MARQUETTE, Mich. — In the midst of a two-week road trip, the Alaska Nanooks traveled to Marquette on Friday night, where they faced off against the Northern Michigan Wildcats in CCHA play. A close, physical contest went down to the wire and both teams walked away unsettled after tying, 2-2.
“Both of the teams had opportunities to win this game,” Alaska head coach Tavis MacMillan said. “I’m not sure either team deserved to win and I’m not sure either team deserved to lose, so the tie seems appropriate.”
“We had many more scoring opportunities tonight than we have had recently,” NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. “But you have to score goals to win and I don’t have any answers on offense.”
As the game opened, both teams took to the ice energized and aggressive and neither let up. After a defensive first half of the period, the Nanooks suddenly found themselves on the attack.
A quick flurry of point-blank shots left NMU netminder Bill Zaniboni unable to corral a rebound and forward Aaron Lee jabbed the loose puck into the net to put the Nanooks up. The Alaska lead was short-lived.
A mere eight seconds later, NMU forward Darin Olver took the face-off the length of the ice and fired a shot from the left side of the net. The puck crossed over and found the top shelf above Alaska goalie Chad Johnson’s left shoulder.
Johnson finished the game with 16 saves on 18 shots.
“It was just a great trap,” Olver said. “Everyone was doing what they were supposed to on that play and that is how offense is supposed to work.”
As the first period expired, the teams were all locked up, 1-1.
After the back-to-back goals, the defenses again gained control of the game and nearly the entire second period passed without a true offensive attack.
“I thought that we did a good job defensively and they did, too,” Kyle said. “There were two good hockey teams out there tonight and they both played hard.”
Then, coming off a penalty, the Wildcats returned to full-strength with under one minute remaining in the period and controlled the puck behind the Alaska net as the clock ticked down. Forward Mike Santorelli flew out from behind the cage, squared his body to the net and flipped the puck past Johnson’s right ear. The goal came with :09 remaining in the period and marked the second time in as many games that NMU has scored with fewer than ten seconds remaining in a period.
“If you watch a game, Santorelli is the most dangerous guy that they have on their team, by far,” Macmillan said. “We stood back and we let him skate out, we let him wheel around and then we screened our goalie and he scored. We need to take time and space away from guys like that and make someone else hurt us.”
The Wildcats, on the other hand, managed to follow that plan to a ‘T’. Alaska forward Kyle Greentree entered the night with eight goals and nine assists in eight games. NMU defenders forced him into submission on the night, however, and Greentree finished without a point.
“We did a good job eliminating Greentree and (Curtis) Fraser,” Zaniboni said. “They’re dangerous players when they get around the net and our defenders did a great job.”
Early on in the final period of regulation the Nanooks took control of the puck on a power-play. A broken Wildcat stick flew to the ice and NMU was, essentially, down two men. A short pass to Fornataro at the left side of the net set up a one-timer that sailed over the open glove of a sprawling Zaniboni. The goal came with 14:43 remaining in the third period.
“(Bobby) Selden’s stick got caught between the doors in the back and broke,” Zaniboni said. “That created a 2-on-1 and they threw it at me. I think that when I pushed off, I actually went too far and pushed myself beyond the puck and I gave the goal to them. I wish I could have that one back.”
Zaniboni stopped 21 of 23 shots on the night.
Both teams received one point in the CCHA standings for the win. While acceptable, it was not a win.
“There are only 28 games in our season and it’s so crucial to get points, especially on the road,” MacMillan said. “I am happy with one point, but I would have liked two and I think that Walt would say the same thing.”
The Nanooks and Wildcats face-off again tomorrow night and both teams hope to collect two points in their second attempt. The Nanooks enter the contest riding a six-game unbeaten streak that they will look to extend. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. in the Berry Events Center.