On Saturday night, the St. Cloud State Huskies posted the second bracket-buster of the tournament by blowing out Notre Dame (5-1). Huskies goaltender Ryan Faragher didn't have to steal this one, but he was solid in the first period by stopping all 10 shots he faced, and finishing with 17 saves overall.
The Miami (Ohio) RedHawks defeated the Minnesota State Mavericks 4-0 to advance to Sunday's Midwest Regional Final against the Huskies. Freshman goalie Ryan McKay only had to make 20 saves, but came up with some timely ones in the first two periods. He only faced four shots in the third, which meant he was nice and rested for his ninth consecutive start on Easter Sunday.
Even though the Huskies won the game 4-1 to advance to their first-ever Frozen Four, McKay did show a strong technical game, while Faragher put forth another gritty performance in his own right.
McKay set the tone early with a very fluid left pad reaction save on a quick one-timer from the slot just 1:38 into the game. But the Huskies took control of early momentum when Joe Benik beat McKay over the right pad and under the blocker with an innocent-looking wrist shot just 5:28 into the game.
On the other end, Faragher was active moving the puck behind his net in the early-going, setting up three transition plays despite solid pressure from opposing forecheckers. But seconds after Benik opened the scoring, Faragher turned the puck over on a pass up the boards. The pass was cut off at the half-boards and quickly centered on goal, but Faragher recovered in time to squeeze the pads while falling on his left side.
A few minutes later, the RedHawks started to push back and had two consecutive shots ring off the post, tallying five scoring chances just 10 minutes into the game.
One of Faragher's main strengths is his hands, and he put that skill on display with a nice glove reaction save on a scoring chance with 6:05 left in the first. In the ensuing shifts, he also came up with a couple of timely stops during Miami's first man advantage. He did so by finding pucks through traffic, battling for space by pushing off players that were applying screens in front of him, and by not being overly aggressive with his depth.
McKay responded by making one of his better saves by sliding to his left on a one-timer by Benik with 7:57 left in the first. McKay located the puck quickly, and then rotated and condensed his body in one motion in order to squeeze off the same hole that Benik sniped earlier. More importantly, because he was sliding laterally, the lack of a rebound shut down what could have been a sticky scrambling situation.
Faragher finished with nine saves in the first period, while McKay finished with just five.
McKay entered the game allowing one goal or less in 15 of his 23 starts, but the red-hot Benik scored his second goal of the game 5:36 into the middle frame. McKay was visibly frustrated when the goal was scored, batting the puck away with his stick. But in his defense, he had to commit to a strong power-move to the net by Brooks Bertsch. He stopped the initial shot, but couldn't gain an edge with his right skate in order to push back to his left to make a save attempt on Benik's put-back.
Down 2-0, the RedHawks cut the lead in half at the 7:50 mark when Faragher attempted a half-butterfly glove save on a shot from the point. The shot went just wide, and as the puck fired off the back-boards, Miami-Ohio's Blake Coleman reached out with strong, swift hands to chip the loose puck over Faragher, who was diving back to seal the left post.
Although McKay continued to move well and display solid fundamentals, the lack of consistent action in his zone didn't allow him to get comfortable. He was caught deep in his crease and unprepared for Cory Thorson's goal, which extended the Huskies' lead to 3-1. A bobbling puck was fired high in stride as he streaked down the right wing, and the shot elevated quickly to beat McKay over the right shoulder.
Again, directly following the goal, his visible frustration was on display. But he tightened up after that shocking shot, as he was very strong during a 5-on-3 penalty kill later in the second period, including a big blocker save. After the first goal, it appeared as if St. Cloud was trying to expose him on the blocker side.
Faragher didn't see much action in the second period after Coleman's goal, but he did come up with a timely save on the PK with only 33 seconds remaining in the period. He slid over to his right and sealed the ice nicely on a goal-mouth scrum, but did it without falling on his stomach or losing track of the puck.
McKay stopped nine of 11 shots in the second, while Faragher stopped just four of five.
Each team had a power play opportunity in the third period, but both goalies held strong and made some respectable saves. Only a combined 12 shots were registered in the final frame, so Faragher finished with 20 saves and McKay closed out his freshman year with 18 saves on 21 shots.
Just like Saturday's game against Notre Dame, although Faragher didn't have to steal the win, he was once again timely and confident with his performance. Like we've seen from Yale's Jeff Malcolm this weekend, despite the fact he's not the most fluid or technically sound goalie, he battled hard and created a strong and stalwart presence in the paint. The RedHawks put a lot of bodies and traffic below the hash marks in the first two periods, but Faragher was able to find pucks through bodies, and for the most part, keep his core centered in the net.
Despite the weak save percentage, McKay showed some impressive upside in the loss. His mechanical and technical foundation is solid for a freshman. He slid and pushed laterally with power, but didn't over-slide his angles. He did a real good job of using his posts as anchors, which is a sign he is positionally sound.
Like Wilcox in Minnesota, it's impossible to quantify his success in relation to his team's play, or his actual skill level. But erasing those factors from the equation, I saw a goalie with legitimate pro upside. He doesn't have the raw quickness or athleticism of a goalie like Wilcox, but he is confident in his tactics, and he showed some good maturity by shutting the door after giving up what could be considered a weak third goal.
At the end of the day, Faragher once again had scoring support against a higher-ranked team. And while he did experience some balance and timing issues, as well as some mildly sloppy recoveries, he did what needed to be done -- he won back-to-back games on the biggest stage of his NCAA career. He also moved and managed the puck extremely well, which played a big role considering he didn't face much action in the final two periods.
It looks as if he'll face a much tougher test, Quinnipiac, in the Frozen four. They currently have a 5-0 lead over Union heading into the third period.