DENVER — Riley Barber and Alex Gacek each scored twice as No. 5 Miami (Ohio) skated away with an impressive 5-3 victory at No. 7 Denver on Friday night.
The victory moves the RedHawks (20-10-1, 13-7-1-1 National Collegiate Hockey) into sole possession of second place in the NCHC standings and keeps them within three points of first-place North Dakota. It also marks the 12th time Miami has won 20 games in head coach Enrico Blasi’s 16 seasons behind the bench.
“This was a good college hockey game tonight,” Blasi said. “Both teams played hard. I thought we started the game well and our special teams came up big. We got a couple of opportunistic goals that were big for us.”
The RedHawks came out firing, taking six of the first seven shots of the evening. Cody Murphy had one of the better opportunities for MU early on when he got the puck in the slot about seven minutes in, but DU goaltender Tanner Jaillet steered the attempt wide to keep it scoreless.
Miami was put short-handed 8:58 into the contest after a hooking penalty. Denver’s (18-11-2, 11-9-1-1 NCHC) sixth-ranked power play was held in check, getting just one shot directed on net that Ryan McKay kept in front of him. Following the successful penalty kill, MU found the score sheet when Barber brought the puck up ice and missed a wraparound attempt, but Sean Kuraly cleaned up the rebound for his 16th goal of the year to put the Red and White on top 1-0 with 7:05 left in the first. Anthony Louis also drew an assist on the play to extend his point streak to five games.
Kuraly’s goal spurred the RedHawks on over their next few shifts as they started to hem the Pioneers in their own end. A too many men on the ice penalty on MU with 3:12 to go in the opening frame slowed that momentum some, but Miami was once again equal to the task against the dangerous DU power play.
With time winding down in the first, Austin Czarnik won a faceoff in the offensive zone and found Barber in the slot, where he wristed a shot past Jaillet for his 14th goal of the year with 36 seconds to go in the period. Czarnik’s primary assist on the play was his 155th-career point, which tied Todd Channell for eighth in school history. Louis also drew an assist on that tally which sent Miami into the locker room with a 2-0 lead. MU outshot DU 11-5 in the opening 20 minutes of play.
The Pioneers came out rejuvenated for the second period and outshot the RedHawks 14-7. In an about face from the first, DU was the team pinning MU in the defensive zone for large stretches of time and McKay was forced to be sharp to keep the Red and White in front. Denver’s pressure finally resulted in a goal at the 11:27 mark when Daniel Doremus redirected Trevor Moore’s shot in to cut Miami’s lead in half at 2-1.
A Miami penalty gave Denver an opportunity to tie it up on the man advantage with 5:57 to go, but the Red and White penalty killers stymied the Pioneer attack once again. Shortly after the penalty, Kuraly got behind the DU defense and was hauled down from behind, giving MU its first power play of the night with 3:44 left in the middle stanza. The RedHawks got three shots through to the net with the man advantage, but Jaillet stopped every attempt to keep it a one-shot game. Miami got one more power play with 30 seconds left in the frame, but was unable to get anything before the buzzer as it skated to the dressing room with a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes.
Barber took advantage of Miami’s carryover power play when he netted his second goal of the evening 59 seconds into the third to give MU its two-goal cushion back at 3-1. Alex Wideman and Kuraly both drew assists on the power play tally, which started off what turned out to be a wild third period. DU’s Emil Romig answered by finishing off a tic-tac-toe passing play to pull the Pioneers within 3-2 at the 3:03 mark.
The RedHawks earned another power play opportunity at the 4:41 mark, but were unable to extend their lead with the man advantage. It turned out Miami didn’t need the advantage to get its offense going as Matthew Caito gathered a loose puck behind the net and found Gacek coming off the bench with a step on the defense. The junior cut across the right side and beat Jaillet with a backhand for his second goal of the season to give Miami its two-goal lead back at 4-2 with 11:27 to go.
Miami did a nice job keeping Denver from getting much going offensively from there as it only placed two shots on goal over the next nine minutes. An offensive zone faceoff allowed DU to pull Jaillet for an extra attacker with just over two minutes remaining however and Moore struck for a 6-on-5 goal with 1:58 remaining to make it a one-shot game once again. That was as close as the Pioneers would get though as Gacek added his second goal of the night by firing the puck into the empty net with under a minute to go to cap the scoring and give MU its second-straight victory.
“Our response to Denver’s push was huge,” Blasi said. “Momentum is a difference in this game. They had a push and we tried to push back.”
The RedHawks ended up outshooting the Pioneers by a 27-26 margin while scoring on 1-of-3 power plays and killing off all three DU man advantages. Barber (2g, 1a) was one of four Miami skaters with multiple points, joining Gacek (2g), Kuraly (1g, 1a) and Louis (2a). With three points tonight, Barber moves up to 38th in school history with 113 career points. McKay made 23 saves to extend his personal unbeaten streak to four games (3-0-1) while Jaillet stopped 22 Miami shots at the other end.