BY JAMES V. DOWD
Daily Sports Writer
Published October 31, 2005
FAIRBANKS - Just under two minutes into Saturday night's contest between No. 1 Michigan (1-1-1 CCHA, 5-1-1 overall) and No. 20 Alaska-Fairbanks (1-1-0, 3-2-1), Nanooks forward Justin Binab was ejected from the game and slapped with a five minute major for checking from behind. Four minutes later, it was clear that the Wolverines learned their lesson from Friday night's 4-2 defeat as they drew first blood in their 4-0 victory on Saturday. The shut out was senior goaltender Noah Ruden's first of his career.
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Michigan struggled to set up in the Nanooks' zone on Friday night - they were pressured into turnovers and were outskated to loose pucks. But during the course of Binab's penalty on Saturday, the Wolverines worked the puck easily around the perimeter, looking for an open shot. The prospects for an early goal improved when Alaska-Fairbanks defenseman Jordan Hendry was sent to the box for two minutes after checking from behind. Yet the shots still didn't open up, despite the fact that the Nanooks only managed to clear their own zone once.
Just when it looked as if the Nanooks had the Wolverines' number once more after Hendry's penalty expired, junior forward T.J. Hensick weaved his way through the defense and pushed the puck across the Alaska-Fairbanks net. The shot found its way to sophomore Kevin Porter, who easily one-timed it into the net.
"I thought it was a good start," Michigan coach Red Berenson said. "It was important that we not let them get the crowd into the game. I thought we did a good job with that. We had that five-minute power play and you'd like to score more than one goal, but it's important to get that one."
The goal was the first of four Michigan power-play goals on the night, the others were scored by Hensick and defensemen Matt Hunwick and Jack Johnson, who all added two assists in the game.
Johnson extended Michigan's lead in the second period when he lifted a wrist shot off an Alaska-Fairbanks defenseman and into the net. As Michigan methodically worked the puck around the offensive zone, Hunwick slid it to Johnson, who found a narrow hole in the Nanook defense and slipped it in.
"I can't really explain (how I find holes to shoot)," Johnson said. "It's something that my dad has helped me work on since I was a little kid. I just see a hole and let it rip."
After Hensick helped set him up in the second, Johnson returned the favor in the third while the Wolverines were on a 4-on-3 power play. Johnson shot the puck from the point, and it caromed off the end boards and bounced out to Hensick, who lifted it by Fairbanks goaltender Wylie Rogers.
Hunwick closed out the Wolverines scoring with 2:30 remaining in the game with a shot from the point.
At the other end of the ice, Michigan's defense was infallible on Saturday, snuffing out any chances that the Nanooks could muster. The Wolverines killed off all seven of the Alaska-Fairbanks powerplays, and allowed just 23 shots during the game. This was a far cry from Friday night's performance, when the Nanooks were 1-5 on the power play and scored 3 even strength goals.
During Friday night's game, the Nanook's power-play goal came on a shot through the middle and from the point, as Michigan's defensemen were drawn too far to the wings on the wider ice surface. But the Wolverines quickly eliminated those mistakes after watching tape of Friday's game.
"Our power play and penalty kill units both went over video because (on Friday) they were average," Ruden said. "We fixed our problem. The penalty kill let them set up once or twice in the second period but that was it. We blocked a lot of shots and cleared the rebounds. You'll kill a lot of penalties that way."
Behind the improved defense, Ruden was also on form, stopping all 23 shots that came his way. Late in the first period, Nanooks forward Lucas Burnett was awarded a penalty shot when he was taken down by Johnson on a breakaway, but Ruden stood tall and stopped it easily.
With the victory, Michigan improves to 1-1-1 in the CCHA. The Wolverines will now prepare for a home-and-home series with Notre Dame, with a game Friday in South Bend and one on Saturday at Yost Ice Arena.