RedHawks advance to CCHA Semifinals
Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 00:03
The No. 3 Miami University hockey team might have been one of nine squads nationwide that needed a third game to clinch its respective league tournament quarterfinal, but for the fourth year in a row it will be headed to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) Semifinals in Detroit, Mich.
As the top-seeded RedHawks (24-10-5) left the Goggin Ice Arena Friday night, there was a palpable dejection. The 3-0 loss to 11-seed Michigan State University (14-26-3) was fresh and the Brotherhood was suddenly on its heels in this best-of-3 series.
“They outplayed us from the beginning,” Head Coach Enrico Blasi said Friday night. “They won a lot of key battles and they got a couple goals up. They did a good job blocking shots and weren’t giving us second opportunities. [Freshman Jake] Hildebrand played well [in goal]. They did a great job.”
With renewed focus, the Red and White returned to action Saturday, and despite allowing a power play goal just 28 seconds into the contest, rallied with four straight goals to cruise to a 4-1 victory. Sophomore forward Austin Czarnik tallied the game winner and the final strike with his first of the night coming on the penalty kill, propelling him to a NCAA-leading four shorthand goals. Classmates Jimmy Mullin and Cody Murphy added one a piece as well. Freshmen forward Riley Barber and defenseman Matthew Caito picked up two assists each and senior defenseman Joe Hartman tallied a single assist, as did Murphy.
“We did a good job of attacking the net,” Czarnik said Saturday. “We got pucks to the net and won battles in front of the net. That was our key focus for today and we were successful with it.”
With the series on the line, the RedHawks came out with a purpose in Sunday’s Game Three, in the final CCHA game ever played at Steve Cady Arena. Miami jumped on the board first when Hildebrand mishandled the puck behind his net, serving up freshman forward Kevin Morris at the 15:03 of the first period, giving Miami its eighth short-handed goal on the season, second best in the nation.
“Luckily the goalie kind of served up a pizza for me,” Morris said. “But first goals are huge in games like this, and luckily we were able to pop one.”
Freshman forward Sean Kuraly found his stride as the game continued, recording his first multi-goal game of the season when it mattered most. His first strike came in the closing minutes of the first frame as he edged the defenseman down the right-hand boards and used his long reach to beat the goaltender to the far side.
But the Spartans would not go quietly, as Miami accrued four penalties in the span of four minutes in the second period. Going down 5-on-3 two separate times, the RedHawks killed all but one of the infractions to maintain a 2-1 lead heading into the third.
Feeding off of the fervent crowd reaction, Kuraly struck once more, corralling his own rebound and burying his second goal of the night. Czarnik put the icing on the cake with an empty net goal in the final seconds to make the final score 4-1.
“We’ve been in the right mindset all season,” Morris said. “It’s been a process and we’ve stuck to that process.”
The past two contests were ‘win or go home’ for the RedHawks, and Blasi noted it might have pushed to play some of their best hockey.
“I’m a big believer in everything happens for a reason,” Blasi said of his team’s early series loss. “As I said Friday night on my way out of here, ‘this happened for a reason.’ Sometimes you’re not privileged to those reasons. But it turned out that it helped us intensify our commitment to the team, to each other, to the type of game that we want to play and from here on in it’s a one game shot.”
Miami will face the University of Michigan in the CCHA Semifinals 4:35 p.m., March 23. Michigan stands at 17-18-3, but they might very well be the hottest team in the country right now. They’ve gone 7-0-1 in their last eight games, which will prove a mighty test for a young RedHawk squad.