ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Alaska goaltender Scott Greemhan played very well against Michigan Friday night. Wolverines netminder Shawn Hunwick simply played better.
Hunwick stopped all 36 shots the Nanooks threw at him and paced Michigan to a home 2-0 shutout win over Alaska.
Greenham made 26 saves of his own against the Wolverines.
Michigan defenseman Lee Moffie and Jon Merrill provided the Wolverine offense with a goal apiece.
“He earned this shutout more than he should have to,” said Michigan head coach Red Berenson of Hunwick’s performance. “We knew they were a good team. They’re a tough team to score against. We got lucky. We didn’t score on some of our best chances. We had three 2-on-1s and never got a good scoring chance out of them. We weren’t scoring on our chances. They weren’t scoring on their chances.
“They’re just a good team all over the ice. They have a reputation for being really strong defensively, but they’re good with the puck coming out of their own zone. They move the puck as well as anyone. They’re good on the rush and their power play is every bit as good as ours.”
The story of the early-going was easily the goaltending of Hunwick and Greenham against breakaways.
Shortly after the opening faceoff, Wolverine defenseman Mac Bennett mishandled the puck at this own blue line creating a two-on-none chance for the Nanooks. Hunwick forced the puck handler just wide enough to prevent the Alaska score.
“Luckily, he missed,” said Hunwick. “I don’t know how he missed. But, yeah, he missed a wide open net. We dodged one there.”
Hunwick again came up big for Michigan again in the second period.
Alaska’s Joe Sova exited the penalty box at the perfect time to grab a loose puck and skate in alone on Hunwick. Sova held the puck a little too long and was forced wide by the Wolverine netminder again preventing a goal.
“When you look at the quality of their chances, and considering this was a one-goal game, they could have a scored that goal easily on the turnover by our defense,” Berenson pointed out. “I’m sure they’ll kick themselves. Then, their top scoring defenseman (Sova) comes out of the penalty box and has a breakaway.”
Shortly after Sova’s big opportunity. Wolverine forward Ben Winnett had a shorthanded breakaway, only to be stopped by Greenham.
“Scottie played really well in the first period and that was really crucial,” said Alaska coach Dallas Ferguson. “He made some big saves and got us out of that period, 0-0, and then, a couple in the second period, too. He kept giving us a chance. We just couldn’t put one in the back of the net.”
At 11:09 of the middle period, Michigan finally broke through offensively.
Matt Rust and Carl Hagelin sprinted to a 2-on-1 break and found a trailing Moffie in the high slot making the play a 3-on-1. Moffie took Hagelin’s pass and rifled a shot high over Greenham’s glove for the game’s first goal.
Moffie’s goal stretched his goal scoring streak to three games, the first Wolverine defenseman to turn that trick since Jack Johnson in 2007.
Merrill completed the Michigan scoring at 8:40 of the third period with the teams playoing four on four. Greenham was completely screened on Merrill’s blast from the blue line.
“We felt like had enough (scoring chances) to hopefully get enough looks at it,” Ferguson said of his team’s offensive effort. “We thought we’d maybe put one past him, but give the kid (Hunwick) credit. He played hard. He’s aggressive and he forces you to shoot into him. We’ve got to do a better job of getting traffic and, obviously, getting pucks in the net”
The Nanooks faced a similar situation last weekend against Notre Dame, losing the series opener on Friday night. Alaska came back to beat the Fighting Irish on Saturday.
“There’s some similarities from last weekend where we felt like we had some good looks and they just didn’t go in,” noted Ferguson. “Not much you can do about it other than get back to work tomorrow. You just gotta keep plugging away and keep doing your job. We’re getting the chances. They’ll go into the net eventually.”
Coupled with a Notre Dame loss to Ohio State on Friday night, Michigan’s win vaulted them into first place in the CCHA season race by two points, with a game in hand over the Fighting Irish.
The Nanooks (10-9-4 overall, 7-8-4-2 in the CCHA) and the Wolverines (16-6-4, 13-4-1-0) renew the battle Saturday night at Yost Arena.