Having lost Game 1 of its best-of-3 series, Miami faced the Hurculean task of beating Denver twice in a row on the Pioneers’ home ice to extend its season.
Within 3 1/2 minutes of the first period, any hope that the RedHawks could possibly push their first-round NCHC Tournament matchup to a rubber game were blown a mile high.
No. 3 Denver netted three goals in the first 204 seconds of its 7-2 drubbing of Miami at Magness Arena on Saturday, ending MU’s 2022-23 campaign.
The RedHawks — who have won one game this calendar year — finished this season 0-6 against the Pioneers and were outscored, 35-6 in those contests.
RECAP: Denver’s Casey Dornbach, Aidan Thompson and Owen Ozar all found the net before the first media timeout.
Miami (8-24-4) did answer at the 6:11 mark of the opening frame when Max Dukovac had a shot blocked, corralled his own rebound, fired another shot that hit traffic, and Ryan Savage was able to bang home the loose puck.
But the Pioneers (30-8) blew it open with goals by Shai Buium in the closing minutes of that frame and Tristan Lemyre and Lucas Olvestad early in the second period, chasing Miami goalie Ludvig Persson from the game and Miami from the tournament field.
The RedHawks’ Artur Turansky buried a wrister from the slot to cut the deficit to four with 3:54 left in the middle stanza, but DU’s Jack Devine capped off the scoring with time winding down in regulation.
STATS: Savage’s goal was his sixth of the season, as he finished fourth on the team in that category.
Turansky snapped a 13-game goal drought and ended his freshman campaign with four markers.
Dukovac picked up assists in the final three games of 2022-23.
Matthew Barbolini earned his 15th helper and ran away with the team points lead with 25.
Defenseman Alex Murray also notched an assist, his third of the season and his career.
— Miami lost its seventh straight NCHC first-round series and is 1-13 in the conference tournament since 2015 including eight consecutive losses.
— MU is currently last in Division I in goals allowed (137), and its 3.81 goals-against-per-game clip ranks Miami 63rd out of 65 teams ahead of only Lindenwood and Stonehill, both first-year D-1 programs without conference affiliation.
— The RedHawks, who had been very good on the penalty kill much of the winter, were 4-for-10 (40.0 percent) on the PK in its final three games, allowing five power play goals this weekend.
THOUGHTS: There are more stats that convert to prose, but the point is: It was another unfortunate end to another unsuccessful season for Miami hockey.
That’s eight straight losing seasons, seven in a row with a sub-.400 winning percentage and three consecutive campaigns in which the RedHawks have finished below .300.
Some RedHawks played with intensity in this game but not enough, not for 60 minutes. Miami needed a maximum effort for three periods to have any chance to get back into this series but gave itself no chance by starting the game at 6:15 local time when Denver began on time at 6:07.
We’ll say it for the 811th time this season: What’s so frustrating about this team is it appeared to have addressed its shortcomings from 2021-22, at least in the first three months of the schedule.
Way better forward depth. Shut down D-men. A veteran third netminder and a healthy No. 2.
To see what was capable when all of its cogs were working in concert was impressive. To see what this team was capable of and watch Miami finish with eight wins including three in league play was much less impressive.
LINEUP CHANGES: None, although Savage was a game-time decision and Persson ended up being pulled in favor of Logan Neaton for the stretch run.
Neaton stopped 12 of 13 shots in relief.
SUMMARY: As mentioned above, the biggest frustration with this team was its record vs. its augmented talent level.
The biggest question it leaves us with it: What in the name of Matt Shegos happened between New Year’s Eve and Miami’s first series of 2023?
Even with a slow start in league play at that point, the RedHawks headed into their Dec. 31 home game vs. Niagara at 7-10-2. Not great, but considering MU won seven games all of 2021-22, we’ll take it.
Miami won one game after that. The RedHawks were 1-16-2 the rest of the season, starting with its 5-4 New Year’s Eve home loss on a decisive goal in the closing seconds.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of college hockey is watching kids get better over a (usually) four-year period. The final three months of 2022-23, it seemed like very few players showed improvement.
And that’s factoring in a tougher NCHC schedule the second half of the season, of course.
(SIDE NOTE: Colorado College faced the same difficult slate and was somehow able to upset Western Michigan in the first round of the NCHC Tournament this weekend.)
Miami’s final winning percentage was .278, up from .222 last season against a tougher non-conference schedule.
So while it’s inaccurate to say the RedHawks didn’t improve, it’s completely fair to conclude that Miami should have improved a lot more.