By John Lachmann
PITTSBURGH, Pa. – After playing far from its best hockey of the season for 40 minutes, No. 5 Miami and Ohio State were scoreless heading into the third period.
But 14 seconds into the final stanza, senior forward Curtis McKenzie put the RedHawks ahead and they held on for a 1-0 win in the opening game of the Three Rivers Classic at the Consol Energy Center on Friday.
Sophomore forward Jimmy Mullin skated the puck behind the Ohio State (7-7-5) net and tried a wraparound, which was denied by Buckeyes goalie Brady Hjelle. But the puck remained loose in the Ohio State crease, and McKenzie tapped in the rebound for the go-ahead goal.
“With all the players in the dressing room there after 40, we knew that it was not the best 40 minutes we’d played and Jay had been saving the game for us,” McKenzie said. “That was the one thing that we wanted was to get on them early and get the legs really going in the third period and try to make some opportunities, so it was nice to get one in the first shift.”
Freshman goalie Jay Williams stopped 29 shots to record his second career shutout. The RedHawks have blanked four opponents this season.
“We see Jay and – in fact I’ll just throw (fellow freshman) Ryan McKay in the mix as well – go at it in practice every day,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. “This is nothing surprising to us.”
Early in the first period, Miami (12-3-4) caught a break when the puck was knocked past Williams and over the goal line in traffic, but it was ruled the whistle had blown.
But Williams was dominant overall. He turned aside 23 shots in the first two periods, including one on a breakaway, to keep the RedHawks in the game.
It was the second career shutout for Williams, who blanked Michigan State, 2-0 at Cady Arena on Nov. 17.
“I thought Ohio State played great,” Blasi said. “I thought the first 40 minutes they were the better team, in fact. If it wasn’t for Jay maybe they would’ve been up one or two and we would’ve been out of the game.”
McKenzie’s goal was his sixth of the season. He had five all of last season and has never netted more than seven with the RedHawks.
Miami was without the services of freshmen Riley Barber and Sean Kuraly, who were in Russia playing for Team USA in the World Juniors.
The RedHawks will play Robert Morris in the championship game at 7:35 p.m. on Saturday.
“Hopefully tomorrow we’ll come out and play 60 minutes the way we know how to play,” Blasi said.
ANALYSIS: For two periods, Miami got flat-out outplayed. And Ohio State didn’t even play that great in those frames. The RedHawks were just that flat.
It seemed like for 40 minutes even when the team put together a good shift it would follow it up with several minutes of uninspired hockey.
And yet Miami came away with a win despite missing two key cogs in its offensive machine. The RedHawks have made a habit of putting up Ws despite missing significant players this season.
Senior defenseman Joe Hartman, sophomore forward Alex Wideman and freshman goalie Ryan McKay have all missed substantial time this season, yet Miami has lost just three of 19 games.
The RedHawks did get their legs in the third period, outshooting the Buckeyes, 14-6, but it was still the lowest shot total for Miami since its Nov. 2 loss at Ferris State.
Not that Friday’s win was how the RedHawks drew it up, but once again this young team played like veterans the lead late.
This was one of the biggest crowds some of Miami’s players had ever played in front of, so this experience for some of the RedHawks’ youngest players was invaluable.
FORWARDS: D. Even taking into account the lack of without Barber and Kuraly and the resulting lines shakeup, Friday’s showing was less than ideal overall.
A few bright spots: Mullin played well the second and third periods on the top line, and freshman John Doherty looked solid in just his second game of the season.
DEFENSEMEN: C-. The freshmen made mistakes they have rarely made all season.
Normally steady Matthew Caito turned the puck over for a breakaway. Taylor Richart tried to complete a two-foot pass three feet inside his own blue line for a bad turnover. A wide-open Chris Joyaux passed to no one in particular for icing.
Even normally steady senior Steven Spinell seemed off his game, as he got beat a few times.
Joe Hartman continued his solid senior season and earned more power play time.
GOALTENDING: A+. Williams was brilliant. And taking nothing away from Williams, he must’ve also eaten a big bowl of Lucky Charms on Friday.
The non-OSU goal was a huge break and the Buckeyes missed a couple of other open nets.
The game was similar to Miami’s 1-0 home loss vs. Lake Superior State on Dec. 8 when the goalie stood on his head and also caught a few breaks, only this time with a happy ending for the RedHawks.
LINEUP CHANGES: The absence of Barber and Kuraly opening the door for