COLUMBUS, Ohio — On goals by three different RedHawks and in front of Charlie Effinger’s 24-save performance, Miami beat Bowling Green 3-2 to capture the first game of the third annual Ohio Hockey Classic in Nationwide Arena.
“For a first game back in 20 days, you could tell we were rusty and they were rusty,” said Miami head coach Enrico Blasi. “I thought both teams played hard. We got one more break than they did, and really that was the difference in the game.”
Miami held a 3-1 lead until BGSU’s Jonathan Matsumoto ripped one from the left circle with the extra skater to inflate the Falcons’ score with 29 seconds left in regulation.
BGSU head coach Scott Paluch said that Miami’s “ability to find ways to win hockey games” is the reason the RedHawks are on top of the CCHA standings.
“Players make plays,” said Paluch. “They find ways to win. Give credit to Rico and his team; they’re a top team for a reason. I thought our team did a lot of things to give ourselves a chance, but we weren’t able to make the extra play.”
Marty Guerin opened the scoring for the RedHawks at 3:40 in the first, picking up Jarod Palmer’s rebound to give Miami a 1-0 lead. Palmer’s shot went wide right of the net and ricocheted out to Guerin, who one-timed it in behind Jimmy Spratt from the near left side.
Early in the second, James Unger tied it briefly for Bowling Green, after driving down the right wing, crossing to the slot, and putting the puck past Effinger clean at 4:22, but Justin Mercier tipped in Nino Musitelli’s shot from the far right circle at 10:10, and Miami led 2-1. The play that led to the RedHawk goal began behind Miami’s net, with several changes of puck possession in a struggle along the boards before the RedHawks maintained control.
“I thought [Geoff] Smith’s line — Mercier and Musitelli — did a good job, especially in the defensive zone,” said Blasi. “We did a good job, got a good chance out of it, and they made the most out of it. From that point on, we were starting to feel pretty good and starting to move the puck a little bit better. It’s amazing [that] when you score a goal how much confidence your team can get.
“I thought in the third period, we did a nice job of limiting their chances and making sure we didn’t turn the puck over.”
Brian Kaufman made it 3-1 at 7:14 in the third when he went in alone and scored five-hole on BGSU goaltender Jimmy Spratt, and Matsumoto scored at 19:31 to cap the scoring.
“Matsumoto, he’s just an all-league player,” said Blasi. “That’s just a big-time shot. When you give Jonathan Matsumoto time to shoot, he’s going to pick you apart. He had a couple of chances earlier in the game, and Effinger made some big saves on him.”
Effinger’s win was his second in as many appearances since Nov. 10. The junior, who usually rotates time in net with sophomore Jeff Zatkoff, was out with mononucleosis and made his return with a 5-2 win against Ohio State in Columbus Dec. 8.
“It was very important for us to play him before the break against Ohio State,” said Blasi. ” Fortunate enough for us, he got the win, which helped his confidence going into the break, giving him a good frame of mind coming back.
“He’s just like everybody else, except for the fact that he hasn’t really practiced in about five, six, seven weeks because of the mono. I thought he looked pretty good. He probably wants the first one back.”
Spratt finished the night with 19 saves in his eighth loss of the season, as the Falcons outshot the RedHawks 26-22. BGSU has won just once in the last 11 games, having split with Alaska in Fairbanks in mid-December.
“Jimmy, slowly here over the last four or five games, has been finding a little groove,” said Paluch. ” I thought tonight here he was really sharp, strong and tight on some power-play chances. I thought he held his ground well, pretty composed, confident.
“In that losing streak, a lot of that was the inability to score goals. We came off a nine-goal weekend at Fairbanks, and I was kind of hoping that would propel us.”
With the win, Miami (15-5-1, 10-3-1 CCHA) advances to Saturday’s Ohio Hockey Classic title game for the second consecutive year, while Bowling Green (4-14-1, 2-10-0 CCHA) plays the consolation game. The matches depend on the outcome of tonight’s contest between Minnesota-Duluth and Ohio State. Last year, Miami beat OSU for the title in a shootout.