SOUTH BEND, Ind. — For the second time in two seasons, Alaska-Fairbanks pulled a first-round playoff upset on the road, as it beat Notre Dame, 1-0, at the Joyce Center on Saturday night, completing the two-game sweep of the Irish.
The win did not come easy for the Nanooks, who played sluggish at times, and had just enough fight in them to pull out the victory.
“[Notre Dame was] definitely the better team tonight,” said UAF coach Tavis McMillan. “They took the play to us at certain times. We certainly did the little things down the stretch you have to do to preserve the 1-0 victory, but Wylie Rogers was the difference.”
Sophomore goaltender Rogers was indeed the difference for Alaska-Fairbanks. He stopped all 39 shots he faced in the game, including a barrage of third-period shots that he somehow kept from going into the net. He earned first star honors on the night for his performance.
The win gave the Nanooks their second first-round playoff sweep on the road in the last two seasons. Last year, UAF traveled to Bowling Green and upset the home team in two games in the first round of the CCHA playoffs.
“In the last two seasons, we’re 6-1 in playoff games, and they’re all on the road,” said McMillan. “They haven’t played a home playoff game and they’re 6-1. They don’t care where they play, and they don’t care who they play. They like to play hockey and they like to win. They like to play hard for each other.”
The reality of their second consecutive week in the lower 48 began to show itself in the third period of tonight’s game. The Nanooks defense had to hold off a tremendous effort by Notre Dame in the final stanza.
“I thought we were a tired team. We looked tired. They were the fresher team; I thought they had more jump, but Wylie Rogers was there. We laid down and blocked shots when we had to, and we killed penalties.”
Both teams had solid penalty kills on the night. The Nanooks killed off all 10 penalties they faced, while Notre Dame killed off five of six Alaska-Fairbanks chances with the extra attacker.
The lone goal of the night came off a Nanook power play at 19:04 of the second period on a strange power-play goal. Nathan Fornataro, standing at the point, drove a shot toward the net, breaking his stick on the play. The puck fluttered along the ice through traffic, bounced off an Irish defender and past a surprised Jordan Pearce. The goal was Fornataro’s third of the season, and was assisted by Kyle Greentree and Kyle Jones.
“He did a good job for us,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said in regards to his goaltender. “A cheap goal off of a broken stick. It was kind of a flukey goal, but sometimes things are meant to be a certain way. That’s the way it was.”
The goal was the only blemish for backup Jordan Pearce in an otherwise stellar performance. Pearce came on to relieve David Brown halfway through the opening stanza when forward Braden Walls ran into the Irish goaltender beyond the top of the left circle.
Walls was assessed a two-minute charging penalty, which Jackson thought was lenient.
“They get a two-minute penalty for running the goaltender,” said Jackson. “[Walls] deliberately slid into him and took his legs out from underneath him. He got two minutes for eliminating a goalie from the series.”
Pearce stopped 14 of 15 shots on the night in a losing effort.
The Fighting Irish finish their season with a 13-19-4 mark.
With the series sweep, the Nanooks will now bus to East Lansing to play #2 seed Michigan State in their third consecutive road series next weekend.