OXFORD, Ohio — This was supposed to be a game with plenty of intensity where the titans of the CCHA would battle for the glory of the conference. It turned out just that way as the No. 8 Miami RedHawks (9-2-1, 8-1-1 CCHA) downed the No. 3 Michigan Wolverines (9-3-1, 5-1-1 CCHA) at Goggin Ice Arena 4-2 to stay atop the CCHA. This was the Wolverines first three-game losing streak since the 2003-2004 season.
The current standings in the CCHA had the RedHawks placed first with 17 points and the Wolverines placed third with 11 points, and a loss by the Ohio State Buckeyes Friday would give the RedHawks more of a hold on the conference lead.
The Wolverines offense would put RedHawk goaltender Charlie Effinger to the test in this matchup as he brought in his CCHA best 1.38 goals-against average. With the win tonight, he increased his personal unbeaten streak to ten games since last January.
“First of all he’s been doing that since the beginning of the season,” RedHawk head coach Enrico Blasi said. “He made some big saves for us, and we were able to gain confidence from it.”
The Wolverines opened the first period very aggressively. The penalties began right away after Wolverine defenseman Mark Mitera slammed RedHawk Ryan Jones from behind into the boards and received a five minute major and a game misconduct. The RedHawk power play had plenty of opportunities, but was not able to come up with a score against Wolverine goaltender Billy Sauer.
The first goal of the game came at 8:49 on a Wolverine power play when Jack Johnson fired a pass that Kevin Porter tipped in past Effinger’s stick side.
“Michigan has one of the top offenses in college hockey, and we knew that,” Effinger said. “They start out hard and fast.”
The game continued to be very physical throughout the first period. At the 16:53 mark, Jones was slammed into the boards again after a contact to the head penalty from Travis Turnbull. After the whistle, RedHawk Brad Robbins and Wolverine Tim Miller threw punches at each other and both received roughing penalties.
This provided the RedHawks with the power play they needed to tie up the game. At the 17:49 mark, Mitch Ganzak found Geoff Smith at the right circle where he fired a one-timer past Sauer for the equalizing power-play goal. The period would end in a 1-1 tie, but the second period would prove to be the exciting one of the game.
At the beginning of the second period, the Wolverines struck first when Johnson took the puck away on a turnover and fed it to T.J. Hensick, who skated in alone and deked Effinger to make the score 2-1. That would be the last lead the Wolverines would have in the period.
Despite the many missed passes, the RedHawks responded by scoring three unanswered goals on Sauer, with two of them coming shorthanded. Wolverines coach Red Berenson said that the turnovers on the power play made the difference for the RedHawks in the second period, despite their good plays.
“We made a couple of good plays, but turned it over. We need to take better care of the puck,” Berenson said.
The first goal came when the RedHawks hit the equalizer goal at 8:24. Matt Christie passed it to Andy Greene in the right circle, where he found Marty Guerin in front of the net for a one-timer goal.
The second goal would come shorthanded at 9:49 when freshman Justin Mercier stole the puck away from the opposition and found in front of the net Matt Davis, where he fired a wrist shot to give the RedHawks a 3-2 lead.
The RedHawks then struck again at 10:59 when Mercier and Davis had a two-on-two and Davis slid it to Mercier in front of the net for the first goal of his career.
“It felt like 100 pounds was just lifted off my back because the guys have been given me such a hard time (about not scoring a goal),” Mercier said.
The RedHawks combined to tally 22 shots in the second period, and coach Blasi added that the adjustments in the intermission helped their effort.
“We made sure we had the right guys on the ice, ready to go,” Blasi said.
Aside from the RedHawks taking the lead in the second, there were a combined nine penalties by both teams, and most of them coming when both teams would throw punches at each other after the whistle.
“It was an emotional game with two good teams going at it,” Blasi said.
The game ended with the RedHawks winning 4-2 after tallying 46 shots on Sauer to the Wolverines 35 shots on Effinger.
With all the Wolverine turnovers Friday night, Berenson said that his team would need to refocus on their weekend objective Saturday night.
“We’ve got to really refocus on the kind of hockey we came here to play and play it,” Berenson said.
As for the RedHawks, Effinger added that, despite the loss, he thinks Michigan will come out with the same intensity in the second game.
“No doubt they’ll bring the same intensity tomorrow night. But we’re gonna come back, slow them down and have the fans behind us,” Effinger said.
The RedHawks will continue their two goalie system as freshman Jeff Zatkoff gets the nod and Sauer again for the Wolverines. The puck will drop at 7:35 P.M. Saturday night at Goggin Ice Arena.