OXFORD, Ohio — It didn’t take long for the Miami RedHawks (20-5-4, 17-4-2 CCHA) to forget about Friday night’s crushing loss at the hands of the Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks (11-13-4, 7-12-3 CCHA). The RedHawks tallied a goal just 26 seconds into the game, played hard and came away with a 2-1 victory.
“That was the difference in the game,” said Nanook head coach Tavis MacMillan. “Tonight they were the better team in the first five minutes.”
In Friday night’s game, the Nanooks were the dominant team at the beginning as they tallied three goals in the first period alone on their way to a 4-3 victory. However, the RedHawks skated with increased momentum and intensity and were able to come away with the two conference points they needed.
“It’s a huge win for our team and we had to battle hard for it,” said RedHawk head coach Enrico Blasi.
In the first period the RedHawks struck first just 26 seconds in. The goal came when defenseman Mitch Ganzak fed a pass to Nathan Davis in front of the net. Davis poked the puck in off of Nanook goalie Chad Johnson’s pad for his team-leading 15th goal of the season.
“(The first goal) was real big. It gave us the momentum we needed,” Blasi said.
The RedHawks controlled the puck very well in the first period and outshot the Nanooks, 7-0, in the first six minutes of play. Also, referee Kevin Hall was a little nicer to both teams, as no penalties were called in the entire first period. During the first period of Friday’s contest, Hall called eight penalties on both teams.
The Nanooks would steal the thunder away from the RedHawks at 8:06 when they were able to slip a goal past RedHawk netminder Jeff Zatkoff. Justin Binab picked up his first goal of the season when he stole the puck in front of the net and slid it past Zatkoff. The first period would end in a 1-1 stalemate as both teams couldn’t get many opportunities on net.
The second period would start out very slow. The Nanooks had a chance to take the lead at 3:55 when Curtis Fraser had a breakaway, but Zatkoff was there for a diving save.
“I think anytime a goalie makes a big save like that, they get the momentum and go with it,” Zatkoff said.
The momentum surely helped as they were able to regain the lead at 10:21 after coming up short on a 5-on-3 advantage.
The goal came when defenseman Alec Martinez fed fellow linemate Ray Eichenlaub at the top of the slot. Eichenlaub fired a one-timer past Johnson to make the score 2-1. MacMillan thought the penalties really hurt the team’s focus in the second period.
“The penalties hurt us in the second, but our penalty kill gave us the momentum,” said MacMillan.
The RedHawks would lead for the rest of the period as Zatkoff made plenty of key saves against the Nanook attack. He would end the night turning away 33 of 34 shots.
“He kept us in the game as we were able to get him the lead,” Blasi said.
The third period would be a very competitive period as both teams were trying to figure out each goaltender. The Nanooks had an opportunity on a 5-on-3 advantage, but Zatkoff, along with the penalty kill unit of Andy Greene, Ganzak and Matt Davis, were able to prevent the Nanooks from tallying the equalizer.
“I just focused on stopping the puck and not letting anything get by me,” said Zatkoff.
The Nanooks almost had a chance to tie the game later in the period when Zatkoff saw seven shots in one minute without the RedHawks having an opportunity to clear the puck. Fortunately for the RedHawks, Zatkoff blocked every shot and the RedHawks fought off the offensive.
“In that situation you go to desperation mode, try to clear the puck and I thought we did that,” Blasi said.
The Nanooks made a last-ditch effort with 1:25 left in regulation when they pulled Johnson. They also had a 6-on-4 advantage when Matt Davis was busted on a slashing penalty at 19:46, but couldn’t make anything happen.
Despite the loss, MacMillan was very happy with his team’s effort.
“I like the way we competed right until the end and if we play that way for the rest of the season, we’ll be alright,” MacMillan said.
The win gave the RedHawks 36 points in the CCHA race and will take next weekend off before they meet the Ohio State Buckeyes at Goggin Ice Arena on February 14.