First place in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association came and went Friday night. But Saturday is another day for Miami University’s hockey team.
Western Michigan trailed the visiting RedHawks by a point in the standings heading into Friday’s contest, then claimed the top spot with a 2-0 victory before a sellout crowd of 3,832 at Lawson Ice Arena.
“There’s a lot of hockey to play,” MU coach Enrico Blasi said. “We’ve just got to stay composed and stay positive. It’s over. We can’t do anything about it, so we might as well move forward.”
Frank Slubowski was a beast in goal for the Broncos, collecting 32 saves and playing a key role in Miami’s 0-for-5 performance on the power play.
The RedHawks outshot WMU 32-23, yet fell to 17-7-5 overall and 12-5-4 in the CCHA, while Western improved to 18-6-5, 14-4-3. The puck drop for Saturday’s series finale is set for 7:05 p.m.
“It was a playoff-type atmosphere,” said MU goalie Jay Williams, who made 21 stops. “That’s the kind of hockey we’re going to have to be playing every night for the rest of the year. It was packed, and their students brought a lot of energy. That makes it fun, but it’s certainly tough. We’ve got to try to create our own energy because there’s definitely not a lot of red and white in the crowd on a night like this.
“It’s frustrating right now, but we’ve got a job to do tomorrow night. We still control our own destiny, so we’ve got to refocus, get some food, get some rest and get ready to win a hockey game tomorrow night.”
The Broncos notched the only goal they would need in the first 3:31 of the contest. Jordan Oesterle delivered a shot from just inside the blue line that slid past Williams, who clearly was screened on the play.
“There were a lot of bodies in front of me,” Williams said. “I knew the kid was shooting it. I think I had drifted a little too far to the middle of the ice. One of our guys said he tried to block it and it tipped off him. I’m not sure. Maybe I didn’t see it … it’s definitely one I’d like to have back. I’ve got to find a way to make a save there.”
Western added a power-play goal by Chase Balisy with 46 seconds gone in the final stanza. It was another deflection, according to Williams, this time off Miami defenseman Matthew Caito.
MU appeared to gain a shot of momentum with 5:57 left in the second period after defenseman Joe Hartman was whistled for delay of game and Western was awarded a penalty shot. Williams, a master of shootout goaltending this season, then thwarted Mike Leone.
“It was actually a good play by Joe to cover the puck up in the crease,” said Williams, noting that Hartman blocked the puck with his body, then covered it up. “I’d gotten bumped and was on my butt out there. I tried to jump on Joe, maybe make it look like I had it or something, but it was pretty obvious I didn’t have the puck. But that was OK. When it comes down to it, we’ll take our chances on a penalty shot as opposed to them having a tap-in from a foot out.”
The RedHawks put plenty of pressure on Slubowski throughout the night, but the sophomore rose up time and time again. He made 13 saves in the third period.
Dane Walters, Dan DeKeyser, Kenney Morrison and Balisy all had assists for WMU, which is unbeaten in its last six games.
“I thought tonight’s game was an intense game,” Western coach Andy Murray said. “You have the No. 1 team in the country defensively (Miami), and we were No. 3. It was certainly a real battle, but neither team plays a sit-back type of defensive game. Both teams like to forecheck and generate their offensive chances.
“Miami’s a puck-pressure team. You don’t sit where they are in the standings, both nationally and within the CCHA, by being a team that sits back. I also liked our puck pressure tonight. I felt in the first period that we had some opportunities to extend our lead after it was 1-0. We had a couple open nets that we didn’t take advantage of.”
Blasi had no problem with his team’s effort. Execution and composure were different issues.
“We took a couple undisciplined penalties there in the third,” Blasi said. “Obviously it’s pretty loud in here and gets pretty crazy, and you’ve got to keep your composure. I thought we lost it a little bit. You can’t kill three penalties in a row and expect to get back in the game. We’ll have to be a little more disciplined tomorrow night.
“We had our chances. Our power play had some great looks — we just weren’t able to bury it. That’s the game.”
The defeat marked the end of Miami’s five-game winning streak. Blasi said Ryan McKay will likely be in goal when third-ranked MU meets the No. 6 Broncos on Saturday.