FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Sometimes a player needs a game off to refocus and get his head back in the game. A good coach knows when to give this time off. For Miami coach Enrico Blasi and freshman forward Curtis McKenzie, the timing couldn’t have been better.
McKenzie sat out last weekend’s CCHA consolation game against Ferris State before roaring back with a goal and an assist in the RedHawks’ 2-1 win against Alabama-Huntsville in the opening game of the NCAA Midwest Regional Saturday.
McKenzie scored midway through the first period to put Miami up 1-0. With UAH’s Tom Train serving an interference penalty, the Miami power play went to work. Carter Camper took the puck behind the net before firing a pass to McKenzie, who caught Chargers goalie Cameron Talbot cheating and fired the puck high on the short side.
“Nine power plays isn’t what we drew up; nine is too many,” said Chargers coach Danton Cole of his team’s play. The Chargers took 10 penalties on their way to giving Miami nine power plays.
However, those power plays were just what Miami needed to take control of the game.
“On the power play we could execute when we didn’t have that success five-on-five,” said McKenzie.
Cameron Schilling added to Miami’s lead with another power-play goal 6:04 into the second period. With a two-on-two rush going into the Chargers’ zone, Schilling fired a shot from below the right circle that Talbot appeared to snag in his glove, but the puck slipped out and trickled across the goal line into the net.
While Alabama-Huntsville was outshot 12-6 in the third period, there were times when it looked like the Chargers could take control. However, penalties continued to be an issue for the Chargers.
“Every time we got a little momentum going we took one,” Cole said. “You have to give Miami credit for putting us into those situations.”
Despite the two-goal deficit, the Chargers weren’t done. With 38 seconds left, Brennan Barker put them on the board with a hard shot over Cody Reichard’s shoulder. With their lead down to one, the RedHawks were undoubtedly thinking back to last year’s NCAA title game when they lost a two-goal lead in the last minute before losing in overtime. This time, Miami held on for the closing seconds and prevented Alabama-Huntsville (12-18-3) from getting another chance.
Miami’s strategy of playing possession hockey with all four lines and going to the net paid off in the win.
“I thought our guys did a real good job of being patient,” Blasi said. “When you’re going hard to the net, good things will happen.”
The RedHawks (28-7-7) were also buoyed by a strong goaltending performance from Reichard, the reigning CCHA player of the year. Reichard was another RedHawks player who benefited from a night off last weekend against Ferris State after giving up five goals in the CCHA semifinal loss to Michigan Friday night.
“We have two No. 1 goalies, and we’re confident in both,” Blasi said. “We knew Cody would be back.”
Despite the loss, Cole was optimistic about his team’s play this season. “We did what we’re going to do, that’s work. They did what they were supposed to do,” said Cole. “They’ve [Miami] got a real good chance of winning a national championship.”
“They know what they want and now they’re in a position to get it,” Blasi said.