By John Lachmann
OXFORD, Ohio – Connor Knapp’s amazing January continued on Saturday.
Miami’s senior goalie stopped 22 shots as the RedHawks shut out Western Michigan, 4-0 at Cady Arena to complete a sweep of the NCAA’s eighth-ranked team.
It was the 10th shutout of Knapp’s career, and his second of the season. Knapp is currently third all-time on Miami’s career shutouts list, one behind senior teammate Cody Reichard and two behind 2003 graduate David Burleigh.
Knapp also became the second goalie in school history to record multiple shutouts in all four of his collegiate seasons.
Since the beginning of the calendar year, Knapp is 5-0 with a 0.60 goals-against average, and he has stopped 125 of 128 shots (.977).
With 7:47 remaining in the first period, Miami freshman forward Austin Czarnik won a faceoff in the offensive zone, and the puck came right to junior forward Reilly Smith, who buried a wrister to open the scoring.
Despite the up-tempo nature of the game, shots on goal were at a premium. The RedHawks (14-10-2) were held to six shots in the first period and four in the second. The Broncos put 14 shots on goal through the first 40 minutes.
It remained a one-goal game until the fifth minute of the third period. Miami freshman defenseman Ben Paulides went from goat to hero in the span of about five seconds as he turned the puck over in his zone, and Knapp was forced to make a spectacular save the preserve the lead.
Paulides recovered the puck and fired it ahead to freshman forward Jimmy Mullin at the Western Michigan blue line for a breakaway. Mullin deked to his right and slid the puck just inside the near post to make it 2-0 with 15:27 remaining in regulation.
Hirschfeld took a similar outlet pass from freshman forward Cody Murphy, and he roofed his shot with 7:44 to play, extending the Miami lead to three.
Just 24 seconds later, freshman forward Tyler Biggs banged home a loose puck in the crease to ice the game.
The Miami athletic department reported after the game that Smith’s goal gave him game winners in four straight RedHawks victories. Smith scored all three Miami goals in its 3-1 win on Friday.
Smith’s seven game-winning goals this season ties him for the second-most in a season in school history behind Tim Leahy, who notched eight in 1996-97. He moved into a tie for third in Miami career GWGs with 11.
Smith has seven goals in his last seven games and eight points during his current five-game point streak – the longest of any Miamian this season.
The RedHawks moved into a tie for second place in the CCHA with Western Michigan with 33 points, although the Broncos (12-9-5) have two games in hand. Ohio State leads the conference with 35 points.
Miami will host Northern Michigan next Friday and Saturday.
ANALYSIS: Miami coach Enrico Blasi said that this game was closer than the final score indicates, and he’s right.
Western Michigan’s defensemen were very impressive, but the Broncos trailed late and had to take some chances, and Miami capitalized.
This sounds like patronizing, considering the goal differential was 7-1 for the weekend, but WMU is a very good team. Miami just played that well for 120 minutes.
Western Michigan had a flurry of shots in the third period, but Knapp made outstanding saves on most and got lucky on a few others. That combination appeared to frustrate the Broncos by the end of Saturday’s game, as they scored on one of 49 shots on the weekend.
-- The JAR line (Jimmy-Austin-Reilly) scored two of Miami’s goals and recorded one assist, but eight other players – including six forwards – also notched a point.
That means nine of the RedHawks’ forwards got on the scoresheet, which is outstanding balance (the fourth line played less than on Friday and did not generate any points).
-- Miami’s 19 shots were the second-fewest the team has recorded this season. Want a strange stat? The RedHawks are 2-0 when shooting less than 20 times, but just 2-1-1 when taking 40-plus shots.
-- It appeared Smith would not equal his 28-goal mark of 2010-11, but after scoring four times this weekend, he has 18 on the season and is on pace to break his personal best.
Miami is guaranteed a minimum of 38 games, and Smith is now on pace to net 29 goals.
-- The power play chances for the weekend were 9-4 WMU.
In their last 11 games, Miami’s opponents have had more man-advantage chances nine times and the same number once. In that span, the RedHawks have gone on the power play 39 times while their opponents have had 60 chances.
Granted Miami has taken its share of dumb penalties this season, but that’s ridiculous.
-- Knapp is so good that he’s taken to padding his offensive totals.
Knapp picked up his third career assist on Mullin’s goal after making a game-altering save. His other two assists came in the same game – Miami’s 10-4 win over Lake Superior State on Feb. 6, 2010, the day after Brendan Burke’s death.
FORWARDS: A. True, they managed just 15 shots, but they scored all four goals