OXFORD, Ohio — The Lake Superior State Lakers shocked the heavily-favored No. 9 Miami RedHawks 2-1 Friday night in the first contest of their best-of-three-game series.
Steady goaltending from senior Jeff Jakaitis allowed Lake Superior State to hang around for most of the game before the Lakers took the lead with two third-period goals. Jakaitis, ranked second nationally in save percentage, fended off 37 of 38 shots.
Afterwards, Miami head coach Enrico Blasi gave high praise to the Lakers’ senior netminder. “Jakaitis played well for them. We’ve got to find a way to get to him tomorrow night.”
While forward Jeff Rainville was in a giving mood last week with five assists in the three-game CCHA first-round series against Ferris State, he was on the receiving end of the Lakers’ first goal Friday.
Shortly after allowing a power play to expire without a shot on goal, senior defenseman Barnabas Birkeland forced RedHawks’ goalie Jeff Zatkoff to lean to his right before sliding the puck across the crease to Rainville for the open-net equalizer 3:33 into the third period.
At the 9:57 mark in the final stanza, Derek A. Smith, one of three candidates for the CCHA’s Offensive Defenseman of the Year Award, rifled a shot from the right circle for the game winner. The goal gave the junior 10 for the season.
The Lakers played like they had nothing to lose. Lakers head coach Jim Roque said, “There’s not a lot of pressure on us. We are the road team.”
After the loss, Miami head coach Enrico Blasi emphasized execution. “Bottom line, we did not execute … [Saturday night] It’s do or die. We need to come out and play with some urgency. We need to pay more attention to detail and see what happens. I think they executed and we didn’t. The two goals they scored; they executed beautifully on.
Miami broke a nil-nil tie late in the second period on a rare Kevin Roeder goal when Ryan Jones skated around the net and found Nate Davis in front of the net. Jakaitis was able to fend off but not secure Davis’ shot, and “Roads” collected the rebound to the left of the goal and scored on Jakaitis’ stick side, picking up his first goal of the season.
Miami quickly surrendered the lead and shortly after found themselves in a one-goal hole. Thanks to ferocious play, the RedHawks created several scoring chances in the game’s final 10 minutes, but Jakaitis and the Lakers’ defense proved too formidable of a foe on this night.
Blasi did not have any trouble finding positives from his team’s performance.
“I thought we played pretty good in the second period and for the most part we did a good job,” he said, before reemphasizing his team’s need to execute. “But, in playoff hockey you have to execute, and we did not execute tonight and they did.”
Roque knows that his troops have to bring the same intensity Saturday night.
“[Miami is] going to be crappin’ bullets tomorrow night,” he said. “They are coming, right? They’ve got to be. I think so. They are a good team; a proud team. [We need to] get a good night’s rest and go to work.”
The squads will resume action in Oxford Sunday night at 7:05 p.m. If the RedHawks force a third and deciding game, it will be played at 7:05 p.m. Sunday.
• Referee Kevin Hall called a miniscule number of penalties, punitively blowing his whistle only seven times on the night. The first penalty was called almost halfway through the game. Even though the Lakers came away with the victory, Roque would still like to see more consistency in this department.
“I’ll be honest. I got in trouble last week,” he said. “I think the kids are very confused in the game — I think they are really confused with penalties. You know what I mean? They are. I know that refs don’t want to decide the game, but it’s getting confusing. For every penalty, I could find you five more of the same ones that are not being called. I know the refs don’t want to determine the game, but the kids are having a hard time out there. It’s frustrating.”
• LSSU offered the lone upset in CCHA second-round action Friday night. Notre Dame clobbered Alaska 7-1 thanks to five first-period goals, Michigan State skated to a 4-2 victory over Nebraska-Omaha, and Michigan defeated visiting Northern Michigan 4-1.
• Miami frequently sells out the 3,642-seat Steve Cady Arena; however, with students away on spring break, the RedHawks only drew 2,501 fans. With “Ricoville” half empty, the stadium lacked the typical buzz and electricity.
• This season MU and LSSU were placed in the same four-team CCHA cluster. As a result, MU and LSSU faced off with one another four times this season in home-and-away series. MU won three of the contests, including a February 10-11 home sweep.
M.D. Sandwasher is a writer for Blogcritics.com.