OXFORD, Ohio — The No. 20 Miami RedHawks (14-10-2, 10-8-2-1) used an explosive three-goal third period to complete a weekend sweep at home of No. 8 Western Michigan (12-9-5, 9-6-3-3) by a 4-0 score. Senior goaltender Connor Knapp picked up the win with his 10th career shutout.
Miami’s coach Enrico Blasi felt that the score was not quite indicative of how close the game actually was.
“It was probably a lot tighter game than the score indicated, but our guys played hard tonight,” he said. “I think you could tell that there wasn’t a lot to give. Both teams were being stingy, and both teams were playing good team defense and not giving much room to do anything.”
Western Michigan coach Andy Murray agreed that the game was one between two evenly-matched opponents.
“We played a good team,” said Murray. “We hit them at a time when they’re playing very well. It’s a 1-1 game in the third period, they had 10 shots on goal through two periods. To me, it’s a pretty good game.”
Western Michigan outshot Miami in each of the first two periods, and 22-19 overall, but the Broncos are now 0-11-1 in their last 12 games in Oxford.
The RedHawks won 3-1 Friday night on the strength of junior forward Reilly Smith’s second hat trick this season. By taking all six points this weekend, Miami moves into a tie with the Broncos for second place in the CCHA behind No. 5 Ohio State.
Miami’s first score came in the 13th minute of the opening period, courtesy of Friday night’s star. Smith’s CCHA-leading 18th goal of the season was assisted by freshman forward Austin Czarnik (who tallied assists on each of Smith’s goals Friday night). Czarnik won a faceoff in the circle on the right of Broncos freshman goaltender Frank Slubowski and put it back to Smith, who one-timed it over Slubowski’s shoulder.
The second period was a scoreless one that saw the two teams combine for four penalties. The Broncos had to endure nearly four full consecutive minutes of penalty kill, but escaped unscathed. Luck was in favor of both goaltenders, as a shot by Broncos sophomore defenseman Dennis Brown from the blue line in the second minute was deflected just wide of the kneeling Knapp.
Slubowski had a few close calls, none closer than when his junior defenseman Luke Witkowski blocked a wraparound attempt by Czarnik while the netminder’s back was turned.
The Broncos opened the final period on the offensive, testing Knapp hotly. Sophomore center Chase Balisy made a nifty pass in front of the net to junior wingman Mike Leone, who fired right at Knapp’s chest. The RedHawks goaltender made the save, and got the puck out to freshman defenseman Ben Paulides. It was four-on-four at that point, so freshman forward Jimmy Mullin had a lot of room to himself when he took Paulides’ feed at center ice. He skated up and faked out Slubowski for the 2-0 lead in the period’s fifth minute. Knapp was credited with his third career assist on the score.
The Broncos kept on peppering Knapp with shots. During the course of a mid-period power play, junior defenseman Matt Tennyson fired a rocket on net from the blue line, but it clanged off the crossbar. Western Michigan scooped the puck back out and got it back to Tennyson for another attempt at the same shot; this time it sailed wide.
Mullin praised his goaltender’s ability to stand tall in the net.
“[Knapp]‘s been on fire, so it really didn’t mater how many shots they had. He’s been there for us. So I think when we have a hot goalie, it’s easier to play up front too.”
Miami put the game out of reach with two late goals that came seconds apart. Cody Murphy passed to Alden Hirschfeld behind the defense in the neutral zone, who skated the puck right up to the crease before beating Slubowski stickside at 12:16 in the period. Just 24 seconds later, before the PA had even finished announcing Hirschfeld’s goal, Tyler Biggs was fed the puck after Miami won the faceoff and brought it to the net before burying it passed a sprawled-out Slubowski.
Murray felt that if not for a few late turns, the outcome could have been very different for his squad.
“We couldn’t score on our chances,” he said. “We just have to play hard. We have to finish some of our chances. We can’t give up two breakaways in the third period when it’s a 1-0 game.”
Next weekend, Miami will host Northern Michigan, while Western Michigan will play a home-and-home series against Bowling Green.