DETROIT — After surrendering two power-play goals in the first period, Wayne State could have easily packed up and accepted defeat to Alabama-Huntsville.
But that would be no way for the defending College Hockey America champions to react to the 2-0 deficit they faced at the end of 20 minutes. Instead, WSU (5-8-2, 3-1-1 CHA) scored four straight goals and held off a late surge by UAH (10-7-0, 5-4-0 CHA) for a 4-3 win at the Great Lakes Sports City.
Even so, Wayne State head coach Bill Wilkinson wasn’t 100 percent happy with the victory. “Our intensity was very sporadic tonight,” Wilkinson said. “We can’t rely on [netminder] David Guerrera to win games for us night in and night out.”
Guerrera made 30 saves for WSU while Mark Byrne stopped 28 shots for Alabama-Huntsville.
Doug Watkins got the Chargers on the board first on a power play at 10:29 of the first period. Watkins took a feed at the bottom of the left faceoff dot and beat Guerrera from a sharp angle. Then Ryan Leasa wired a shot from the left point that Guerrera never saw to give the visitors a 2-0 lead on a 4-on-3 power play.
Wayne State skated out for the second period with newfound energy. First Billy Collins scored on a power play at 8:17 and Travis Rycroft followed at 10:18 just as the man-advantage expired. The two goals made up for co-captain Jason Durbin getting stopped cold by Byrne on a penalty shot early in the period. Byrne necessitated the penalty shot by purposely knocking the net off the pegs during a mad scramble in the crease.
The Rycroft goal was the result of hard work — hard work Wilkinson expected from Rycroft’s line.
“I thought the Rycroft-[Reegan] Rehm-[Jon] Brink line gave us a lot of energy tonight,” said Wilkinson. “You need a line like that to inject some life into the rest of the team.”
Alabama-Huntsville head coach Doug Ross said the second period was the turning point.
“We lost our focus in the second,” Ross said. “We weren’t very strong on the puck and I give [Wayne State] credit for taking advantage of it and coming back and tying it up.”
Nathan Rosychuk put WSU up 3-2 3:57 into the third period with a nice move in tight on Byrne.
Nick Shrader added some breathing room for the Warriors at 15:32. Shrader’s initial shot was stopped by Byrne, but the rebound came right to Shrader’s stick and he banged it past the sprawled netminder.
Wayne State played dump and chase the rest of the game, but Keith Rowe scored on a 6-on-4 power play with ten seconds left in the game. Rowe took a nice pass from behind the net and one-timed it past Guerrera.
“We didn’t put together three periods tonight,” Ross said. “It was a hard-fought game and I think it could have gone either way. We just need to play better 5-on-5.
“But they got the breaks tonight. Tomorrow night we’ll have to focus on playing together for three solid periods and we’ll see what happens.
“Stats will show that 75 percent of the time the team that scores first wins the game,” Wilkinson added. “We need to get better at starting better.
“Tonight wasn’t a lucky win. It was a David Guerrera win.”
Game time Saturday night at the Great Lakes Sports City is 7:05 p.m.