By John Lachmann
OXFORD, Ohio – Arguably the best two players for Miami the second half of the season have been senior Connor Knapp and junior Reilly Smith.
That duo undoubtedly keyed Miami's blanking of Ohio State, 3-0 at Cady Arena on Friday.
Smith scored MU’s first two goals, and Knapp stopped all 28 shots he faced to earn the shutout.
Smith is second in the NCAA and tops in the conference with 25 goals on the season. He has scored 13 goals in his last 14 games.
Knapp tied Miami’s all-time career shutouts record with 12. Since the beginning of 2012, Knapp is 9-2 with a 0.90 goals-against average and a .962 save percentage.
Fellow senior Cody Reichard and 2003 graduate David Burleigh are all tied for Miami’s career lead putting up zeroes.
Freshman forward Austin Czarnik won a battle along the boards behind the Ohio State net and found a wide-open Smith at the top of the faceoff circle for a one-timer that deflected off OSU goalie Cal Heeter and into the net with 3:16 left in the first period to open the scoring.
Miami maintained its one-goal lead until late in the third period. RedHawks freshman Jimmy Mullin chased down a pass in the Ohio State zone, and a loose puck bounced to Smith, who fired a shot from nearly the same spot he scored from in the first period off Heeter’s glove and into the net with 5:21 left in regulation.
Miami freshman Blake Coleman iced the game when he took a feed from freshman Alex Wideman and had a pass deflect off a skate into the Ohio State net with 2:18 left.
The RedHawks extended their winning streak to five games, and they moved into fourth place in the CCHA with one game remaining.
Miami moved past Michigan State, which lost to Notre Dame, and moved within two points of Western Michigan and Michigan.
The Broncos earned two points for a shootout win against Ferris State, and Michigan lost at Bowling Green.
Miami will wrap up its regular season at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday when the RedHawks face Ohio State at Value City Arena.
ANALYSIS: Obviously this was a huge win for Miami, and more importantly the RedHawks continued to play exceptional hockey, as they did during most of their five-game homestand.
Knapp has been exceptional the second half of the season, and has given Miami a chance to win every night regardless of offensive output.
Fortunately the RedHawks have also put the puck in the net on a regular basis recently, as Miami has won all of its games during its current winning streak by at least two goals.
Among the forwards, Smith, Coleman, and freshman Tyler Biggs were outstanding. Czarnik was exceptional on the penalty kill.
On defense, senior Cameron Schilling played one of his best games of the season, and senior Chris Wideman was also a staple on the penalty kill.
Mullin picked up two assists, and his maximum-effort skating resulted in Smith’s second goal.
Although both of Smith’s shots were goal worthy and Coleman played well, Heeter should’ve stopped at least one of the three goals he allowed, and probably two.
Heeter has struggled since the start of 2012, and despite stopping 36 shots he wasn’t sharp on Miami’s goals.
If there is one criticism that can be made, it’s that the fourth line (seniors Matt Tomassoni and Patrick Tiesling and freshman Cody Murphy) succeeded the first line far too often.
When Smith, Mullin and Czarnik finished their shifts, the fourth line – which did not play particularly well – squelched their momentum.
Miami has a chance to move into the second spot in the conference with a win on Saturday. It’s a long shot since the RedHawks would need to win and have Michigan and Western Michigan lose.
Most importantly, Miami can clinch a top four seed with a win, meaning the RedHawks would have a bye next week and host the following week.
If Miami loses, Michigan State could overtake Miami as the fourth seed with a win over Notre Dame. That would drop the RedHawks to fifth in the conference, meaning Miami would have a bye next week but would then go on the road to face the No. 4 seed the following week, which could be Michigan, Western Michigan or Michigan State.
FORWARDS: B. Most of Miami’s forwards played well, generating 32 shots, scoring all three goals and accounting for all four assists.
As mentioned above, Smith and Coleman deserved their goals, and Biggs, Czarnik and Mullin also had excellent games.
Junior Curtis McKenzie, who has struggled all season, turned the puck over too many times, and Tiesling dragged the fourth line down and failed to finish on any of three excellent scoring chances.
DEFENSEMEN: A. Ohio State managed 29 shots but rarely challenged the Miami net.
Schilling was excellent, as was junior Stephen Spinell and Wideman, who went plus-3.
They accounted for just seven shots and no points, but stuffing the Buckeyes’ offensive attack was clearly the blueliners’ main focus, and they fared exceptionally well.
GOALTENDING: A+. Knapp faced just one odd-man chance, and junior Garrett Kennedy sprawled out on the ice to prevent