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By John Lachmann
OXFORD, Ohio – The final CCHA regular season title will be decided on the last night of CCHA regular season play.
No. 3 Miami, which needed one point to clinch a tie atop the conference standings and two points to clinch first place outright, fell 3-0 to Ohio State at Cady Arena on Friday.
The RedHawks were shut out for the sixth time this season, the most times the team has been blanked since 2001-02 when it failed to score in seven games.
Miami (21-9-5) outshot the Buckeyes, 13-6 in the first period but were unable to find the net.
On the first power play of the game for either team, Ohio State's Chris Crane tipped in a blue-line wrister by Devon Krogh 1:14 into the second period to open the scoring.
The Buckeyes (14-14-7) extended the lead with 6:40 remaining in the middle stanza when Alex Szczechura corralled his own rebound off a save by Miami freshman goalie Ryan McKay and batted it in from the side of the net.
Ohio State's Max McCormick scored into the open net with 1:19 remaining in the game to seal it.
The RedHawks outshot the Buckeyes, 29-16. Sophomore forward Austin Czarnik finished with a team-high six shots, and freshmen forward Sean Kuraly and defenseman Matthew Caito added five each.
Miami had won nine of its last 11 games entering Friday and was 11-1-2 at home. The RedHawks' five-game winning streak at Cady Arena was snapped.
Miami could have also clinched the CCHA regular season title if Western Michigan lost on Friday, but the Broncos beat Michigan State, 5-2.
The RedHawks could actually finish third in the conference if they fail to win their regular season finale and both Western Michigan and Notre Dame win. In that case, Miami would tie the Fighting Irish for second but would lose the tiebreaker because Notre Dame would have one more win in CCHA play.
The teams finish the series and their final regular season as conference foes at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday.
ANALYSIS: Both teams came out hard in the first period, which was very entertaining.
The second period was one of the worst Miami has played in recent memory.
The RedHawks came out very strong early in the third period but were unable to find the net.
Miami picked a poor time to lay an egg, and it's mind boggling that they could come out that flat in the second period, playing against arguably its biggest rival and knowing the implications of the game.
And Ohio State deserves a lot of credit. The Buckeyes played a 60-minute game. Miami did not. Ohio State played like it needed the win more than the RedHawks, and perhaps OSU did, but it's inexcusable to get shown up in your own rink with the conference title on the line.
The first goal was a beautiful redirection on a blue line shot, which McKay had little chance on, but after that it was like Miami was deflated.
The second goal was scored after the Buckeyes held the puck in the RedHawks' zone for 107 seconds. Miami had a couple of chances to clear, most notably by senior defenseman Garrett Kennedy, who backhanded a change-up that was held in at the blue line instead of firing it out.
Even if he iced the puck, Miami coach Enrico Blasi could've called time out to rest his tired skaters.
Freshman Taylor Richart was the other defenseman in that pairing, and he let Szczechura take the puck straight to the net with little challenge, although his shift had reached the two-minute mark at that point.
Western Michigan is playing bottom-dweller Michigan State again on Saturday, so it's unlikely Miami can just back into a conference title. And if the RedHawks are unable to record two points out of a possible six against Ohio State on their home ice, they don't deserve the top seed anyway.
FORWARDS: D-. Czarnik created some scoring chances and played pretty well, and a lot of times it's telling who plays at the end of the game, since it's sometimes a reward for effort.
Junior Max Cook and sophomores Jimmy Mullin and Blake Coleman were on the ice for the final shift, and that was the only line that played anywhere near its capabilities.
Freshman Riley Barber, who has played so well this season and has turned up his game to another level recently, logged his worst game this season.
He couldn't complete passes, he turned the puck over repeatedly and almost lost the puck at the blue line for a breakaway but was called for offsides instead. Hopefully Friday was a complete aberration for the star right wing.
DEFENSEMEN: C+. Allowing just 16 shots is a good night, but the Richart-Kennedy pairing was a liability all game.
Ohio State did a good job of possessing the puck in the offensive zone, and every time they controlled it deep in Miami territory it seemed that pair was on the ice.
GOALTENDING: B-. Well, McKay only stopped 13-of-15 shots (.867), so it's hard to rate his performance much higher.
However, the proverbial hat needs to be tipped to Crane – a local kid from West Chester, Ohio – for a
highlight-reel deflection for the first goal.
The defensive collapse on the second goal was obviously due to fatigue, and McKay had no help as Ohio State crashed the net. He did give up a rebound, but the shots he faced were point blank, so he was put in a very tough spot.
Even McKay, normally mature beyond his years and aware of everything on the ice, lapsed at one point as he stood in the net for about 10 seconds after a delayed penalty was called instead of racing to the bench for an extra attacker.
LINEUP CHANGES: It was the third straight start for McKay, and his fifth in Miami's last six games.
With Blasi giving McKay the nod over fellow freshman Jay Williams on Friday, it would be surprising if McKay sat over the two goals he allowed in this game.
You always wonder how players will react to having their playing time diminish, and Williams could be seen joking with teammates at the end of the bench. He certainly went 100 percent during warm-ups – if you hadn't seen McKay come out first you wouldn't have known which was the starter.
Blasi is used to making tough decisions in net, and they've usually panned out, whether it be with Jeff & Eff, then Cody & Connor and now Jay & McKay. Blasi's always managed to strike the perfect balance of getting two talented goalies enough playing time while still managing to ride the hot hand while not letting the odd man out get down.
Saturday is senior night, and with the poor performance on Friday, it will be interesting to see if any of the 18 regulars are relegated to the bench for a night.
Forward Steve Mason should crack the lineup, since he's a senior, so we'll see who gets scratched to make room for him.