The Central Collegiate Hockey Association’s last regular-season championship is within sniffing distance for Miami University.
The third-ranked RedHawks completed a weekend sweep of host Lake Superior State on Saturday night, fighting off the Lakers 2-1 before a crowd of 2,078 at Taffy Abel Arena.
All that remains for MU in the regular season is a home series against Ohio State that starts Friday. Miami has 56 points, Western Michigan 51 and Notre Dame 50 after the Irish won a shootout against the Broncos on Saturday.
“Everyone wants to play for each other, so it’s pretty easy to go out there and have a great attitude,” RedHawks forward Riley Barber said. “It’s pretty unbelievable to see that we’ve come this far. We want to end it on a good note.”
Barber and Matthew Caito tallied the goals Saturday as MU followed Friday’s 5-4 triumph with another gritty win over the Lakers.
Ryan McKay came up with a career-high 44 saves for the RedHawks, who are 21-8-5 overall and 16-6-4 in the CCHA.
“I thought they played great,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said of LSSU (15-18-1, 10-15-1), which outshot the visitors 45-31. “They just threw everything at us and left it all on the ice. I thought our (penalty kill) did a nice job, Ryan made some big saves, and our power play scored and theirs didn’t. That was the difference.”
McKay looked strong in his first ice time since losing to Notre Dame last Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago. Lake Superior hit the post three times, but the freshman seemed to be in command all night.
“Coming off a loss, especially a loss in my hometown, you’ve got to turn it around and put a performance together,” McKay said. “It was busy from my end, but we did the things at the right times of the game tonight to pull out three points, which we really needed.”
Asked if it was one of his better showings, McKay added, “I don’t judge myself. I judge myself on whether the team’s winning or not, if I’m giving the team a chance to win.”
His 44-save total was the highest at Miami since Connor Knapp had 55 against Michigan on March 28, 2010.
“When (Ryan’s) on, he’s so calm back there,” Blasi said. “He’s not a flopper. He doesn’t overextend himself. He tries to be in the right position all the time.”
Barber pushed the RedHawks ahead with a power-play tally in the first period (Curtis McKenzie and Caito assisted), and that was obviously a good sign. MU is 18-2-1 when scoring first this season.
Caito added the game-winner midway through the second stanza, snapping a 1-1 deadlock with a bullet one-timer off assists from Austin Czarnik and Barber.
“Whatever I can do to help the team,” said Barber, who has three goals and three assists in the last five games and tops the CCHA in scoring with 34 points. “I’m definitely feeling good and feeling energized. It’s so much fun playing with these guys.”
Dan Radke had the Lakers’ goal, with assists from Kevin Czuczman and Zach Sternberg. LSSU goalie Kevin Kapalka collected 29 saves.
Lake Superior put consistent pressure on McKay and turned up the heat in the final few minutes, but couldn’t convert. The hosts were 0 of 3 on the power play (Miami was 1 of 3).
“It did settle into a playoff-type game,” Blasi said. “You had to fight for every inch that you got. Those are the type of games we’ve been in all year, though. Our guys feel comfortable doing it.”
Saturday’s contest was Miami’s last CCHA road game. The RedHawks might never see LSSU again.
“This is difficult,” Blasi said. “Who knows who we’re going to play in the playoffs, but not being able to come to Lake State and play … this has always been a fun trip because of the fans and the community and the way that they’ve embraced their team over the years. This is a tough building to play in. You look at the banners — they speak for themselves.
“Maybe we’ll get sentimental after the season. We have a job to do, and we’ve got to stay focused.”