ANN ARBOR, Mich. — With a young team on the tail end of a two-week road swing, the University of Alaska-Fairbanks played No. 3 Michigan to a 2-2 tie through 40 minutes. The Wolverines were able to break out against the Nanooks in the third period, and scored three goals in a span of 6:21 to make the 5-2 win look more lopsided than it was.
Sophomore Matt Hunwick recorded his first career game-winning goal with a seeing-eye slap shot that found the back of the net 4:57 into the third period. The Wolverines added goals by freshman Kevin Porter and senior captain Eric Nystrom to make the final score 5-2.
Nystrom snapped his nine-game goal drought when freshman Chad Kolarik found him streaking to the net from the left circle. Nystrom slid the puck under Fairbanks goalie Wylie Rogers from the left side of the crease.
“I think we just kept our focus (in the third period),” Nystrom said. “The first two periods we were just terrible with the puck the puck control and the passing was just not good. In the third period, we got a little better. We started moving our feet and created some chances.”
The Nanooks were successful in hemming the Wolverines in for the first two periods with solid fore checking and aggressive play in the neutral zone. The game saw several bone-jarring hits between the blue lines.
“I thought for 40 minutes we played well,” Fairbanks head coach Tavis MacMillan said. “I liked our energy. I thought physically we were strong in the corners and along the walls. I thought we competed and won more battles than we have recently.
“In the third period, I thought we mentally cracked. I thought we took some bad penalties, which I think we’ve been guilty of lately. This is a young team right now. When things are tough, we’re not fighting through that adversity. We need to learn to fight through that adversity.”
After Michigan went up by three goals, tempers flared between the two teams. Michigan goalie Al Montoya who had been run into on more than once on the night took out his frustration by checking freshman Curtis Fraser behind the Wolverine net on a dump in play. When the dust cleared, 10 penalties were called, including 10-minute misconducts on Michigan’s Mike Brown and Tim Cook and Fairbanks’s Fraser and Cramer Hickey. Montoya was called for interference on the play, but got his ultimate revenge by keeping the Nanooks off the scoreboard for the rest of the game.
“He probably shouldn’t have taken that penalty,” Berenson said of his junior goalie. “He was bumped and bumped, and then he was hit. Maybe he didn’t have enough time to (cool off) and sure enough, the next puck came right down to him and there was a chance for contact. Montoya would probably be a good physical defenseman if he played defense.”
Despite its sloppy start, Michigan jumped to a two-goal lead in the span of just 48 seconds on the strength of goals by T.J. Hensick and Brown. Hensick scored on the rebound of Brandon Roger’s point shot at 6:14 in the first. Brown was set up by Chad Kolarik behind the Fairbanks net and the sophomore right winger buried a shot under the crossbar to put the Wolverines up 2-0.
Hensick increased his scoring streak to a career-high seven games with a goal and an assist on the night. The streak includes six straight multiple-point games for Hensick, who has piled up eight goals and six assists for 14 points during the seven-game span.
The Nanooks responded with a power-play goal from Fraser just 1:08 after Michigan took the two goal lead. Kelly Czuy dumped a awkward and bouncing puck on Montoya, and Fraser came away with the puck behind Montoya and lifted the puck in the empty net.
Fairbanks got the equalizer on the power play 10:51 into the second period. With lots of pressure on the Michigan net, freshman Ryan McLeod slipped the puck under Montoya as he dove across the crease to cover the left post.
“I can’t tell you we were the better team in the first half of the game,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “In the last half of the game, the wheels started to turn. We started to get some chances and we capitalized on them.”
The Nanooks gave the Wolverines all they could handle, especially considering Fairbanks plays 10 freshman and just five seniors on a regular basis.
“You have to hand it to them, they played a good game,” Berenson said. “They kept our team off balance. They played a close-checking game and did everything you have to do to play a good game on the road.”
The Nanooks will try put the emotionally charged third period behind them before Saturday night’s rematch at 7:35. They will attempt to record the third win at Yost Ice Arena in their program’s history before heading back to Alaska for the next three weeks.