OXFORD — On three separate occasions during Miami (Ohio)’s sweep of the Michigan hockey team this weekend, a worst-case scenario manifested itself: back-to-back penalties resulting in a 5-on-3.
And all three times, the offending team breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
The Wolverines killed 5-on-3 RedHawk power-plays in each game. Miami’s penalty-killers overcame their two-man disadvantage during Saturday night’s second period. Each 5-on-3 lasted more than one minute.
While the circumstances were equally dire for both teams, there was a huge disparity in execution.
Senior and sophomore goaltenders Billy Sauer and Brian Hogan were put under relentless pressure throughout both of Miami’s 5-on-3 chances. In Friday’s first period, Sauer stopped two point-blank shots while sprawled out on his hands and knees. After Michigan committed penalties 12 seconds apart, Sauer overcame his nerves and kept the game scoreless during a chaotic 1:48 sequence.
“At first, I was like, ‘Oh crap, this is going to suck,’ ” Sauer said Friday. “I just had to take it one shot at a time. (Miami) has one of the top power plays in the country.”
The scene repeated itself in Saturday’s first period with Hogan in net. The Highland native was peppered with shots while Redhawk players tried to screen him. But Hogan was solid, deflecting pucks and keeping Miami at bay.
Michigan’s extra-man attack, a unit that has shown marked improvement in the past three weeks, squandered its 5-on-3 opportunity in Saturday’s second period. The Wolverines appeared tentative throughout the 1:25 two-man advantage, cycling passes along the boards and blue-line, but not attacking RedHawk goalie Connor Knapp.
Miami also managed to get to loose pucks and clear them several times as crucial seconds ticked away. During its 5-on-3, Michigan’s power-play lines looked nothing like the group that had tallied eight goals in its previous seven games entering Saturday.
Costly penalties: The RedHawks’ two-man advantage Saturday resulted from a checking-from-behind penalty by sophomore center Matt Rust.
During a first-period battle for the puck along the boards, Rust nailed a Miami player, who went headfirst into the glass. Rust was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct. The Bloomfield Hills native, a key penalty killer and faceoff man, vehemently protested his ejection to the official as he left the ice.
With 3:29 remaining in the third period Saturday and Michigan down by a goal, freshman defenseman Greg Pateryn met a RedHawk in the slot trying to handle a pass and threw an elbow in his face. Forced to play in their own zone and without a skater late in the contest, Michigan’s offense couldn’t get into a rhythm.
Let’s not get carried away: Sweeping the No. 9 team in the nation, and outplaying them both nights, had to do wonders for Miami’s confidence. Some even think the pair of victories, spurred by key goals and saves from underclassmen, could spring the RedHawks to historic heights.
A reporter asked Miami coach Enrico Blasi Saturday if the RedHawks’ talented youth are pushing Miami “that much closer to being able to establish yourself as a true dynasty.”
Blasi, in his 10th season at the helm in Oxford, is already in the upper echelon of college hockey coaches. He received national coach of the year honors in 2006 after leading Miami to its second CCHA regular season title in program history. Blasi has led the RedHawks to four NCAA tournament berths.
But with Miami yet to make its first Frozen Four appearance, Blasi knows his program is a few national titles away from earning the D-word moniker.
“Those are questions that are not for us to answer.” Blasi said. “We have to live it every day. Those are questions that come down, hopefully, 100 years from now, when they start putting your name on a box.”
Strong between the pipes: Michigan coach Red Berenson has said that all you can ask of your goaltender is to give the rest of the team a chance.
Sauer and Hogan lived up to their end of the bargain in Oxford, surrendering just two goals apiece and stopping 57 of 61 shots against what was the CCHA’s top offense entering the weekend.