RedHawks split series with Western Michigan
It was a battle for first place this weekend in Kalamazoo Mich., as the Miami University men's hockey team split its series against Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) foe Western Michigan University.
The No. 3 RedHawks (18-7-5, 13-5-4-4 CCHA) fell Friday night in a 2-0 shutout loss to the No. 6 ranked Western Michigan. The Broncos found the back of the net just 3:31 seconds into the contest on a low shot from sophomore defender Jordan Oesterle, who beat Jay Williams as the freshman goalie was screened. Western Michigan extended its lead late in the second period when junior forward Chase Balisy took advantage of a 4-on-3 power play situation, which was all the Broncos needed.
Junior netminder Frank Slubowsky turned aside all 32 shots he faced on the evening, including 13 in the final frame alone to keep the goose egg on the scoreboard and give his team possession of first place in the CCHA. The shutout marked the fifth time on the season that Miami has been held scoreless through three periods. Williams was handed just his fifth loss in 19 games, and he managed to record a healthy 21 saves. The youngster maintains a .930 save percentage and a 1.78 goals against average (GAA), which is good for 12th and eighth in Division 1 goaltending standings, respectively.
The RedHawks outshot the Broncos 32 to 23 and went 0-for-5 on the man advantage. Though they went 4-for-5 on the penalty kill, the majority of those infractions came late in the game as the Red and White were trying to rally.
"We took a couple undisciplined penalties there in the third," Head Coach Enrico Blasi said of his team's late-game effort Friday night. "Obviously it's pretty loud in here and gets pretty crazy, and you've got to keep your composure. I thought we lost it a little bit. You can't kill three penalties in a row and expect to get back in the game."
The 'Hawks tightened up their game, as they played inspired hockey on Saturday evening. Freshman forward Riley Barber quieted the fans at Lawson Ice Arena halfway through the first period, deflecting the puck past Slubowsky off of a shot that was rifled from the stick of freshman defenseman Taylor Richart. The goal marked Barber's twelfth on the year, tops on the Miami roster.
Senior forward Curtis McKenzie extended the Miami lead 2:39 into the second session on the power play, redirecting a Barber shot through the goalie's five-hole.
The RedHawks lit the lamp two more times, as junior forward Max Cook and senior forward Mark Hagel concluded the scoring, bringing the final score to 4-0. Ten members of the Miami squad recorded points on the night.
Goaltender Ryan McKay recorded 29 saves en route to his third shutout of the year. It could be argued that the freshman is the best in division one hockey, as he ranks first nationally in both GAA and save percentage. He's averaging .98 goals allowed per game, and boasts an incredible .964 save percentage through 12 starts.
McKay said his team learned a lot about themselves and what the best of the CCHA has to offer.
"We're a gutsy group of guys, I can tell you that much," McKay said. "You've got to give Western Michigan credit, they're a great team and their building is not an easy one to play in by any means. To come out with the energy we had and fixing our game plan on Saturday, I think that was a great credit to our team."
Though the win was a big one, Barber knows it will take this kind of performance to keep Miami on top.
"It shows we're a team to be reckoned with," Barber said. "That was [Western Michigan's] first loss at home in the CCHA. I think we proved a lot to other teams, and we've got to, every weekend, keep knocking teams off to stay in first place."
Miami returns to home ice for a 7:35 p.m. game Friday, Feb. 15 at the Goggin Ice Center, as it hosts CCHA rival Notre Dame in a contest that will be televised nationally on CBS Sports Network. The two teams will then travel to Chicago to participate in the first Hockey City Classic, an outdoor event featuring two marquee matchups comprised of four top-20 teams. Miami and Notre Dame will face off again at noon on Feb. 17.
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