OXFORD, Ohio — This was the third time this season that the Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks (11-12-4, 7-11-3 CCHA) played spoiler to a No. 1-ranked team. The Nanooks came into Goggin Ice Arena and caught the No. 1 Miami RedHawks (19-5-4, 16-4-2 CCHA) off guard.
The RedHawk defense could not stop the onslaught of the Nanook offense as it lost a close one, 4-3. The Nanooks credited the win their special teams and defense.
“For us to generate four goals, our power play, goaltending and penalty kill have to be good,” said Nanook head coach Tavis MacMillan.
Playing the No. 1 team in the nation did not seem to faze the Nanooks one bit as they scored three goals on Charlie Effinger in the first period. Before the game, Effinger had a 1.47 goals-against average and was one of the top goaltenders in the nation, but was powerless against the first period attack.
“They outplayed us right from the first shift,” said RedHawk captain Andy Greene. “They came out flying and we were just flatfooted.”
The first goal came very early in the first when the Nanooks seemed to have gotten away with a hooking call. At 1:13, Lucas Burnett was able to receive a loose puck off the end boards and skated in front to tap it in past Effinger.
“I think at this time of the year, every play is crucial,” RedHawk head coach Enrico Blasi said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t take care of the puck and they made us pay for it.”
As the goals piled up against the RedHawks, so did the penalties. Referee Kevin Hall called five penalties on the RedHawks on calls that appeared to be questionable. Nevertheless, the penalties allowed the Nanooks to score their two other goals on the power play.
The second Nanook goal came at 5:36 on a 5-on-3 advantage when defenseman Darcy Campbell received a pass from Tyler Eckford and fired a slap shot that banked off Effinger’s pads. Curtis Fraser was there to poke in the rebound to take an early 2-0 lead.
The scoring would continue for the Nanooks at 15:41 when they scored their second power-play goal of the night. This time the Nanooks had a 4-on-3 advantage and Campbell was there again for the assist as he found Kyle Greentree in front of the net to fire a one-timer past Effinger on the glove side.
The RedHawks would get on the board just one minute later on their own power play. Nathan Davis was able to tap in a rebound in front of the net past Nanook netminder Wylie Rogers to cut their lead to two.
The second period would belong to the RedHawks, as they brought increased pressure and answered back by scoring two goals and tying the game at 3-3. According to Blasi, he told his players to just keep playing the same way to get back in the game.
“I told them to just go out, work hard, win battles and chip away at them,” said Blasi.
The RedHawks started the period shorthanded as Stephen Dennis served time for a slashing penalty that he committed at the end of the first period. That would allow the offensive RedHawk penalty kill the opportunity it needed to cut the lead to one goal.
At 1:14, Matt Davis picked up a loose puck and skated in alone. He deked Rogers and slipped it through his five hole. It was the fifth time this season that the Davis brothers have scored a goal in the same game as they continue to lead the RedHawks with 13 goals each.
It wouldn’t take much longer for the RedHawks to tally the equalizer. At 5:26, Nate Davis fired a shot from the left circle and Ryan Jones was there to poke the rebound in and make the score 3-3.
“Luckily, we woke up there in the second period and got bounces going our way,” Greene said.
The RedHawks were able to outshoot the Nanooks, 15-5, in the second period and didn’t get busted for a lot of penalties.
Deep into the third period both teams were bringing a lot of offense and intensity on the goaltenders. The RedHawks had many opportunities, but were not able to figure out Rogers as he stopped all 18 shots he saw in the third period.
“He’s a good goalie and we knew coming in that we’d be tested by him,” Greene said.
However, the score would not stay gridlocked for long as the Nanooks were able to capitalize on a loose puck. At 12:31, Burnett picked up a loose puck and found Ryan Muspratt, who fired a wrist shot in front of the net to take the 4-3 lead.
“We preach about keeping your stick on the ice and that was a great play to take away the passing play,” MacMillan said.
After the goal, the RedHawks brought even more pressure on Rogers, but couldn’t find a way to put the puck in the back of the net and the Nanooks emerged with the victory.
“The biggest thing is that’s a big two points, which we need right now,” MacMillan said.
The loss didn’t seem to faze the RedHawks that much as they felt they played hard and look forward to playing the Nanooks again Saturday night.
“We’ve lost five games all year and this is not something we’re gonna be upset about,” Blasi said.
The RedHawks and Nanooks will face off again Saturday night with the puck dropping at 7:35 p.m.
“It’s another day and we’ll be ready for tomorrow,” Greene said.