By John Lachmann
It was 36 days between starts for Miami goalie Ryan McKay, but when the freshman went back between the pipes he immediately returned to pre-injury form.
McKay stopped all 26 shots he faced in the RedHawks’ 4-0 win at Alaska on Saturday, completing a series sweep and extending Miami’s unbeaten streak to seven games.
McKay suffered a lower-body injury at Michigan on Oct. 26, leaving five minutes into the game after facing one shot. Fellow frosh Jay Williams had started every game since.
McKay has made a quite an impression in his three-plus outings this season. In 190 minutes this season, he has two shutouts, a 0.32 goals-against average and a .989 save percentage.
Senior forward Marc Hagel scored his first two goals as a RedHawk, netting a pair of third-period markers that put the game out of reach.
Sophomore forward Jimmy Mullin recorded his first multi-point game of the season (1-1-2), and sophomore Austin Czarnik picked up two more helpers to give him a goal and four assists on the weekend.
Sophomore forward Alex Wideman opened the scoring with a two-man advantage goal off a feed from Czarnik just over two minutes into the second period.
The score held at 1-0 until the third period until Hagel scored on a rebound off a shot by sophomore forward Blake Coleman with 11:36 left in regulation.
Czarnik sprung Mullin loose for a breakaway goal less than three minutes later as Miami extended its lead to three with 7:40 remaining.
Hagel scored an empty-netter shorthanded with 47 seconds left to cap off the scoring. It was the second straight game Miami scored a shorthanded goal – sophomore forward Cody Murphy recorded one on Friday.
The RedHawks, 5-0-2 during their current streak, held onto first place in the conference by one point over Notre Dame and Ohio State, which both won on Saturday.
Miami will host Lake Superior State on Dec. 7-8 at Cady Arena.
ANALYSIS: It’s nice to have McKay back.
Not taking anything away from Williams, who has gotten better as the season has gone along.
No one expects McKay to allow one-third of a goal per game all season but he could challenge for conference rookie and/or goaltender of the year for sure.
The other big storyline is Mullin generating two points, both coming while playing with Coleman. Coleman has been snakebitten since his sensational first weekend, and Mullin’s situation has been somewhat of an enigma, but both were way too good to stay off the scoresheet for long.
The scary thing is that this team played winning hockey without key players and with some key players not producing.
With the exception of senior defenseman Stephen Spinell, Miami is now healthy.
Is this team going to have a let-down at some point, maybe tank a weekend or two? Maybe. It just seems like this team has too much depth to stay down for long.
Look at the offense. Czarnik and Barber are too good to go through a prolonged dry spell. Even if they do, the Wideman-Murphy line has been exceptional. Now Coleman and Mullin are starting to make noise. Kuraly has a huge upside and will continue to take huge strides. And who is this guy wearing the 16 jersey and when did he get so good?
Even the fourth line – Morris will continue to get better. Cook is much improved over last season. Gacek gets better every game.
The young defense makes very few unforced errors. And very few forced ones. You don’t notice them much. That means they’re doing their job well.
Now you’re starting to notice Richart because he’s making good things happen. Caito is getting more comfortable with the offensive side of the game. Joyaux is showing his physical side more.
And the RedHawks have already battled through adversity. Plenty of it. I’d say losing the better of the two goalies for five weeks, a key defenseman and Wideman for multiple weeks builds character.
Miami has come out of each situation stronger than before.
Raise your hand if – entering the season – you expected a fully healthy RedHawks team to have two losses in their first 14 games. I was a definitely a glass-half-full guy I was hoping for .500 or better at this point.
This team is in first place in the CCHA and will be third in the country when the polls are released on Monday.
And we’re just two days into December.
FORWARDS: A. There’s always a concern about playing in Alaska back-to-back nights but these guys had no problem lighting the lamp.
Congratulations to Hagel for his first Miami goal, and his second.
Mullin’s goal is hopefully the start of a major offensive upswing for him, and it’s good that Coleman got an assist.
Fortunately Wideman ended his goal-scoring drought at one game. He was overdue to score.
DEFENSEMEN: A. Miami played for the second straight night without its captain, yet Alaska was held to 26 shots.
Freshman Matthew Caito picked up an assist, freshman Taylor Richart went plus-3 and senior Garrett Kennedy – God love him – blocked three more shots.
GOALTENDING: A+. Twenty-six shots or not, coming