OXFORD, Ohio – It took 24 hours longer than they might have expected but Miami University claimed the final Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular season title Saturday night with a 4-2 victory over Ohio State at Steve Cady Arena.
Curtis McKenzie, Riley Barber, Blake Coleman and Cody Murphy scored goals while freshman Ryan McKay stopped 25 of the 27 shots he saw as the RedHawks, ranked No. 3 in the nation, earned the top seed in the upcoming CCHA tournament in front of 3,618 fans. Miami (22-9-5) finished with 59 points, three points ahead of Notre Dame, for its fourth CCHA championship and has a bye to the second round of the league playoffs.
The CCHA is disbanding after 42 years as the landscape of college hockey changes with the creation next season of a Big Ten hockey conference and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, of which Miami will become a member. Ohio State was a charter member of the CCHA in 1971 while Miami joined the league in 1981.
Steve Cady, who was the first coach for Miami and is still a senior associate athletic director at the school, dropped the ceremonial first puck before the game.
“It was do-or-die tonight for a championship. That’s a game everyone dreams about playing and we rose to the occasion,” said senior defenseman Steven Spinell.
Ohio State’s 3-0 win on Friday forced Miami into a win-to-clinch situation Saturday.
The RedHawks came out with more purpose and focus Saturday. They were 0-for-4 on the power play Friday but needed just 10 seconds to start anew in this game. McKenzie, a senior from Golden, British Columbia, put the puck past Ohio State senior goalie Brady Hjelle with 9:20 on assists by Coleman and Barber. Hjelle had made 30 stops in shutting out Miami on Friday.
“We weren’t too happy about last night’s power play,” said McKenzie. “We had to have a little more urgency and right away we got the puck to the front of the net and capitalized on it. It was nice getting one behind the goalie tonight right away. We were already going but that gave the boys that much more confidence.”
Barber scored his 15th goal of the season with 6:49 left in the second period to put the RedHawks up 2-0. McKenzie and Ohio State’s Ryan Dzingel were in the penalty box with matching roughing penalties when Barber took a dump off pass from Austin Czarnik just inside the blue line, skated around defensemen Clark Cristofoli and Devon Krogh and slid the puck past Hjelle one-on-one.
“I had a great view of that one from the penalty box,” said McKenzie. “That was such a pretty goal. I was going crazy in the box by myself.”
Barber, who along with teammate Sean Kuraly was a member of the United States Junior National team that won the World Junior Championships in January, had a goal and assist to give him 36 points for the season, tops in the CCHA.
“Great play by Z (Czarnik) to make some room for me,” said Barber. “I was shooting the puck all night coming down the wing so I set up the guy to think that I was going to shoot it. I went inside on him and was lucky enough to put it in the back of the net.”
Ohio State had a chance to get back into the game in the third period when Kuraly was sent off with a five-minute major penalty for using the butt-end of his stick, which carried a game misconduct with it one minute, 41 seconds into the final stanza. Garrett Kennedy’s charging penalty 2:25 later gave the Buckeyes a 5-on-3 advantage but Miami’s top-ranked defense killed off both penalties.
Jimmy Mullin, who served the penalty for Kuraly, came out of the box to clear the puck and 33 seconds later Coleman turned a misplayed puck by Hjelle into his 20th goal of the season. Murphy added his 11th goal with 4:10 remaining to set off the celebration.
Ohio State got goals from Craig Dalrymple and Alex Szczechura in the final three minutes following a fight that resulted in a total of seven players being sent off.
Miami’s roster includes 18 of 26 players who are either freshmen or sophomores.
“As far as this team is concerned, I don’t think anyone would have picked them to do anything,” said Miami coach Enrico Blasi. “You want to put all of the drama into one evening, the last CCHA regular season game against your rival for the CCHA championship on senior night and then you have the guy dropping the puck who started the puck. Why not? It’s a good feeling right now.”
Despite the loss Ohio State clinched fourth place in the league with 45 points and home ice for its second round CCHA playoff against Ferris State when the Bulldogs lost in an overtime shootout at Michigan.
Miami previously won CCHA titles in 1993, 2006 and 2010. The RedHawks won their lone CCHA tournament championship in 2011. The program went to consecutive Frozen Fours in 2009 and 2010.
“It’s a huge honor to win the league championship but we have bigger aspirations coming this season,” said Spinell.