Miami University’s defense lived up to its ranking at the right time.
The RedHawks were second in the country in goals allowed per game (1.73) and first in total penalty kills (163) heading into Saturday’s NCAA Midwest Regional hockey contest against Minnesota State Mankato, which had scored a country-best 44 power-play goals.
The “D” came up huge as MU was 4 of 4 on the PK and blocked 28 shots en route to a 4-0 victory at the Huntington Center.
“You’ve got to give them a lot of credit,” MSU senior forward Eriah Hayes said. “They take a lot of pride in blocking those shots, especially on the power play. We had a lot of good looks, and those D-men were blocking everything it seemed. I think their goalie should give their D-men a little tap on the back. They saved him tonight.”
Freshman goaltender Ryan McKay was, indeed, quite happy with the guys in front of him.
“When guys are selling out like that, you appreciate it as a goalie. Absolutely,” said McKay, who collected 20 saves. “That’s the desperation we played with tonight, and I believe that was the contributor of why we won.”
RedHawks like Marc Hagel and Garrett Kennedy are known for their desire to get in front of pucks.
“You’ve got to get in the lanes. That’s what coach (Brent) Brekke’s telling us all the time,” Hagel said. “Get your stick where the pass should be, get your pads in the lanes, and hopefully they shoot at you. With a willingness to block shots, that’s what our team’s about. It’s not just me.”
Miami gave up a season-high six goals last weekend against Michigan, and McKay got replaced by Jay Williams after allowing four in about 32 minutes.
MU coach Enrico Blasi said the defeat didn’t linger with his troops.
“Once that game was over, the entire team forgot about it,” he said. “I thought the guys had a great attitude coming to the rink on Monday. They were fresh. They were energetic. Then the evaluation of the goaltenders … we battled all week. Ryan battled his butt off and so did Jay, and it could’ve gone either way. We decided to go with Ryan, and obviously he got the job done.”
Said McKay, “As a goalie, it doesn’t matter what level you’re playing. You’ve got to have a quick memory. I forgot about (Michigan) the instant that game was over.”
Mullin goes down: RedHawks forward Jimmy Mullin suffered a right knee injury with 7:28 left in the opening period and had to be helped off the ice.
MSU’s Evan Mosey drew a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for the knee-to-knee contact.
Asked after the game if he could comment on the extent of his injury, Mullin replied simply, “No.”
Blasi said he had “no idea” if Mullin would be available for Sunday’s regional final against St. Cloud State.
Miami wasn’t able to score on the extended power play. That was good and bad for the Mavericks. “I thought it zapped a little bit of our energy,” MSU coach Mike Hastings said.
Quick hitters: MU had suffered three straight NCAA losses before topping the Mavericks. It was the RedHawks’ first-ever shutout victory in the national event.
Blasi is now 8-8 as a coach (and 0-1 as a player) in the NCAA tournament.
Miami is 21-2-1 when scoring first and 15-0 when scoring four or more goals this season.
Curtis McKenzie tallied Saturday’s first goal and now leads MU with five game-winning goals this year.
The RedHawks are 8-2-2 against St. Cloud State. The teams met three times in 2010-11: Miami won 6-3, SCSU won 4-3, and they tied 1-1.
MU is seeking its third Frozen Four berth in the last five years. St. Cloud has never made it to the national semifinals.