Windy City grounds 'Hawks in split series
Excluding the Frozen Four, it was arguably the biggest college hockey event of the year. More than 52,000 fans attended, a plurality of which were Miami faithful. But when the final horn sounded for the first matchup in Chicago's Hockey City Classic, the RedHawk hockey team found themselves on the wrong side of a 2-1 contest at the 50 yard line of historic Soldier Field.
"It was a great atmosphere out there," head coach Enrico Blasi said. "I think the people at Intersport did a great job of organizing the event. Unfortunately, we didn't play our best, and Notre Dame played really well ... they took it to us, and we just didn't have an answer for it. We weren't ourselves because of what they were doing to us, so all credit goes to Notre Dame."
Two nights prior, the exact opposite was true. Miami, now 19-8-5 overall and 14-6-4-4 in conference play, controlled the majority of their first clash with Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) rival Notre Dame. The Red and White secured a first-round bye and second round home ice advantage in the upcoming CCHA tournament, while maintaining sole possession atop the league standings.
Friday saw the No. 3 RedHawks and the No. 12 Fighting Irish duke it out in a scoreless first frame and a half until the tie was broken by senior captain Steven Spinell. The defenseman registered his first goal of the season on a laser of a shot from the point with 6:36 remaining in the second period. Senior forward Curtis McKenzie and freshman forward Kevin Morris assisted on the play.
"We weren't getting anything going in the first," Spinell said. "We were working hard, but you get a break, the puck goes in and the building erupts."
Just thirty seconds later, the Goggin Ice Center swelled to an even higher decibel when sophomore forward Blake Coleman looked off linemate Jimmy Mullin during a 2-on-1 rush, freezing junior goaltender Steven Summerhays as he buried his seventh goal of the year, and a beauty at that.
Notre Dame cut the deficit in half with a late third period tally, but senior Marc Hagel ended any hope of a comeback with an empty net goal in the final period, securing the 3-1 victory. Freshman netminder Ryan McKay turned aside all but one of the 21 shots he faced, adding to his already-impressive numbers with win number eight of his freshman campaign.
A late night bus ride ensued after the game, and a light practice in 14-degree weather was held on Saturday for players and coaches alike to take in the venue and experience. After that, it was all business as the RedHawks turned their attention to the outdoor game, one in which choppy ice and sunny conditions affected the overall tempo.
"We both had to deal with [the conditions]," Blasi said of Sunday's setup. "I think they found a way to make plays and they had better energy, a little bit more jump, if you will."
Indeed, the Fighting Irish, who ran a militant, professional practice the prior afternoon, looked fresher and more alive. They dominated play in the first two periods and adapted to the unfriendly ice surface more readily, capitalizing on a broken faceoff play in Miami's zone to notch the opening tally in the second period. The Golden Domers extended the lead to 2-0 halfway through the third off of a well-timed rebound, as freshman forward Mario Lucia and junior forward Jeff Costello found the back of the net in that order, respectively. The RedHawks came alive in twilight of the third period on an unlikely goal by freshman forward Kevin Morris, but that would be the extent of the comeback as Summerhays stopped 22 shots en route to the 2-1 win. Even in the wake of defeat, the Hockey City Classic is something the Miami program and those who are a part of it will cherish for the rest of the their lives.
"It was an incredible experience obviously, even though losing took away from it," sophomore forward Cody Murphy said of his first, and most likely only, outdoor competition. "But being from Chicago and being able to play in front of my family, it's something that I'll always remember, and I'm very, very fortunate to have an opportunity such as this."
The RedHawks take to the road again Friday, Feb. 22 as they head to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. , in a two-game series against the Lakers of Lake Superior State University, a team Miami is 1-1 against this year. The puck drops 7:35 p.m. Friday evening and 7:05 p.m. Saturday.
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