By John Lachmann
OXFORD, Ohio – A pane of glass broke at the rink prior to the game, causing the opening puck drop to be delayed by 12 minutes as fans waited for a replacement to arrive.
It took that glass sheet less time to show up on the ice than Miami's players.
The RedHawks were blanked, 3-0 by last place Michigan State in the first game of a three-game series in the CCHA quarterfinals at Cady Arena on Friday.
The Spartans scored twice in the first 16 minutes and MSU goalie Jake Hildebrand stopped 29 shots to preserve the shutout. It was the seventh time this season Miami has been blanked, and the RedHawks have failed to score in all three of their home losses.
A drop pass by Miami senior forward Marc Hagel was intercepted in the neutral zone and Michigan State's Matt DeBlouw was able to sneak a shot through the five hole of Miami freshman goalie Ryan McKay just over eight minutes into the game.
The Spartans' Matt Berry took a pass from teammate John Draeger at the side of the net and slammed it into the net with 4:43 remaining in the opening frame, making it 2-0.
Michigan State's Kevin Walrod tacked on an empty-netter from center ice in the final minute to seal the game.
Trailing in the series, one game to zero, Miami needs to win both Saturday and Sunday nights to advance to the last-ever CCHA championship weekend, held March 23-24 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
Game 2 is at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday. Game 3, if necessary, will be at 7:05 p.m. on Sunday. The entire series will be played at Cady Arena.
ANALYSIS: OK, so the analysis bled into the game story somewhat, but this team is just maddeningly inconsistent.
Michigan State played three games last weekend, which were in Fairbanks, by the way, yet the Spartans looked like the fresher team in the first period and parts of the third.
Meanwhile, Miami didn't show up for its series opener vs. Ohio State two weeks ago and followed that up with a dominant performance in the regular season finale the next night. And the RedHawks haven't played since.
Granted there's usually some rust after having a week off like Miami did, but there's not excuse for laying that big of an egg in the opening 20 minutes against a team that was shut out by the US Under 18 team at home earlier this year.
One would think this team had learned its lesson after expecting to win by merely showing up two weeks ago but the RedHawks continue to do things the hard way.
Hagel has obviously been a stud this season, and it looked like he was trying a drop pass to senior defenseman Joe Hartman from the red line to his own blue line, and it was picked off for a scoring chance, which turned into the first goal.
Maybe it was tipped, but it didn't look like it from ice level. And it looked like – again with no replay or tee vee to check later – freshman defenseman Chris Joyaux could've done a better job defending. Even taking the player down and going to the box for two minutes would've helped.
On the second goal – deep breaths, deep breaths – how in the world does the best offensive player on the team get wide open for a slam-dunk goal?!? I mean, Berry's the only player on the team with more than 20 points, and this was MSU's 40th game.
Senior captain Steven Spinell was the right defenseman on that play, although it's possible someone was supposed to rotate over to cover Berry and missed the assignment. I mean, the concession stand was closer to Berry than the closest red sweater.
And not that it mattered that much, but Spinell had the chance to fired the puck deep into the zone on the third goal, but eventually it went the other way and that was the game.
Even usually steady Ryan McKay had a rough night. He nearly put one in his own net when he tried to play the puck, a la Jaroslav Halak.
Yes, that was also in the first period. Miami did control the puck in the Michigan State zone for a few shifts from about the third minute until the midway point of that frame, but that would be the only positive thing that could be said about that stanza from a RedHawks perspective.
Too many home run passes that resulted in icing and fancy passes that were corralled by sticks of players with green sweaters.
The second period was considerably better. Still not great by any stretch but it was probably a slight advantage to Miami. The shots reflected that, favoring the RedHawks, 12-8.
Miami had some excellent scoring opportunities in the third period but none found their way in. Freshman forward Riley Barber hit a post on a wrister and senior forward Curtis McKenzie was robbed somehow on a glorious chance.
But Michigan State went into the trap and did a good job denying Miami the offensive blue line and the Spartans inexplicably looked like the fresher team late.
And credit of course belongs to MSU, which had very solid goaltending from Hildebrand and made the RedHawks pay for their mistakes.
PairWise is No. 3 after that loss, but if the RedHawks can't win this series it would be a serious longshot for them to draw the Toledo regional.
If there's any good news, and this may be a stretch, Miami at least played on par with Michigan State for the final 40 minutes, so hopefully that will carry over into Saturday.
FORWARDS: F. Well, that was easy. Scoring zero goals deserves a failing grade, especially when it's the seventh time this season.
Certain folks think certain writers on this site are overly negative after losses, so we'll insert positive here:
Junior Max Cook played very well. Actually his whole line was pretty good (sophomores Jimmy Mullin and Blake Coleman being his linemates).
No line was especially brutal, but again, the zero on the scoreboard. Again. Unacceptable.
DEFENSEMEN: D+. As mentioned above, a little more help on the first goal would've been appreciated and the second was a catastrophic breakdown.
Spinell didn't play a great game, and Joyaux struggled at times, especially early.
GOALTENDING: C. Again, McKay has set such high standards that one has to avoid the instinct to give a lower mark simply because he has made it look so easy most of the season.
He was 21-for-23, which is a .913 save percentage and an OK night in today's college hockey. He did make a couple of excellent saves.
The first goal he might've wanted back, the second he had no chance on and as for nearly playing the puck into his own net: These goalies are a key reason Miami won a CCHA regular season title, but it wasn't because of their puckhandling.
LINEUP CHANGES: This portion may be done away with for the season after this weekend, since coach Enrico Blasi appears set with the 19 on his current lineup card.
However, this is a tough weekend for netminders, with three games in a 50-hour span.
Blasi clearly likes McKay right now, and the team is now facing elimination from the conference tournament. McKay probably goes on Saturday, but it would be interesting to see what happens if Miami got a big lead.
With the prospect of a game on Sunday in that scenario, would Blasi rest McKay for the remainder of Saturday so he could come back with him on Sunday?