OXFORD, Ohio — Michigan State continued its uphill march through the CCHA tournament by shutting out the league’s regular-season champion Miami by a 3-0 margin in the first game of their quarterfinal series.
Freshman goaltender Jake Hildebrand was perfect for the Spartans, turning aside all 34 shots he faced.
The Spartans netted two first-period scores against Miami freshman goalie Ryan McKay and then relied on their defense to preserve the win.
Hildebrand said that the MSU defensive unit has been steadily improving for a while and is peaking now.
“I think I only had to make four, five, six [tough saves] at most,” he said. “The defense played awesome tonight. They kept the shots at the perimeter. It made my life easy when I was kicking out a bad rebound or clearing the front of the net, so you know all the credit goes to them.”
Last weekend, the Spartans defeated sixth-seeded Alaska in three games and had a short week to prepare for the RedHawks. After recording his second career shutout on Friday, Hildebrand said he and his teammates aren’t at all fazed by being the bottom seed.
“We got nothing to lose right now,” said Hildebrand. “We’re a last-place team coming to play a first-place team on their home ice. Guys are playing with clear minds and not thinking, just going out and doing what they can to put the team in a position to win. No pressure.”
Michigan State coach Tom Anastos said the team’s recent successes are all it takes to forget what was an underwhelming regular season.
“When you win, it’s contagious [and] t gives you confidence,” said Anastos. “When you lose, it’s hard to get confidence. As of late, we’ve been winning with more frequency than we would most of the season, so that probably helped.”
Freshman Matt DeBlouw found the back of the net at 8:04 in the opening period, beating McKay five-hole with a reaching swipe at the puck in the slot. Then at 15:17, freshman defenseman John Draeger rifled a pass from the blue line to where sophomore Matt Berry waited at the back door. With McKay facing the wrong way, Berry buried the puck into the wide-open net.
The middle 20 minutes were tense and back-and-forth, but McKay and Hildebrand both stonewalled every attempt that reached them. McKay was tested on several breakaway attempts by the Spartans, while Hildebrand had to repeatedly fight the RedHawks off his doorstep.
Miami nearly got on the board when freshman Riley Barber clanged the puck off the post on a shorthanded breakaway midway through the third. McKay was pulled with two minutes remaining, but MSU senior Kevin Walrod added an empty-netter at 19:04.
Miami coach Enrico Blasi said his team never recovered after getting beat early.
“They outplayed us from the beginning and won a lot of key battles and got a couple of goals up and they did a good job blocking shots and not giving us any second opportunities and Hildebrand played well,” he said.
There were only three power plays in the entire game – two for Miami and one for the Spartans.
Michigan State earned the win despite being outshot 34-24.
All three of Miami’s home losses this season have been via the shutout.