TOLEDO, Ohio – Blocking a hockey puck is an instinctual act. If anyone actually thought about it, they’d probably think twice.
Miami was very instinctual Saturday evening.
The RedHawks blocked 28 shots in front of freshman goalie Ryan McKay, who made another 20 saves, en route to a 4-0 victory against Minnesota St. in the NCAA Midwest regional semifinals at the Huntington Center.
The second-seeded RedHawks (25-11-5) advance to face fourth-seeded St. Cloud St. (24-15-1) in Sunday’s regional final for a spot in the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh in two weeks. St. Cloud St. beat top-seeded Notre Dame 5-1 in Saturday’s first semifinal. Sunday’s face-off is scheduled for 4 p.m.
Miami was the regular season champion of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, while St. Cloud St. was the regular season champion of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. Next season they will be members of the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
Seniors Curtis McKenzie, Marc Hagel and sophomore Cody Murphy scored even-strength goals for Miami as the RedHawks won their first NCAA game in three seasons but this game was about a defense that is the cornerstone of Miami’s program. Minnesota St. came into the game with a top-10 offense, averaging 3.2 goals per game and leading the nation with 44 power play goals, but Miami’s No. 2-ranked defense flustered the Mavericks throughout the game.
It was the fourth shutout of the season for McKay and the sixth overall for the RedHawks, who were allowing just 1.73 goals per game coming into the contest. It was the program’s first shutout in NCAA tournament play and it was the first time Minnesota St. (24-14-3) had been shut out since March 3, 2012.
“When guys are doing stuff like that, you appreciate it as a goalie,” said McKay. “That’s the desperation we played with tonight and I think that was the contributor of why we won tonight.”
Minnesota St. took 66 shots total in the game, so 42.4 percent of the time a Miami player stopped the puck before it got near McKay or the net. Minnesota State was No. 4 in the nation in power play efficiency at 23.4 percent but went 0-for-4 on the power play against a RedHawks defense that leads the nation with 167 penalty kills.
The Mavericks were credited with just two shots on goal in those eight minutes of having a one-man advantage.
“Give them a lot of credit. They take a lot of pride in blocking those shots, especially on the power play,” said Minnesota St. forward Eriah Hayes, who had scored 13 power play goals this season. “We had a lot of good looks and they were blocking everything it seemed. I think their goalie should give their D-men a little pat on the back. They saved them tonight.”
Senior Garrett Kennedy has scored two goals and has eight total points in his Miami career but he added five blocked shots to raise his season total to 67. Kennedy arrived in Oxford as a forward but was switched to the defense last year.
“This time of year you just need to have people to do it,” said Kennedy of blocking shots. “It’s time to go after a championship and there are guys on the team who have the will to do. I’ve accepted the role to block a shot. Some of them hurt but I just wave it off and keep on going.
“I just go in front of it. I don’t think about how hard it’s coming or how fast it’s coming. I just go down on one knee, two knees or whatever because I have to block it. Those things will win games.”
McKenzie put Miami on the board at 11:04 of the second period when he beat Minnesota St. freshman goalie Stephon Williams for his 11th goal of the season off passes from Austin Czarnik and Riley Barber. Barber had just come out of the penalty box when the RedHawks were able to capitalize on their rush up the ice.
“I just wanted a battle in the corner there, and I look up and Czarnik’s taking off, Barber’s coming out of the box, so I just tried to get on my horse,” said McKenzie. “Czarnik gave me a nice pass right at my skate, and somehow I got it up over the goalie. It was a good start to get that first goal.”
Hagel made it 2-0 for Miami 2:30 into the third period when he decisively put away a cross-net pass from Blake Coleman to beat Williams.
It became 3-0 when Murphy flipped the puck over a sprawled out Williams at 9:24 of the period. Williams had stopped a couple of shots but Murphy took advantage of him being out of position.
Max Cook added an empty-net goal with 58 seconds remaining for the final tally.
Czarnik and Coleman each had two assists for the RedHawks.
Miami is now 23-0-0 this season when leading after two periods and 21-2-1 when it scores first.
Miami had lost in the regional semifinals the last two years after making consecutive Frozen Four appearances in 2009 and 2010.
The RedHawks were coming off a 6-2 loss against Michigan in the semifinals of the CCHA tournament. McKay allowed a season-high four goals in that game before getting pulled. He got the word Friday night from coach Enrico Blasi that he would be starting.
“As a goalie, it doesn’t matter what level you’re playing, you have to have a quick memory,” said McKay. “I forgot about (Michigan) the instant that game was over at the Joe Louis (Arena), and I think our team did as well. We came out, and as coach said we didn’t play great in the first but we really got it going in the second and played our game.”