EAST LANSING, Mich. — The record — and Ryan Miller’s moment in history — would have to wait at least another night.
With just over 10 minutes remaining, Michigan State had extended its lead over Alaska-Fairbanks to 3-0, and all but put the finishing touches on the Nanooks. The arena announcer began to disclose the numbers on Joe Goodenow’s second goal of the season, and the 6,742 at Munn Arena could feel the electricity and excitement slowly building.
With the game well in hand, they felt it was their turn to help Miller hold onto his record-breaking shutout. The crowd began to rise to its feet, growing louder in their clamorous support of the MSU netminder.
Within moments, however, hopes of an NCAA record were quickly dashed. Fairbanks defenseman Daniel Carriere skated into the Spartan zone, firing a shot from the far circle. MSU players, coaches, and fans could only watch in stunned disbelief as the puck flew past Miller, hitting the back of the net and lighting the lamp.
“You get shutouts if you’re lucky,” Spartans coach Ron Mason said with a laugh. “You’ve got to be good and lucky. All we want to do and all he wants to do is win the game. That’s the bottom line.”
The Spartans earned their 23rd triumph of the season, wrapping up an impressive 4-1 victory over the visiting Nanooks. Forward Troy Ferguson capped the Spartan win with his second tally of the season, scoring at the 11:55 mark of the third.
“I thought it was an entertaining game,” Mason said of the offensive-laden contest. “It was a little more wide-open than I thought it would be.”
With both teams generating plenty of genuine scoring chances, the wide-open contest can likely be attributed to a relatively penalty-free hockey game. Between the two squads, UAF and MSU accumulated a grand total of eight penalty minutes on the evening.
“The flow of the game was excellent,” said Alaska-Fairbanks coach Guy Gadowsky. “The referees didn’t try to dictate the flow of the game, and that makes a big difference. The teams were going to determine the flow and the outcome of game and the referee wasn’t.”
The opening five minutes of the contest indicated an evenly-matched, tight-checking affair, but it didn’t take the Spartans long to assert themselves as the superior team. MSU soon took over the flow of the game, dominating play for the rest of the opening stanza and keeping the puck deep in the UAF zone.
As has been its custom this season, though, it took the Spartans offense a while to see its dominant play to pay off.
Late in the first, junior defenseman Andrew Hutchinson tallied his fifth marker of the season at the 18:07 mark. Fellow blueliner Brad Fast fired a shot wide of freshman goalie Preston McKay, but Hutchinson took advantage of a friendly carom and gathered the puck at the far point.
Skating into the zone, he fired a shot from the high slot, beating McKay top-shelf on his glove side and giving MSU an early 1-0 lead.
Although the visiting Nanooks generated a handful of solid scoring chances, the Spartans continued to control the flow of the contest. Late in the second, they capitalized again, this time with John-Michael Liles notching his sixth goal of the season.
Coming off a faceoff deep in the Nanook zone, Goodenow got a stick on the puck and poked it toward the blue line. Liles skated in from the point, corralled the loose puck, and blasted it past McKay on the netminder’s glove side.
“That’s a dream right there,” said Liles. “The puck just barely trickling right towards you, and no one between you and goalie. That’s all you can ask for, I guess.”
The tally, coming at the 14:11 mark of the second, extended the MSU lead to 2-0 and gave the Spartans some breathing room.
Goodenow then netted No. 3 for the Spartans at 8:03 of the third, scoring on a gorgeous feed from teammate Adam Hall.
Hall flew into the zone and faked a shot, drawing both Nanook defensemen to the ice. He then skated around the fallen blueliners, slid the puck ahead to Goodenow, and all the junior had to do was flip it over McKay’s shoulder.
“I think we played well,” said Liles after his team’s 16th CCHA win. “We had a couple breakdowns in the second period, but that’s going to happen in pretty much every game we play. They had their chances, but Miller was solid as always and played his game. I don’t think we gave up too many second-chance opportunities.”
Gadowsky was very impressed with the Spartans, complimenting their discipline and coaching after his team’s tough loss.
“When you play Michigan State, they are a team,” he said. “They are not going to beat themselves. They have an excellent team that plays the system together all the time. Their No. 1 ranking in the nation certainly isn’t by accident.”
He also felt, though, that his team did a poor job of burying the puck when they needed to.
“I think maybe Miller came up big on a lot of [the scoring chances],” Gadowsky said. “A lot of it, though, was that we didn’t execute at the most critical point. We did a good job of creating them, but we didn’t close the deal.”
Mason, overall, appeared content with the way his team played throughout the night. The Spartans ended up outshooting Fairbanks by a final tally of 34-26.
“We got some real nice goals tonight,” said Mason, “yet we missed some great chances. They’re an improved team. We have to play real well to beat them.”
These two teams will square off again at Munn Arena on Saturday night.