KALAMAZOO, Mich. — When Alaska Fairbanks and Western Michigan get together, one thing is certain: you’re in for a high-intensity, high-scoring brand of hockey.
Those in attendance at Lawson Arena Friday night were not disappointed as the Broncos scored four goals in the third period to knock off the Nanooks, 4-2.
A cloud of despair hung heavy in the UAF locker room following a game in which the Nanooks allowed a two-goal third-period lead and a chance at the top spot in the CCHA to slip through their grasp.
“They played extremely hard and they deserved it, it certainly doesn’t make it any easier to swallow from our standpoint,” said UAF head coach Guy Gadowsky. “It’s the second night in a row where we’re up and we lost it.
“Talk about the Broncos and the character they have to come back in the third period. I’d like to think we have that kind of character on our club, but that’s twice in a row now and it’s something we certainly have to address.”
After battling through a scoreless first period, Nathan Fornataro put the Nanooks up late in the second with a power-play effort, the only UAF power-play goal on the night despite five opportunities.
Riding the 1-0 lead into the third, Jason Grinevitch scored just 56 seconds in for UAF. Once again, though, the two-goal lead proved to be the most dangerous in hockey.
Before UAF quite realized what happened, the Broncos had taken the lead on goals from Ryan Mahrle and Pat Dwyer just 11 seconds apart, midway through the period.
“I think initially we played a little tentative and a little tight, but then we seemed to settle and get better chances,” said WMU head coach Jim Culhane.
The Broncos had been getting their chances all night and the puck didn’t seem to be bouncing their way, but one favorable hop was all it took to break the game open.
Jeremy Cheyne, parked alongside Keith Bartusch, was in the right place at the right time as a shot from Paul Szczechura deflected off Cheyne’s stick and Bartusch’s right shoulder to narrow the UAF lead to 2-1.
“That’s a big goal, I tried to reinforce on the bench to just stay patient and one of our lines will get a goal,” said Culhane. “At that point we really gain some momentum.”
Following the Cheyne goal both clubs kicked the intensity level up a notch; to the Nanooks’ despair it was the Broncos who found the extra gear on the Mahrle and Dwyer goals.
Dwyer’s shot into the empty net, his second goal of the game, sealed the deal with 33 seconds to play.
Scott Foster made 26 saves as he backstopped the Broncos to victory. Bartusch gave up three goals on the night as the Broncos peppered him with 40 shots.
WMU and UAF square off again Saturday night at 7 p.m. at Lawson Arena, as both clubs begin to make their push to the top of the conference standings.