Photo: Robert Leifheit
Photo: Robert Leifheit

Miami conquers Irish, clinches first-round bye in CCHA tournament

The third-ranked RedHawks defeated visiting Notre Dame 3-1 on Friday, maintaining their grip on first place in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association and gaining a head of steam heading into Sunday’s outdoor game against the Fighting Irish at Soldier Field in Chicago.

MU also wrapped up a top-four finish in the CCHA, earning a bye and a second-round home series in the tournament.

“I think when our guys are skating and doing the things we’re asking them to do, they’re fun to watch,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. “They play hard, and then we see what happens.”

The RedHawks had good energy before a crowd of 3,363 at Steve Cady Arena and took control with two bang-bang goals during a 30-second stretch in the second period. Steven Spinell and Blake Coleman notched those two scores, and Marc Hagel added an empty-netter with 62 seconds left in the contest.

MU improved to 19-7-5 overall and 14-5-4 in the CCHA, gaining a point on second-place Western Michigan after the Broncos won a shootout against Ohio State on Friday. The 12th-ranked Irish fell to 18-8-1, 14-8-1.

“We weren’t getting anything going in the first,” Spinell said. “(Then) you get a break and the building erupts. We just feed off that energy, and Blake came back with a great goal.”

Spinell, a senior defenseman, now has one goal in each of his four seasons in Oxford. He buried a power-play shot from the point that Notre Dame goalie Steven Summerhays didn’t seem to see with 6:36 remaining in the second stanza.

“I say I don’t get many, but sometimes I get big ones,” Spinell said. “(Sean) Kuraly made a great pass in the zone. We’ve been working on that in practice a ton. I dish it to Kuraly, and he brings it right back to me for a one-timer. When you shoot a one-timer, the goalie doesn’t have much time to react. I caught him by surprise a little bit.”

Thirty seconds later, it was Coleman doing the celebrating. The sophomore went top shelf on Summerhays for his seventh goal of the year.

“(Max Cook) made a good play, took a hit, chipped the puck up the ice,” Coleman said. “I picked it up in stride, and Jimmy (Mullin) did a good job driving the D back. I think he got the goalie a little worried, so I kind of looked off Jimmy. Kind of joked about it after, but I looked him off and got the goalie to drop and fortunately put it right over the goalie’s shoulder short side.”

The Irish kept coming and got a goal from Steven Fogarty with 2:23 left in the game. The visitors outshot Miami 12-5 in the third period, but goaltender Ryan McKay made a huge save with about 90 seconds remaining, and Hagel’s goal clinched the win.

“I thought we played well in the third period,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. “We made some line changes. I thought we were getting confidence just as the game was ending. I’m not sure that’s the best time.

“Miami, because of their speed, they play a good game. They don’t give you much. They wait for transition. I thought we did a pretty good job in that regard tonight too, but they had more opportunities to score than we did. We have to try to resolve that issue.”

Blasi has been using Jay Williams and McKay on a Friday-Saturday goalie rotation, but decided to start McKay on Friday. He responded with 20 saves and a typically stout effort.

“We’re going game by game now,” Blasi said. “It’s that time of the year that we kind of evaluate and go from there. We felt that both our goaltenders have played great this year. It was just one of those things where we decided yesterday to play Ryan. We’ll sit down and talk again tomorrow with the day off, get a chance to watch some video and prepare for Sunday.”

Kuraly, Curtis McKenzie, Cook, Joe Hartman, Austin Czarnik and Riley Barber all had assists for MU. Shayne Taker and Sam Calabrese picked up assists for the Irish, who got 19 saves in goal from Summerhays.

The RedHawks were 6 of 6 on the penalty kill in what was another strong performance by the No. 1 defense in the country. Notre Dame managed just nine shots on goal in the first two periods.

“I thought we did a good job with our backcheck,” Blasi said. “We did a good job of moving the puck and alleviating some pressure, which are all key points to playing good team defense.”

The two teams will face off again at 1 p.m. Sunday in the Hockey City Classic at Soldier Field. Blasi has been trying to downplay the first outdoor game in school history because he didn’t want his players to lose focus, but now it’s here.

“I think it’s important for our guys to go up there and take it all in, feel the surroundings out,” said Blasi, whose squad will practice at Soldier Field on Saturday afternoon. “As much as we didn’t want to talk about it, there was a lot of planning and things behind the scenes that the guys didn’t know about. So hopefully everything goes off real well this weekend.”

It’s an even bigger game for the Irish coming off Friday’s loss. Jackson, though, said he won’t put any extra pressure on his team.

“This time of the year, they’re all big,” Jackson said. “I’m not going to magnify it anymore than it needs to be.”

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