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Miami v. Michigan State – CCHA Playoffs Round Two

On the strength of a 2-to-1 road series victory over Alaska, the Michigan State Spartans (13-24-3) advance to face the CCHA regular season champions, Miami (22-9-5), in round two of the CCHA playoffs. The Spartans, who finished dead last in the CCHA, won games 1 and 3 of the close fought series against the Nanooks to advance to challenge Miami in Oxford for the second consecutive year in the playoffs.

Last year Miami dominated MSU by 6-0 and 4-1 scores to end the Spartans CCHA season and advance to the league championship weekend in Detroit. However, head coach Tom Anastos’ MSU squad squeaked into the NCAA tournament where they were ousted in the first round by Union en route to a Frozen Four appearance.

Since 2005, Miami is just 13-8-1 against Michigan State, showing the Spartan program is still dangerous and that Miami must take them seriously this weekend. In the CCHA playoffs, Miami owns a 2-1 record against MSU (since 2005) with the lone loss coming in the CCHA championship game in March of 2006 at Joe Louis Arena.

This weekend’s series is a best-of-three second round matchup that pits the league’s top defensive squad, Miami, against the lowest scoring team in the conference in Michigan State. Needless to say, if the Spartans have any chance this weekend, they must hold Miami to 2 goals or less to have a realistic chance of winning a game, much less the series. The RedHawks meanwhile will be looking to get to the three goal plateau. When the Hawks score three goals or more, they are unbeaten at 17-0-1. However, when they net two goals or fewer, Miami is just 5-9-4 showing they can be vulnerable to low scoring affairs. Of course, that plays into the hands of the Spartans who have two capable netminders in junior Will Yanakeff (3.13/.901) and freshman Jake Hildebrand (2.33/.929). Earlier this year, the teams played a series in Oxford resulting in a 2-2 tie (SOW win for Miami) on Friday and a 2-0 Miami win on Saturday. This is notable because Hildebrand and Miami freshman Jay Williams faced off in both games as Ryan McKay was on the shelf due to his injury suffered in the Michigan series. On Saturday, Williams had to make only 13 saves to record his first career shutout with the Red and White. It will be interesting to see if head coach Enrico Blasi goes with McKay both nights or if he reinstates the rotation. As of late, Rico has been favoring McKay, but as we all know, that can change at a moment’s notice. With Williams having success against MSU earlier this year, it’s certainly conceivable he goes back to the freshman from McLean, Va. this weekend.

The best-of-three series faces-off at 7:35pm EST on Friday night from Steve Cady Arena. Game two will be played at 7:05pm EST from SCA and game three, if necessary, will also face-off at 7:05pm EST.

With the students out of town on Spring Break, seats should be available all weekend by calling the Miami ticket office at 1-866-MUHAWKS (1-866-684-2957), logging on to MURedHawks.com or stopping by the Goggin Ice Arena ticket office. Currently, the games are scheduled to be broadcast on Miami All-Access but not nationally televised.

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Saturday night game highlights

Here are the highlights from Saturday night’s 4-1 victory over Michigan State that sent the RedHawks to Joe for the CCHA semifinals against Western Michigan.

Off to the Joe!

Connor Knapp made 21 saves and Miami peppered Michigan State with 42 shots on goal as the RedHawks completed the weekend sweep with a 4-1 victory over the Spartans to earn the right to play in next weekend’s CCHA championship weekend at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Mich.

The RedHawks received goals from junior forward Reilly Smith, who also added two assists, and seniors Chris Wideman, Matt Tomassoni and Alden Hirschfeld as they left no doubt who was the better team this year as they won all four games against MSU by a combined score of 16-2.

Similar to last night, a big second period broke open a 1-1 tie as Miami netted seven goals in the second period over the weekend including three in tonight’s game. Senior defenseman Chris Wideman scored his third goal of the season, and second in two nights, as he notched the eventual game-winner at 9:49 of the second period. It was the first of three Miami goals in 3:22 to remove any chance Michigan State had of forcing a third and decisive game tomorrow night.

Senior Connor Knapp continued his stellar play, and along with Reilly Smith, has carried Miami down the stretch. Knapp has allowed just three goals in his last six games, all coming on the power play as he improved his overall record to 15-6 and lowered his goals against average to 1.43 while his save percentage sits at .943 for the year. Tonight, Knapp made 21 saves on 22 shots. The only goal he surrendered was on an MSU power play, which snapped a streak of 174 minutes of shutout hockey against the Spartans, dating back to Jan. 6, 2012 (Miami’s first game vs. MSU). Knapp has not allowed an even-strength goal since Feb. 4, 2012 against Michigan, a span of seven games. Over those seven games, he has allowed just four goals overall and three in his last six games.

The big senior from York, N.Y. has allowed one or fewer goals in 14 of his 22 games this season and 12 of his last 14. He has a 0.89 goals against average and .964 save percentage in his last 15 games (14 starts) since the start of 2012. Knapp leads the NCAA with a 1.43 GAA and is second in save percentage with .943, both of which would be Miami single-season records. He now has a career-high 15 wins on the year, which ties for ninth in a single season at Miami. (source: MURedHawks.com)

With the win, Miami heads back to Detroit for the CCHA semifinals on Friday afternoon at Joe Louis Arena. The defending Mason Cup champions’ opponent will be determined after the outcome of tomorrow’s series finale between #1 Ferris State and #8 Bowling Green. If Ferris State wins, Miami will face the top seeded Bulldogs in one semifinal. If the Falcons pull off the upset, Miami will face third seeded Western Michigan. Regardless, since Miami cannot face #2 Michigan in the semifinals, it’s a good bet the RedHawks will play the early game Friday so the league can place Michigan in the prime spot for both attendance at the Joe and for TV viewers across the nation. One would speculate that Miami’s game will start around 3pm EST on Friday.

Miami won its eighth-straight game, dating back to Feb. 10 vs. Alabama-Huntsville. It is the team’s longest winning streak since an eight-game win streak from Jan. 23-Feb. 19, 2010. During Miami’s win streak the RedHawks have outscored opponents, 32-5. (source: MURedHawks.com) The victory also moved Miami back into a tie for 5th in the PairWise rankings which largely determine the NCAA tournament field. With another good weekend in Detroit, Miami could come away with a #1 seed in the tournament, but their first order of business is reclaiming the Mason Cup for a second consecutive year.

Additional Coverage

USCHO.com

MURedHawks.com

MSUSpartans.com

Around the CCHA

Ferris State broke a 3-3 tie en route to a 7-4 victory over Bowling Green to force a decisive third game tomorrow night in Big Rapids, Mich.

Michigan completed the weekend sweep of Notre Dame by a score of 3-1, likely ending the Irish’s season. The Wolverines will face either Bowling Green or Western Michigan in one CCHA semifinal at the Joe.

Western Michigan completed the weekend sweep of Lake Superior defeating the Lakers 5-2. The Broncos will face either Michigan or Miami on Friday.

Miami routs Michigan State 6-0

Connor Knapp made 27 saves and Jimmy Mullin notched four points as Miami defeated Michigan State 6-0 in the first game of their best-of-three series at Steve Cady Arena.

For Knapp, it was his fifth shutout of the season to set a new single-season career high, his second shutout of the Spartans this year and his 13th shutout overall which is a new Miami school record. Meanwhile, freshman forward Jimmy Mullin netted two goals and added two assists to set a career high in points in a single game. Mullin now has an impressive 25 points on the season (11-14-25) trailing only junior forward Reilly Smith (26-13-39) and freshman forward Austin Czarnik (9-22-31) for team leadership.

Mullin opened the scoring just :12 into the game as he banged home a loose puck behind MSU goaltender Will Yanakeff who allowed five goals on 26 shots including four in the second period when Miami broke the game open with two quick goals just :34 apart. Senior defenseman Chris Wideman joined the rush and scored just his second goal of the season and freshman forward Tyler Biggs netted his 9th on the year making the game 3-0 and enabling the RedHawks to relax and cruise to the 6-0 victory.

Miami entered tonight’s game 0-9 all-time against the Spartans in the CCHA playoffs but the two teams had never met in Oxford. Overall this season, Miami is 3-0 against MSU and has allowed just one goal against including Knapp’s two shutouts.

MSU head coach Tom Anastos had this to say after this evening’s game.

“This is a very good team, and I believe I said it earlier in the week – [Miami] is under-rated, offensively. Not that they scored six goals, but the really nice plays they made and the offensive pressure they are able to generate. I thought the first period was pretty good for us, but obviously the second period was a challenge. We just need to regroup and be ready to go on Saturday.” (source: MSUSpartans.com)

In addition to Mullin’s two tallies and Biggs’ and Wideman’s goals, Miami received offensive support from junior Curtis McKenzie (5th) and freshman Blake Coleman who scored his 12th on the season and has now scored a goal in three of his past four games. And, Miami has now won a season-high seven consecutive games and has vaulted up to a tie for fifth in the PairWise (as of 9:33pm MDT) as several games went Miami’s way in addition to the victory. For reference, they are also fourth in KRACH.

Game two is scheduled for 7:05pm EST at Steve Cady Arena and with the students still away on Spring Break, tickets should be available. If you can’t make the game, it will be available via Miami All-Access at MURedHawks.com with Greg Waddell and Drew Davis carrying the call.

Additional Coverage

USCHO.com

MURedHawks.com

MSUSpartans.com

TheMunnMinute.com

Lansing State Journal

Dayton Daily News

 Around the CCHA

Bowling Green defeated Ferris State 3-2 in overtime (BG leads series 1-0) – Huge win for the Falcons and head coach Chris Bergeron

Michigan defeated Notre Dame 2-1 in overtime (Michigan leads series 1-0) – Chris Brown notched the game-winner

Western Michigan defeated Lake Superior 4-2 (WMU leads series 1-0) – Broncos cruised to a victory behind freshman goaltender Frank Slubowski

Weekend Preview: Miami tries for first playoff win against Michigan State

Your Miami RedHawks take the ice tonight in search of their first-ever win against Michigan State outside of the regular season. The defending Mason Cup Champions have never beaten Michigan State in the CCHA playoffs (they’ve never met in the NCAA tournament). Miami is 0-9 against MSU, but Michigan State has never visited Oxford in these rounds either, so tonight’s contest looks to be a jumping off point for the RedHawks in the best-of-three series. State has played Miami in the quarterfinal round in 1985 and 2000, having swept both series in East Lansing.

Earlier this season, the ‘Hawks headed to East Lansing to face the Spartans and came out with 2 victories. The first came on a Jimmy Mullin overtime goal to lift the RedHawks to a 2-1 victory on January 6th. On the next night, Connor Knapp got his unbelievable 2012 kicked off, notching his first of 4 shutouts of the calendar year. On that weekend, Bryon Paulazzo, Cameron Schilling, Chris Wideman, Blake Coleman and Alden Hirschfeld all tallied at least 2 points, Miami had 6 different goal scorers in the 2-game sweep, and in total, 12 RedHawks made the scoring sheets.

Oxford is again the host of a second-round CCHA playoff series, as Miami is the only CCHA school that can claim that honor. After a rough trip to face Michigan, the Hawks have swept Alabama-Huntsville, Notre Dame and Ohio State to jump from 9th in the CCHA standings up to their 4th place finish. Since the CCHA changed to the current playoff format, Miami is 4-2 in this round of the playoffs, having faced 6 different teams in that span. Michigan State makes the 7 team in 7 years to play in Oxford in the playoffs, where Miami is 9-5 in those 6 series.

Leading the RedHawks as he has done all season is Junior Reilly Smith, who looks to continue his current scoring streaks of 4 games with a goal and 6 games with at least one point. Smith is coming off of a career-high 4 point game at Ohio State on 2/25/12, leads the CCHA and is second in the country in goals scored with 26, has just been named the CCHA All-Conference First Team, and was named Inside College Hockey (INCH) CCHA Player of the Year. From INCH’s CCHA beat writer James Dowd:

Last year’s [INCH] breakthrough player of the year becomes INCH’s CCHA Player of the Year. Miami’s Reilly Smith carried a young team on his back, notching 26 goals on the season—second nationally behind only fellow Dallas draft pick Austin Smith of Colgate. After a strong 2010-11 season, one had to wonder whether Smith’s success hinged primarily on the playmaking wizardry of 2011 Hobey Baker Award winner Andy Miele, but Smith proved this year he’s a pure goal scorer even without the likes of Miele and Carter Camper surrounding him. The Redhawks looked lost at times this year, but Smith kept putting the puck in the net, buying time for his young teammates to mature.

In addition to the above accolades, for some pre-game reading enjoyment, take a gander at John Lachmann’s article at wcpo.com which chronicles Smith’s outstanding Miami career to date.

We would expect to see Connor Knapp in net tonight, as he is coming off of one of the best statistical seasons by any Miami goaltender in history. Knapp has had 4 shutouts in 2012, and has posted some unbelievable stats this season. His .939 save percentage is second best in the nation (Chris Noonan of Niagara is just ahead at .941), and his 1.53 goals against average is tops in the NCAA (Troy Grosenick from Union is 2nd at 1.64 GAA). The Buffalo Sabres draft pick has also finished first in CCHA conference play with a gnarly .945 save percentage and a 1.41 GAA and he even tallied an assist on the season. He, Cody Reichard and David Burleigh (’03) are all tied at 12 career goose-eggs, and will be looking to break the Miami shutout record this weekend. Despite having those impeccable numbers, Knapp was only voted to Honorable Mention in the CCHA awards, finishing behind First-Teamer Taylor Nelson of Ferris State and the baby goalie Shawn Hunwick of Michigan, who made the Second Team.

As for the Spartans, they will almost certainly deploy Junior Torey Krug when Reilly Smith is on the ice. Krug was also named to the All-CCHA First Team, and is Michigan State’s best defenseman.  Not only is he staunch on the defensive side of the ice, but he also tied for the CCHA lead in scoring with an impressive 11 goals and 18 assists, finishing 1 point ahead of Smith for the CCHA in-conference scoring lead.

In net could be either of Will Yanakeff or Drew Palmisano. Yanakeff has posted a record of 13-7-1 this year, allowing 2.32 goals per game and has a save percentage of .927. He has played in 3 of the last 4 Spartans games, having gone 2-1. Palmisano, a senior is 6-6-3 on the season, with 2.59 GAA and a .919 save percentage.  Head Coach Tom Anastos will try to lead the Spartans to the CCHA Championship weekend in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena for the first time since 2007, Michigan State’s latest National Championship season. Looking back, no current Spartan has been on the winning side of a CCHA playoff series or game.

A few final notes for the weekend:

  • Michigan State is just 6-7-0 on the road this season, but has a commanding 29-12-3 record in Oxford all-time against Miami.
  • The Spartans hold a 6-2-1 record on the season against teams ranked in the top 10 at the time of the game.
  • Miami has outscored their opponents 19-3 in the last 6 games, all wins.
  • 2 victories would push Miami’s current seniors to the 4th most all time. They currently stand at 96 wins in their 4 years, and could make it a magical 100 with a second-consecutive Mason Cup Championship next weekend.
  • Miami sits at 9th in the current Pairwise, and MSU is in a tie for 12th. This is a comparison we don’t want to lose, so wins this weekend are crucial.

The puck drops on this critical series at 7:35pm tonight, 7:05pm Saturday, and 7:05pm on Sunday night, if necessary. The weekend’s games are not televised, but can be viewed on http://www.muredhawks.com using the All-Access subscription service. Just $9.95/month gets you the video feed for all three games, and can be cancelled at any time!

This week went entirely too slow, and it’s going to be a fun weekend in Oxford.

BEAT STATE!!!

Miami finishes sweep of #15 Michigan State 4-0

Connor Knapp made 20 saves and Miami received goals from four different players as they completed the weekend sweep at #15 Michigan State winning 4-0 on Saturday night.

Junior forward Reilly Smith opened the scoring by tallying the eventual game-winning goal on a 5×3 powerplay midway through the second period and the RedHawks exploded for three goals to break open the game in the third as they peppered Spartan netminder Will Yanakeff with 44 shots.

Reilly Smith rings a shot off the post as Will Yanakeff attempts to make a save.

With the weekend sweep, Miami moved all the way to fifth place in the tightly packed CCHA standings, and if the season ended today, Miami would earn a first round bye in the CCHA tournament. Additionally Miami has moved solidly into NCAA tournament consideration as both their KRACH, and more importantly, Pairwise numbers are favorable. Miami is now ranked 10th in KRACH having faced the fourth most difficult schedule in the country and tied for 11th in the Pairwise meaning the RedHawks would be a #3 seed if the season ended today. But, it’s still early January.

One troubling note coming out of this game was that Miami found itself shorthanded eight times and took eleven penalties in the game. Hopefully, it was simply the presence of former CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos on the Spartan bench that led to many questionable calls against the RedHawks and not the start of another trend. It is true that Miami is a physically imposing, strong team and at times it does seem as though the RedHawks receive the short end of the stick for “being too strong.” To his credit, Anastos said of the Friday game, “I thought that we got what we expected – a tough, physical game from an opponent that has some pretty good size across the board. They made things tough for us, but we generated some shots and did a good job getting in front of the net.” (source: Lansing State Journal) So, at least the Spartan head man acknowledged the size and strength of the RedHawks and certainly did not go on the record complaining about calls because he got plenty of them Saturday night. On the results of the weekend, Anastos said, “When someone comes into your rink and beats you in every phase of the game, that’s unacceptable.” (source: Lansing State Journal) It’s always great hearing an opposing coach talk about how his team was dominated — especially in their barn.

So, 2012 has gotten off to a nice start for the RedHawks. But, with plenty of hockey to still be played, Miami has to string together the kind of second half that can propel them up the national rankings and into the CCHA, and hopefully, NCAA tournaments come March.

Miami is back in action next week as they travel to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. to take on Lake Superior. The Lakers swept Miami in Oxford on October 27-28 so the RedHawks will be looking for payback as well as yet another chance to face someone ahead of them in the CCHA and national standings.

Notes

– Miami’s 44 shots on goal was a season’s high mark and they dominated the Spartans with a 20-5 SOG advantage in the final period.

– Tyler Biggs, Alden Hirschfeld and Blake Coleman had Miami’s three goals in the third period.

– Miami’s last sweep over MSU also came on the road November 14-15, 2008.

– Connor Knapp earned both weekend wins allowing just one goal on 54 shots (.981). The shutout was the ninth of Knapp’s outstanding Miami career.

– Miami’s penalty kill was 13-for-13 on the weekend.

– It seems as if Miami has been on the road the entire season, as they have played just one home game since November 19. But, after next weekend’s series at Lake Superior, Miami plays nine of its remaining twelve games at Steve Cady Arena.

– Here’s Michigan State head coach Tom Anastos on the differences between his Spartans and Miami. Courtesy USCHO.com

Miami starts 2012 with 2-1 victory over Michigan State

Freshman Jimmy Mullin scored his fifth goal of the season just 1:24 into overtime and senior goaltender Connor Knapp made 33 saves as Miami started 2012 with a 2-1 victory over #15 Michigan State at Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing, Mich.

Miami sophomore forward Bryon Paulazzo opened the scoring late in the first period with his third goal of the year, but MSU’s Greg Wolfe notched the tying goal just twelve seconds later as good defense and great goaltending ruled the remainder of regulation.

Entering overtime, Miami was a paltry 0-3-2 in extra session games this year and had not won an overtime game since senior co-captain Alden Hirschfeld scored the game-winner in double OT against Michigan in the 2010 NCAA Regional Final in Fort Wayne, Ind. That game was played on March 28, 2010.

Not to be denied in their sixth OT opportunity, Miami dominated the extra period outshooting the Spartans 4-0. Fresh of the plane from Alberta, Canada, Team USA World Junior Championship hero Austin Czarnik found Mullin from behind the net, and as the MSU defense collapsed on Miami junior forward Reilly Smith, Mullin found himself with an opportunity and beat senior Spartan netminder Drew Palmisano high over his left shoulder.

“Czarnik made a nice play behind the net and I came around the right-hand side and everybody went to Reilly (Smith) so when they go to one person all you have to do is shoot and it went in,” Mullin said of the game-winner. “I was really excited about that.” (source: MURedHawks.com)

Notes

– It was Mullin’s first career game-winning goal.

– Miami is now 6-3 against Michigan State over the past three seasons.

– Smith was one of the best players on the ice and was denied on several grade A chances by Palmisano. He led all Miami skaters with six shots on goal.

– Freshman forward Cody Murphy played in his first game since injuring his leg in a game on October 8, 2011.

– By earning the OT victory on the ice, rather than in a skills competition, Miami earned all three CCHA league points and now sits in seventh place, but just two points out of fourth in the tightly contested conference race for home ice and a first round bye.

– Here’s USCHO’s CCHA beat writer Paula C. Weston’s take on the game and postgame video with head coach Enrico Blasi below.