One very big hit sent a message Saturday night: Miami University’s hockey team wasn’t about to get swept out of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association tournament.
Defenseman Steven Spinell flattened a Michigan State player 10 seconds into the game and took a two-minute penalty, and the Spartans notched a goal 18 seconds later.
But the RedHawks had been energized by their senior captain and took off from there, scoring two first-period goals en route to a 4-1 victory that evened the CCHA quarterfinal series at 1-1.
“I saw the opportunity and took it … to send a message and set the tone for our team,” Spinell said of crushing MSU’s Kevin Walrod in front of the Miami bench — the call was indirect contact to the head/elbowing. “We’re here to battle, and that was our focus.”
Did he specifically target Walrod for some reason? Spinell shook his head. “Didn’t matter who,” he said. “We responded after that goal. I think my team took to it a little bit.”
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Matt DeBlouw beat MU goalie Ryan McKay (16 saves) for that power-play tally, but Jimmy Mullin knotted the contest midway through the first period, and Austin Czarnik marked his fourth shorthanded goal of the season less than three minutes later.
Cody Murphy scored in the second stanza and Czarnik found the back of the net again with 10:03 remaining as the top-seeded RedHawks improved to 23-10-5.
Michigan State (14-24-3), the 11th seed, got outshot 37-17. Jake Hildebrand collected 33 saves in goal for the visitors before a crowd of 2,714 at Steve Cady Arena.
Game 3 in the best-of-three series is set for 7:05 p.m. on Sunday.
“That’s why they call it a series,” MU coach Enrico Blasi said. “We’ve got an opportunity to move on now, and that’s all we can ask. We’ll come to the rink and get ready to go and see what happens. Game 7.”
Matthew Caito and Riley Barber both had a pair of assists for Miami. Joe Hartman and Murphy chipped in one apiece.
“We had no effort last night,” Czarnik said of Friday’s 3-0 defeat. “That was the message last night. Today, it started with battling in pregame skate. That really got us going, and it just carried over into the game.
“I thought we did a good job attacking tonight. We got pucks to the net and won our battles in front of the net. That was our key focus for today, and we were successful with it.”
Mullin broke the ice for the RedHawks with 9:22 left in the opening period. He deflected a Caito shot past Hildebrand for MU’s first goal in two weeks. It was Mullin’s sixth goal of the year.
Just 143 seconds had passed when Czarnik came up with his 12th goal of the season to give the hosts the lead for good.
“Barber made a good play,” Czarnik said. “The guy fell and he took (the puck) and tried to backhand it. It was on the line and I saw it, so I just put it right in. It was a good feeling.”
Greg Wolfe and Travis Walsh picked up assists on DeBlouw’s goal for the Spartans, who are 1-2-1 against Miami this year.
“Give them credit,” Michigan State coach Tom Anastos said. “They had a lot of intensity and jump in their step tonight. They were the better team tonight in all phases of the game. We’ll take our medicine tonight and get ready for tomorrow.”
MSU’s Justin Hoomaian was hit with a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for checking from behind late in the first period. The Spartans killed the penalty, but Anastos felt it took a lot out of them.
“Now we’re using the same guys to kill it off,” he said. “Now that takes our lines out of rhythm, so we essentially played three lines the rest of the game. That hurt us for sure.
“(Fatigue) is a factor, and that’s why it’s even more frustrating to get that major penalty because now you’re forced to play less players, and that’s not what we wanted to do. Later in the game, we tried to rotate as many players as we can, but we don’t have anybody out of the lineup that we can put into the lineup. Whether it’s a factor or not is irrelevant. We have to play with what we have and make the best of it.”
Spinell’s early penalty hurt the RedHawks in the short term, but clearly gave them a lift in the big picture.
“Spinell’s hit obviously got us going,” Caito said. “The intensity was there. It needs to be there tomorrow too.”
Blasi said the penalty happened so fast that he didn’t have much of a reaction to it.
“It’s hard to get angry in the first 30 seconds,” Blasi said. “I don’t know if it was a message or not, but that’s the way Steven plays. They made a great play for the goal, and we had to respond from there. I thought we settled down after that and played our game.”
Michigan State shut down MU’s offense Friday with an all-around defensive effort. Miami returned the favor Saturday.
“That’s the plan every night,” Spinell said. “Our compete level, our battle level, just winning pucks — I think everyone did a good job with that in the D-corps.”
McKay has played both games in this series. Blasi was asked if the decision to use McKay instead of Jay Williams on Saturday was essentially a gut feeling.
“We didn’t really feel like Ryan deserved to come out, so we went with him again,” Blasi said. “Now we’ve got a decision to make tomorrow.”
Sophomore forward Blake Coleman had played every game this season before sitting out Saturday’s affair. He was replaced by Bryon Paulazzo, who made his first appearance since Jan. 26.
“We had to make a decision,” Blasi said. “He’s not 100 percent, so hopefully he gets 100 percent here shortly.”
Does that mean Coleman is hurt?
“He’s not hurt. He’s just not 100 percent,” the MU coach replied. “There’s a difference.”
No. 7 Michigan and No. 2 Notre Dame ended their quarterfinal series Saturday, with the Wolverines beating No. 3 Western Michigan 5-1 and the Fighting Irish edging No. 9 Bowling Green 4-3. No. 4 Ohio State evened its series with No. 5 Ferris State with a 3-1 win, and those teams will meet again Sunday.
If the RedHawks win their series, they will play Michigan in the CCHA semifinals next Saturday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. If the Spartans win, they’ll advance to play Notre Dame.
Notebook: Czarnik is the only player in the country with four shorthanded goals this season. … Murphy’s goal was his 10th of the year. … Miami is 21-0 this season when leading after two periods. … Caito, a defenseman, led MU with six shots on goal Saturday.