Erika Hadley

Freshman Curtis McKenzie has contributed 17 points to the Red and White this season, including 13 assists. (Michael Griggs / The Miami Student)

The Miami University men’s ice hockey team (13-1-4-2 CCHA, 16-4-6 overall) reclaimed its throne atop the national polls with a shootout win and a win against the University of Alaska Fairbanks (7-8-5-4 CCHA, 10-8-6 overall) Jan. 22 and 23.

Miami also tightened its hold on the top spot in the CCHA standings and extended its unbeaten streak in conference play to 16 games. The Red and White now holds a seven-point lead in the CCHA, while the Nanooks remain in fifth place, two points behind Lake Superior State University.

The series opener consisted of a hard fought, relatively uneventful defensive battle at the Carlson Center in which each team only netted one goal and both sides combined for just 20 total minutes in the sin bin. Miami alone has been averaging 18.2 penalty minutes per game this season, and the Red and White boasts the best defense in the NCAA. Alaska entered the series as the least-penalized team in the country, averaging just 9.3 penalty minutes per game.

“It was a tough game,” RedHawk Head Coach Enrico Blasi said. “We played hard and they played well. Anytime you go to overtime it’s anybody’s game. Cody (Reichard) played well and we picked up an extra point.”

Junior Pat Cannone scored the lone regulation goal for the Brotherhood, and senior Jarod Palmer beat sophomore net minder Scott Greenham in the shootout to garner an extra point for the RedHawks. Sophomore goalie Reichard stopped 20 shots, including four in overtime and one in the shootout.

Miami fell behind 1-0 for the 14th time in 25 games when senior Dion Knelson – the Nanooks’ team leader in goals – winged the loose puck to sophomore Aaron Gens at the back post. Gens took advantage of the RedHawks being shortchanged by freshman Steve Mason’s charging penalty and put the puck away with 29 seconds remaining in the first frame.

Miami didn’t wait long to stage a rally effort. Shortly after Alaska sophomore Ron Meyers was whistled for contact to the head – roughing, junior captain Tommy Wingels slid the puck to Cannone, who netted the equalizer 2:54 into the second stanza. A season ago, the Red and White held a ledger of 2-12-3 when the opponent scored first; now, the RedHawks are 6-4-4 when faced with the same situation.

“We came into this game planning for a low-scoring game,” Palmer said. “They play so strong defensively; it’s real tough to get pucks through to the net, it’s tough to get rebounds and it’s tough to get scoring opportunities anywhere in the slot.”

The score remained locked at one for the remainder of regulation and through the extra period, necessitating a shootout. Palmer found the back of the net on Miami’s first shootout attempt and handed the Blue and Gold its first shootout loss of the season.

The Brotherhood set fire to the ice the following night and rode its highest scoring first period of the 2009-10 campaign – three goals in a span of eight minutes – all the way to a 5-0 victory over the Nanooks – the RedHawks’ record-setting seventh shutout of the season. The shutout was sophomore goaltender Connor Knapp’s third in 2009-10.

“They outcompeted us in pretty much every facet of the game – along the walls, in the net, puck possession … whatever it was,” Alaska Head Coach Dallas Ferguson said.

Ten different RedHawks tallied points, including a four-class paired points effort. Freshman Reilly Smith, sophomore Matt Tomassoni, junior Wingels and senior Brandon Smith each registered two points on the night, showcasing Miami’s tremendous depth.

Reilly Smith netted the contest’s first lamplighter – at 6:42 he redirected a shot from Wingels while the Red and White had an extra attacker due to a delayed penalty.

Miami then increased its lead to two on a breakaway at 12:11. Freshman Steven Spinell stole the puck in Miami’s zone and pushed it ahead to Brandon Smith, who fed it to Tomassoni for the RedHawks’ second goal of the game.

Miami lit up the scoreboard for the third time less than three minutes later when Palmer received a pass from behind the net by junior Andy Miele and one-timed it from the right circle. The goal prompted Ferguson to bench Greenham in favor of rookie net minder Steve Thompson for just the second time this season. The Red and White found the net on three of just nine shots posted in the opening stanza for an impressive 0.33 success rate.

“The third goal, I thought Scott was a little deep in the net, but it wasn’t his fault, there were three guys standing around him,” Ferguson said. “(The switch) was something to try to get something going.”

The RedHawks picked up where they left off at 5:21 of the penalty-riddled final frame when Wingels stuffed in the Brotherhood’s fourth goal of the night after a standout individual effort by junior Carter Camper. The junior from Rocky River, Ohio, stole the puck in neutral ice and faced the Alaska defense one-on-three. Camper did not manage to get a shot off, but Wingels picked up where he left off and made it 4-0.

Brandon Smith then closed out scoring with his third career goal late in the final frame.

“It was a good effort by all of our guys tonight,” Blasi said. “It was nice to get the win.”

Miami returns home for four straight games, beginning with a series against Western Michigan Jan. 29 and 30. Puck drop is slated for 7:35 p.m. Friday night and 5:05 p.m. Saturday.