FAIRBANKS, Alaska — The Northern Michigan University Wildcats (7-7-0; 4-6-0 CCHA) used solid defense, good goaltending, and timely goal scoring to snap a three-game losing streak against Alaska-Fairbanks (6-4-2; 4-3-1 CCHA), beating the Nanooks 4-1 at the Carlson Center on Saturday night.
The Wildcats put together one of their best efforts of the season against a hot goaltender- freshman Chad Johnson- giving him his first loss of the year.
Johnson faced 36 shots on goal, stopping 32 of them. Last night, Johnson was stellar in net, making 34 saves in 35 chances.
NMU head coach Walt Kyle was happy with the way his team played.
“Tonight, we capitalized on our chances,” said Kyle. “Last night, we had a number of very good scoring opportunities, but their goaltender was exceptional last night. This was a good win for us. We have a lot of respect for this opponent. We played a pretty strong game against what I think is a real explosive offensive team.”
With the exception of a 10-minute span in the second period of Friday’s game, NMU played solid hockey throughout the weekend. The Nanooks scored three times on Friday in that span to take the game 3-1.
Saturday’s second period looked as if it would be a carbon copy of Friday’s second period. Trailing 1-0, UAF tied the game on a Kyle Greentree goal and seemed to have momentum for a sustained period of time.
However, the NMU defense thwarted any more scoring chances for the Nanooks, and Northern Michigan retook the lead midway through the period.
“Last night, we had to take the timeout to stop the bleeding,” explained Kyle, regarding the second period. “Tonight, some our veteran leadership stepped up and put a stop to it right there.”
Both games featured a significant amount of 5-on-5 hockey, something that has seemed to be a rarity in the CCHA this season. On the weekend, both teams were whistled for a combined 14 penalties. Coming into the series, the teams had been whistled for a combined 198 penalties on the year.
Kyle was quick to credit referee Dan Brown and assistant referees Rufus King and Chris Miles for the flow that was generated in the series.
“That was the best refereed series I have seen this year, maybe in two years. The referee allowed the players to play. I thought it was an exceptionally well-refereed game.”
Northern Michigan came out strong in the opening period of play, outshooting the Nanooks 12-1 in the period.
The Cats jumped out to a 1-0 lead at 8:03 of the period. A Nanook turnover in the defensive zone found NMU’s Andrew Contois with the puck behind the net. He fed a pass to Dirk Southern at the side of the goal, who banged it home for his third goal of the year. Matt Maunu also assisted on the goal.
The teams traded goals in the second period.
Greentree tied the game at 7:04 of the middle stanza. He blasted a one-timer from the right circle, beating Derek Janzen over the shoulder for his fifth goal of the season. Braden Walls and Ryan McLeod assisted on the goal.
The Wildcats answered at 10:51 of the period. Mike Santorelli, skating around a defender in the left circle, faked a pass to get Chad Johnson out of position. He then flicked the puck into the near side of the net for his fifth goal of the year. Pat Bateman and John Miller assisted on the play.
“Pat Bateman had the puck over in the corner, and I just called for the puck,” said Santorelli. “I put it through the (defenseman’s) stick and made a little fake so the guy wouldn’t block my shot. I just shot it on net, and luckily, it went in.”
With the outcome of the game still very much in doubt, NMU scored a pair of goals in the third period to put the game away.
Fourth-line center Dusty Collins scored his first goal of the season at 12:21 of the period. Skating in with a defender on him, he partially fanned on a first shot on goal, quickly regained control of the puck in front of the net, and beat Johnson to make the score 3-1. Patrick Murphy and Jamie Milam assisted on the goal.
Southern completed the scoring for the Wildcats at 15:20, taking a beautiful pass from Rob Lehtinen behind a defender and finding an open corner of the net for his second goal of the night. Contois also assisted on the play.
“It means a lot to win on the road and it means a lot to win here,” said Kyle. “I have a lot of respect for the coaching staff here. This is a great hockey town, and I love the environment here and what kind of town it is. We know the fans get behind the hockey team, and that’s difficult to overcome. We’re always happy and proud to get a win here.”
Both teams have the week off next week.