By John Lachmann
After being shut out in its series opener against No. 6 Western Michigan, it was Miami’s turn to return the favor in the weekend finale.
Freshman goalie Ryan McKay stopped 29 shots as the RedHawks blanked the Broncos, 4-0 at Lawson Arena in Kalamazoo on Saturday.
Western Michigan (18-7-5) blanked MU, 2-0 on Friday.
With the win, Miami (18-7-5) moved back in front of WMU into first place in the CCHA with 47 points. The Broncos jumped ahead of the RedHawks for 24 hours after winning Friday.
It was the third shutout in 12 starts for McKay, whose goals-against average dropped below one (0.98).
Senior forward Curtis McKenzie and freshman forward Riley Barber tallied a goal and an assist each in the win, Miami’s sixth in its last seven games.
Barber redirected a shot by freshman defenseman Taylor Richart to open the scoring with 7:17 left in the first period.
It was McKenzie tipping home a Barber shot to extend the RedHawks’ lead to two less than three minutes into the second period on the power play.
Miami sophomore forward Jimmy Mullin slid a pass from behind the Western Michigan net to junior forward Max Cook, who slammed it home to make it 3-0 less than nine minutes later.
Senior forward Marc Hagel capped off the scoring when he snuck a shot inside the far post with 5:28 left in regulation.
The No. 3 RedHawks lead the conference by one point, and can finish no worse than sixth in the CCHA. Miami needs one win to clinch a first-round bye in the CCHA Tournament.
Next up for the RedHawks is the much-anticipated series vs. Notre Dame Feb. 15 and 17. Friday’s game will be played at Cady Arena in Oxford at 7:35 p.m., and Miami will make its outdoor debut Sunday at 1 p.m. at Soldier Field vs. the Fighting Irish.
ANALYSIS: Obviously this is was a huge win. A split at the sixth-ranked team in the country is a good thing, especially as well as Miami has played in Oxford this season.
And this was a fantastic effort by the RedHawks. They were absolutely buzzing in the first period and ultimately chased WMU goalie Frank Slubowski, who had played all but 50-plus minutes between the pipes this season.
Like last weekend, Miami generated goals from multiple lines. The Garden Gnome line opened the scoring, the CCM line (Cook-Coleman-Mullin) found the net, the top power play unit scored and a makeshift 4-on-4 forward duo of Hagel and McKenzie sealed it.
How good has McKay been? In 12 appearances this seasons, he has gone binary 10 times. So when Miami has scored two goals with him in net, the game has been pretty much over.
FORWARDS: A. Love the rebound after Friday. Facing a good goalie who’s been playing well and getting shut out the previous night it would’ve been easy for a young team to let Slubowski get into its collective head.
Instead, four different forward found the net and Slubowski was chased after the second period after surrendering three markers.
That’s three goals in three games for Barber and two in three games for Cook, who had not scored this season entering last Saturday’s win over Alaska.
Hagel has not only been invaluable as a penalty killer, he has a goal and five assists in his last four games.
DEFENSEMEN: A. Not only did Miami not get scored on, this corps picked up four assists. Richart, freshman Matthew Caito and seniors Garrett Kennedy and Joe Hartman all earned helpers.
Caito has quietly rolled up eight points in nine games.
And Chris Joyaux was back in the lineup on Saturday, further solidifying the RedHawks’ blue line. Joyaux appeared to hurt his shoulder late in Saturday’s game vs. Alaska.
GOALTENDING: A+. McKay faced 29 shots, including 21 over the final 40 minutes while playing with the lead.
It’s been a remarkable season for the freshman, who easily leads all of college hockey in GAA and save percentage.
LINEUP CHANGES: With Joyaux returning to the lineup, freshman Michael Mooney was scratched.
Especially with Cook scoring a couple of goals recently and building chemistry on his line with Mullin and sophomore Blake Coleman, it’s looking more and more like tonight’s lineup was one coach Enrico Blasi wants to take to the NCAA Tournament.
Senior Garrett Kennedy continues to make it difficult for Blasi to sit him by blocking shot after shot and playing solid defense.