By John Lachmann
OXFORD, Ohio – Sean Kuraly had three goals on the season entering Sunday and had not scored since Dec. 7.
But the freshman forward scored twice in the rubber game of Miami's CCHA Tournament quarterfinal series as the RedHawks beat Michigan State, 4-1.
Miami advances to the conference semifinals, and will play Michigan at Joe Louis Arena on March 23 at either 1:05 or 4:35 p.m.
Ohio State will face Notre Dame for a chance to qualify for the conference final.
The winners will face each other for the final CCHA Tournament Championship, which will be played at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
The RedHawks allowed the first goal each of the first two games of the series, but they jumped on Michigan State early with a pair of first-period goals in the series finale.
Just 4:57 into the opening frame, freshman forward Kevin Morris stole the puck from Michigan State goalie Brant Hildebrand after he had skated to the side boards to play the puck and deposited it into the open net for a shorthanded goal.
Moments earlier, Miami freshman forward Alex Gacek turned the puck over at the offensive blue line, creating a shorthanded breakaway, but RedHawks freshman goalie Ryan McKay came up with the save.
Kuraly drove the net and muscled the puck past Hildebrand with a hard wrister with 2:07 left in the first period to give Miami a two-goal lead.
In a penalty-marred second period, the Spartans cut the deficit to one when Matt DeBlouw wired a shot into the top corner of the net on a two-man advantage with 13:14 to play in the middle stanza.
But Kuraly scored again off a rebound shot by sophomore forward Cody Murphy with 10:58 remaining in the game on the power play to make it 3-1.
Sophomore forward Austin Czarnik knocked home an empty-netter from center ice with 24 seconds left to ice the series.
It was the second multi-point game of Kuraly's career – he dished for a pair of assists vs. Bowling Green on Jan. 26 – and he had just one point in his last 12 games.
Senior defenseman Steven Spinell also notched two points, both helpers, for the second time this season. It was the fifth multi-point game he has recorded at Miami.
McKay stopped 18 shots for his 12th win of the season.
This is the fourth straight season the RedHawks advanced to Detroit.
ANALYSIS: Miami played well again on Sunday and deserved to win.
The RedHawks pretty much dominated the game except for a good portion of the second period when they were assessed five straight penalties (and one was waived off because of MSU scored a 5-on-3 goal with the referee's arm up again).
The unsung play of the game goes to Murphy. He received an assist on the third goal, which made it 3-1 and really deflated a Michigan State team that had battled hard to try to get back into the game, but the play he made was not the reason he earned a helper.
Miami had the puck in the offensive zone and an MSU player went to clear it, but Murphy, from his knees, was able to deflect it away from him just enough to prevent the clear, and instead the puck went along the wall. Another Spartan batted the puck up the boards, but Spinell was there to hold it in at the blue line.
Because of that hold in, the RedHawks cycled the puck for about another minute and eventually scored.
Hey, it's St. Patrick's Day, we have to point out when a kid named Murphy does well.
How about Kuraly? He's made so many strong moves to the net this season but hasn't finished them, and he finally got one in. And then another. Miami fans can expect to see plenty more of that as he matures.
In the USHL he went from being not much an offensive factor his first full season to 32 goals his second.
And Czarnik's ENG was not just a cherry-picked tap-in. He was smart enough to skate to the red line to avoid a possible icing and there was a stick in his way when he slid the puck down the ice. That was three goals for him this weekend after none the previous 10 games.
We can't forget Morris. He's not flashy but he always makes smart plays and is a stud defensively. The son of a D-I college, you can already tell he's become a vocal leader on this team.
He worked hard to put pressure on Hildebrand, and like running out a pop-up in baseball, that effort rarely pays off, but that's always something Miami has done well and Morris was justly rewarded with his seventh goal.
Morris also flipped the puck out of his zone to squelch a dangerous situation after MSU had cleared the puck, sending it high and into the Spartans' end but not deep enough to go for icing, keeping the clock running and avoiding a defensive zone faceoff with tired Miami skaters.
And McKay…well, he was just McKay. One goal, 18 shots. No mistakes, no
juicy rebounds, typical machine-like fundamentals. Gave up a blistering shot on the 5-on-3 that Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek, both in their prime, standing side-by-side, could not have stopped.
Four goals allowed over 180 minutes played in a 50-hour span. Well done, freshman. Your goals-against average for the season dropped to 1.20.
FORWARDS: A-. One player not mentioned above was senior Marc Hagel. Miami had to kill seven penalties, and he spends a lot of thankless time on the ice killing penalties.
Thinking about all 12 forwards, there wasn't one you could think that played poorly. Gacek did create the shorthanded break with his turnover but he played better later and picked up an assist. Maybe he'll grow into a point guy on the power play but right now, at this level, it doesn't seem like he's a fit there.
DEFENSEMEN: A. Senior Joe Hartman was great all series, one of the best he's played. He owned the defensive zone all weekend and gave many a laugh when he joined the play after a Miami penalty had expired and found himself the recipient of a pass to the slot.
If it had gone in, obviously it would've been talked about before now.
And it bears repeating: freshman Matthew Caito just gets better and better. He was awesome in this game, even better than Saturday when he set up a goal. His transition passes are still improving, and that's an area where Miami needs a mainstay from its blue line. Here's another player who has future leader written all over him.
Again, not even a so-so game from anyone in the corps.
GOALTENDING: A+. Keep in mind, this was McKay's third game in three nights. He had only played back-to-back nights twice this season.
And still: 18-of-19 in this game (.947), 55-for-59 on the weekend (.932), 480-for-503 on the season (.954, tops in NCAA by .010).
LINEUP CHANGES: Still no sophomore forward Blake Coleman, who was walking around wearing a boot. Again, junior Bryon Paulazzo was fine in his place, although Coleman will obviously be welcomed back to the ice when he's cleared to play.
If freshman goalie Jay Williams did not play this weekend, he's likely relegated to the bench for the remainder of the season.
His enthusiasm is so contagious that it's a shame his ice time has been curtailed. But the popular opinion was McKay was going to start the majority of games this season, especially in the playoffs, and Williams at least was between the pipes the entire time McKay was hurt and played very well.