MARQUETTE, Mich. — The Northern Michigan Wildcats swept the Alaska Nanooks with their third shootout win of the season in tonight’s close match. After the Wildcats won last night’s game with a two goal shutout, the Nanooks came back with a vengeance, but fell short at the last moment.
“It feels great to get a conference sweep,” Erik Gustafsson, who had two points on the night, said. “Hopefully we can start moving ahead in the league. The shootout was nerve wracking but we have Brian Stewart back in net and he makes the saves we need. We just went out there and tried to get the extra point for the team.”
During the first period, the Wildcats dominated the play. They held off a five-on-three in which the Nanooks failed to get a single shot on goal. Their dominant play continued in the second and at 3:47 Gregor Hanson passed the puck across the ice to Gustafsson, who buried it into the net and set the momentum for the next goal, which came less than a minute later. This time, Ray Kaunisto outmanned an Alaska defenseman and put the puck high glove side unassisted to give the Wildcats a solid two-goal lead.
Towards the end of the period, the Wildcats sat back on their heels and the Nanooks took advantage. At 17:43, they scored their first goal of the weekend when Brandon Knelson carried the puck around traffic in front of the net and put it right of Stewart with ease.
The Nanooks continued to play with aggression and the Wildcats eased up. At 8:16 in the third, they closed the gap with a cross-ice pass from Byrant Molle to Braden Walls, who squeezed the puck in between Stewart’s arm and body to send the game into overtime.
The teams battled on in the next five minutes, but neither managed to score, propelling them into a shootout that would give the Wildcats the ‘W’ and extra point.
Coming into the series, the Wildcats were 2-1 on the shootout. The Nanooks’ great goaltending averages played with their nerves, but the Wildcats were resilient, with goals from Mark Olver and Gustafsson. Stewart kept the pucks from hitting the back of the net on the other end.
“The place was so loud,” Stewart said of the cheering fans. “They were chanting ‘Stewy’ at one point and I was nervous a bit, but I just had to focus. On one save, I had the guy, made a nice move and I had to reach back with my glove and save it and the other shot missed. Our guys settled in and made two out of three. The guys played great, solid defense in front of me this weekend and we’re looking better as a team. The future is looking better.”
Wildcats’ goaltender Brian Stewart had 50 saves on the weekend, including a shutout and shootout win. After missing seven games due to a knee injury, finding rhythm in the crease was vital.
“Every game I’m getting better, I’m feeling better like I used to and it’s just getting easier,” Stewart said. “I’m just starting to get my routine back on the ice.”
“Stewart was just getting his feet wet in Omaha after coming back from his injury and it’s great to see him play the way that he did,” Wildcats’ coach Walt Kyle said. “His real test came in the third period when he faced a lot of shots but he held on.
“I was happy with this weekend. Five out of six periods were great. Alaska doesn’t give you very much and they’re a good, defensive team. There were two good defensive teams fighting it out in front of two good goaltenders. It was great to win the game. It gives us the points in the league and that’s what’s important to us right now.”