DETROIT — Freshman Tyler Gron’s fourth goal of the season early in the third period proved to be the game winner in Northern Michigan’s 2-0 victory over Alaska in Saturday’s late afternoon CCHA third-place game at Joe Louis Arena.
In a game which had no bearing on the standings, personal pride and dedication to seniors playing their final game was cited by both teams as motivation.
Northern Michigan head coach Walt Kyle took the opportunity to give backup goaltender Derek Janzen a taste of tournament play, only the sixth appearance for the junior this season. Janzen responded with a 31-save shutout performance, but his mind clearly was on a different motivation track after the game.
“I went to bed last night really wanting to prepare for this game for the five seniors,” said Janzen. “I’m very close with them. I’m roommates with two of them and very close with the other three.”
Janzen, who has junior eligibility due to a redshirt year, came to Northern Michigan as part of the class of the five graduating Wildcat seniors
“I can tell you from a coach’s perspective, as the game went on, I thought it was going to be really hard to score on Derek Janzen,” said Kyle.
“It’s a very difficult game to play,” continued Kyle. “Actually, it’s a brutal game to play. Nobody really feels like playing. I think I’ve been in the game so many times right now, they need to name it after me.
“I give our guys a lot of credit because it comes down to a pride game. It comes down to where we play a lot of guys that don’t see as much ice time in the regular season. It’s an opportunity for us to play seniors. It’s their last opportunity to wear the uniform and we want to send these guys out well. I was particularly proud of those guys (seniors) that will always be part of this program, but no longer part of the team. It’s good to see those guys go out with a win.”
Gron’s game winner at 5:58 resulted from the freshman chasing down the puck at center ice. Breaking in on the right wing, Gron shifted the puck to his backhand and flipped it past Alaska netminder Chad Johnson from tight quarters in front of the net.
Nick Sirota iced the game for Northern Michigan with an empty net goal with only 12 second remaining.
Wildcat senior Derek May, who set up the Gron goal, said, “Tyler was telling me after the game that he just went as hard as he could. We got a fortunate bounce. He (Gron) picked it up, went down, and put it in.”
Nanook netminder Johnson was nearly as solid as Janzen, turning aside 26 Wildcat shots.
“Obviously, that was an interesting game to prepare for,” said Alaska Head Coach Dallas Ferguson. “Just preparing the team and the guys getting ready after our game with Michigan last night, it was a test of our mental toughness as far as refocusing in, going out to play hard and put a solid game together.
“As the game went on, we started to tighten it up a little bit and got back to playing Nanook hockey. We had two good looks when we pulled the goalie, pucks around the net and just couldn’t find the back of the net.”
Both teams had narrowly missed moving on to Saturday’s tournament championship final in their semifinal matchup on Friday.
Northern Michigan scored its only goal of the semifinal game with 1:23 left in the contest Friday against Notre Dame, only to see the Fighting Irish march right back down and score the game-winner 37 seconds later with exactly one minute left in the game.
Alaska played evenly with Michigan on Friday, never trailing by more than one goal until Michigan scored an empty netter late in the game to end the Nanooks conference tourney championship hopes.
The scoreless first period lacked the zip and crispness of both Friday semifinal games as one would expect form a third place game with little at stake except pride.
Even though the second stanza didn’t produce any scoring, a series of power plays created several offensive opportunities.
Nine minutes into the second period while on the power play, Northern Michigan ‘s Mark Olver clanked a blast from the right point off the goalpost high over Johnson’s glove. Alaska’s Dion Knelson broke right back down the ice and almost scored short-handed, kicking the puck to himself with his skates while cutting in on Janzen on his off wing.
The season wrapup for both teams left Northern Michigan with a 19-17-5 overall record, 11-12-5-3 in the CCHA. The Nanooks closed out their campaign at 17-16-6, 13-10-5-3 in the CCHA.