DETROIT — Three unanswered markers in the second period gave the Miami RedHawks what they needed to overcome a two-goal deficit to beat the Northern Michigan Wildcats, 5-2, in the first CCHA semifinal Friday in Detroit.
“I thought our guys played hard tonight,” said Miami head coach Enrico Blasi. “One of our goals is to play 60 minutes. After the first 20, we were a little concerned about what had happened, but our focus, led by our captain Andy Greene, was to play 60 minutes and continue with our game plan and that’s what we did.”
It was a game of bounces, miscues, and flukes, nearly every one of which went Miami’s way. Up by two goals two minutes into the second, NMU’s odd-man rush resulted in a dinged pipe and a save by Miami’s Charlie Effinger. Less than a minute later, Miami scored to cut the lead in half.
Midway through the second, Effinger stoned Mike Santorelli, who had NMU’s first goal, and the RedHawks used the momentum to even the score three minutes later.
In the end, it just wasn’t Northern Michigan’s night.
“To me the difference in the game is that they scored on their chances and we didn’t,” said NMU head coach Walt Kyle. “We came down and hit that post; they came back down within a couple of minutes and scored to make it 2-1. We came down and had a two-on-one … and they came back down within two minutes to score again to make it 2-2.”
“No question,” said Blasi. “When you’re playing one game and move on, every bounce counts. You have to be opportunistic, you have to execute, and fortunate enough for us, those bounces went in for us.”
The first period belonged to the Wildcats, more specifically to Santorelli and Pat Bateman, who netted the two NMU goals. At 14:14, Santorelli notched a true goal-scorer’s goal, taking the puck in left through the neutral zone, skating right and drawing Miami defender Kevin Roeder and Effinger with him, and then putting the shot up high and long to make it 1-0. Bateman and Nathan Oystrick assisted.
Then at 16:56, Bateman had one of his own, unassisted, after he stripped a Miami defender, skated in three-on-one, and shot midway up and under Effinger’s armpit to make it 2-0 after one.
But the momentum began to turn when Oystrick broke in at 2:16 in the second, all alone in the slot, and hit the right upright. The puck bounced back directly to Effinger’s glove.
That spark sent the RedHawks the other way, where it was Greene’s blast from the blue line at 2:49 that led to the first Miami goal, a shot that went into traffic, hit Greene’s teammate Brian Kaufman, and jumped up and over the kneeling NMU goaltender, Bill Zaniboni, and into the Northern net. Kaufman was credited with the goal, his first of the season.
“To tell you the truth, [Mitch] Ganzak made a really nice pass at the top,” said Greene. “I saw a little opening there for a second and I just threw it at the net because it was a delayed call. I don’t know if they credited to me or not. I just got a lucky bounce and it went in.”
At 8:35 in the second, Bateman and Santorelli broke in again two-on-one, with Bateman sending a highlight-reel, cross-crease pass behind a Miami defender to Santorelli. This time, however, Effinger made a great kick save on Santorelli’s shot from the right of the crease to keep the game 2-1.
From that point on, the RedHawks poured on what they needed to take back the game. At 11:28, RedHawk Nino Musitelli stole the puck in the neutral zone and shuffled it toward Zaniboni, who made the save but left the idle puck in the crease for Ryan Jones to poke home to tie the game, 2-2.
At 17:05, Nathan Davis picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone and skated in solo, beating one defender at the blue line and another in the left circle, and then Zaniboni for the game-winning goal.
At 7:03 in the third, Musitelli added the insurance goal, unassisted, by capitalizing on a rare Geoff Waugh mistake in the NMU zone, and at 19:45 Stephen Dennis had the empty-netter.
“Charlie Effinger made two big saves in the second period,” said Blasi. “He really settled himself down after the first [period] … he struggled a little bit in the first for whatever reason, but he made two big saves and I know after the first one I felt that the momentum started to swing a little bit and I thought our PK did a nice job down the stretch as well.”
Effinger finished with 19 saves to Zaniboni’s 13. The Wildcats were 0-for-4 on the power play, Miami 0-for-2.
With the win, the No. 1 seed RedHawks will advance to Saturday night’s title game to play the winner of Friday’s Michigan State-Michigan match. No. 3 Northern Michigan will face the loser of the second semifinal.