MINNEAPOLIS – Anthony Louis scored twice to set up another dramatic finish for the Miami hockey team, but Denver off a late surge to top the RedHawks, 4-3, in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Championship Game on Saturday night.
The RedHawks’ (15-20-3) four-game winning streak was snapped with the setback as they fell a single victory shy of going to the NCAA Tournament.
A Miami slashing penalty put Denver on the power play just 1:15 into the game. After an early shot by Ty Loney rang off the post, Ryan McKay made a nice stop on Trevor Moore’s chance from in close. With the power play nearing its end, Nolan Zajac ripped a slap shot from the point through traffic and in to put the Pioneers on top 1-0 at the 3:13 mark.
The Red and White earned a power play of their own with 15:17 left in the opening frame. MU created flurry at the end of the man advantage with Blake Coleman redirecting Matthew Caito’s shot through Sam Brittain, but wide of the net. The Pioneers killed off the RedHawks’ first power play with Brittain stopping all three of their shots.
DU (20-15-6) extended the lead to 2-0 with 6:12 to go in the first as Daniel Doremus followed his own rebound during a transition rush and tapped the puck in. The Pioneers got another chance to go on the attack with a power play late in the frame, but Ryan McKay came up with two quality saves on a Joey LaLeggia blast and a Zac Larraza wrist shot to keep Miami within two shots. Denver outshot Miami 10-6 in the first 20 minutes of play and skated to the dressing room leading 2-0.
After killing off the remainder of a carryover penalty, Miami started pressuring the Denver defense. Cody Murphy got the puck alone in the slot for a backhand shot that Brittain shrugged off with about three and a half minutes gone by and MU started spending more and more time in the DU zone.
Things slowed down from there and the Pioneers went on another power play with 11:23 left in the period, but the RedHawks’ special teams stood strong to keep it a two shot game.
Miami made good on its second power play of the night when the puck caromed off the glass behind the net right to Louis in the middle. His backhand shot beat Brittain top shelf for his 11th goal of the year, cutting the Pioneers’ lead to 2-1. Sean Kuraly and Alex Wideman garnered assists on the scoring play.
Kuraly evened things up with 3:52 to go in the period when he picked up a hard around clear at the half wall on the left side. The sophomore wasted little time, ripping a shot that eluded Brittain for his 12th goal of the season. That score rejuvenated the RedHawks and they began swarming in the offensive end. Alex Wideman nearly put the Red and White on top when his backhand went past Brittain up high, but it rang off the crossbar. Miami outshot Denver 10-7 in the second period and the teams entered the final regulation frame deadlocked in a 2-2 tie.
Denver regained the lead at 3-2 just 1:06 into the third period when Zac Larraza came down the right side, used the defense as a screen and scored. Ty Loney nearly made it 4-2 a couple minutes later when his wraparound attempt got behind McKay, but stayed out and the puck was whistled dead. A Miami turnover ended up in its net as Emil Romig converted Matt Marcinew’s centering feed from behind the goal line with 13:13 to go.
The Pioneers clogged things up defensively and were content to grind time off the clock with a two-goal lead. With time winding down, the RedHawks pulled McKay for an extra attacker. Miami made things interesting as Blake Coleman’s tip pass atop the DU crease found Louis with a wide open net for his second goal of the night. With 1:33 left, MU found life as Louis’ tally cut the gap to 4-3. Austin Czarnik also notched an assist on the play.
Down a goal, the Red and White mounted several quality chances as they looked for the tying strike. Louis got free at the right circle for a shot that Brittain looked behind him for, but ended up covering up for a whistle. Austin Czarnik got free from the left wing in the final minute, but the DU goalie gloved the shot to keep MU down. The RedHawks mounted one more push in the closing seconds, with Czarnik’s shot getting through traffic, but hitting Brittain in the pad. The Pioneers cleared the rebound to the corner to hold off the RedHawks’ furious comeback attempt.
Miami went 1-for-2 on the power play while Denver finished the night 1-for-3 with the man advantage. DU finished with a 28-26 advantage in shots on goal. Brittain finished up with 23 saves while McKay stopped 24 shots. Louis was named to the NCHC All-Tournament team after scoring three goals this weekend, he finished the NCHC Tournament with six points (4g, 2a) in four games. Kuraly tallied a multi-point game (1g, 1a) and finished the tournament with a team-high seven points.
While the season is at an end, the Red and White made history over the previous eight seasons. Miami won 20 or more games and made the NCAA Tournament a school-record eight-straight years after qualifying for the tournament only three times in the program’s history prior to that historic stretch.