ANN ARBOR, Mich. — After a nail-biting third period of play, Michigan squeaked by Alaska, 4-3, to earn an important CCHA sweep and emerge from the weekend as the new No. 1 in the league, but the Wolverines had to work every minute to earn it.
Leading 4-3 with less than five minutes left in regulation, Michigan (17-6-4, 14-4-1-0 CCHA) found itself down two men for over a minute and facing an aggressive Alaska (10-10-4, 7-9-4-2 CCHA) squad that had outshot them the whole game.
“When the game was on the line,” said UM coach Red Berenson, “I thought our team maybe dug in at the end and never gave up a shot on that five-on-three.”
This was a fast-paced game from the initial drop of the puck, with the Wolverines circling low in the Nanooks’ zone and Jon Merrill beating UAF goaltender Scott Greenham with a shot from the inside of the left circle at 1:15 in the first.
Justin Filzen answered for Alaska at 8:38 to tie the game, picking up Ryan Hohl’s initial shot after trailing in, but Matt Rust netted his first goal in 14 games at 14:21 on an Alaska giveaway to make it 2-1 after one.
The rest of the scoring came in the second period. Kevin Petovello tied it for Alaska from between the circles at 5:18, but UM went ahead on a power play at 10:30 when Chris Brown picked up his own rebound and beat Greenham five-hole. Cody Kunyk scored perhaps the prettiest goal of the night, a short-handed backhand shot that went behind UM goaltender Shawn Hunwick at 12:17 to knot the score at 3-3, but Scooter Vaughan answered just over a minute later, fed by Ben Winnett from a faceoff in the left UAF circle.
“We’ve been in good tight games like this and against good teams like Michigan, you really have to have execution,” said UAF coach Dallas Ferguson. “The game-winning goal comes off a faceoff play that we knew that they run and they find a way to get it in. We had an opportunity on five-on-three that we didn’t capitalize on.”
With Louie Caporusso called for high sticking at 15:08 in the third followed by Merrill for slashing at 16:12, the Nanooks pressed hard, but couldn’t get a shot on net in a period during which they otherwise outshot the Wolverines 9-1.
After the game, Berenson didn’t immediately sound like a coach whose team had won. “I don’t like the way our team played, number one. I liked the outcome. Sometimes you don’t play well and you find a way to win. Sometimes your goalie has to be a factor and sometimes you have to be lucky, and I thought all those things happened tonight.
“They had point-blank chances on an empty net. The puck went through the crease a couple of times. Two-on-nothing breakways — I mean, it was a meltdown at times in the second and part of the third.”
Hunwick stopped 37 shots, Greenham 19, and both goaltenders put on a show in the first period, which saw the shots 18-15 in Alaska’s favor. With 2:30 away in the first, Hunwick preserved UM’s lead when he stoned Nanook Andy Taranto. Eight minutes in, Greenham thwarted Rust when he was fed by Carl Hagelin on a breakaway.
“It’s a good weekend for us,” said Berenson. “Alaska’s a real good team, as everybody here can see. They’re the real deal. Hunwick faced 76 shots this weekend at home, and we thought we played decent, so we’ve got some work to do.”
Next up for the Wolverines is a single game against Michigan State Saturday, Jan. 29 in Joe Louis Arena. The Nanooks return to Fairbanks to face Ohio State.
“It’s been almost two years since we haven’t got a point on a weekend, but I don’t think that’s the big picture right now,” said Ferguson. “There’s a lot of good things, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to have execution and that’s what we’re all striving for, to execute in the situations that we need to, and that’s usually what makes the difference.”