By John Lachmann
As well as Connor Knapp has played in East Lansing, No. 15 Michigan State may have regrets about not recruiting the Miami senior goalie.
Knapp was a perfect 20-for-20 to earn his first shutout of the season in a 4-0 RedHawks win over the Spartans at Munn Ice Arena on Saturday, completing a two-game sweep to start the second half of the season.
Knapp’s last shutout was Jan. 22, 2011, also in East Lansing. Three of his top four starts in terms of save percentage the past two seasons have come at Michigan State (11-9-2).
It was the ninth shutout of Knapp’s career, moving him within two of senior teammate Cody Reichard and three of Dave Burleigh – the RedHawks’ all-time leader with 12. Knapp also became the third goalie in Miami history to earn a shutout in all four of his collegiate seasons, joining Reichard and Burleigh.
With the pair of wins, Miami (11-9-2) moved from ninth in the CCHA to a tie for fifth with Northern Michigan.
The evolving freshman class again played a major role in Miami’s win, scoring two of the team’s goals and accounting for three of six on the weekend.
Just past the midway mark of the second period, junior forward Reilly Smith slammed home a rebound shot from senior defenseman Cameron Schilling to open the scoring.
Another Schilling shot created a rebound early in the third period, and this time freshman forward Tyler Biggs knocked it home early in the third period to extend the RedHawks’ lead to two.
Miami senior forward Alden Hirschfeld beat Michigan State goalie Will Yanakeff with 11:48 left in regulation to make it 3-0, and freshman forward Blake Coleman iced the game by giving Miami a four-goal lead with 1:20 remaining.
Hirshfeld and Coleman finished with a goal and an assist each, and the RedHawks survived eight penalty kills without surrendering a goal. Miami was 13-for-13 on the PK for the weekend and has gone three straight games without allowing a goal on the power play.
Knapp stopped 53 of 54 shots in the series.
Miami will play another road series next weekend when it travels to Lake Superior State. Following its two-game set with the Lakers, the RedHawks will host in nine of their final 12 regular-season games.
ANALYSIS: To put Knapp’s best starts over the past two seasons in perspective:
1. @ Michigan State, 1/22/11. 4-0 W. 26/26 saved. 1.000 SV%.
2. @ Michigan State, 1/7/12. 4-0 W. 20/20 saved. 1.000 SV%.
3. @ Bowling Green, 11/20/11. 3-0 W. 9/9 saved. 1.000 SV%.
4. @ Michigan State, 1/6/12. 2-1 W. 33/34 saved. .971 SV%.
5T. @ Western Mich., 11/27/10. 5-1 W. 26/27 saved. .963 SV%.
5T. @ Lake Sup. St., 2/26/11. 4-1 W. 26/27 saved. .963 SV%.
Sort of amazing all six have been on the road. If a mere mortal can figure that out, it has to be common knowledge among the coaching staff. Meaning if Knapp wasn’t already slated to start next Friday, Knapp’s recent success on the road could be a tiebreaking criterion.
Looking back at the mid-season report – at least for a weekend series – Miami seems to have addressed all of their first-half shortcomings.
Except one: Staying out of the penalty box. The RedHawks took 11 more penalties on Saturday. Three were coincidentals, which I have no problem with, but it’s a hockey axiom that a team can’t allow 13 power play chances in two games and win consistently.
That said, Miami penalty killing was unimpressive in its first 20 games, and 13-for-13 on the road in phenomenal. It’s also just two games. Over the course of a season the law of averages will catch up with a team.
Of the seven-point checklist of shortcomings listed here, taking penalties was No. 1. Obviously that still needs work. Or new league officials.
No. 2 was penalty killing. Check.
No. 3 was the power play. Miami did score a power play on Saturday to finish a lukewarm 1-for-8 on the weekend, but the RedHawks put 14 shots on goals in six chances on Saturday, which is very positive.
No. 4 was late goals. Coleman scored in the final two minutes and Mullin tallied the game winner in overtime on Friday. Between those goals that’s one more than Miami had the entire first half in the final four minutes and overtime. Well done.
No. 5 was goaltending. I give you Connor Knapp, 53-of-54 this weekend.
No. 6 was defense. Despite allowing eight power play chances, Miami held Michigan State to 20 shots. That’s the third fewest shots the RedHawks have surrendered in a game this season.
And No. 7 was the veterans’ leadership on the ice. To a large extent this goes hand-in-hand with the defense and goaltending, since Miami’s goalies are both seniors and five of its six defensemen are juniors or seniors. Obviously those were much-improved areas over the weekend.
Hirschfeld had a two-point night on Saturday. Smith scored on Saturday. The freshmen forwards have been excellent, but Miami needs those two to put the puck in the net with regularity.
Not to be a downer after such a great weekend, especially since this next part almost doesn’t bear stating. Almost.
Miami has to keep this