Goose Egg Hunt
McKay Rebounds From Rough Outing to Lead Miami
by Avash Kalra/Senior Writer
TOLEDO, Ohio Until he allowed four goals in just over 30 minutes of play in last weekend’s CCHA semifinal game against Michigan, Ryan McKay’s young career had gone rather smoothly between the pipes for Miami. After all, in 19 starts, the rookie had remarkably allowed two goals or less in 18 of them, with three shutouts thrown in along the way.
So when McKay got pulled against Michigan – after allowing three goals in a 2:11 second period stretch – he was encountered with the first legitimate adversity he’d faced all season. With that context, McKay rebounded on Saturday, making 20 saves in his fourth shutout of the season to lead Miami to a 4-0 win over Minnesota State.
Said McKay, “As a goalie, it doesn’t matter what level you’re playing. I forgot about [the Michigan game] the instant that game was over, and I think our team did again.”
“Part of our philosophy with our program is to not worry about that past,” added Miami head coach Enrico Blasi, the CCHA Coach of the Year. “If you worry about things in the past, you’re living with some guilt and some baggage. We’re also not a program that worries about the future. We focused on trying to be in the moment all year long.
“Obviously we had to learn some lessons, and that’s what we harped on all week.”
As a result of the game against the Wolverines, there were questions heading into this weekend’s Regional. Even though McKay had started six straight games, would Blasi go back to the young Palatine, Ill., native for the NCAA Tournament? After all, Blasi’s other option is another freshman in Jay Williams, who has a 1.94 goals against average and a .924 save percentage in 21 mostly stellar games played this season.
Said Blasi, “We battled all week. Ryan battled his butt off all week, and so did Jay. It could have gone either way last night. That’s pretty much the same as any other week. You don’t try do things differently at this time of the year.”
Of course, McKay – who entered the weekend with a 1.37 goals against average and a .948 save percentage – wasn’t the only goaltender in Saturday evening’s matchup in Toledo attempting to rebound from a rough outing.
Consider this: in Minnesota State-Mankato’s last four NCAA tournament appearances – only one of which has been at the Division I level (2003) – the Mavericks allowed a combined 23 goals, averaging over fives goals allowed per game.
So on Saturday, in the primetime matchup at the Midwest Regional – facing a team that includes Hobey finalist Austin Czarnik and rookie Riley Barber (whose 38 points this season are most among freshmen) – the script was set up for something similar. After all, in their last game, the Mavericks allowed a season-high seven goals against Wisconsin at the WCHA Final Five.
Like McKay, WCHA Goaltender and Rookie of the Year Stephon Williams, who became Mankato’s undisputed top goaltender in November, was determined to make Saturday’s outing a different experience. Williams was injured in the Mavericks’ aforementioned loss to Wisconsin after allowing five goals in just over 30 minutes of play.
Williams made a series of outstanding saves early on against Miami on Saturday, particularly in the second period on a number of in-close opportunities by Barber. But in the end, Miami was able to break through. Ultimately, Williams allowed two goals – both on RedHawk odd man rushes – and a third on a broken play where his defensemen could not clear the puck in front of him. Miami’s fourth goal was an empty-netter.
“I thought he did a great job of rebounding,” said Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings, the WCHA Coach of the Year. “When you don’t give a guy any run support, it’s tough to win a hockey game.
“[Williams] had a special year. He’s a special young man. He is one of the main reasons that we are here in Toledo. I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a young man and an athlete. For him to come back after what happened in St. Paul, I think that says a lot about him and his future.”
The first goal, the eventual game-winner, was scored 11 minutes into the second period by senior Curtis McKenzie, after the left-winger’s rising backhander capped off a well-executed 3-on-1. Meanwhile, the second goal came early in the third off the stick of Miami senior Marc Hagel, after he and sophomore Blake Coleman outmuscled the Mankato defense to create a two-on-one chance.
At the opposite goal line, meanwhile, McKay proved up to the task of defending the slim lead against a Mavericks team that was averaging 3.17 goals per game heading into the NCAA tournament – 11th best in the nation. On a Mavericks power play late in the second period, McKay made well-positioned saves on a Zach Palmquist deflection and a Jean-Paul Lafontaine top corner snipe attempt.
In addition, Miami defensemen blocked 28 shots during the game – compared to Mankato’s 12 – and that proved crucial in the outcome of the game.
“I’m a big believer in guys that end up blocking shots do it because they want to,” said Hastings. “I’ll call it a commitment level. That’s not a slight on our guys at all –
that’s a compliment to Miami and their commitment to defending. I really think it’s that simple.”
Added McKay, “When guys are selling out like that, you appreciate it as a goalie.”
In the end, McKay’s fourth shutout of the season was preserved with an impressive effort in the final five minutes. With just over 4:45 to play, the Mavericks pulled Williams and played the majority of the remainder of the game with a six-on-five advantage.
But the Miami defense stool tall, and McKay finished the game with 20 saves in the shutout win. More importantly for the RedHawks, they advance to the Regional final after being bounced in the first round in each of the last two seasons.
Miami – with McKay set to start in goal – will play St. Cloud on Sunday with a berth in the NCAA Frozen Four on the line.
NOTES: In the first period, a five minute major penalty for kneeing was assessed major to senior defenseman Evan Mosey, who had played in 107 games for the Mavericks. On the penalty, Mosey collided with Miami sophomore right-winger Jimmy Mullin, a fourth round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Mullin was helped off the ice by trainers.
Regarding his status for Sunday’s Regional Final, Blasi only had the following to say after the game: “I have no idea at this point. No update.”