Two things were clear in No. 7 Michigan's 4-2 home loss to Alaska-Fairbanks on Saturday night: Officiating was tight in order to curtail any carry-over from the brawls that ended Friday night's contest, and, in an attempt to rid themselves of the bitter taste of Friday night's 4-0 loss, the Nanooks were determined to start the game off strong.
A minute into the first period, officials whistled Michigan defenseman David Rohlfs for tripping - the fifth penalty of the game. Alaska-Fairbanks quickly took advantage, catching the Wolverines (8-4-1 CCHA 13-7-1 overall) out of position. Nanooks' forward Kelly Czuy found forward Jordan Emmerson wide open on the right side of the goalie crease. Czuy whipped the puck over, and Emmerson banged it home before Wolverine goalie Billy Sauer had a chance to make the stop.
Less than a minute later, Alaska-Fairbanks (5-7-2, 9-8-3) kept the pressure on and forced a turnover in the Michigan zone. After pouncing on the loose puck, Emmerson sent a pass across the ice to Nanooks forward Kyle Jones, who beat Sauer to give his team a 2-0 lead.
Alaska-Fairbanks wasn't done yet. Four minutes after allowing the second goal, Michigan was penalized for having too many men on the ice. One minute later, officials cited Rohlfs for high-sticking, giving Alaska-Fairbanks a two-man advantage.
Again the Nanooks used crisp passing to slice through Michigan's penalty killing-unit. Czuy found Nanooks captain Curtis Fraser wide open in front of the net, and Fraser rocketed the puck past Sauer to extend the Nanooks' lead to three. The Wolverines never fully recovered from the sluggish start, and Alaska-Fairbanks went on to win 4-2.
"You knew they would come out strong and try to get some revenge for (Friday) night's game," Michigan coach Red Berenson said. "We knew that, and we thought we were ready, but we weren't."
The puck continued to bounce Alaska-Fairbanks' way in the second period. Midway through the period, the puck trickled in for a goal after Sauer was knocked down in a scrum that happened in front of the net. After reviewing the play, the referees counted the goal for Nanooks forward Adam Powell despite protests from the Wolverines.
"(The referee) had said that the puck went in before the guy got hit into Billy," Michigan captain Andrew Ebbett said. "Then I asked him if there was going to be a penalty called, but he said that our defenseman had hit the guy into Billy. It was a goal and no penalty, so it was bad both ways for us."
Twenty-five seconds later, Michigan got on the board. Alternate-captain Brandon Kaleniecki - playing through multiple injuries - slid on the ice to block a shot.
The deflection set up Wolverine forward Chad Kolarik for a break away. Kolarik streaked down the ice and flipped a shot by Nanooks goaltender Chad Johnson to cut the lead back down to three.
Michigan tried to step up the pressure in the third period. Skating 6-on-5 due to a delayed Alaska-Fairbanks penalty, Michigan forward Travis Turnbull fired a shot on net. The deflection came to Wolverines defenseman Mark Mitera, who skated around the net while looking for someone to pass to. Eventually he found freshman Tim Miller open in the right slot. Miller launched a perfect shot through traffic into the top right corner of the net to bring the Wolverines within two.
Michigan continued to control the play in the third period, but the Wolverines couldn't find a way to trim the Nanooks' lead.
"We had a good third period," Ebbett said. "But with a team like that, you're not going to win a hockey game when you play one good period."
Michigan failed to convert on all 12 of its power-play chances, including several late in the third period when it was desperate for a goal.
"It's harder for the power play to score goals when you're pressing, when you're down and you need to score," Berenson said. "Between their goalie and their forwards blocking shots, they did a good job (stopping our power play)."
Friday's game can be summed up in two words - Billy Sauer. On the same night that he turned 18, the freshman made 26 saves to record his first shutout at Michigan, a 4-0 win.
"I woke up (Friday) morning, and I thought it was going to be a good day," Sauer said. "It definitely turned out to be."
Four minutes into the first period, Michigan freshman Danny Fardig was credited with a goal when an Alaska-Fairbanks player inadvertently tipped the puck into his own net.
Michigan padded its lead in the second period with some nice passing. Junior Kevin Porter sent the puck down the ice. Alternate-captain T.J.. Hensick beat the Alaska-Fairbanks defenseman to the puck and quickly passed it across the ice to Michigan forward Jason Bailey, who one-timed the puck over goalie Wylie Rogers's shoulder for a 2-0 Michigan lead.
That was more than enough for the Wolverines. With Sauer playing well in net and the team turning in a solid defensive performance, the Nanooks didn't have much of a chance to come back.
"Our team played a lot of defense," Sauer said. "I really didn't have to make too many big saves."
But Michigan kept attacking. Midway through the second period, Miller sent a pass to Rholfs right in front of the net. Rogers made a great save on Rholfs's shot, but the rebound was loose in the crease. Kolarik took advantage of the opportunity, knocking the puck home for a 3-0 Michigan lead.
In the third, the Wolverines capitalized on an Alaska-Fairbanks turnover to cap off its scoring for the night. Porter found alternate-captain Matt Hunwick wide open in front of the net. Hunwick made a nice fake and beat Rogers to make the score 4-0 in favor of Michigan.
The Wolverines have an exhibition game this weekend against the U.S. NTDP under-18 team. The game will give them extra time to clean up their mistakes from this past weekend before they face in-state rival Michigan State on Jan. 17.