If Miami’s New Year’s resolution was to buck its trend of late game collapses, it accomplished that feat in its first game of 2012.
Freshman forward Jimmy Mullin scored in overtime to lift the RedHawks to a 2-1 win at Michigan State on Friday.
The RedHawks were 0-3 in the extra session this season entering Friday, and had an abysmal 0-5 record when tied going into the final four minutes of regulation.
Miami sophomore Bryon Paulazzo opened the scoring off a rebound shot with just over two minutes remaining in the opening period.
But off the ensuing faceoff, Michigan State’s Greg Wolfe beat RedHawks senior goalie Connor Knapp 12 seconds after the Paulazzo goal to even the score.
For over 43 minutes, neither team could break the deadlock. In the second minute of overtime, Mullin took a feed from fellow frosh forward Austin Czarnik and beat Michigan State senior goalie Drew Palmisano for the game winner.
It was the first game-winning goal of Mullin’s career, and his second goal in his last three games. His three-game points streak is also currently the longest of any RedHawk (2-2-4).
Knapp turned in his best start of the season, stopping 33 of 34 shots. It was the first time this season he has recorded a win with a save percentage above .900.
Miami wraps up its weekend series at Michigan State at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday.
ANALYSIS: This win is awesome on so many levels.
Of the question marks surrounding this team after Christmas break, several were answered in the affirmative on Friday.
Will Knapp bounce back? Yes. Can this team buck its brutal trend of losing close games late? Yes. Can Miami’s freshman step up in clutch situations? I’d say a freshman-from-freshman overtime goal on the road against one of the most respected teams in the CCHA answers that.
This win may have been better than a 7-0 drilling because at this level, teams will have good games and bad ones. Miami knew it had the ability to dominate on a given night, but it was unclear if the RedHawks could pull a win out in the third period or overtime of a close game.
The RedHawks still allowed Michigan State five straight power plays and a 5-2 man-advantage margin overall, but at least they killed all five chances (Miami was outshot, 11-0 on the power play, which is not particularly good).
But after the struggles late in games this team has endured, a win like this has to be beneficial to its collective psyche.
Mullin’s game-winning goal was the first of what will hopefully be many in a multi-season career, and it was set up by Czarnik, who was the best freshman in the first half.
This game was the first of a four-game road trip (well, not officially a road trip since they will return home between series), and the RedHawks have gotten off to an excellent start.
FORWARDS: B-. Two goals and 27 shots against a team that has allowed a ton of shots this season would ordinarily earn a team a C, but the overtime winner improves the grade.
Also, the unheralded stat of the night belongs to senior Matt Tomassoni, who blocked a team-best four shots on a night when Miami went 5-for-5 on penalty kills.
They generated 20 shots, scored two goals and dished for two assists, which isn’t great but after a month off it’s not surprising they were a little rusty.
DEFENSEMEN: B-. After holding opponents an average of 24.9 shots, Miami has surrendered 34.0 shots in its last three games, including 34 on Friday.
Senior Chris Wideman did pick up an assist and the RedHawks held MSU to one goal, but the shot count is a concern.
GOALTENDING: A. Knapp stopped 33 of 34 shots, his best outing in terms of save percentage since – coincidentally – a 4-0 win in East Lansing on Jan. 22, 2011.
Knapp, and fellow senior Cody Reichard, posted mercurial numbers the first half of the season, but the Sabres draft pick was outstanding in the first game of 2012.
LINEUP CHANGES: Freshman forward Cody Murphy returned to the lineup for the first time since Oct. 8 with what Miami is calling a leg injury.
Murphy’s insertion resulted in sophomore Max Cook being relegated to the bench, and with three points in 17 games as an offensive-minded forward, he may not play much the rest of the season unless the RedHawks struggle with injuries.
With senior Trent Vogelhuber returning to the lineup after sitting out the series finale against Ohio State on Dec. 10, junior Garrett Kennedy also sat.
The big question is: Will Miami coach Enrico Blasi come back with Knapp after a strong start or continue his rotation? Reichard is 0-2 with seven goals allowed and an .876 goals-against in his last two starts.
In their four season at Miami, Blasi has generally trusted Reichard to bounce back after struggling. Knapp has only started back-to-back games once in the past two seasons, and he wasn’t particularly dominant in his December starts, so there’s an excellent chance Reichard is in net on Saturday.
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