OXFORD, Ohio — It was a very happy Valentine’s Day for the No. 2 Miami RedHawks (21-5-4, 18-4-2 CCHA) as they skated to a 6-3 victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes (14-15-4, 10-12-2 CCHA) and captured the CCHA regular-season crown.
“It was a big win for our team tonight,” said RedHawk head coach Enrico Blasi. “We executed when we had to.”
The forward tandem Nathan Davis and Ryan Jones provided the RedHawks with most of their scoring. Davis had one goal and three assists — two of them coming on goals scored by Jones, who had two goals and one assist.
“Playing with Ryan and Nino (Musitelli), we just click and we’ve got the perfect chemistry going,” said Davis.
It didn’t take long for Davis, the RedHawks’ leading scorer, to put Miami on the board.
Just 16 seconds into the game, Jones found Davis in front of the net, where he slid the puck through the five-hole of Buckeye goalie Dave Caruso to give the RedHawks the lead. It was Davis’ team-leading 16th goal of the year.
However, it didn’t take the Buckeyes long to respond, either. At 1:24, they tied the game 1-1. Buckeye Jason DeSantis fired a wrist shot from the top of the left circle and Rod Pelley was able to use his stick to tap it past RedHawk goalie Charlie Effinger.
“Any time you give up a goal, you need to take the same approach with the next shot and that’s what I did,” said Effinger, who recorded 30 saves.
The score wouldn’t stay tied long as the RedHawks responded with another goal at 2:40, when Chris Michael gave the RedHawks the lead. Michael received a pass at the top of the slot from Joe Cooper and fired a wrist shot that slid past Caruso.
The RedHawks held their lead for ten minutes and had plenty of opportunities on the power play to increase their lead, but came up short with the man advantage.
“We had some good chances early, but our power play wasn’t in sync,” said Blasi.
At 12:41, the RedHawks returned to full strength after a penalty as the Buckeyes scored the equalizer. Kyle Hood fired a wrist shot from the top of the circle that bounced off of Effinger. Dan Knapp picked up the loose puck and faked Effinger to beat him on his stick side.
The teams had a few scuffles and penalties towards the end of the period, but ended the period tied at 2-2. But the RedHawks pulled away in the second.
“They’re a good hockey club and we fought back, but they just persevered,” said Buckeye head coach John Markell.
The RedHawks also opened the second period striking first at the 1:13 mark. RedHawk defenseman Kevin Roeder scored his first career goal when Davis picked up a loose puck from behind the net. Davis found Roeder at the top of the circle and he skated in and fired a wrist shot through five-hole of Caruso to take the lead.
Roeder said that in order to get goals past Caruso, they needed to crash the net. “He’s been solid all year and we knew we needed to take everything to the net,” said Roeder.
The RedHawks would score two more unanswered goals in the period. The first one came at 16:20 when Davis skated up the right side of the ice and fired a backhand wrist shot at Caruso. Caruso blocked the shot, but Jones was there for the rebound to push it past Caruso.
It was Davis’ 14th point in his last seven games and his third straight multi-point game this season.
The RedHawks would find the back of the net again with just a minute remaining in the period. After two slashing penalties were called on Caruso, the RedHawks capitalized on the 5-on-3 advantage when Greene fired a shot and line mate Mitch Ganzak picked up the rebound to make the score 5-2.
“He’s a great goalie and he had some other good games against us, but he got a little unlucky tonight,” said Davis.
The RedHawks opened the third period with 2:48 left on the second penalty to Caruso. With just six seconds left in the power play, Jones and Davis connected again.
At 2:43, Jones one-timed a pass from Davis in front of the net to increase the RedHawk lead to four. It was Davis’ third assist of the game and Jones’ second goal of the game.
“That line has been really good for us, in fact the whole team and the effort they’ve been giving,” said Blasi.
The Buckeyes scored once more at 16:52, but it would be too late. The shorthanded goal came when Kenny Bernard skated in alone to deke Effinger and slip the puck into the back of the net.
“I thought we fought back from being down, but you can’t beat a team 5-on-4, 5-on-3 all night,” said Markell.
The RedHawks captured their first regular-season conference championship since 1992-93. Davis credited the team’s success this year to closeness and chemistry.
“When you get on a roll like we have, it tends to smooth things out and the thing about this team is that it’s so close,” said Davis.
The RedHawks and Buckeyes each have four games left till the CCHA tournament. The RedHawks will travel this weekend to face the Michigan State Spartans and the Buckeyes will be at home against Ferris State Bulldogs.