By John Lachmann
OXFORD, Ohio – One of Miami’s strengths is its depth of talented forwards.
But junior Reilly Smith scored all three goals and the RedHawks’ top line accounted for all eight of the team’s points in a 3-1 win over No. 8 Western Michigan on Friday.
Smith has scored six goals in his last six games, and he notched his second hat trick of the season.
His freshmen linemates – Austin Czarnik and Jimmy Mullin – both set career marks in assists. Czarnik recorded helpers on all three goals, and Mullin added two.
Miami opened the scoring when Czarnik held the puck in the offensive zone, skated it into the corner and centered a pass to Smith, who was denied by WMU goalie Frank Slubowski on his initial shot but went high on the rebound shot four-plus minutes into the game.
Four minutes later, a blast by the Broncos’ Luke Witkowski from the blue line beat Miami senior goalie Connor Knapp on the power play, tying the score.
Czarnik and Smith’s full-court press on the penalty kill resulted in a turnover, and Czarnik fed Smith in front of the net for the go-ahead goal with 7:03 remaining in the middle stanza.
Midway through the third period, Mullin fired a point-blank shot that was saved by Slubowski, but the loose puck bounced to Smith, who scored his third goal of the game to make it 3-1.
Meanwhile, Knapp continued his outstanding run in the second half of the season. He stopped 25 shots – including 12 in the third period – as he extended his winning streak to five games.
Since the beginning of 2012, Knapp has stopped 103 of 106 shots (.972), and his goals-against average is 0.75 in that span.
Mullin has rolled up nine points in his last seven games (4-5—9), and has back-to-back multi-point outings. Czarnik has four assists in two games.
Miami (13-10-2) improved to 16-2-2 in its last 20 games against Western Michigan (12-8-5). These teams will wrap up their weekend series at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday at Cady Arena.
ANALYSIS: Before we get into the game, I hope everyone that had to travel home after the game Friday night got home safely. Because of the freezing rain, the roads around Oxford were brutal to drive on.
We saw five accidents on the way home, one was head-on and one had several emergency vehicles on scene, and we hope no one in the Miami hockey community was involved.
It’s telling that Western Michigan’s Andy Murray, with 10 years experience and over 300 wins as a head coach in the NHL, had no answer for Miami’s top line on Friday.
The JAR line (Jimmy-Austin-Reilly – sorry, it’s the best I’ve got at 5 a.m.) accounted for all eight points and 15 of Miami’s 31 shots.
I’m not sure why a coach with Murray’s resume is coaching Western Michigan, but his style of play is certainly entertaining for fans. Despite just four goals being scored in the game, the game resembled a track meet.
In addition to the RedHawks’ top line, a few others played very well in the win.
Freshman forward Alex Wideman started on the fourth line, but he was double shifted in the first period and must’ve played seven minutes in the opening stanza. He deserved it, as the high-tempo game suited his speed, and Coach Enrico Blasi also rewarded him with power play time during Miami’s lone man advantage.
Freshman forward Blake Coleman has taken way too many minor penalties this season, but he stayed out of the box on Friday and continued to play with an edge, making opponents’ lives miserable while still contributing offensively.
Junior defenseman Joe Hartman has never regained his freshman form, but he played at that level on Friday. He was physical and won a ton of battles for loose pucks.
As a team, Miami blocked 19 shots to Western Michigan’s seven. Junior defenseman Stephen Spinell, who I would argue has been Miami’s best defensive blueliner this season, led the RedHawks with six, and senior defenseman Chris Wideman had three.
Senior forward Patrick Tiesling had two big ones, and Czarnik absorbed a huge slap shot somewhere on his arm while killing a penalty but remained on the ice while in obvious pain.
Two other not-so positive observations:
Freshman forward Tyler Biggs looked rusty after returning from his two-game suspension, and he also took a boarding penalty. Biggs was banged up in November and still has not bounced back to his pre-injury level.
Miami was fundamentally lacking on its first penalty kill. At one point two RedHawks converged on a player against the boards, parallel with the goal, leaving the Broncos’ Mike Leone wide open in front of Knapp.
When Miami’s penalty killers moved away from the boards they still didn’t pick up another player in front of the net – WMU’s Will Kessel – and Witkowski’s shot got past Knapp as a result of Kessel’s screen.
The RedHawks did kill off Western Michigan’s final three power plays.
FORWARDS: B. They generated 29 shots, scored all three goals and accounted for all five assists.
All three members of Miami’s top line were outstanding, as were Alex Wideman and Coleman.