OXFORD, Ohio – A fourth Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular season title will have to wait for Miami University.
The third-ranked RedHawks, needing just one point to clinch a share of the final CCHA championship, were beaten on home ice for just the second time this season, losing 3-0 to Ohio State Friday night in front of 3,170 at Steve Cady Arena. Ohio State senior goalie Brady Hjelle stopped all 30 shots Miami fired at him as the Buckeyes recorded their first shutout since Nov. 30 at Michigan State and took over sole possession of fourth place in the league.
Juniors Chris Crane and Alex Szczechura scored in the second period for the Buckeyes (14-14-7), while sophomore Max McCormick added an empty net goal with 1:19 remaining to seal the victory.
Miami (21-9-5) still leads the CCHA with 56 points but Western Michigan’s pulled to within two points of the RedHawks with a 5-2 victory at Michigan State. A Miami win or Western Michigan loss on Saturday would secure the outright title and the No. 1 seed in the upcoming CCHA tournament for the RedHawks. If Miami and Western Michigan finish tied in the standings, Miami would earn the top seed based on a 4-2 goal differential in games played between the teams.
Miami coach Enrico Blasi was in no mood to contemplate tie-breaking procedures. The RedHawks were 0-for-4 on the power play and allowed more than two goals in a game for just the second time in their last 28 games.
“They didn’t give us any second opportunities. I thought their goalie made some big saves and they executed a lot better,” said Blasi. “You’ve got an opportunity tomorrow and win a game and see what happens.”
Ohio State, coming off being swept at home last weekend by Michigan, got just 16 shots on goal but Crane’s goal 1:14 into the second period proved to be the only goal the Buckeyes would need. Crane, whose family lives in West Chester, deflected a shot by Devon Krogh past Miami freshman goalie Ryan McKay on a power play.
“We were winning our battles in front of the net and it was a great shot by Krogh,” said Crane. “I was just lucky enough to get a stick on it.”
Szczechura, who also had an assist on Crane’s goal, scored with 6:40 left in the period on assists by Tanner Fritz and McCormick.
Ohio State, now with 45 points, needs one point on Saturday to clinch the No. 4 seed in the CCHA tournament. The Buckeyes will face Ferris State regardless but the Bulldogs’ 4-1 loss at Michigan leaves them three points behind in the battle for home ice in the quarterfinal series. The top five teams in the 11-team league receive byes to the quarterfinal round.
“These three points were huge,” said Hjelle. “We’re playing for that and we’re also playing to try and spoil these guys’ championship.”
Miami is now 11-2-3 at home this season, the lone loss coming on Dec. 8 against Lake Superior State in a 1-0 shutout defeat. It is the sixth time Miami has been shutout this season. The RedHawks entered the game ranked No. 1 nationally with a 1.56 goals per game average, while McKay came into the contest leading the nation with a 1.06 goals-against-average and .962 save percentage.
“They executed and we didn’t execute tonight,” said Miami senior defenseman Steven Spinell. “We need to make sure we are being physical and hard on every play.”
This is the final season of the CCHA. The league began play in 1971 but is disbanding after this season as the Big Ten creates its own hockey conference with the addition of Penn State as a Division I varsity program.
“It’s going to be interesting. I don’t want to say apprehension but there’s going to be some feeling out with non-conference scheduling, within the league battles,” said Ohio State coach Mark Osiecki, a former player at Wisconsin. “When I was at Wisconsin that’s what the fans always said, ‘How come you don’t play Michigan, Michigan St.?’ It’s always brought up because that’s what the fans know.”
Miami will join the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference next year along with CCHA brethren Western Michigan. The league will also include Denver, Colorado College, Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State, North Dakota and Nebraska-Omaha.
Blasi was a junior in 1993 when Miami won its first CCHA regular season title. Now in his 14th season as the head coach, he has guided the RedHawks on the other two occasions they have captured the regular season championship (2006, 2010) and for their one CCHA tournament title two years ago.
“The CCHA is where Miami grew up,” said Blasi earlier in the week. “The league has given us an opportunity to grow our program, stick with our program because we had some tough years in the early going. We weren’t exactly beating down the doors in the first 20 years but it was an opportunity for Miami to find its identity as a hockey program, as a hockey school.”
Miami will get another shot at closing out the title Saturday night.