OXFORD, Ohio — The Miami RedHawks came into Friday nights game with the Northern Michigan Wildcats knowing that a win would not be an easy thing to come by. Although the RedHawks were sitting pretty as the second-best team in the CCHA and had already clinched a bye for the first round of the CCHA tournament in March, the Wildcats had a bevy of upsets already this season and were poised to strike again.
To wit, Walt Kyles team had big wins over Michigan and Ohio State. Northern Michigan was also the only team to sweep Wisconsin at the Kohl Center this season.
NMU was able to strike first, with Justin Florek netting a goal against Cody Reichard with just over four minutes remaining in the first period. The goal gave Northern their first lead since they beat Bowling Green on February 7.
Floreks tally came off of assists from Mark Oliver and Phil Fox on the goal. As the final seconds of the period ticked down, the Wildcats Brian Stewart was caught out of position by Miamis Gary Steffes, but Steffes sent the puck wide-left and the RedHawks remained down one as the period ended.
Stewart was a human highlight reel for the Wildcats, stopping nearly everything that came his way finishing the night with 43 saves on 44 shots. Stewarts athleticism and quick moves saved the Wildcats from disaster multiple times.
Hes the heartbeat of our team right now, said NMU assistant coach Rob Facca. We go as he goes.
The second period started out fast when Miamis Vincent Loverde took a check and went flying into Stewart, taking the goalie out along with the goal itself. The hit was powerful enough to send Stewart to the face-off circle in Northerns defensive zone.
Shortly after play resumed, Miamis Justin Mercier clanked a shot off of the crossbar. Miami, who had outshot the Wildcats all night, couldnt buy a goal the way theyre shots were going on Friday. Stewart and his team of defensemen would not let the RedHawks get a good shot off, and when they did it was deflected by either a player or a post.
Northern Michigan however kept plugging away at the vulnerable RedHawk defense. Jared brown was able to put up a goal of his own after snaking a rebound away from Reichard after he had stopped Billy Smiths breakaway attempt. Brown slapped the rebound in with just over 10 minutes left in the second period.
I thought it was a good hockey game, said Miami head coach Enrico Blasi, they executed on a couple more plays than we did.
With two minutes left in the second period, both teams exploded. After a few vicious hits were thrown by both teams, Miamis Justin Vaive and Northerns Nick Sirota decided to try to let their fists work things out, but much damage was done by either player the officials were able to pull the two skaters off of one another and send them both to the box for roughing after the whistle. As the period came to an end Northern Michigan still held the upper hand with Miami trailing 2-0 after two.
The RedHawks were out shooting their opponents 29-14, but had nothing to show for the effort.
The final frame started quietly.
The action on the ice was consistent with how both teams had played all night. Miami was unable to find a good shot. The RedHawks were able to put themselves on the board however with a goal by Vaive off of assists from Pat Cannone and Bill Loupee. The goal cut the lead to one and got the fans in Steve Cady Arena at the Goggin Ice Center on their feet.
The effort from Vaive and company suddenly injected the Miami fans with new life as the previously silent RedHawk faithful turned wild attempting to break the spirit of Stewart. However, Stewart stoned the RedHawks cold for the rest of the night, silencing the usually rowdy RedHawk student section.
I thought the effort was there, said Blasi. Obviously their goaltender played well and we had a couple of miscues.