DETROIT — Alaska-Fairbanks has begun to make a habit out of doing the unthinkable. Last week, it put Bowling Green’s season to rest by taking the opening round series on the road. Yesterday, the Nanooks solved Northern Michigan goalie Tuomas Tarkki, scoring five goals on the CCHA Player of the Year. The 6-3 victory for the sixth-ranked team — the sixth goal was scored on an empty net — has paved the way to the next item on its list, a matchup with top-ranked Michigan in tonight’s semifinal.
The win was Alaska-Fairbanks’ first ever in Super 6 play in just its second appearance in tournament history.
“When these guys put their mind to something we haven’t done before, they get it done,” Nanooks coach Tavis MacMillan said. “Now we’ve never won two games in the Super 6.”
The Wolverines and Nanooks face off tonight, but Michigan will see a completely different team than the one it swept in a two-game series in January. When Alaska-Fairbanks came up from Bowling Green to face Michigan in Ann Arbor during the regular season, it was riding a six-game winless streak. Following the victory yesterday, Alaska is 9-4-3 in its last 16 games and undefeated in five contests.
“They are a team that you are going to have to show up and play and skate,” Michigan assistant coach Billy Powers said. “If you don’t skate against Alaska, you’ll be in trouble.
What Powers saw in tonight’s opponent was a team that was rolling. The five goals against Tarkki were the most he has allowed all season against conference opponents.
“I think we’ll have our hands full in terms of containing the puck against their top-two lines and (Ryan) McLeod,” Powers said. “I really think, offensively, they are as gifted as we are. That’s how highly I think of them.”
Perhaps most indicative of the roll that Alaska-Fairbanks is on comes from the names of last night’s scorers. Junior Kelly Czuy, the team’s third-leading scorer, was held without a point against the Wildcats, while second-ranked scorer Curtis Fraser had just an assist.
The Nanooks power play — which accounted for all four of Alaska-Fairbanks’ goals at Yost in January — scored three goals against Northern Michigan. Powers attributed much of this success to the traffic created in front of the net. Even though he believes that blocking shots before the Nanooks can get close to the net could be a difference maker, Powers said it comes down to walking the fine line of keeping the front of the net clear while staying out of the penalty box.
“It’s up to our defense to be smart on how they are moving people (in front of the net) and not taking penalties,” Powers said. “It’s not easy. If someone gets good position on your goalie, you’re better off almost leaving them there. Because if you start to get involved, there are two guys screening (the goalie). It’s a bit of a science and an art.”
Injury update: Michigan will be without senior David Moss for at least tonight’s game against the Nanooks as he nurses a calf injury. Michigan will move sophomore David Rohlfs back from the point to his native position on the wing and bring sophomore Tim Cook back into the lineup to fill the vacant spot. Sophomore Mike Brown will play tonight after he took yesterday’s practice off to attend to family business.
Crashed cup: Should the Wolverines claim the CCHA title, they’re not sure what they will be carrying during its parade around the ice. The Mason Cup, awarded to the tournament champion, was dropped during last night’s CCHA award banquet. According to witnesses, the silver cup at the top of the trophy survived the fall while the base shattered onto the Fox Theatre floor.
“I heard (the trophy) go thump,” one witness said. “I turned around and just saw pieces of it all over the floor.”