ANN ARBOR, Mich. — No. 3 Michigan has been feasting on CCHA opposition all year and when it smells blood in the water, watch out. The nation’s highest-scoring team (4.38 goals per game) jumped all over Alaska-Fairbanks with four goals in the second period and cruised to a 5-2 win.
After senior Milan Gajic put the Wolverines up 2-0 early in the period, Michigan threatened to blow the game open midway through, but was denied by freshman goalie Wylie Rogers on several occasions. As the period came to an end, the Wolverines erupted with three goals in 3:16 to put the Nanooks away.
After T.J. Hensick’s point shot hit teammate Jason Ryznar in the arm, Ryznar collected the puck on one knee and sent a backhand pass to David Rohlfs in front of the net. Rogers was out of position and the sophomore right winger easily hit the open net at the 14:58 mark.
At 17:45 in the period, Hensick made the blowout official with a three-on-two breakaway goal that put Michigan up 4-0. Hensick carried the puck over the right side of the blue line, played give and go with Jeff Tambellini in the slot, and then banked a backhand shot off Rogers and inside the right post. Rogers was pulled from the game after the goal in favor of senior Keith Bartusch.
Just 29 seconds later, senior captain Eric Nystrom recorded his second goal of the weekend series to finish out the scoring for Michigan. All five of Michigan’s goals came at even strength.
“All year, (when) we get one or two goals in a two-, three-minute span, we’re good and we’re going to get more,” Hensick said. “That’s what happened in the second period. We just fed off each shift. Each shift became more (intense) out there. Each line played well and we got some goals and we were on our way.”
A night after beating the Nanooks by an identical 5-2 margin, in a game that was much closer than the score indicated, two late third-period goals by Fairbanks made the game look closer than it was. Both goals, by captain Jared Sylvestre and Jason Grinevitch, came on the power play.
“Most of the goals they got were second chances,” Hensick said. “Second-chance opportunities weren’t Al’s fault. We’ve got to clear the front of the net. It’s frustrating not to get Al the shutout. As much as he says he didn’t want it, as a team we wanted to get it for him. So it’s definitely a disappointment.”
Despite the late goals, Michigan goalie Al Montoya turned in a solid performance to give the Wolverines their 12th consecutive CCHA victory and improve their conference record to 15-1-0. The junior netminder had struggled in recent weeks, but looked confident in Saturday’s game and stopped 28 of 30 shots.
“I thought (Montoya) was good when he needed to be,” Alaska-Fairbanks head coach Tavis MacMillan said. “I thought we tested him early Aaron Lee had a breakaway and he made a great glove save early in the game. That’s a big save. That’s a timely save. If you’re going to be successful, you need those saves early in the game.”
For the Nanooks, the loss capped a difficult two-week road swing in which they went 0-4 against Bowling Green and Michigan.
“We’ve got to continue to grow,” MacMillan said. “I thought we played much better this weekend than we did last weekend. We’ve got to build on that. We’ve got a huge stretch coming up the next ten games we have eight at home. We’ve got to go home and have a great week of practice.”
Tambellini scored the lone goal in the first period on a fast developing breakaway. Sophomore defenseman Matt Hunwick collected the puck off the right boards inside his own blue line and fired a pass to Tambellini streaking up the left side. Tambellini left the puck for freshman Chad Kolarik in the slot, before getting it back and beating Rogers through the five-hole. Hunwick, who continued a seven-game point streak, joined Kolarik with two assists on the night.
“You have to give Fairbanks credit,” Michigan head coach RedBerenson said. “They’re a good team. If we’ve got 10 seniors and they have 10 freshman, there’s not that much to choose between the teams.”
The difference was the second period.
“I thought we made some mistakes tonight,” MacMillan said. “I thought in the second period they had 10 shot and four goals that we made four crucial mistakes and they scored on all four of them.”
“To be successful, this team because of our youth, we are going to have to work our butts off,” MacMillan said. “We can’t take shifts off. Michigan, to be honest with you, they’re talented enough that they can have a night off and still win the game. We’re not.”
Michigan’s 18-5-1 record is its best at this point in the season since its national championship in 1997-98 (19-4-1). The Wolverines will travel to Ohio State next weekend for a showdown between the conference’s two top teams. Alaska-Fairbanks falls to 5-10-1 in the CCHA and 6-11-1 overall and will wait for Ferris State to travel north for a pair of games next weekend.