College Hockey:
Twice As Nice: McLeod, UAF Start Strong, Hold Off BGSU

— Alaska-Fairbanks (14-15-4) forward Ryan McLeod set CCHA tournament records for quickest goal and quickest second goal as an early Nanook assault was too much for fifth-seeded Bowling Green (16-15-4) to overcome, as UAF downed BGSU 6-3 in the opening match of their best-of-3 series at the BGSU Ice Arena Friday.

Coming into the weekend, the previous record for quickest goal from the start of a game was nine seconds, and the quickest second goal by one player was 38 seconds.

McLeod, who came in with 10 goals on the season, scored just five seconds in as teammate Kyle Greentree won the opening draw and proceeded to advance the puck towards the BG zone. McLeod, skating in on a rush, got the puck on his stick and skated in unchallenged putting his shot past Jordan Sigalet, who seemed as shocked as everyone else at what was taking place.

Then as everyone was trying to take in what just happened, Greentree once again won the draw at center ice and fired the puck towards the BG end. Sigalet, perhaps still stunned from the last play, misplayed the puck off the board, which allowed for McLeod to once again stick the puck in as UAF took a 2-0 lead just 13 seconds into the game.

“My biggest concern coming in was how we were going to start this game,” UAF head coach Tavis MacMillan said. “Last time we were down here BG took it to us and I was really happy how we came out of the gates.”

UAF continued strong: just three minutes later Kelly Czuy took a pass just outside the blue line and skated in on another breakaway putting a backhand shot by Sigalet to put the Nanooks up 3-0.

Wylie Rogers, playing in his first playoff game for his hometown Nanooks, was solid throughout the first period with some key saves to give UAF the early momentum. That included a good stop on BG defenseman Jon Sitko, who got a shot off from the bottom of the left circle.

Rogers would go on to make 28 saves off 31 shots on the night as he faced 10 Falcon shots in the opening period.

“I thought early in the game (Rogers) competed hard,” said MacMillan of Rogers, who came in with a 2.90 goals against average. “He responded really well in a situation where he’s going against arguably the best goaltender in college hockey and I think that says a lot about Wylie and how far he has come this year and how much he has grown.”

Though he played hard at the start, Rogers wasn’t given much chance to respond to a 2-on-1 breakaway by the Falcons on a rush for the puck as BG’s Alex Foster outraced the Nanook defense to the puck in the left circle.

His hard shot just inside the circle hit Rogers’ skate and went in as the Falcons started showing some of the work ethic that helped them earn the fifth seed as they made it 3-1 at the 6:56 mark.

“I don’t know what happened there,” said BG senior tri-captain Ryan Minnabarriet of the Falcons’ slow start. “It was a lack of focus there at the start on our part and after that Alaska did a very good job of keeping the puck in our end — trying to keep it deep — really kills momentum when you can’t get it out like that.”

“It’s not an ideal way to start a hockey game,” BG head coach Scott Paluch said. “The first 15 seconds of the game really had a lot to do with the tempo of the game. Fairbanks really built on that start of the game and really proceeded for most of the first part of the game to move their feet well and the three goals really seemed to set the tempo of the game, and it stayed that way.”

UAF continued controlling the tempo into the second, as just 3:34 in the Nanooks scored on their first power-play opportunity of the game. A pass from behind the net by McLeod found a cutting Jared Sylvestre in front, and his shot beat Sigalet low on the right side to bring it to 4-1.

The Nanooks finished 2-for-4 with the extra-man on the night as the Falcons went 0-for-5.

With the Falcons uncharacteristically continuing to be outworked all over the ice, the Nanooks’ forecheck led to a Lucas Burnett goal at the 17:03 mark. The goal came from in front off a good pass behind the net by Jason Grinevitch as the Nanooks outshot BG 29-20 in the first two periods.

Sigalet, who stopped 24 of 29 shots on the evening, was replaced at the beginning of the third period by backup goaltender Jon Horrell.

It wouldn’t take long for the Nanooks to get to Horrell as Curtis Fraser scored UAF’s second power-play goal of the night just 3:37 into the final period. His shot from the right circle hit Horrell’s right pad and found the net for his 16th the season.

Horrell held the Nanooks scoreless the rest of the night, making eight saves on nine shots as the Falcons played a much stronger third period.

Goals by Jonathan Matsumoto and Ben Geelan made the score respectable, but the Falcons struggled in dropping their first home playoff game in 10 seasons.

“I thought we started getting our game going a little bit,” said Paluch of the Falcons improvement in the final period. “We were able to get our forecheck going and got a little bit of offense off the forecheck and that’s something we’ll have to take into tomorrow’s game.”

It was the speed and forecheck of Fairbanks that allowed the Nanooks to steal the opening game and gain some confidence, as they scored six goals for only the second time this season. Sigalet had held Fairbanks to just three goals in the previous two meetings with the Falcons.

“He’s (Sigalet) a great goalie, he’s unbelievable in there and I think the big thing for us tonight was we used our speed and generated a lot of chances and odd-man rushes,” McLeod said. “We’ve only won one game in this three-game series, so right now it doesn’t mean a lot and we expect a hard-fought game tomorrow.”

Game 2 will take place Saturday night at the BGSU Ice Arena where BG will look to avoid losing its first-ever CCHA home playoff series.

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