MINNEAPOLIS — The start was similar. The first six goals came in the same order. And just like Friday, overtime was finally needed.
Unlike Friday, however, an extra five minutes Saturday settled nothing, as Alaska-Fairbanks and Minnesota battled to a 3-3 draw at Mariucci Arena.
Afterwards, the two head coaches felt very differently about the weekend series. UAF head coach Tavis MacMillan, whose team rallied from a 2-1 deficit for a second straight night, was upbeat.
“I thought the guys worked real hard this weekend,” said MacMillan. “They never quit. It would have been easy after that first period to pack it in and say, ‘Hey, we got one [win], let’s go home.”
Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, whose team earned just one point in its opening series, was less optimistic.
“I thought that we played about 10 strong minutes,” Lucia said. “The last two periods they outplayed us, outhustled us and outhit us, and they deserved to win.
“I’ll take the blame,” he added. “I obviously did a poor job of preparing this team. … This week [in practice] we’ll see who wants it: which 12 forwards and six defensemen.”
For Saturday’s contest, both coaches inserted freshman goaltenders making their collegiate debuts, and both were up to the task. For UAF, Chad Johnson stopped 38 shots, while Minnesota’s Jeff Frazee made 34 saves.
Entering the third period tied at 2, the teams traded goals to leave the game deadlocked.
First, at 11:59, the Nanooks took the lead. Aaron Lee dug the puck out along the boards behind Frazee and threaded a neat backhand to Kelly Czuy, who one-timed the puck for a 3-2 UAF advantage.
Just 46 seconds later, however, the Gophers knotted it up. Captain Gino Guyer gathered the puck along the left-wing boards, then fed Andy Sertich in the slot. Sertich moved to his backhand and flung it past Johnson’s far side to tie the score at 3.
With four minutes to go in regulation, Frazee preserved the tie with a stop on Ryan McLeod, who had a wide-open shot after being left unmarked in the right faceoff circle.
The best chance of overtime came on a Phil Kessel rush, as the Minnesota freshman dropped a puck for Mike Howe in the slot, but Johnson blocked Howe’s one-timer.
That stop ensured a three-point weekend for the Nanooks, who impressed with speed and strength.
“I like the identity that we’re trying to create this early in the season,” said MacMillan. “I think if you can come into Mariucci and skate with Minnesota, you have to consider yourself a pretty good-skating team.”
The opening moments were a poor omen for the Gophers. Just 21 seconds in, Minnesota’s Chris Harrington was whistled for interference, and less than a minute later UAF had its second straight 1-0 lead of the weekend.
Jordan Hendry’s shot caromed off the rear boards and out the opposite site to fellow captain Fraser, who banged the puck off a Gopher body and watched it trickle under a sprawling Frazee at 1:28.
Minnesota, however, got the tying goal on the power play after an interference call against UAF’s Kyle Jones. Gophers Kris Chucko and Hirsch traded the puck on the left side until Hirsch found an opening, flipping a bouncing shot-pass that Ryan Potulny swatted past Johnson at 8:38 of the first.
At 13:49, UAF’s Chris Fornataro went off for elbowing, and the Gophers converted again on the power play. A Kessel slapshot was saved by Johnson, but classmate Blake Wheeler was there to bang home the rebound at 14:14 for a 2-1 Minnesota edge.
The last few minutes of the first turned into a track meet, though most of the offense was in front of the UAF net, giving Minnesota a 19-10 advantage in shots on goal through 20 minutes.
Midway through the second, Frazee was called upon to preserve the Gopher lead on a one-on-one by Jones, and the freshman netminder outwaited Jones and finally fell on the puck.
Minnesota’s P.J. Atherton had a chance to extend the Gopher lead at the 13-minute mark of the second, taking a home-run pass as he exited the penalty box — but Johnson gave ground in the UAF crease until getting a pad on Atherton’s wrister.
Seconds later, with UAF on a power play courtesy of interference against Alex Goligoski, Lucas Burnett tied things up again. Parked in the slot, Burnett got the puck from McLeod, spun and fired past Frazee at 13:33 to make the score 2-2.
Thereafter, the Nanooks held their ground as Minnesota was unable to muster a knockout blow.
“We’ve got skill, but you’ve got to have grit to go with the skill, and we didn’t show any tonight,” said Lucia.
Minnesota (0-1-1) next hosts Minnesota State Oct. 21-22 to open its conference season. Alaska-Fairbanks (1-0-1) will tangle with another WCHA foe when it visits Alaska-Anchorage Oct. 22-23 to open the Governor’s Cup series.
Notebook: Minnesota’s Danny Irmen missed the game with a hand injury sustained blocking a shot Friday night. He is expected to miss three or four weeks. … Not one, but two marriage proposals were posted to the Mariucci Arena scoreboard, both apparently well-received. … Friday’s win was UAF’s first-ever over Minnesota. The teams have now played a total of four times.