With four minutes remaining in the third period on Saturday and Michigan leading 5-0, the Michigan Pep Band Director, Damon Talley — as is his tendency — started to dance to the delight of the fans. But this time he added a prop to his customary Michigan victory dance — a broom. Four minutes and two meaningless Alaska-Fairbanks goals later, Michigan had itself another CCHA victory, 5-2, at Yost Ice Arena. The win completed Michigan’s sweep, as the Wolverines beat the Nanooks (5-10-1 CCHA, 6-11-1 overall) by the same score on Friday night.
At the outset of Saturday’s game, Michigan goalie Al Montoya and Alaska-Fairbanks goalie Wylie Rogers kept both offenses at bay. Montoya stopped Alaska-Fairbanks forward Aaron Lee on a breakaway, and Rogers withstood numerous Michigan scoring chances in front of the net.
No. 3 Michigan (15-1-0, 18-5-1) finally broke through after 14 minutes of scoreless hockey. Junior Jeff Tambellini skated into the Alaska-Fairbanks zone on a 3-on-2 break with senior Eric Nystrom and freshman Chad Kolarik. Tambellini passed to Kolarik in the center and continued down the left side of the ice. Kolarik took the pass and waited a second before he fed the puck back to Tambellini. The junior skated in on Rogers and backhanded the puck into the net to put the Wolverines on the board.
In the second period, Michigan poured it on with a balanced attack. Senior Milan Gajic took a pass from senior David Moss with 4:22 remaining in the period and scored on a shot that hit the top of the net. Later in the period, T.J. Hensick’s shot hit Jason Ryznar who fed it to sophomore David Rohlfs to push Michigan’s lead to 3-0. Hensick and Nystrom added goals at the end of the second period to push Michigan’s lead to 5-0.
“We just fed off of each shift,” Hensick said. “Each shift increased (its) intensity out there. Each line played well, and we got some goals. The bounces went our way, (and) it was a good second period for us.”
After Michigan’s four second-period goals, the Nanooks probably wished that they had never made the trip to Yost — the arena where Michigan has won 22 straight CCHA regular-season games. But even late in the third period, when some of the Yost crowd started to mockingly chant “warm up your sled,” Alaska-Fairbanks never let up.
“(After the second period) we just talked about not quitting — no matter what,” Alaska-Fairbanks coach Tavis MacMillan said. “We didn’t care who we were playing. We didn’t care what time of the season it was. The biggest thing was just not to quit.”
MacMillan’s plea must have struck a chord with his team because Michigan’s momentum did not carry over into the third period. Alaska-Fairbanks outplayed Michigan in the final 20 minutes, outscoring the Wolverines 2-0. The Wolverines and their coach, Red Berenson, were happy with the weekend’s results, but a bit upset about their lackluster third period on Saturday.
“The finish put a sour taste on the whole game,” Berenson said. “(But) that’s good. That’s a sign of a good team, when you don’t like to give up (meaningless, late-game) goals.”
Michigan kept control of first place in the CCHA with the two-game sweep. With Michigan’s stellar 15-1-0 mark in the CCHA, it might be surprising that Talley’s broom has been stuck in his closet for most of the season. But since Michigan’s schedule features mostly home-and-home series, this was just Michigan’s second series sweep in conference play at Yost. The first sweep came back in November when Michigan beat up on Miami (Ohio), 5-2 and 5-3. Even with all the success in the CCHA, Hensick is not totally satisfied because of the lone conference loss Michigan suffered to Ferris State back in October.
“I think everyone in our locker room thinks we should be 16-0,” Hensick said. “That was a devastating loss to Ferris in overtime, but we’re playing hard, (and) we’re playing well in our CCHA games. We know that each game, no matter who (we) play, it’s going to be a battle.”
Although Friday and Saturday’s games ended with the same final score, Friday’s contest was much closer. Entering the third period, the teams were knotted at two goals apiece. Five minutes into the third period, Michigan caught a break. Sophomore defenseman Matt Hunwick sent a slow knuckling shot toward the Alaska-Fairbanks net. Players from each squad swatted at it, but with all the chaos in front of the net, the puck found its way into the right side of the twine.
“There was this guy on me pretty tight,” Hunwick said. “(So) I just tried to get (the shot off) as quick as you can and get it to the net.”
After Hunwick pushed Michigan’s lead to 3-2, Nystrom and freshman Kevin Porter added goals to clinch the victory.