MINNEAPOLIS — Down a goal entering the third period, Alaska-Fairbanks refused to back down against No. 1 Minnesota. The result was a wild finish to a game that both teams surely believed was theirs for the taking.
UAF goals by Jordan Hendry and Tyler Eckford gave the Nanooks a 3-2 lead late in the third period, but after a Gino Guyer goal — shorthanded with an empty Gopher net — in the final minute of regulation tied things up, Kyle Greentree scored at 3:45 of the extra session to provide the Nanooks the upset win, 4-3.
Still down a man to start overtime, the Gophers killed off the rest of a bench minor for too many men and went on offense, but a Tyler Hirsch shot attempt rang off the right post and harmlessly across the goalmouth.
Seconds after Hirsch’s bid, Greentree ended the game with a patient play. Skating into the Minnesota zone on the left-wing side, Greentree slid to the high slot and snapped a wrister high to Briggs’ left that dented the twine for the win.
“We asked a lot of Jordan Hendry, we asked a lot of Tyler Eckford even though he’s a freshman, and we obviously asked a lot of Kyle Greentree,” said UAF head coach Tavis MacMillan.
“I thought they were really hungry and blocked a lot of shots,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia of UAF. “They played well and it’s a big win for them.”
The third period started as the story of UAF’s comeback. At 5:58, junior captain Hendry made his return from last season’s medical redshirt official, scoring on a slapshot just inside the left post to knot the game at 2. Hendry’s equalizer came from the point, off a pass by Greentree, the Nanooks’ top scorer last season.
A penalty on UAF’s Aaron Lee did Minnesota no good, and the Nanooks picked up a power play of their own on a call against Danny Irmen. As the Minnesota power play wound down, Irmen nicked Nanook goaltender Wylie Rogers after a save, and picked up a two-minute minor for checking the goaltender.
At 13:18, the Nanooks capitalized. A well-placed pass from Greentree to defenseman Eckford left the freshman a wide-open net, and he easily put away the shot from just above the circles past a diving Kellen Briggs.
A tripping call against R.J. Anderson made matters even worse for the homestanding Gophers, and with just over a minute left, a too-many-men bench minor against Minnesota seemed to seal the UAF victory.
Stunningly, Minnesota rallied. With Briggs out of the net, a Derek Peltier shot got underneath Rogers, who was unable to locate the puck as teammates and opponents swarmed around, until Gopher captain Guyer dislodged it for the game-tying goal at 19:29.
“We rotated it up to Derek at the point, and [after his shot] the puck was sitting behind the goalie,” said Guyer. “He didn’t know where it was, and the ref didn’t blow it dead, so I knew it had to be sitting there.”
The Nanooks, though, were unfazed, coming up with Greentree’s winner in overtime.
“We’re not surprised at all. We can enjoy it for a while,” said Greentree, who added two assists to his game winning goal. “But we’re all business, and we’re coming back to win tomorrow.”
The game began auspiciously for the Nanooks. At 2:51 of the first period, UAF’s Darcy Campbell threw a puck on net from a low angle, and it banged out into the slot, where Justin Binab fired on net. Briggs blocked the puck down, but Kyle Jones was there to put it away.
Penalties slowed the Gopher offense for much of the first period, as UAF earned three consecutive power plays, but could not take advantage. However, play picked up in the second.
Steaming up the slot, Minnesota’s Andy Sertich fanned on a slapshot, but recovered to flip the puck to linemate Blake Wheeler, who lined up a wrist shot that beat Rogers to the far side at 1:32, the freshman’s first goal in a Minnesota uniform.
On Minnesota’s third power play, the man-advantage unit came to life. With Campbell off for holding the stick, Hirsch hit Ryan Potulny with a pass out to the point. Potulny rifled a one-timer along the ice and inside the right post to make it 2-1 Minnesota at 14:30 of the second.
That Gopher lead — their only one of the game — set up the wild finish.
For MacMillan, the win carried a little added significance, coming against Lucia, his coach when MacMillan himself skated for UAF some 15 years ago.
“It felt special just to compete against Coach,” said MacMillan of Lucia. “It’s a great way to start the season.”
For Lucia, the result was partly about the Gophers’ learning curve.
“At times, I thought we got a little too cute,” he said, adding, “We’re rated high, and we have some good young players, but we have a long way to go.”
The two teams rematch Saturday night at Mariucci Arena.