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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum News Service , Published March 21 2014

UND men's hockey team suffers significant setback against Miami

MINNEAPOLIS – The University of North Dakota men’s hockey team played Western Michigan two weeks ago with the Penrose Cup on the line.

This afternoon, they will meet again, and the stakes will be even higher for UND.

After Friday night’s 3-0 loss against Miami (Ohio) in the semifinals of National Collegiate Hockey Conference Frozen Faceoff, its season is on the line today when it meets the Broncos in a third-place game at 3:38 p.m. in the Target Center.

In order to keep the longest streak of NCAA tournament appearances in the nation alive (12 years), UND will need to beat the Broncos – and get some help in championship games in other leagues. Wisconsin needs to beat Ohio State in the Big Ten championship and UMass-Lowell needs to beat New Hampshire in the Hockey East final.

If that doesn’t happen, UND will be at home during the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002.

“That’s playoff hockey,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “There’s always an awful lot on the line, and there is that tomorrow. You focus on the things that you can control. We’re going to focus on getting ready mentally and physically for tomorrow. And that will be the case. We will be mentally and physically ready.”

After a 4-7-2 start, UND made a surprising 15-2-1 run to bring the team into contention. But the team is now 3-4 in its last seven games, scoring a combined four goals in the four losses.

Miami, meanwhile, has started to look like the national contender everyone expected to see in the preseason. After a shocking last-place finish, the RedHawks swept league champion St. Cloud State in the first round of the NCHC playoffs and will now play for the league’s first playoff title against Denver at 7:38 tonight.

Miami goaltender Ryan McKay, who was shelled in a 9-2 RedHawks loss in Ralph Engelstad Arena just over a month ago, was a completely different player in the Target Center, stopping all 32 shots he faced. McKay was also aided when Mark MacMillan and linemate Michael Parks both missed open-net chances in the opening two frames.

McKay helped to keep the announced crowd of 9,113 – heavily partisan toward UND – out of the game.

“It was obviously a real good game for us,” Miami coach Rico Blasi said. “Ryan made some huge saves for us when we needed them. We had some timely goals, some timely bounces. I thought we did a good job keeping them to the outside for the most part.

“Sometimes you’ve got to have a little faith in your team. A month ago, I don’t think any of you guys would have picked us to be in that position. Guys stayed with each other and we’re going to the championship game tomorrow night.”

The RedHawks scored on goal in each period to move to 15-19-3 overall.

In the first period, UND had time to get the puck out of the zone, but a pass was intercepted by Miami defenseman Matt Caito just inside the blue line. Caito fed Blake Coleman in the high slot. The junior forward ripped a wrist shot in the corner of the net to make it 1-0.

The RedHawks added a big goal with 27 seconds left in the second period. After an icing on UND defenseman Jordan Schmaltz, Miami had an offensive zone faceoff and it made UND pay. Coleman won the draw to Austin Czarnik, who sniped one off the post to make it 2-0.

At 6:13 of the third period, Riley Barber fed Anthony Louis in the high slot and Louis sniped it to make it 3-0.

“I thought we were OK,” MacMillan said. “It’s a disappointing finish for us. It’s not the outcome we wanted. But tonight’s over. We’ve got to look forward to tomorrow.”

FIRST PERIOD: 1, M, Cokeman (Caito), 11:24 (pp).

SECOND PERIOD: 2, M, Czarnik (Coleman), 19:33.

THIRD PERIOD: 3, M, Louis (Barber), 6:13.

SAVES: UND, Gothberg 8-8-9—25. : M, McKay 14-8-10—32.

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald