EAST LANSING, Mich. — The Miami RedHawks really enjoy the mid-November nights in East Lansing.
After all, they’re 4-0 over the last two seasons facing Michigan State on the road during this pre-Thanksgiving stretch. Although the desperate Spartans fought to the final buzzer tonight, Miami again dominated Michigan State from start to finish.
Excellent goaltending, a smothering penalty-kill and timely, opportunistic offense propelled No. 10 Miami to a victory on the road against No. 17 Michigan State.
The victory moves the RedHawks to 6-3-3 on the season (6-2-2-1 in the CCHA), while the Spartans fall to 4-6-2 overall (2-4-2-2 in conference play).
“I felt it was a good game tonight; it could have gone either way,” said Miami coach Enrico Blasi. “All in all, I thought it was a good road effort. Obviously, last night was huge for us; you got to take care of Friday night, and then really give yourself an opportunity on Saturday.”
Miami took a 1-0 lead into the third period, and they extended it on a scrum goal by junior wing Brandon Smith with 10:20 left in the game. However, Michigan State fought back to cut the lead in half with 8:11 left when sophomore wing Corey Tropp blasted a slap shot from the right side past RedHawks’ freshman goaltender Conner Knapp.
In the end however, Knapp and the Miami defense proved to be too much for the Spartans, shutting the door on multiple chances in the final minutes before sophomore center Carter Camper scored an empty-netter to seal the victory for the RedHawks.
“Miami’s a good team,” Michigan State coach Rick Comley said. “They played well. We’ve got to take our lumps right now and move forward. ”
Tonight’s game started somewhat similarly to Friday’s, as Michigan State had an early five-on-three opportunity that they could not capitalize on. However, instead of a freshman goalie making saves, this time it was blocked shots outside and disruption of the passing lanes thwarting the early scoring chance for the Spartans.
Looking to break a three-game slide, this was not the way MSU wanted to start the game, even if the first period did end in a scoreless tie.
“The power play is going to be so critical for us,” said Comley. “We had that five-on-three power play, too, to start with. If we could take advantage of that? I like the effort. We just got to keep looking. We played well enough to win. You’re not satisfied not winning, but you’re not leaving the rink mad because they didn’t work hard.”
Miami extended its penalty-killing dominance over Michigan State into the second period, holding the Spartans shot-less on a two-minute power play early in the frame. MSU also got some great defensive play, highlighted by senior center Tim Crowder breaking up a three-on-one break for the RedHawks with a sharp poke check 15 feet in front of the net.
Miami finally broke the tie with a four-on-four goal at the 15:09 mark in the second period. Senior wing Justin Mercier broke into the Spartans’ zone and put the puck right on Michigan State senior goaltender Jeff Lerg’s chest. Lerg couldn’t corral the shot, and the puck dribbled behind him into the net to give the RedHawks the 1-0 lead.
“There’s been times when we’ve lost a lot in a row,” Lerg said. “It’s frustrating as a goaltender, you know, if one puck goes by you, you’re not real sure if you’ll be able to win the game. You put a lot of a pressure on yourself.”
Michigan State failed to capitalize on another power-play opportunity late in the second period, extending their special teams futility to 0-for-14 for the entire weekend series. It also left the home team trailing by one goal heading into the decisive third period, desperate to break its three-game losing streak.
“Our guys are working hard, they’re blocking shots,” Blasi said. “Our guys are doing a good job. Connor was big tonight. The credit goes to the two goalies, because they’ve been working their tails off. The competition in practice is fierce, and they know it. At the same time, when the other one’s in the net, the biggest cheerleader on the bench is the other goalie.”
Up next for Miami is a home series against No. 8 Michigan in Oxford, OH, while Michigan State travels for a weekend series at Nebraska-Omaha desperate to break out of its November slump.
“It’s just one of those things,” Lerg said. “We just got to find a way. This was the best game we’ve played in the last three weeks. We’re saving all our good bounces for April and March.”