Miami University’s hockey team was rested, healthy and off its game Friday night.
The RedHawks, Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season champions, couldn’t find any rhythm against last-place Michigan State and suffered a stunning 3-0 defeat in Game 1 of a CCHA quarterfinal series at Steve Cady Arena.
“We had two weeks off and didn’t come out and play the way we were supposed to tonight,” MU senior forward Marc Hagel said. “Not enough energy, not enough intensity, not enough compete level, and it clearly showed at the end of the game.”
Top-seeded Miami (22-10-5) was idle last weekend when the 11th-seeded Spartans went on the road and upset Alaska. The RedHawks had plenty of time to recharge their batteries, but did the layoff affect their sharpness?
“I think that would be an excuse, and I don’t want to use that as an excuse,” MU coach Enrico Blasi said. “They outplayed us from the beginning and won a lot of key battles and got a couple of goals up. They did a good job blocking shots and not giving us any second opportunities, and Hildebrand played well.”
Hildebrand is Michigan State freshman goaltender Jake Hildebrand, who made 34 saves and gave Miami its seventh shutout loss of the year.
MSU (14-23-3) got first-period goals from Matt DeBlouw and Matt Berry, and Kevin Walrod added an empty-netter in the final minute.
“We’re growing in confidence,” Spartans coach Tom Anastos said. “We’re just making things work. We’ve had injuries, we’ve had illnesses, and guys are stepping up and doing whatever’s asked of them.
“When you win, it’s contagious, and it gives you confidence. When you lose, it’s hard to get confidence. As of late, we’ve been winning with more frequency than we did most of the season.”
Hildebrand was a force on this night and got plenty of help from his defensive mates. The RedHawks were 0 for 2 on the power play.
“I think I only had to make four, five, six (tough saves) at most,” Hildebrand said. “The defense played awesome tonight. They kept the shots at the perimeter. It made my life easy when I was kicking out a bad rebound or clearing the front of the net. These last few weekends, I think our defense has been unbelievable. We just keep getting better.”
“We tried to contest everything possible,” Anastos said. “Overall, they really had to compete to get scoring chances.”
Riley Barber led MU with six shots on goal, and he banged a puck off the post midway through the third stanza. Miami outshot the visitors 34-24 (25-15 over the last two periods).
Greg Wolfe, Nickolas Gatt, John Draeger and Tanner Sorenson all had assists for MSU, while Ryan McKay (21 saves) took the loss in goal for the RedHawks.
“They’ve always been a good skating team,” Blasi said of the Spartans. “Now they’ve got some confidence, and their goaltending’s always been really good, so it’s exactly what we thought they would do. They were aggressive and did a good job of clearing the puck. We just didn’t have an answer for them.”
Said Hildebrand, “We’ve got nothing to lose right now. We’re a last-place team coming to play a first-place team on their home ice. Guys are playing with clear minds and not thinking, just going out and doing what they can to put the team in a position to win. No pressure.”
The two coaches declined to name the starting goalies for Game 2 in the best-of-three series. It’s either McKay or fellow freshman Jay Williams for Miami, and either Hildebrand or junior Will Yanakeff for MSU.
“Everything goes into consideration,” Anastos said. “I don’t like to make a snap judgment. The easiest thing to say is, ‘Oh geez, he played really well. We’ll play him again.’ Yeah, maybe. But I’d like to carve the emotion out of the game, sit back and reassess things and make decisions from there.”
The puck drops at 7:05 p.m. for Saturday’s contest. Game 3, if necessary, will also have a 7:05 start time.
“We know how to win games,” Hagel said. “We need to come back with the intensity we had two weeks ago, the intensity we brought all year. It’s going to need to be more than that actually.”
Three lower-seeded teams won their quarterfinal openers Friday: Michigan State, Michigan (4-3 over Western Michigan) and Ferris State (4-2 over Ohio State). The lone favorite to win was Notre Dame (1-0 over Bowling Green in overtime).
“That’s playoff hockey, right?” Blasi said. “You’ve got to come ready to play, and it doesn’t matter who you’re playing. Hopefully we can make a series of it tomorrow night.”
Notebook: The seventh shutout defeat tied the Miami single-season record set in 2001-02. … The RedHawks are 33-37 all time in the CCHA tournament and just 2-10 against the Spartans. … Friday’s attendance was 2,437. … MSU has won four of its last five games. … MU had just one penalty (interference on Steven Spinell in the third period), tying a season low in that area. Miami also picked up just one penalty Jan. 18 at Wisconsin. … The RedHawks remained third in the PairWise rankings, which determine the 16-team NCAA field, through Friday’s games.