By John Lachmann
OXFORD, Ohio – Sophomores accounted for all four goals Friday. On Saturday, the freshman class answered.
No. 3 Miami scored four straight goals over the final 27 minutes as the RedHawks beat Alaska, 6-2 on Saturday to complete the weekend sweep.
Freshman forwards Riley Barber and Kevin Morris found the net twice each – the first career multi-goal game for either – as MU moved into first place in the CCHA.
Miami (17-6-5), which extended its winning streak to a season-best five games, had not scored six goals since March 9, 2012 in a 6-0 win over Michigan State in the first game of the CCHA quarterfinals.
Barber scored both of his goals in the first seven minutes to give the RedHawks an early 2-0 lead. He slammed home a rebound off of a shot by sophomore forward Austin Czarnik just 2:39 into the game.
Barber extended the Miami lead when he roofed a backhander after Czarnik slid a pass to him in the slot on the power play.
Andy Taranto and Nik Yaremchuk tied the score with power play goals for Alaska (12-10-4).
But Morris put the RedHawks ahead for good when his blast from the top of the faceoff circle snuck inside the near post with 6:55 left in the middle stanza, making it 3-2.
Miami junior forward Max Cook knocked home a loose puck in the crease less than three minutes into the final stanza, giving the RedHawks back their two-goal lead.
A rip by sophomore forward Cody Murphy beat Nanooks goalie John Keeney on the stick side with 8:19 left in the game, and Morris sealed it with 57 seconds remaining when he poked in a puck that was laying at the edge of the crease.
Morris was also credited with an assist for a career-best three points. Senior forward Marc Hagel also finished with a Miami-best three points – all helpers.
On the weekend, Hagel led the RedHawks in points with five (0-5-5), and Czarnik and Morris tallied two goals and two assists each.
Murphy scored in consecutive games for the first time in his Miami career, and he has netted four goals in his last four games.
RedHawks freshman goalie Ryan McKay won his third straight game and extended his personal unbeaten streak to four games.
With Western Michigan's tie vs. Ferris State, Miami moves past the Broncos in the standings and into first place by one point.
The RedHawks and WMU play a weekend series in Kalamazoo on Feb. 8-9.
ANALYSIS: This was one of the best games – if not the best – that Miami has played this season.
Like Friday, the margin of victory doesn't tell the whole story. The game was close until the third period, but it looked like the fourth goal really deflated Alaska.
And a lot of people will look at this weekend and see that the RedHawks outscored the Nanooks, 10-3 on the weekend and think these were easy wins, but they that was far from the case.
Keeney wasn't particularly strong in net on Saturday, which certainly helped Miami, but once again Alaska impressed. The fact Miami was able to run away with Saturday's game was a testament to how well the team played.
In terms of the offensive outburst, the good news is three lines contributed. Barber broke out of a five-game scoring funk, and Cook's goal was his first since Nov. 5, 2011 against, coincidentally, Alaska.
But the top line of the game, and the weekend for that matter, was the Murphy-Morris-Hagel combination. Murphy singlehandedly created at least four scoring chances on Saturday and several more Friday, and Morris and Hagel also played fantastic defense in addition to combining for nine points in the two games.
Miami is also taking charge of games early after struggling mightily in the first period for an extended stretch. From the beginning of December until the finale vs. BGSU last weekend, the RedHawks had scored two first-period goals in 12 games.
But Miami has netted two goals in the opening stanza in each of the last three games.
The RedHawks also didn't get flustered when Alaska bounced back to tie the score, especially since dreadful officiating was partly responsible for the power plays that resulted in Nanooks goals.
Miami senior defenseman Garrett Kennedy had the stick knocked out of his hands and was unable to make a play on the first goal, and sophomore forward Blake Coleman was assessed a hitting-too-hard penalty, followed by another that created a 5-on-3 for Alaska's other goal.
(For the record, both teams ended up the weekend with 11 power plays and the officials were awful both ways, but at that point it would've been easy for a young Miami team to go south).
There's a good chance Alaska will end up hosting a first-round CCHA Tournament series and then heading back on the road for a quarterfinal, and the way the standings are playing out these teams could play again in that round at Cady Arena.
A couple of requests have been made to talk about the crowd, and while that probably won't make it into prose every game, Cady Arena was pretty loud on Saturday.
What really got the fans going was Morris' first goal, which made it 3-2 after Alaska had scored consecutive goals.
Despite Notre Dame's current 1-6-1 skid, the building should be rocking in two weeks when Miami faces the Fighting Irish before the outdoor game.
FORWARDS: A+. This corps scored all six goals, accounted for eight assists and 32 shots. All four lines played well.
Sophomore Alex Wideman deserves credit for feeding Czarnik on the first goal, and sophomore Jimmy Mullin set up Cook's goal with a pass to the edge of the crease.
It would be easy to think of at least one positive thing all 12 forwards did in this game.
DEFENSEMEN: B. Miami made some uncharacteristic turnovers in the first period – senior Joe Hartman took a penalty after his, and freshman Taylor Richart lost the puck behind his own net, resulting in an Alaska scoring chance, but overall they played well.
Miami was short a blueliner for about the final 10 minutes as freshman Chris Joyaux appeared to injured his shoulder along the boards, but hopefully he'll be able to play next weekend.
Joyaux, Kennedy and senior Steven Spinell all picked up assists.
GOALTENDING: B. McKay was definitely good, just not exceptional. He allowed a couple of rebounds that he normally controls.
The first Alaska goal was on a loose puck on the power play when Kennedy didn't have a stick and the other was a one-timer on a 5x3, so essentially Miami was down two men on both goals.
McKay did make an excellent save midway through the third period to preserve the lead before the RedHawks put the game away.
LINEUP CHANGES: None, other than the obligatory goalie change.
If the goalie rotation continues that means McKay would play in the outdoor game, which makes sense since he's a Chicago-area native.
If Joyaux is unable to go next weekend, it would open the door for sophomore Ben Paulides or freshman Michael Mooney.