s fourth goal was on a strip of Axel Kumlin at the side of the net, although the shot probably should’ve been stopped.
GOALTENDING: D+. Persson wasn’t on top of his game all weekend. His typically-exceptional rebound control was way off, and he should’ve made at least one save on the Grade-A chances. Plus the fourth goal squirted through his legs off the turnover.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Hockey seasons experience extreme highs and lows, but despite the disappointing end to 2022, Miami has as many wins this season as it had in all is 2021-22.
And that’s against a tougher schedule. Ferris State and Michigan State are better than they were last year, and the RedHawks split with a ranked UMass Lowell team on the road. Both Buffalo-area schools were good as well.
Remember last season Miami played Long Island and Mercyhurst — with three of the four games in Oxford — and split both sets.
This team has won in Lowell, in Grand Forks and on home ice against top-10 elite St. Cloud State.
Regardless of this less-than-ideal loss, 2022 — at least the last three months — has been good for Miami, as this team shows plenty of promise for 2023 and well beyond.