Miami University’s penalty kill continued to be an opponent killer Friday night at Steve Cady Arena.
The RedHawks were 6-for-6 against visiting Alaska and ran their successful PK streak to 26 in a 4-1 Central Collegiate Hockey Association victory before a crowd of 2,977.
“You’ve got to be able to sacrifice your body, and you’ve got to be able to try to outwork (your opponent),” MU coach Enrico Blasi said. “Ultimately, they have one extra guy, so there’s no secret. It’s just all hard work and making sure that guys are reading off each other and eliminating time and space.”
Blake Coleman and Cody Murphy scored in the first period to give Miami a 2-0 advantage, and Austin Czarnik added a pair of empty-net goals in the final 57.6 seconds.
In between, the Nanooks were a tough, gritty bunch. They outshot the RedHawks 25-22.
“At this time of year, every game’s like playoff hockey,” MU defenseman Steven Spinell said. “It’s going to be high-intensity, hard-hitting and fast-paced games.”
Jay Williams made 24 saves in goal for Miami, which boosted its record to 16-6-5 overall and 11-4-4 in the CCHA. It remained one point behind first-place Western Michigan, a 3-1 winner over Ferris State on Friday.
Williams showed his resolve in the third period, when he collected 13 saves.
“Jay battles every day in practice, so we’re used to it,” Coleman said. “We need him to be big down the stretch.”
Alaska (12-9-4, 10-8-3) fell to 0-3 against the RedHawks this season, getting outscored 13-3. But Blasi said the scores have not been indicative of the contests’ competitiveness, and Friday’s game ended a six-game winning streak by the Nanooks.
“You can see why they’re a top team,” Blasi said. “They never quit. They’ve got good speed. That game could’ve gone either way.
“That’s been kind of the norm for us over the last few weeks. We’re playing hot teams. Every team’s going to be desperate now. Every team needs points.”
Trevor Campbell had Alaska’s lone goal early in the second stanza off a Tyler Morley assist. John Keeney notched 18 saves in goal.
Nanooks coach Dallas Ferguson was pleased with his team’s effort, especially after falling behind by two goals.
“Our approach was, there’s a lot of hockey left,” Ferguson said. “I thought the second period was a good battle. John Keeney was good on the penalty kill, and we got that 4-on-4 (goal), and you know what? Now you’re one shot away from being in the game.
“The team had a good push. I think we created some pretty good scoring chances for ourselves, and we weren’t able to capitalize. I thought their goaltender played real well. Anything that was in tight, we didn’t get a lot of second and third opportunities.”
Miami’s penalty killing came as no surprise to Ferguson.
“Their penalty kill has always been good,” he said. “They force you to make plays under pressure. When you’re getting that type of pressure off the penalty kill, that’s what it’s all about. You’ve got to make a couple consecutive passes, and the other thing is you can’t be turning down shots because you don’t know when you’re going to get your next one.”
Said Spinell, “We work on our PK in practice and take pride in it, so we count on it to bail us out of games.”
Marc Hagel had a pair of assists for MU. Alex Gacek, Alex Wideman, Curtis McKenzie and Kevin Morris added one apiece.
Coleman opened the scoring just over 12 minutes into the contest. It was his first goal since Dec. 15.
“We had the extra attacker,” Coleman said. “I knew their guy was coming out of the box. Gacek kind of moved it down the wall and Jimmy (Mullin) was playing it in front, so I kind of just threw it on net and saw what would happen. It went off (Keeney’s) leg pad and gave us a bounce. I’ll take it any way I can get it right now. I’m not complaining.”
Blasi credited Alaska for its defensive work against Czarnik and Riley Barber, Miami’s leading scorers, throughout the game.
“Teams are going to key on those guys, and you could see that out there,” Blasi said. “They were making life difficult for Barber and Czarnik. You’ve got to find a way to get other guys involved, Murphy again tonight and Coleman. I thought Morris played well again, and Hagel. Everybody’s contributing right now.
“Even though it might not have been the best-executed game in our portfolio, I think guys are finding a way to get the job done.”
The RedHawks, ranked third by USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine and fourth by USCHO.com, are on a four-game winning streak. They will host Alaska again at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday.