Here are my thoughts from Miami's 4-0 win over Minnesota State. They'll take on St. Cloud tomorrow for the right to head to the Frozen Four.
- What an incredible defensive effort by the Redhawks. They basically created a wall in front of goalie Ryan McKay and Minnesota State could not get the puck through to the net. When they did, McKay made a couple of fantastic saves.
-After a scoreless first half of the game, it became obvious that the first goal would be a huge one, depending on which team got that bounce. That bounce went to Miami when they picked up the puck off an MSU turnover just as a penalty to Miami's Riley Barber was expiring, giving the Redhawks a 3-on-1. To Miami's credit, they executed perfectly, with Hobey Baker candidate Austin Czarnik firing a pass to Barber, then getting the puck back and dropping it to Curtis McKenzie, who had a beautiful finish under the bar for the game's first goal. By my unofficial count, that was the only real odd-man rush either way in a very tight, defensive playoff game.
-The Redhawks forechecked pretty hard through the first two periods of the game, choosing to put more pressure on the MSU defense. The Maverick defense responded with a pretty strong game in their own end, not turning the puck over, and generating a few 3-on-2 rushes the other way. Minnesota State was unable to convert on any of the rushes that yielded. Once they built a 2-0 lead, Miami was able to sit back a lot more and did not allow Minnesota State any opportunities offensively.
-This game featured a battle between Minnesota State's top 10 nationally power play against Miami's top 10 nationally penalty kill and it was a pretty decisive victory for Miami's penalty kill. The Mavericks had six power play opportunities and weren't able to convert on any of them. Again, credit Miami's impressive play in front of their own net. The Mavericks weren't able to utilize Eriah Hayes in the slot, one of their favorite targets, and they weren't able to get any shots through from the top of the point.
-Austin Czarnik was probably player of the game, but I'd throw Blake Coleman's name into the discussion as well. He made a great individual play to beat a defender on Miami's second goal, which was a real backbreaker, and created a lot of havoc that led to Miami's third goal. Fellow fourth-liner Cody Murphy created a lot of problems with his tremendous speed as well.
-I covered a game in late October where Minnesota State was completely blown off the ice by St. Cloud. Between that and the sum of the other eight years I've spent watching MSU, I never would have guessed that this is where their season would end up. It's humble by the standards of other, more established programs, but the Mavericks have a lot to be proud of after putting together arguably the most successful season in school history.
-Tomorrow sets up as a pretty interesting match-up between St. Cloud's very skilled offense and Miami's stifling defense. Of course, an early goal either way could completely change that equation. Both St.Cloud and Miami look like they are playing fantastic hockey right now, which hopefully yields a more competitive game than either of the two games today.