OXFORD, Ohio – Playing in their last regular season Central Collegiate Hockey Association home game, Miami RedHawk fans bid adieu to seniors Andy Nelson, Joe Cooper, Geoff Smith, Marty Guerin, and Matt Christie. With senior night and a first round playoff bye on the line, the RedHawks (20-10-4, 15-7-4 CCHA) emphatically jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first 28 minutes on the Lake Superior State Lakers (15-14-3, 9-11-3 CCHA) and then held on for dear life for the last 32 minutes, winning 3-2.
The seniors were a big reason for Miami’s early success. It took Miami 10 minutes to warm up Friday night, but the RedHawks wasted little time forcing their will Saturday evening. Miami’s play in the first period, both offensively and defensively, was as dominating of a performance as I have seen from a squad in recent memory. The Red and White were all over the ice, finishing off checks and seemingly gaining control of every lose puck. While holding the Lakers scoreless, including three penalty kills, the RedHawks outshot the Lakers 22 to 13 on their way to a 2-0 lead.
Four-year letterman Matt Christie was the first to light the red lamp thanks to a nifty pass by line mate Justin Mercier. Lakers’ forward Josh Sim was unable to handle the puck in the neutral zone, and Mercier was the benefactor. Mercier and Christie led a 2-0 attack into the offensive zone. Mercier skated to the right of Lakers’ netminder Jeff Jakaitis and he unselfishly found Christie right in front of the crease for an easy score on stick side.
“[Mercier] was a step ahead of me,” Christie said describing the play. “I thought he was going with the backhand but he slid it over to me.”
Three minutes later, the second line was at it again. After another LSSU turnover, this time in the Lakers’ zone, freshman Jarod Palmer put the RedHawks up two to nil on an unassisted, 4-on-4 goal. The goal gave Palmer 10 for the season.
Early into the second period, Nathan Davis made an incredible individual effort, skating around the front of the net patently waiting for an opening. He found a slight slit stick side and put the puck in the back of the net; however, the goal was waved off because there was a RedHawk in the crease before Davis took the shot.
Seniors Geoff Smith and Christie officially made it a 3-0 game 8:08 into the second period, cashing in on a power play opportunity. Christie skated along the left boards before setting up Smith in the slot for a stick side goal.
After pushing the Lakers around for the first half of the game, it appeared the RedHawks eased off of the accelerator, allowing the Lakers to jump back into the game.
The second best penalty killing unit in the country was victim to a goal on consecutive nights 16:43 into the second. Miami goaltender Jeff Zatkoff had been stellar all night, but he finally let one through at the end of a LSSU power play. The PK unit was a mere 13 seconds from killing off their sixth penalty of the night before senior forward Jeff Rainville notched his 10th goal of the season. Rainville rifled a shot in between the circles, scoring to the left side of Zatkoff and bringing his mates within two goals.
LSSU’s fourth line center Troy Schwab pulled the Lakers within a goal 13:41 into the third period. From the right faceoff circle, Schwab scored over Zatkoff’s left arm for his fifth goal of the year.
The RedHawk faithful had to sweat out the last six minutes of the contest, including an open net for the last minute of the game that felt like an eternity. In the end, Zatkoff and Miami’s defense were able to stop a flurry of shots on their way to a weekend sweep of LSSU.
- It was fitting that two RedHawk seniors earned star of the game honors. Christie took the first star and Smith the third star respectively. LSSU’s Jakaitis earned the second star after saving 44 of 47 shots and holding the RedHawks scoreless for the second half of the game.
- Last weekend’s injury to starting forward Brian Kaufman during Friday night’s game with the Alaska Nanooks forced head coach Enrico Blasi to shuffle around the offensive lines. Blasi moved Marty Guerin to the first line and Mercier up to the second line. The second line accounted for seven points over the weekend (3 goals and 4 assists). The chemistry of the line may be directly related to Christie’s and Mercier’s close friendship off of the ice.
- With the weekend sweep, Miami improved to a 3-1-0 record over Lake State this season. Lake State holds the overall record at 52-28-10.
- With the 20 wins, Blasi, the former RedHawk player, has won 20 or more games five times in his eight seasons as head coach.
- Going into the weekend, Michigan held second place in the CCHA by two points, but a loss to lowly Bowling Green and a tie to intrastate rival Michigan State allowed the RedHawks to leap frog the Wolverines from third into second. The RedHawks have played two more CCHA games than the Wolverines.