BOWLING GREEN, Ohio — In their first game since the burial of former team manager Brendan Burke, the Miami RedHawks clinched the CCHA regular season title with a 3-2 win over Bowling Green.
“I’m extremely proud of the guys, we’ve had a tough week for obvious reasons,” Miami head coach Enrico Blasi said. “We wanted to accomplish this right from the get-go and it feels good tonight.”
Burke was killed in a car crash on Feb. 5 and the wake was held Monday in Canton, Mass. with the entire Miami hockey team in attendance.
Prior to the game both teams observed a moment of silence in remembrance, and Miami wore black patches on their uniforms with the initials “BB.”
Despite the emotional week the top ranked RedHawks continued their tear through the CCHA, clinching the regular season title after holding off the last place Falcons.
Jarod Palmer had two goals and an assist, including the game winner which took a strange bounce of Bowling Green goalie Andrew Hammond’s blocker fluttered in the air and finally bounced into the net with 3:23 remaining.
“I thought it was going to bounce over the net and then when I saw it drop in I just couldn’t believe it,” Palmer said.
“It went off my blocker straight up into the air and after that I think I was the only person who didn’t know where it was,” Hammond said.
In a game that on paper should have been a blowout for Miami, proved to be a hard fought game that wasn’t settled until the final whistle blew.
It didn’t take long for Miami to get on the board as Palmer deflected a shot between Hammond and the right post just 3:59 into the game.
Palmer and his teammates came close to doubling their lead several times in the first period, as they fired 11 shots on Hammond who was making his first start in over a month.
“I felt good this whole time, I’ve been working hard in practice and it didn’t really affect me,” Hammond said of the extended period between starts.
While Bowling Green only had five shots in the opening period, they did have several solid scoring chances as Tommy Dee was stopped twice on pseudo-breakaways and Jordan Samuel-Thomas came within inches of tipping a one-handed shot past Miami goalie Cody Reichard.
With their inability to score in the first period, Bowling Green had pushed their scoreless streak to six straight periods dating back to a 2-1 loss to Michigan, however that mark would end just 16 seconds into the second period as James Perkin tied the game at one.
Perkin collected his own rebound on the right side of the Miami net and shoveled a backhanded shot over a diving Reichard who struggled to control the initial shot.
Bowling Green almost picked up the lead at the halfway point of the second period, but Dee couldn’t knock a bouncing puck into the seemingly empty net on the power play.
About four minutes after Dee’s close-in attempt, Miami almost scored on the other end but a sprawling glove save by Hammond denied the two-on-one attempt.
Miami finally regained the lead with 58 seconds remaining in the period when Chris Wideman’s shot through traffic found its way past Hammond for a power play goal.
“That was huge, BG played a great game tonight and it could have gone either way,” Blasi said. “For us to get that goal going into the third that was huge.”
Bowling Green tied the game at two 6:02 into the third period as Kyle Page’s shot from the point was tipped by Kai Kantola into Miami net.
Moment later Dee had another golden chance, as he beat his defender one-on-one with a toe drag but couldn’t find the back of the net.
“Diesel [Dee] worked hard, you’ve got kind and reign him a little bit,” Bowling Green coach Dennis Williams said of Dee who had a team-high six shots. “He competes with the best of them and he’ll do whatever it takes.”
Back-and-forth action continued for the rest of the third period as the teams traded chances.
With 9:02 remaining a fluttering puck bounced off of Hammond and two Falcon defenders before it fell safely inches wide of the right post.
Four minutes later Bowling Green came close as Tomas Petruska rang a wrist shot off the mask of Reichard.
The two teams will complete the series Saturday at 5:05 p.m. in the BGSU Ice Arena.