For the Miami hockey program, Friday night’s game at Bowling Green was starred on the schedule.
No, it wasn’t a National Collegiate Hockey Conference game, but it was a rivalry contest, and on the line was a chance to sweep the RedHawks’ college hockey brethren in Ohio for the season.
Miami took that chance and ran with it, scoring the final four goals and dominating territory on the way to a 4-1 victory over the No. 19 Falcons in front of 4,025 Friday night in the BGSU Ice Arena.
Miami — which swept Ohio State in October and won the first contest vs. the Falcons on Jan. 16 in Oxford — was led by Buckeye State natives as well. The line of Columbus-area products Sean Kuraly, Kiefer Sherwood, and Jack Roslovic was key, with Kuraly scoring the game-winner in the second period and Sherwood adding an important tally in the third.
“We said it in the locker room, we put extra emphasis on these games,” said the Kuraly. “They’re huge. If you want to stay relevant, you have to beat the teams that are close to you. We put a mark next to those four games every single year. If you can get all four, you’re doing some things right.”
Not only was it a clean sweep of its Ohio rivals on the year for Miami, the RedHawks (12-13-3) moved a step closer to .500, won their sixth of eight games, and edged closer to the PairWise line.
“I think we’re getting there,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said of the team’s recent run of form. “I think we’re competing hard, we’re getting pucks into areas and being smart with the puck. I think we’re managing the puck well, I should say. I think we’re playing some good, hard-nosed defense and we’re working hard.”
On the other side, the disappointment was real for Bowling Green coach Chris Bergeron. Not only did the former Miami player and coach fall to 1-11-1 against his former school as the Falcons boss, he watched his team get outshot, 49-22.
“I just think they were hungrier than we were,” Bergeron said. “They wanted it a lot more than we did. No matter what sport it is, when one team wants it more than the other, that’s what you get. It may not look as lopsided being a 4-1 game with an empty-net goal, but it was a lopsided game. The shots talked about how lopsided it was.
“I think they wanted it more than we did, and for me that’s really hard to swallow.”
It wasn’t the start for the Falcons (16-10-6) that did them in, as senior Mark Cooper had a breakaway within the first minute, though it was turned aside by Miami netminder Jay Williams.
Bowling Green even drew first blood later in the frame on the power play, one of three in the period for the Falcons, as Brent Tate tipped Sean Walker’s slap shot from the left point past Williams to make it 1-0 at 11:42 of the first.
However, things started to go south for the Falcons in the second as their penalties mounted, and there was no surviving an extended five-on-three midway through the frame. With Tyler Spezia in the box for holding and John Schilling joining him for charging the goaltender on a short-handed breakaway, Miami converted at 12:37 when Anthony Louis took Josh Melnick’s pass in the low right circle and unleashed a one-timer off the short-side post and into the net behind BG’s Chris Nell.
Nell, who made a career-high 45 saves and was termed the lone bright spot for the Falcons by Bergeron, had turned aside multiple odd-man rushes to that point, but the goal turned the tide for the RedHawks.
“I thought we stuck together,” Blasi said. “I thought we kept pushing, and that five-on-three goal was huge. We got the momentum from that.”
Kuraly put the winner past Nell minutes later at 15:15 of the second, as Scott Dornbrock’s shot from the center point pinballed off Kuraly’s shin pad and into the net.
BG’s Matt Pohlkamp stuffed a rebound off the post early in the third, but there wasn’t much else going for the Falcons in the frame before Miami tidied things up in the final minutes. Sherwood chopped home the rebound of a Kuraly shot at 13:51 to make it 3-1, and senior defenseman Matthew Caito scored an empty-netter from the neutral zone with 1:47 to play to send the home fans streaming to the exits.
“It was fun out there,” Blasi said of the rivalry aspect. “The crowd is into it. We had some fans come down. That’s the way it should be. Those are the nights that make college hockey special.”