Miami University’s hockey team followed a dizzying path to victory Friday night.
The third-ranked RedHawks took an important step toward the Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season championship by fighting off a resolute Lake Superior State squad before a crowd of 1,899 at Taffy Abel Arena.
The final score was 5-4, thanks to Marc Hagel’s tie-breaking goal with 6:26 remaining.
“They don’t always ask how. It’s just, did we win the game?” said MU goaltender Jay Williams, who totaled 25 saves and came up huge down the stretch. “Everybody’s happy with the win. You’re not going to hear anybody complaining in that locker room.”
Miami, the No. 1 defensive unit in the country, had allowed four goals only one time (Oct. 26 at Michigan) before Friday and racked up seven penalties, four in the third period.
“Offensively, we knew we were going. Defensively, we weren’t where we needed to be,” Hagel said. “We were a little bit too loose. That’s not the type of game we want to play, but it’s the game that happened, and we won. It’s good to know that we can win that type of game.”
The RedHawks outshot LSSU 51-29 (38-11 in the opening two periods) and got their first four goals from Jimmy Mullin, Riley Barber, Max Cook and Matthew Caito.
MU improved to 20-8-5 overall and 15-6-4 in the CCHA, pushing its conference lead to three points over second-place Western Michigan after the Broncos won a Friday shootout against Notre Dame.
“We haven’t played in a game like that all year,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. “It just seemed like anytime either one of us got some momentum, the other one was right back in your face. We’ll put it behind us and move on just like we always do, but it’s an important night. We got our 20th win, which is a huge benchmark for college hockey, and picked up three big points.”
It was a fast-paced, sometimes frenzied contest filled with many momentum-shifting plays — some good, some not so good.
Mullin gave the RedHawks the lead just under four minutes into the game, but the visitors were down 2-1 less than seven minutes later.
MU forged a whopping 22-3 advantage in shots in the middle stanza. The Lakers, though, wouldn’t stop coming. They rallied to knot the score twice in the third period.
“It’s crazy,” Blasi said. “You’ve got to pay attention to everything. We’re just trying to focus on who’s going up next, and something is happening every shift.”
Hagel produced the game-winning tally when he redirected a Joe Hartman shot past LSSU goalie Kevin Murdock (46 saves).
“I’m getting in front of the goalie and thinking, ‘I’ve got to get my stick on this,’ because it was going wide,” Hagel said. “The puck kind of slid down my stick and went in the bottom left pocket of the net. It’s the type of goal a grinder’s going to score, and I love it.”
The grinder added two assists on this night and extended his point streak to four games. He has five goals and 11 assists this year.
“Just working hard, and my linemates are playing awesome,” Hagel said. “When I come to the rink, I’m concerned with blocking shots and doing the little things that will help this team win. Eventually, points will come. That’s how it’s been the whole way.”
Williams had a trying night between the pipes. Yet the freshman made some of his best saves of the year in the final five minutes as the Lakers came at him like a pack of hungry wolves.
“It’s just like, enough is enough. They can’t score again,” Williams said. “They were throwing everything at the net. I just tried to stay big and take away as much as I could. A couple pucks I saw at the last second, and I was able to throw a leg or my body out to stop them.”
Regardless of how they happened, Lake Superior’s four goals were frustrating to Williams.
“It’s unacceptable, especially at this point in the season,” he said. “There’s no excuse for it. It was far from my best effort, but fortunately we got the win. They’re not always going to be pretty.”
Blasi said it was simply a difficult night to be a goalie.
“I thought both goalies played well for giving up that many goals,” he continued. “It was just a weird game. Sometimes as a goalie you’ve got to have a short memory, and Jay did that job real well tonight. He put it behind him and focused on the next shot.”
Domenic Monardo scored two goals for LSSU (15-17-1, 10-14-1), and Dan Radke and Zach Sternberg added one apiece. Assists went to Chris Ciotti, Andrew Perrault, Kellan Lain, Nick McParland, Colin Campbell, Radke (2) and Sternberg.
The RedHawks were forced to kill two penalties in the last six minutes. MU was 5 of 7 on the penalty kill, and the Lakers were 5 of 6.
“In the third period, I thought we were playing well. They got a couple of nice goals, and then we got in some penalty trouble,” Blasi said. “Whether they were or weren’t, I don’t know, but we were able to kill them off at the end and do a good job 6 on 5 and finish out the win.”
LSSU has been outshot 142-83 in three games against Miami this season, but has a win and two one-goal losses to show for its efforts. Lake Superior is the only opponent to win a game at Steve Cady Arena in 2012-13.
“We seem to have a bad period in every game we play them,” Lakers coach Jim Roque said. “They really turned up the pace in the second, and our guys just had a hard time with it. If you’re going to beat Miami, you’ve got to play good for 60 minutes. We’re not good enough to beat them in 40 minutes.”
Roque liked the fact that his crew refused to quit and managed 18 shots in the third period, “but still, 50 shots against and five goals isn’t good. It’s tough to beat a first-place team in the league with that.”
Alex Wideman and Kevin Morris both had two assists for Miami. Alex Gacek, Steven Spinell, Blake Coleman and Hartman chipped in one apiece.
The last regular-season CCHA road game in RedHawks history is set for Saturday. Look for MU’s Ryan McKay and LSSU’s Kevin Kapalka to be in goal when the puck drops at 7:05 p.m.
This is the eighth consecutive 20-win campaign for Miami, which has won eight of its last 10 games.