COLUMBUS, Ohio - In its final game before taking a 10-day break, the No. 5 Miami hockey team closed out the first half of the season with a 3-1 victory over rival Ohio State Saturday night at Value City Arena, notching a goal in each period. With the win, the RedHawks (11-3-4, 8-3-3-3 CCHA) earned five of six points on the weekend after a tie and shootout win over the Buckeyes (7-6-5, 6-3-3-1 CCHA) Friday and enter the break in a tie for first place in the CCHA.
Sophomore forward Blake Coleman and freshman forward Riley Barber each recorded a goal and an assist, with Coleman's goal the game-winner, while sophomore forward Austin Czarnik added a pair of assists. Freshman goaltender Ryan McKay made 22 saves to earn the win, as he still is yet to allow more than one goal in any of his six starts as a RedHawk.
For the second straight night, special teams played a big factor, as the 'Hawks were a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill Saturday, including a kill shortly after OSU had closed to within a goal at 2-1. Miami finished the weekend 9-for-9 on the penalty kill while the RedHawks scored a power play goal for the second consecutive game, going 1-for-3 a man up.
"Last week, we had some guys that weren't very good at our penalty kill, but I thought this week they were much more determined," Miami head coach Enrico Blasi said. "We did a good job of keeping them (OSU) to the outside, we blocked a lot of shots. When we didn't block it, there was a big save by Ryan (McKay), especially at the end. It's one of those things that when guys are out there, they just have to get the job done."
Miami controlled the first period, outshooting OSU, 11-5, in the frame, despite having to kill a pair of penalties. Freshman Kevin Morris nearly scored for the 'Hawks with less than six minutes left in the opening stanza, but his shot hit the post.
Classmate Alex Gacek did find the back of the net, however, with 23.4 seconds left in the first period, to give Miami the 1-0 lead. Coleman won a battle along the boards at center ice to get the puck to classmate Cody Murphy. Murphy skated into the offensive zone and dished to Gacek in the left circle, where he fired a hard wrist shot top-shelf into the far corner of the goal for his third tally of the season.
"It's always good to go into the locker room feeling good about your team. Getting that goal late in the period really just fired us up to come back in the second with a great effort," Barber said. "So getting that goal from Gacek was a good momentum boost and gave the locker room a good attitude going into the second."
Miami doubled its lead 3:33 into the second period on the power play when Coleman scored his fifth goal of the year, but first since Oct. 20 (14 games). Barber fired the puck on net initially and the rebound popped right to Coleman, who was waiting just outside the crease where he buried the rebound for a 2-0 RedHawk lead. Czarnik earned the second assist, snapping a three-game pointless streak.
Both teams had scoring chances late in the second stanza, but neither could convert, as the 'Hawks took the two-goal lead into the second intermission. With under five minutes remaining in the middle period, Coleman and Gacek created back-to-back odd-man rushes, but OSU netminder Brady Hjelle made the save each time. In the closing two minutes of the stanza, the Buckeyes had their best chance of the first two periods when an attempted Miami clear deflected off a Buckeye back towards goal but the puck hit the post and McKay cleared before OSU could convert.
Just 19 seconds into the third period, senior Curtis McKenzie batted the puck out of the air and into the net, but the referees immediately ruled a high stick and no goal. OSU then cut its deficit in half 6:20 into the final frame when Max McCormick scored with a blast from the slot, top-shelf while McKay was screened. Alex Szczechura and Riley Simpson added the assists on the goal, which was the first even-strength goal McKay has allowed in a RedHawk uniform and just his third goal allowed overall.
The Buckeyes continued to apply pressure, but Miami then came up with the big penalty kill to regain some momentum. With 1:12 remaining in the game, the Buckeyes pulled Hjelle in favor of the extra attacker. After blocking two shots, the 'Hawks cleared the zone and McKenzie fired toward the empty net from mid-ice but his shot was wide. Barber chased down the puck at the blue line after it wrapped around, spun and his shot found the empty cage to seal the 3-1 victory.
Miami finished with a 34-23 edge in shots on goal as Hjelle totaled 31 saves in defeat.
The RedHawks are off next weekend but return to action Dec. 28 and 29 at the Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh, Pa. Miami opens with the same Buckeyes they faced this weekend at 7:30 p.m. at the Pittsburgh Penguins' CONSOL Energy Center. The 'Hawks then face either Penn State or host Robert Morris, who play in game one on Dec. 28, the next night.