OXFORD, Ohio — It wasn’t pretty, but Miami found a way to get it done on the shoulders of Jay Williams, who notched his second shutout of the season in a 1-0 win over Western Michigan.
The game started at a torrid pace, though.
Mere minutes passed before Blake Coleman weaseled his way behind the Broncos’ defense and turned an Austin Czarnik pass into a forehand-backhand beauty of a power-play goal for the RedHawks. His seventh marker of the season was enough in this one, as the rest of the contest was missed opportunities and “what-ifs” on both ends of the ice.
Western Michigan struck iron twice; the RedHawks, once. Both goaltenders withstood sudden flurries, and then stood idle as neutral zone turnovers kept either team from building any momentum.
As Coleman himself put it in the postgame press conference, it was “sloppy.”
“I thought it was an even game, back and forth,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi stated. “It’s nice to come away with the win, but we play again tomorrow night and hopefully, we do a better job for 60 minutes.”
As the game progressed, the ice tilted more and more in the RedHawks’ favor. Key stops by Williams, a few puck bounces aided Miami’s cause, and several questionable calls hindered a possible comeback by WMU.
None were more controversial, however, than an offside whistle with just 4.7 seconds remaining in the final frame. The puck was deflected towards Williams off a neutral-zone faceoff and a Western Michigan player corralled it with unrestricted access to the net, only to have the whistle blow and the referee signal offsides. Understandably upset, Western Michigan coach Andy Murray voiced his displeasure to the tune of a misconduct. Captain Nolan LaPorte followed suit with a misconduct of the 10 minute variety, which effectively ended the contest.
“We were in and their guy brought the puck in,” Murray explained, reasoning why the play was legal. “Our guys were gone, it was a 2-on-1. And then the call in the second period – a cross-check on Taylor Fleming – his stick is on the ice. The referees have got a tough job, but those were certainly two calls that weren’t in our favor.”
Even with a high turnover rate and some blown chances, both teams were right in it to the end, which says something about Western Michigan. It entered Friday’s contest as a bit of an unknown – an opening record of 1-4 certainly buried the Broncos in the polls and the minds of the hockey savvy, but a 2-2-1 stretch in their last five games, including a 4-2 win over Alaska and a shootout victory against St. Cloud State – both top 20 opponents at the time – have made them a team to watch.
“I thought both teams competed real hard,” Murray said. “It was a man’s game out there and I like the compete level of our young team. Miami’s a team of seniors and juniors and we’re a team of freshmen and sophomores, so I thought it was good experience for our guys. Miami’s a great team, and we played that team pretty hard tonight. We’ll have another chance tomorrow.”
Williams finished the evening with 23 saves and has now allowed two or fewer goals in nine of his 10 appearances this year.
Broncos’ goalie Lukas Hafner made 27 saves.
Following last week’s split series at No. 2 North Dakota, Miami has now won four of its previous five outings. The RedHawks have outshot their opponents in 11 of their last 12 games.