By John Lachmann
OXFORD, Ohio – One area Miami had struggled with in its first eight games was power play efficiency.
But the No. 5 RedHawks scored three goals on the man advantage on Friday in a 5-2 win over Northern Michigan at Cady Area.
Entering the game, Miami was 6-for-37 on the power play (16.2 percent) on the power play, ranking in the bottom half of the CCHA. The RedHawks, who finished 3-for-8 on Friday, jumped to 20 percent and moved into fifth place in the conference.
Miami (6-2-1) converted on its second man-advantage opportunity as freshman forward Riley Barber whipped a cross-ice pass to freshman defenseman Matthew Caito, who buried his shot with 9:23 left in the first period.
Less than three minutes later, Northern Michigan (4-4-1) tied the score when D.J. Vandercook beat Miami freshman goalie Jay Williams with a high shot to the stick side.
It was the first shot of the game for the Wildcats.
Barber scored less than five minutes into the second period – again on the power play – on a wrister off a pass from sophomore forward Austin Czarnik.
Miami completed its man-advantage hat trick when sophomore forward Jimmy Mullin ripped a shot that Northern Michigan goalie Jared Coreau was unable to control, and RedHawks sophomore forward Cody Murphy slammed the puck in from the side of the net with 4:35 left in the middle stanza.
Senior forward Curtis McKenzie extended Miami’s lead to three midway through the third period off a feed from Barber.
Czarnik stole the puck in his defensive zone, went coast to coast and beat Wildcats backup goalie Michael Doan just under the crossbar with 5:32 left in the third period to make it 5-1.
C.J. Ludwig did score a 5-on-3 goal with 4:11 remaining to trim the deficit to three.
Czarnik and Barber finished with a goal and two assists each, and Caito’s goal was the first of his career, and he also added an assist.
Williams stopped 18 of 20 shots to earn his second straight win.
Miami got more good news on Friday as two players returned to its lineup. Sophomore forward Alex Wideman was back after suffering from mononucleosis, and senior defenseman Joe Hartman had missed the last six games with a foot injury.
Also, freshman goalie Ryan McKay, who had a 0.46 goals-against average and a .984 save percentage before suffering what the Hamilton Journal called “a leg injury” in the opening game in Ann Arbor, dressed but did not start.
The Journal said he might be able to play if needed.
Miami, which moved into a tie for first in the CCHA with Lake Superior State and Notre Dame, remained unbeaten at home this season (4-0-1).
The teams wrap up their weekend series at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday.
ANALYSIS: This was a dominating effort by Miami, and the final score really didn’t indicate how well the RedHawks played.
Miami has struggled at times over the years playing against defensive-minded NMU, which has been known for playing the trap.
I think the RedHawks finally found a way to beat the Wildcats’ trap – it’s called speed. It’s hard to trap players that have already skated around the defense.
Keep in mind, Northern Michigan is far from a bottom dweller. This team swept Wisconsin to open the season and went 1-0-1 in its weekend series vs. Michigan last weekend.
This was a fantastic way to open a four-game homestand after a tough four-game road trip (and to those of you who mentioned it to me at the game, yeah, I’m sorry I didn’t do write-ups on the Ferris State games – I had high school tournament football and soccer games last weekend and didn’t actually see either tile in Big Rapids).
Cady Arena was rocking on Friday with 3,550 in attendance. With lags in attendance the past couple of recent seasons and rejuvenated crowds recently I think the word is out about how special this team is.
I said in early October that I thought by mid-season this team would be good, but Miami had far exceeded my expectations to this point, especially considering the injuries the RedHawks have had to battle through.
FORWARDS: A. These guys controlled the puck and played keep-away for much of the game.
They scored four of the goals, earned six of the team’s seven assists and played even better than those statistics.
Czarnik and Barber may be the best scoring combination in the country. Czarnik is tied for second in the NCAA in goals (6) and Barber is tied for second in assists (8).
Both have 13 points, tied for third in college hockey.
Oh yeah, and there have been seven shorthanded goals by CCHA teams this season. After Friday, Czarnik has three.
It was nice to see Mullin get on the scoresheet – he’s been moved around and has been underutilized since being moved off the top line. He’s way too talented to play on the fourth line, although he still logs plenty of power play time.
Senior Marc Hagel did not record a point but played an excellent defensive game and finished with four blocked shots.
DEFENSEMEN: A-. It’s kind of hard to tell how well the blueliners play when the