By John Lachmann
No. 8 Miami finished its non-conference schedule on a high note.
Senior forward Curtis McKenzie scored the go-ahead goal in the second period and the RedHawks held on for a 2-1 win at Wisconsin on Saturday.
The victory snapped a four-game winless streak for Miami and was the first loss for the Badgers in 12 games.
It was the ninth time in 10 games the RedHawks (13-6-5) have been involved in a one-goal game or a tie, with the only other game in that span being a two-goal win as the result of an empty netter in the closing seconds.
Miami scored just its second first-period goal in 10 games when sophomore forward Austin Czarnik batted home a rebound off a shot by freshman Riley Barber just 3:13 into the frame on the power play.
Wisconsin (9-8-5) tied the score just before the midway point of the second period on a rebound shot that was roofed by Michael Mersch.
But with 3:53 remaining in the middle frame, McKenzie whipped a wrister past Badgers goalie Joel Rumpel after picking up a loose puck along the boards.
Miami survived four penalty kills over the final 23 minutes, and freshman goalie Ryan McKay turned 33 shots aside to preserve the win.
The RedHawks snapped a four-game winless streak (0-3-1) and McKay won for just the second time in four starts despite allowing just six goals in that span.
Miami returns home for a four-game homestand against Bowling Green and Alaska. The RedHawks will play 12 CCHA games in the final six weekends of the season, with seven contests coming at Cady Arena.
ANALYSIS: This is a big momentum swing for Miami heading into the final third of the regular season.
A loss – especially considering the RedHawks’ recent offensive woes – would’ve extended Miami’s unbeaten streak to five heading into its homestand.
The RedHawks have struggled on the power play and have failed to score early in recent games, and Miami generated a man-advantage goal three minutes into the game on Saturday.
After the RedHawks failed to extend to lead to two early in the second period despite several excellent chances, it looked like Miami was in trouble after the Badgers scored the equalizer. But the RedHawks kept battling and got the go-ahead goal minutes later.
-- The RedHawks blocked 27 shots (although the UW scorekeepers don’t break this stat down individually) to Wisconsin’s 10.
-- Miami was 5-for-5 killing penalties.
-- The RedHawks did not allow a crucial goal in the third period for the first time in five games.
-- Moving sophomore Alex Wideman to the top line seemed to be a success, although the timing was a little off occasionally. McKenzie and freshman Alex Gacek played well together on the second line.
Wideman-Czarnik-Barber certainly creates one of the smallest top lines in college hockey, as Barber is actually the bulk of the group.
Faceoffs continued to be a Miami weakness, as they won just 40 percent of their draws. Wisconsin was able to hold the puck in the zone on its power plays way too long as a result.
And Miami could’ve done without the back-to-back penalties by sophomore forward Blake Coleman and Czarnik 49 seconds apart after the RedHawks went on the power play, but the PK unit stepped up.
Miami can thank senior forward Marc Hagel for that, as well as a key clear after Wisconsin had pulled its goalie.
Both games this weekend were televised -- one by the obviously pro-Wisconsin Big Ten Network and the other by FS Wisconsin -- yet each night the broadcasters were very knowledgeable about Miami and were very complimentary of the RedHawks.
FORWARDS: C+. Miami continued to miss numerous high-percentage chances, especially in the second period.
Czarnik not only scored the first goal, he forced the turnover along the boards that created his scoring chance.
McKenzie’s goal avenged a missed chance earlier in the period when he failed to score on a one-timer with a huge portion of open net. Gacek tied the puck up along the boards to create McKenzie’s scoring opportunity.
Freshman Sean Kuraly picked up his second assist since returning from Russia. His WJC experience really seems to have improved his confidence, as he is using his size more to create scoring chances and becoming better defensively.
DEFENSEMEN: B. They played well overall but three of Miami’s six defensemen took penalties to create power plays for Wisconsin.
Freshman Matthew Caito made an excellent pass to Barber to set up the first goal, holding in a clearing attempt and immediately swinging it to Barber between the faceoff circles.
Despite his size, Caito was very physical this weekend.
GOALTENDING: A. McKay made several huge saves in the first period to hold the Miami lead.
Like fellow freshman Jay Williams, he has endured added pressure recently knowing his margin for error is very small with the RedHawks’ lack of scoring.
By allowing just one goal, McKay’s