FAIRBANKS, Alaska — A quartet of freshmen made all the difference for the Nanooks on Friday night, as Alaska-Fairbanks (6-3-2; 4-2-1 CCHA) knocked off the Northern Michigan Wildcats, 3-1, at the Carlson Center.
The Nanooks have won back-to-back games, while the Wildcats have dropped six of their last seven contests.
Fairbanks, playing in front of the home crowd for the first time in the month of November, received a solid goaltending performance from rookie netminder Chad Johnson. He backstopped the Nanooks to their third straight victory over Northern Michigan, dating back to last year.
Johnson, getting his first career start in front of the hometown crowd, was glad to have the crowd behind him.
“I was just excited to be home. It’s been awhile. It’s a different atmosphere,” he said. “When you’re on the road, no one’s cheering for you. Being at home tonight was exciting for me. I was a little nervous to start, but as the game went on, I got more comfortable.
Johnson stood tall in net, particularly in the third period. He shut Northern down, stopping the Wildcats on a pair of power plays and allowing just one even-strength goal.
“In the third period, their goaltender played exceptionally well,” said NMU coach Walt Kyle. “He made some big saves.”
The game was a fairly even contest with the exception of a ten-minute span to start the second period. The Nanooks were able to mount a three-goal lead in that span.
“The second period we came out and had some jump,” said UAF assistant coach Dallas Ferguson. “It was one of the better periods we’ve played as of late. We were winning loose puck battles and getting puck support — all the things just came together. You saw the result. We were getting some bounces and things went our way. The guys just clicked that period, and that’s the challenge — to do that three periods in a row.”
“I thought it was a good game,” said Kyle. “It got away form us for about eight minutes in the second period. We lost that eight-minute stretch in the second period and they were able to capitalize twice, and other than that, it was a pretty even hockey game. They’re a very good team. They capitalized on their opportunities.
Goaltending and defense were the order of the first period. Both goaltenders — NMU’s Bill Zaniboni and UAF’s Chad Johnson — kept the opposing offenses at bay, making some great saves to keep the game 0-0.
Perhaps the biggest save came with just over two minutes left in the period, as the Wildcats’ Andrew Sarauer backhanded a shot off Johnson that briefly danced on the goal line until the Nanook goalie was able to dive on the puck to preserve the tie.
The Nanooks dominated the second period of play, outshooting the Wildcats, 17-9, while racking up three goals in the period.
Alaska-Fairbanks took a 1-0 lead at the 1:17 mark of the period. Tyler Eckford bounced a shot toward the goal from the left point, which somehow eluded the glove of Zaniboni for his 2nd goal of the season. The goal was unassisted.
The Nanooks struck again just under a minute later. Right winger Kyle Jones beat Zaniboni over the shoulder on a 2 on 1 for his second marker of the year. The goal came at 2:14 and was unassisted.
“I was going down [the ice], looking to see what was available for me,” explained Jones. “The d-man was leaning and I had to shoot. I kind of got lucky when it went in. I wasn’t really looking.”
The Nooks made it 3-0 at 12:48 on a strange goal. After sophomore Ryan McLeod took a shot on goal, Zaniboni made the save, then kicked the puck out between the circles. Braden Walls was there for Fairbanks to bang it home for his second goal of the year. Darcy Campbell also assisted on the play.
The two teams square off again tomorrow night at the Carlson Center. Game time is set for 7:05 pm.