EAST LANSING, Mich. — The good news for Alaska Fairbanks was that it allowed eight fewer goals on Saturday than on Friday.
The bad news was the Nanooks couldn’t muster any more goals themselves and as a result, were eliminated by No. 15 Michigan State two games to none in a first-round CCHA playoff series.
Sophomore Lee Falardeau, senior Bryan Maloney and junior Tim Hearon each scored as Michigan State won 3-1 Saturday to follow up its 11-1 thrashing of the Nanooks on Friday.
Michigan State advanced to play against Northern Michigan in the Super Six portion of the CCHA tournament on Thursday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
“I think that was Fairbanks as they have been playing the past couple months and (Friday) night was more an aberration than anything else,” MSU head coach Rick Comley said.
The Nanooks, who entered the series against the Spartans with a 6-0-3 record in their previous nine games, struck first on Saturday when junior winger Cory Rask put a backhanded tip of a point shot from junior defenseman Felipe Larranaga above the shoulder of MSU goalie Matt Migliaccio for a 1-0 Nanook lead.
MSU tied the game with 2:15 left in the first when Falardeau slipped home a rebound off a shot by senior defenseman John-Michael Liles past UAF goalie Lance Mayes to make it 1-1.
Mayes eventually had to leave the game in the second period with a sprained ankle after he was run into by MSU sophomore center Jim Slater.
The teams went scoreless until the 4:08 mark of the third, when MSU sophomore Brock Radunske streaked into the Nanook zone and fed a nice lead pass to Maloney, who fought off a check by Nanook defenseman David Keough and beat new goalie Preston McKay with a forehand deke to make it 2-1 Spartans.
Michigan State then received a contribution from an unlikely source, as Hearon tipped Joe Markusen’s point shot past McKay to give the Spartans a 3-1 lead with 7:08 left in the game. Hearon, a fourth-line performer, scored just the second goal of his career, both of which have come this season.
The No. 1 star of the game for Michigan State was Migliaccio, who made 35 saves and played what Comley called “the best game of his career.”
“It definitely came at the right time, I’ll tell you that,” Migliaccio said of his performance. “The team responded well in the third period. We came out of the locker room to try and do the little things and really went down and got the puck out.”
After a poor first half of the season, the Spartans (23-13-2) were forced to play catchup in the standings and have responded with 15 victories in their last 21 games.
The biggest question for Michigan State will be whether it can muster enough wins to land an NCAA tournament berth. MSU entered the weekend tied for 13th in the PairWise Rankings and would have to win three consecutive games in Detroit next weekend to land an automatic bid.
Knowing accomplishing that will be difficult and not hiding his distaste for the Super Six format, Comley knows his team will have to set its sights on a different goal to have a shot at the NCAAs.
“I would think two more (wins), still,” he said of what the Spartans need to do in Detroit. “I know we’ve moved up this weekend.”
As for the Nanooks (15-13-7), they were unable to get to Detroit for a second straight year in a season filled with adversity.
Sophomore Aaron Voros, the team’s leading goal-scorer from last year, had surgery in January to remove a bone tumor and has missed the second half of the season.
While not as traumatic as Voros’ situation, the Nanooks also had to deal with the unexpected slumps of goalies Mayes and McKay.
“This was the hardest year by miles to be a leader or captain on this club,” UAF head coach Guy Gadowsky said. “There some things out of our control this team had to deal with and there were some things internally that had to be dealt with as well. I think this club did a (heck) of a job.”