Playing Friday and Saturday against the visiting Michigan State University Spartans, the RedHawks looked like two completely different teams from night to night.
Friday, Miami University’s ice hockey team dropped its fifth straight game, losing a 4-1 decision to the unranked Spartans. Saturday, the ‘Hawks returned to their ’08 form, blasting MSU 6-1 while outshooting it 60-13. With the win, Miami head coach Enrico Blasi picked up his 200th career victory.
“I have a great staff and family who give a lot of support,” Blasi said. “My family has to deal with a lot and I thank them for all the support.”
The two game series with MSU started out rough as the RedHawks failed to execute and managed to only get one goal past the Spartans goaltender, Captain Jeff Lerg. Miami showed from the first possession that it could close quickly on defenders and run dominating offensive sets, controlling the game early and moving the puck well. MSU did not have an elaborate offensive scheme all night long, accumulating only 18 shots on goal. Unlike the RedHawks who finished with 35 shots yet only one goal, the Spartans capitalized on their chances.
Freshman Cody Reichard gave up the first three scores and managed to only stop 11 shots. The game’s first goal came early as MSUs Tim Crowder scored with 3:25 gone in the first period on a 4-on-4 off a quick rush. The game’s second score came late in the second period as Corey Tropp scored a power play goal from the left wing circle, hitting the left side of the net, past Reichard’s glove hand. Only two minutes and 20 seconds later, MSU scored again to take the 3-0 lead. The third, scored by sophomore forward Dustin Gazley, was assisted by Brock Shelgren when he made a simple centering pass as Gazley took the shot that slid right by Reichard’s right skate.
Miami’s only score came late in the game as Chris Wideman sent the puck in from the top of the zone. Sophomore forward Pat Cannone deflected the puck to score and get Miami on the board with his power play goal at 15:33 of the third period.
Freshman Connor Knapp replaced Reichard for the final period, allowing only one goal by on a great play by MSU’s Corey Tropp, who showcased his shifty stick handling by splitting two Miami defenders to score past the right skate of Knapp.
From the opening possession until the last whistle Miami consistently generated great offensive pressure, attacking the MSU defenders all night. But when it came down to it, none of that mattered as the results did not show up on the scoreboard.
“You have to expect Lerg to come to play and bring his best game, but we need to find a way,” junior forward Gary Steffes said. “We need to get back to things we know and do, with no short letdowns.”
Physical play and speed was essential to wearing down the Spartans to win game two as the Miami ended its five game skid and earned a series split. Coming off a night that saw 35 shots produce just one goal, the RedHawks fired a season-high 60 rounds and netted six scores. According to Blasi, execution was Miami’s game plan and execute is exactly what the ‘Hawks did.
With 7:07 gone in the first period, sophomore forward Carter Camper scored on a two-on-one fast break up the ice to put the RedHawks on top 1-0 early. Justin Mercier and Tommy Wingels were instrumental in creating the rush as they were credited with the assists after pushing the puck up ice to feed Camper near the right wing circle. He hesitated with the puck, which allowed a defender to pass and MSU goaltender Jeff Lerg to drop to his pads. Camper went top shelf for the score.
“I waited for Lerg to drop and against a shorter goalie, you have to go top shelf,” Camper, a Hobey Baker Trophy candidate, said. Miami’s leading candidate for the Hobey Baker award.
Later in the period, MU senior forward and captain Brian Kaufman showed his toughness, fighting through an MSU defender who would not allow a quality shot as he approached the left circle. At the last second Kaufman centered a pass to forward Gary Steffes, who shot a one-timer past Lerg to give Miami a 2-0 lead and a boost of confidence.
“It was a two on two as I was trying to beat my defender, and I thought I was alone to be forced to take a weak shot, but I heard Gary calling for it,” Kaufman said.
As the game continued it was obvious Miami wanted the “W” more than the Spartans. MU clamped down on defense, not even allowing MSU to have a legitimate offensive possession for a quality shot on the net. MSU finished the period with only three shots on goal while Miami produced 15.
To close scoring in the first, MUs Andy Miele lit the lamp off a deflection as Cameron Schilling fired the puck in, giving Miami an impressive 3-0 lead after one.
In the second period, the Red and White returned to form on special team as Camper cashed in on his second goal of the night during a MU power play. Great puck movement allowed Cannone to find Camper for a back door goal with a wide-open net.
The Spartans finally found the net midway through the second period on a power play of their own.
Steffes and Mercier each scored for Miami in the final frame to cap an electric return to dominance for Miami.
The RedHawks now prepare for a road series at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. It remains to be seen if Miami can continue to play with the swagger seen on Saturday or if it will return to the mid-season struggles of late. Blasi is also face with a decision between the pipes, as Knapp seems to have claimed the upper hand toward winning the full-time starting job. Reichard has been pulled from the net in his last two starts.