OXFORD, Ohio - The CCHA regular season champions trophy will reside in Ohio permanently.
Miami won the final CCHA title on the final night of the conference's final regular season, beating Ohio State, 4-2 at Cady Arena on Saturday.
It was the fourth regular season championship for the RedHawks, which gives them home ice for their best-of-3 series on March 15-17 against an opponent TBD.
Miami will play the lowest-seeded team remaining after this weekend's first-round tournament series.
Unlike Friday, the RedHawks dominated play in their series finale, scoring the first four goals of the game before allowing two in the final minutes.
Senior forward Curtis McKenzie opened the scoring with 9:20 left in the opening period when he backhanded a shot that hit Ohio State goalie Brady Hjelle's glove and popped over his sprawled-out body and into the net.
Freshman forward Riley Barber extended Miami's lead with 6:49 remaining in the second period when he went in alone on Hjelle after sophomore forward Austin Czarnik fed him the puck, and he wrapped the puck around Hjelle on his backhand.
Miami was forced to kill a major penalty early in the third period – and a two-minute, two-man advantage concurrently – and 33 seconds after both penalties had expired, sophomore forward Blake Coleman made it 3-0.
Coleman went into the offensive zone alone after a loose puck, and Hjelle left his crease to charge after it. Hjlelle got there first, but he fired it into the side boards, and Coleman was able to corral it and fire it into the vacated net from a bad angle.
Sophomore forward Cody Murphy capped off Miami's scoring with a missile of a shot from the top of the faceoff circle that snuck inside the near post, lifting Hjelle's water bottle.
After another major penalty was assessed to the RedHawks – this one for slashing after a number of penalties were doled out for some extra curricular activities – Ohio State's Craig Dalrymple scored on a 4-on-3 with 2:13 remaining to break the shutout.
The Buckeyes' Alex Szczechura cut the final deficit to two on a 4-on-4 one-time with 18 seconds to play.
Barber and Coleman finished with a goal and an assist each. RedHawks freshman goalie Ryan McKay turned 28 shots aside to earn the win.
Notre Dame finished second in the conference by three points after winning on Saturday. Miami would not have won the CCHA regular season title had it not recorded at least one point, since the Fighting Irish would have held the tiebreaker on conference wins.
Western Michigan was upset by Michigan State on Saturday and took third place.
ANALYSIS: It's amazing how shots on goal can be such a deceiving stat.
Miami outshot Ohio State, 29-16 on Friday but it was one of the team's poorest performances of the season, certainly over the final 40 minutes. But the RedHawks managed one more shot than the Buckeyes on Saturday and it one of their best efforts.
Miami coach Enrico Blasi probably won't be thrilled his team led down its guard on the 4x4 in the closing seconds, but the other goal was scored on a 4x3.
The crowd on Saturday was absolutely rocking, louder than it had all season at Cady Arena. The season-high 3,618 went nuts when Miami killed off the two-minute, two-man advantage, and the major ended a half of a minute later, followed by off-the-charts crowd noise after the ensuing goal by Coleman.
Does it really get any better than a dominating effort against arguably your biggest rival on home ice in the regular season finale to clinch first place in the final season of a league that is clearly and unjustifiably bitter about you for leaving it?
In a roundabout way, all four lines scored goals in a four-goal outburst, which is about as balanced of scoring as you can get.
It was actually the first power play unit that put Miami on the board, but McKenzie (who is on the recently offensively benign second line) who netted the goal.
The top line scored 4x4, and McKenzie took a coincidental penalty to create that situation, taking Ohio State's best player, Ryan Dzingel, to the box with him.
Line 3a or 3b – the CCM line (Coleman, Cook, Mullin) – netted the demoralizing third goal after the penalty kill (and if someone figures out why freshman Sean Kuraly was kicked out for that major, please let me know).
Line 3a or 3b – Murphy, senior Marc Hagel and freshman Kevin Morris – generated the final goal.
Easier said than done, of course, but if Miami can put forth this type of effort every game moving forward, it will be very hard to beat the RedHawks come tournament time.
FORWARDS: A. They absolutely dominated the game for the first 58 minutes. Czarnik-Barber-Morris-Hagel-Murphy-McKenzie were studs on the PK.
Forget the 4-on-3 late, killing 5-of-6 penalties under those circumstances was an unbelievable effort.
McKenzie played at another level on Saturday. He was possessed during this game, reminiscent of Ryan Jones' play his final few games his senior season when everyone else on the ice looked like they were standing still.
Barber erased the memories
of an uncharacteristically poor performance on Friday.
Coleman's goal may have been a glorified empty-netter but it was not an easy shot. The puck still had some pace (and English) on it when it came off the boards, it was a tough angle and Hjelle was closing the gap quickly.
In a season that has seen Coleman seemingly snakebitten since his third-goal outburst opening weekend, it's nice to see him net such a crucial goal.
And Murphy. He's known for his grit, his head-down-skate-100-mph style, but the kid has a highly underrated shot. That wasn't the first time he's burned a goalie on an outside shot. Hjelle was cheating slightly toward the middle of the net and Murphy made him pay.
DEFENSEMEN: B+. Ohio State generated some good scoring chances, especially early, that could have changed the outcome, but this corps tightened up when it counted and was obviously a key part of the PK.
Senior Joe Hartman and freshman Chris Joyaux played especially strong games, although they did not record points. Joyaux probably should've gotten a secondary assist on the Murphy goal for clearing the puck up to Hagel at center ice (unless Morris tipped it, but either way there was only one assist credited.
And senior Steven Spinell blocked six shots and entertained the crowd by somehow getting the puck as the leading Miami skater on a penalty kill before he realized he didn't have help.
Senior Garrett Kennedy got his elbow right into the face of an Ohio State along the boards to create the two-minute 5-on-3, which was not a particularly smart penalty, but he did lead the team with a plus-2 rating.
GOALTENDING: A-. Twenty-eight saves on 30 shots is a solid night for most goalies (.933), but when your GAA hovers around one your save percentage is above .960 two-goal games hurt.
He didn't have much of a chance on either goal, both top-shelf rockets, and he made some very good saves to preserve the shutout earlier in the game.
The funny thing is he didn't have many tough saves during the 5x3, as his penalty killers did such a good job in front of him.
LINEUP CHANGES: None.
Blasi did not play senior forward Steve Mason on Senior Night (which was the prevailing thought here after Friday), nor was anyone benched after the egg Miami laid on Friday in a critical game.
One can surmise a major anus chewing took place between Friday night's game and Saturday, and Blasi had the same 19 players performing at a completely different level in the finale.
More than ever it appears Blasi will ride the 18 skaters from this weekend through the remainder of the postseason schedule.
McKay has not allowed a bad goal since Blasi has ridden him in net for the sixth time in seven games, so he is likely going to be the man the rest of the way.
The exception could be the best-of-3 at Cady Arena in two weeks. If the series goes three games fellow freshman Jay Williams could see action so McKay doesn't have to play 180 or more minutes in a 50-plus hour window.
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