ANN ARBOR, Mich. — If Michigan freshman forward Brandon Kaleniecki was ever an “unknown” to coach Red Berenson, he sure isn’t now.
At least not after Kaleniecki notched his second straight multi-goal game on Friday night in Michigan’s CCHA opener against Alaska-Fairbanks. Kaleniecki’s two goals helped No. 5 Michigan beat the Nanooks, 5-2, at Yost Ice Arena.
This came less than a week after Kaleniecki scored two goals in Michigan’s game against Merrimack. Kaleniecki now has four goals in just five games as a Wolverine.
“He was a great scorer in juniors, I’m just glad he was able to transfer it over to college,” Berenson said.
Berenson said he never saw Kaleniecki play prior to him signing with Michigan a year ago; Michigan’s assistant coaches handled the recruiting of the Livonia, Mich., native. But Berenson said he’s been pleased with the way Kaleniecki always crashes the net and how the freshman has a knack for creating quality scoring chances for himself.
Kaleniecki showed just that in his first goal of the game on Friday, as he slammed home a rebound off a David Moss shot near the Nanooks’ net just over seven minutes into the game.
“There wasn’t too much to it,” Kaleniecki said. “It was just a rebound and I just knocked it in.”
Michigan (4-1, 1-0 CCHA) controlled play from the opening faceoff with aggressive forechecking, which Alaska-Fairbanks coach Guy Gadowsky said his Nanooks couldn’t match. The Wolverines finished with a season-high 47 shots.
“The game came down to Michigan’s speed and relentless forechecking, and we didn’t have an answer for it,” Gadowsky said.
While the Nanooks (1-3-1, 0-2-1 CCHA) were outshot and outplayed during the first period, they did respond by scoring the next two goals off of odd-man rushes. Alaska-Fairbanks junior forward Ryan Campbell skated in alone on Michigan freshman netminder Al Montoya, deked to get the 17-year old on the ground, and slipped the puck past Montoya’s outstretched glove to tie the game, 1-1.
Tom Herman’s goal five minutes into the second period gave Alaska-Fairbanks a 2-1 lead, and some momentum as the Nanooks seemed to catch the Wolverines on their heels. Berenson said the “dangerous” Nanooks could have broken the game open in the second period had it not been for the dazzling play of Montoya, who made several crucial saves on glorious, point-blank chances by Alaska-Fairbanks.
“They came at us in waves in the second period; they could have had four goals in the second,” Berenson said. “[Al] Montoya was the difference in the game and in the third he gave us a chance to get back in the game. Every time there was a turnover, they were gone, four men up the ice.”
Michigan sophomore forward Dwight Helminen said the Wolverines just got too comfortable.
“I think we kind of sat back, maybe,” Helminen said. “We started out with a lead and then we got comfortable, and we weren’t getting the puck in deep.”
Berenson said defenseman Nick Martens’ goal from the point with just under five minutes to go in the period turned the tide and helped Michigan get back on track.
“That was a huge goal for them,” Gadowsky said. “They just fed off that momentum into the third period.”
That’s when the Wolverines poured it on, scoring three times on backup goaltender Preston McKay, who took over for Lance Mayes when he sprained his right ankle eight minutes into the game. McKay finished with 34 saves on 38 shots, while Montoya recorded 27 stops.
“The just kept coming at us,” Gadowsky said. “They were just too fast.”
Helminen scored the eventual game-winning goal five minutes into the third period thanks to some crafty puckhandling. Noticing that his team was changing lines, Helminen took a pass from Montoya near center ice and skated into the Nanooks’ zone on an apparent 1-on-3 situation. But Helminen creatively manuevered himself around an Alaska-Fairbanks defenseman and then sent a wrist shot past McKay.
Kaleniecki then scored his second goal of the game to give Michigan some breathing room, as he received a nice feed from Moss near the goal crease on a power play, and banged it in to give Michigan a 4-2 lead.
Another Michigan freshman, Jeff Tambellini, scored his fifth goal of the season midway though the third period to put the finishing touches on the Nanooks.
“You knew [the game] would go one way or the other and I thought our team played with a little more conviction and a little more intensity, a little more desperation in the third,” Berenson said. “That was the difference.”