FAIRBANKS — The Michigan hockey team wasn’t comfortable with a one-goal lead against Alaska on Saturday evening.
The Wolverines certainly had reason to worry after surrendering an early lead to the Nanooks Friday night, a lapse from which the team never recovered.
But sophomore goaltender Bryan Hogan wouldn’t let that happen again.
Guiding No. 7 Michigan to a 3-2 victory, Hogan tallied 23 saves, including one that ended with the sophomore sprawled horizontally clutching a defenseman’s stick, while his own stick lay a few yards to the right of the goal.
“I thought it was the best game I’ve ever seen Hogan play,” senior forward Travis Turnbull said. “He played phenomenal. He made the big saves. I think he was the difference-maker for us.”
The two goals Hogan allowed came on Alaska power plays, which was surprising considering the Nanooks’ had a paltry 5-for-56 success rate going into the game. Alaska went 2-for-4 on the man advantage Saturday, a stat that speaks to the weakness of the Wolverines’ penalty kill.
“It worries me,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “It’s a little bit of everything. It depends on who’s tired and who’s in the penalty box. I can’t tell you if it was any one player’s fault, but we broke down too easily.”
Michigan’s special teams, which Berenson has labeled a “work in progress” all season, benefited from a series with few penalties. The Wolverines stayed out of the box entirely on Friday night, and were called for just four penalties Saturday at the Carlson Center.
Still, Michigan battled back. Its early lead came from a poke-in goal by freshman David Wohlberg, but that evaporated with Alaska’s first power play goal midway through the first period.
Then, as Hogan deflected, trapped and caught every puck headed in his direction in the second frame, a trio of talented Wolverines gave the team the spark it desperately needed.
With 6:09 remaining in the second, junior captain Chris Summers sent the puck from the defensive zone to sophomore forward Aaron Palushaj, who passed the puck to sophomore center Louie Caporusso. He rushed up the right side of the ice toward Nanook goalie Chad Johnson, Caporusso made a move on Johnson’s stick side and poked the puck in the wide-open glove side.
“It was huge,” Berenson said. “Your best players have to be your best players in these games.”
Caporusso leads the team in scoring with nine goals this season. His lamp-lighter was the top line’s lone goal for the weekend.
A minute into the third period, junior forward Brian Lebler tacked on the eventual game-winner on a spinning, no-look, power-play goal from in front of the right post.
“Lebler’s was a loose puck in front,” Berenson said. “We weren’t winning any of those (Friday) in front of the net.”
The Wolverines responded well after Friday night’s loss. Turnbull said everything was different on Saturday when the team’s emotions, intensity and physical play returned to the ice. The defensemen had their sticks in the right positions to break up passes and block shots, and Michigan didn’t let up goals in spurts as it often has this season.
The win salvaged the weekend for the Wolverines (4-2-0 CCHA, 7-3-0 overall). But Berenson knows his team was capable of a sweep over the Nanooks (3-3-0, 5-4-1).
“One minute of the game Friday ruined the weekend,” he said. “We had the lead up until then, and then one minute, two goals — bang — we never got the goal back. That makes the difference. Every shift is important. You never know the shift that might decide the game.”
But on Saturday, it was all of Michigan’s shifts that fought back after the frustrating loss. All of the defensemen who dove to keep pucks in the offensive zone. All the forwards who battled against the boards for the puck. And it was the one player in net who gave the Wolverines a chance to hang on with a late one-goal lead.