EAST LANSING, Mich. — It really wasn’t much different than last night, and that’s good news and bad news for two of the top teams in the country.
The No. 1 Miami RedHawks completed a road sweep of the third ranked Michigan State Spartans with a hard-fought, close 3-1 victory. Their formula for both wins was great penalty-killing, outstanding goaltending and superior hustle for loose pucks.
In essence, they outplayed the defending NCAA champions at their own game and in their own arena.
Miami improves its overall record to 11-1-0, while moving to 9-1-0 in CCHA play. Michigan State drops to 8-3-0 overall and 4-2-0 in conference action.
“I thought tonight was probably the best game I’ve seen two teams play all year,” said Miami Coach Enrico Blasi. “It went back and forth, great goaltending. To get that early lead really helped our team. We’re very satisfied obviously.”
“Our philosophy is take it a day at a time, make sure we’re getting better every day,” he added. “Last weekend, playing Notre Dame, really helped us in preparation for this weekend’s series. I told our guys on Monday that we have to play our best hockey to be successful, and that’s what we focused on all week.”
Indeed, Miami was successful at drawing first blood tonight, just as they did last night, on an early power play with 15:48 to go in the first period. After senior center Zak McClellan picked up a penalty, the RedHawks’ players all seemed to converge on the net as shot after shot was rebuked by Spartans junior goaltender Jeff Lerg. Eventually, Miami junior Justin Mercier was able to get the puck into MSU’s net to get Miami the early 1-0 lead.
The Spartans couldn’t stop the bleeding as RedHawks freshman center Carter Camper soon scored on another power play opportunity for Miami, giving his team a 2-0 lead. If Michigan State was trying send a message early with their heavy-hitting and penalty-inducing play, that message was rejected and marked return to sender by the RedHawks.
“Any time you can come out on a team like that and get two quick goals, you get the momentum your way,” Mercier said. “We capitalized on the power play. In these types of games, special teams are what win or lose you the game.”
After those key goals in the first period, Miami again was able to do what they did last night: hold off the Spartans’ frantic attempts to get the tying goal. Killing penalty after penalty was again the key for the RedHawks, as they gave up only one power play goal in seven chances.
Overall in the series, Miami held Michigan State to that one special teams goal in 15 opportunities.
“It’s hard work,” Mercier said. “When you’re working hard and doing the little things, bounces are going to go your way. Late in the game, they had a 2-on-1 and missed the net. Bounces go your way when you’re working hard.”
For Michigan State, losing two games to the CCHA league leader on their home ice is not what they envisioned for this weekend. But time after time, the Spartans could not convert on key scoring chances, whether they were power play opportunities or even-strength rushes, many of which came in the third period when Miami was still up by one goal.
“We never really got to their net until the end,” Michigan State Coach Rick Comley said. “We had several flurries at the end, but (Miami junior goaltender Jeff) Zatkoff came up big. They’re good; I give them all the credit in the world.”
Perhaps being down 2-0 woke the Spartans up, because they converted on their own power play in the first period. Junior wing Matt Schepke got Michigan State on the board, going five-hole on Zatkoff. Michigan State had another power play opportunity in the final minutes of the period, but Miami returned to its strong penalty-killing selves and snuffed that chance easily to finish the period with the lead.
“I like their team a lot,” said Comley. “But that game was there to be had; they got those two goals there so quick, together, and they were fluky-type goals. And then they get to play with the lead, and we got to try and play catch-up the whole night; it takes so much energy out of you.”
The second period was a stalemate of sorts, as each team killed three penalties without the game score changing. Miami outshot Michigan State 15-5 in the period, though, forcing Lerg to make a lot of saves. Overall, the RedHawks just outskated the Spartans throughout the period even though the scoreboard didn’t change.
“We came here looking for four points, and we got four points,” said Mercier. “We knew what we had to do. If we played our best game and they played their best game, we felt like we could come out with two wins.”
Next up for Miami is a home series against Canisius next weekend.
“I haven’t seen them on tape yet, but for us, it’s another week,” Blasi said. “We got get through that week, obviously non-conference to help our league and ourselves, and then we have a real week off of rest. We don’t play the next week after Canisius, so I know our guys will be ready to go.”
Michigan State will host No. 12 Minnesota and No.9 Wisconsin next weekend in the College Hockey Showcase, on Friday and Saturday nights, respectively.
“That’s the one thing about hockey: you play a lot of games and how you do down the stretch is much more important than how you do now,” Comley said. “We knew this two-week stretch was going to be the toughest of the year. So hopefully we will learn from it and make some corrections work-wise in the areas that we need to.”