FAIRBANKS, Alaska — The city of Fairbanks was established
as a gold-mining community of prospectors hoping to strike it rich
and return home with large amounts of wealth. The Michigan hockey
team was also hoping Fairbanks could offer a prized nugget that has
eluded it all season long — a sweep of an opponent on the
road. But, just like Alaska’s harsh winter nights, Fairbanks
The Wolverines split their series with gritty Alaska-Fairbanks,
pulling out a 4-1 win Friday night, thanks, in part, to a
questionable decision by the referee. The Nanooks got their revenge
on Saturday, taking advantage of several odd-man rushes and handing
Michigan a 5-3 loss, its ninth loss away from Ann Arbor this
On Saturday, in a game that saw momentum flow back and forth
every period, Michigan (14-5-1 CCHA, 19-8-1 overall) had a chance
to close the door on Alaska-Fairbanks (12-11-1, 13-14-3), but
allowed the Nanooks to hang around by giving them quality scoring
chances. Down 2-1 in the middle of the second period, the
Wolverines scored two even-strength goals just 46 seconds apart to
recapture the lead. With Michigan seemingly in control of the game
at that point, winger Eric Nystrom was called for interference.
Alaska-Fairbanks forward Jason Grinevitch lit the lamp on the
powerplay to swing the momentum back to the Nanooks.
“We just had a couple breakdowns,” defenseman Andy
Burnes said. “We obviously let in some unearned goals and we
got outworked – that was the bottom line. I can’t say
they were great goals on their part, but the bottom line is they
put the puck in the net.”
Center Andrew Ebbett opened the scoring for Michigan on the
powerplay, as he crept in from the blueline and blasted a slap shot
past Alaska-Fairbanks goaltender Keith Bartusch at the 9:57 mark of
the first period.
But the momentum wouldn’t last. During the second
man-advantage of the game, defenseman Brandon Rogers chose to
attack the net rather than defend the blueline.
Michigan paid for it, as the puck squirted out to center ice and
Alaska-Fairbanks center Jared Sylvestre gobbled it up. With just
Ebbett back for the Wolverines, Sylvestre executed a perfect
give-and-go with winger Chad Campbell, who scored the equalizer on
the penalty kill.
“We got the puck out and it hit the defenseman’s skate,” Ebbett
said. “He (then) takes a floater and it goes in top shelf. Those
things happen and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
The third period saw some of the most wide-open hockey of the
weekend, as both teams began to realize that one mistake would lead
to a victory. Goaltender Al Montoya, who had been on the receiving
end of numerous collisions all weekend, could do little to stop the
Alaska-Fairbanks attack in the final frame.
The Nanooks took advantage of a screen in front of Montoya as
Nanooks winger Kelly Czuy deflected a shot past the unsuspecting
netminder for a 4-3 lead. Desperate at this point, Michigan began
to push its defensemen forward to create more offensive pressure.
It backfired, as the Nanooks had several two-on-one rushes, with
Alaska-Fairbanks winger Tom Herman burying his break against
Burnes, who could do little to slow down the hungry forwards.
“As the game wore on, we had to take more chances,” Michigan
coach Red Berenson said. “We got trapped and they got two-on-ones.
(Czuy’s) goal was a huge goal, and our third period – I can’t tell
you we played poorly, but we didn’t play as well as we needed
In Friday night’s game, Alaska-Fairbanks dominated the first two
periods, outshooting the Wolverines 29-16. But all night long, the
Nanooks kept going out of their way to knock Montoya to the ice.
After each serious collision, referee Steve McInchak responded with
With nine minutes to go in the third period of a 1-1 game,
Montoya again hit the deck after a collision with Alaska-Fairbanks
winger Cam Keith. Not surprisingly, McInchak issued a penalty, but
since it was the fourth collision with Montoya – who was lying on
the ice for several minutes without moving – Keith was issued a
five-minute major penalty.
“If there hadn’t been previous contact with the goalie, I don’t
think (the referee) would have (called a major),” Berenson said.
“But I think because it was the fourth time, and before he
explained to the captains that (goaltender interference) was one
thing he was concerned about. So after the third time, what are you
going to do?”
That was the window of opportunity the Wolverines needed to seal
the deal. Center T.J. Hensick tried to set up winger Milan Gajic
along the post, but decided to pass to Eric Werner, who met no
challenge from the penalty killers and fired a shot from the top of
the faceoff circle that beat Alaska-Fairbanks goaltender Preston
“We work on spreading their penalty kill out and opening up
lanes,” Werner said. “That lane opens up and our forwards would
find the lane. It was a big momentum change.”
Not to be outdone, Rogers scored another powerplay goal on
nearly the exact same play – pinching in from the blueline to beat
McKay with a shot from the faceoff circle.
“The game was on the line, (and) to get a chance like that …
you make them pay for it,” Berenson said. “It was unfortunate to be
taking penalties with contacting the goalie, and the ref had to
make that call. (Montoya) showed a lot of discipline and
Next weekend, Michigan will host CCHA Miami (Ohio) Friday and