OXFORD, Ohio - For the fourth straight year, the third-ranked and top-seeded Miami University hockey team will head to Detroit for the Central Collegiate Hockey Association Semifinals after it closed out its best-of-three CCHA Quarterfinal series with a hard-fought, 4-1 victory over No. 11-seed Michigan State in the decisive third game Sunday night at Steve Cady Arena. The RedHawks (24-10-5) won Saturday's game, 4-1, as well, after dropping the series opener to the Spartans (14-25-3), 3-0, on Friday.
Miami freshman forward Sean Kuraly recorded the first multi-goal game of his career Sunday, while classmate Kevin Morris and sophomore forward Austin Czarnik also found the back of the net. Senior defenseman Steven Spinell tallied two assists.
The RedHawks will face No. 7-seed Michigan in the semifinals on Saturday in Detroit at Joe Louis Arena. Semifinal game times are 1:05 p.m. and 4:35 p.m. though Miami's time slot has not yet been announced.
The Wolverines defeated No. 10-seed Northern Michigan in the opening round of the CCHA Tournament and swept No. 3-seed Western Michigan in the quarterfinals. No. 2-seed Notre Dame and No. 4-seed Ohio State will face off in the other semifinal matchup.
"This is the first senior class to go (to the CCHA Semifinals) all four years," Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. "It's not an easy place to get to and for them to be there all four years is quite an accomplishment."
The RedHawks opened the scoring Sunday with a short-handed goal at the 15:03 mark of the first period. Michigan State goalie Jake Hildebrand attempted to clear the puck behind his own net, but his shot hit the goal post instead. Morris, who was waiting near the crease, easily redirected the puck into the wide-open net. The short-handed goal was Miami's eighth of the season, which is second-most nationally behind Robert Morris' nine, while MU also scored short-handed Saturday night. It was Morris' seventh tally of the season and first short-handed.
Kuraly put the 'Hawks up 2-0 with 2:07 left in the opening frame, as he swooped through the right circle and ripped a hard wrist shot past Hildebrand. Kuraly ended a scoring slump, as his last goal came against Lake Superior on Dec. 7, 2012. Spinell and freshman forward Alex Gacek earned assists on the play.
"Michigan State played a great game tonight," Blasi said. "They came at us and we got a lucky bounce on the first goal. I thought the second was a great effort by Kuraly."
Hildebrand, who finished with nine saves and took the loss, was replaced with Will Yanakeff between the pipes before the start of the second period.
The Spartans scored their lone goal 6:46 into the second period on the power play with a 5-on-3 advantage. Matt DeBlouw blasted a one-timer from the blue line past freshman goaltender Ryan McKay, who finished with 18 saves on 19 shots while making his fifth straight start in net. Michigan State finished 1-for-7 with the man-advantage however, while the RedHawks were 1-for-5 a man up.
Miami, which was called for five penalties in the second frame compared to MSU's one, was able to hold off the visitors despite being down a man or two for nearly half the period. In total, the RedHawks were whistled seven times for 14 penalty minutes, while the Spartans finished with five penalties for 10 minutes.
"We got into penalty trouble in the second," Blasi said. "They came back and made a push. We got a huge power play goal in the third. I thought we did a really good job in the third not giving them anything."
MU scored twice in the final frame, starting with a power play goal with 10:58 to go. Kuraly banged home a rebound off a sophomore forward Cody Murphy shot in front of the net to make the score 3-1. The goal was the freshman forward's fifth of the season and third on the man advantage. Miami's captain, Spinell, picked up his other assist on the play.
The RedHawks sealed the victory with 24 second remaining, as Czarnik scored from center ice on a Michigan State empty net after Yanakeff was pulled for the extra attacker. The sophomore forward netted three goals against the Spartans on the weekend and now has 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists) on the season.
Yanakeff totaled 22 saves in relief as Miami outshot MSU, 35-19, the third straight night the RedHawks put more shots on target than the Spartans.
Miami improved to 3-2 all-time in decisive game threes of a CCHA Playoff series with Sunday's win while the RedHawks have made it to the CCHA Semifinals all four times they have been a No. 1 seed.