PITTSBURGH - Freshman goaltender Jay Williams stopped all 29 shots he faced and the No. 5 Miami hockey team scored a third-period goal to overcome a slow start as the RedHawks topped Ohio State, 1-0, Friday night at CONSOL Energy Arena in the inaugural Three Rivers Classic. With the win, Miami (12-3-4) improved to 2-0-1 this year against the Buckeyes (7-7-5), facing OSU for the third straight time, and also moved on to Saturday night's championship game of the Three Rivers Classic against host Robert Morris.
The shutout was the RedHawks' fourth of the season and the second of Williams' career, as the rookie netminder kept Miami in the contest over the first 40 minutes. He made 23 of his 29 saves during the first two periods, as the 'Hawks were outshot 23-12 over that span.
"This is nothing new to us. We see Jay, and I'll throw Ryan McKay in as well. We see these two guys go at each other every day in practice. This is nothing surprising to us," Miami head coach Enrico Blasi said. "Now you still have to play the games. Jay's done an unbelievable job. Ryan got hurt earlier in the season, Jay had to carry the mail. He's the reason why we're at where we're at now. He continues to work hard."
Senior forward Curtis McKenzie scored the contest's only goal just 14 seconds into the final frame, as Miami controlled the last period of play with a 14-6 shot advantage, but was still outshot by Ohio State, 29-26, for the game.
As was the trend in the teams' first two meetings two weeks ago in Columbus, there was little offense in the opening period. Just minutes in, OSU pushed a rebound past Williams, who reached back with his stick to make the initial save on a 2-on-1 break, but the referee blew the play dead before the puck crossed the line. The Buckeyes nearly scored again on a breakaway but Williams made a pair of leg pad saves from his stomach to keep the game scoreless.
OSU had another chance seven minutes into the second stanza as Ryan Dzingel went on a breakaway after a Miami turnover at the blue line but Williams denied him to keep the Buckeyes off the board. The RedHawks also killed a pair of Ohio State power plays in the frame, including a 4-on-3 kill, as the teams went into the third period still deadlocked at 0-0.
Miami finally broke the scoreless contest early in the third period when McKenzie scored his sixth goal of the year and second against OSU this season. Sophomore forward Jimmy Mullin skated into the offensive zone along the boards and carried the puck behind the net for a wrap-around attempt. His shot was denied but the rebound popped loose in the crease and McKenzie stormed down the middle of the ice to slam home the puck for the game-winning goal. Sophomore forward Austin Czarnik earned the second assist on the play.
"I thought Ohio State played great. I thought the first 40 minutes they were the better team in fact. If it wasn't for Jay, they might have been up one or two and maybe we were out of the game," Blasi said. "We seemed to find our legs in the third period. McKenzie scored the big goal right off the bat. I think that gave us a lot of energy and then we started to play our game, which was nice to see."
With 1:08 remaining in the contest, the Buckeyes pulled goaltender Brady Hjelle, who finished with 25 saves, in favor of the extra attacker. The RedHawks used good shot blocking and defense to clear the puck out of the zone each time OSU tried to set up offensively, however, as Miami closed out the win.
Both teams went 0-for-2 on the power play, with both of OSU's coming in the second stanza and Miami's coming in the final period.
The RedHawks play for Three Rivers Classic championship Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at CONSOL Energy Center, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins, against the host Colonials. Robert Morris defeated Penn State, 6-0, in Friday's first semifinal game.