For the first time this season, the Michigan hockey team wore its crisp white sweaters. And goalie Billy Sauer decided to have his cleanest game of the year.
Sauer’s first shutout of the season came in a 4-0 victory against Alaska (0-3 CCHA, 0-5 overall). The game was close until six minutes remained in regulation and three quick Michigan goals sealed the deal.
The Wolverines (5-0, 8-1) didn’t get off to as quick a start on the scoreboard as they might have liked – a handful of failed scoring opportunities overshadowed the first period’s lone goal – but they dominated Alaska out of the gates and the Nanooks struggled to curtail Michigan’s attack for the first few minutes.
But the Wolverines weren’t able to capitalize until the tail end of their only opening-period man advantage.
As the power play came to a close, Kolarik eyed down Max Pacioretty in the slot for a few seconds before deciding to keep the puck himself. The alternate captain then skated off the goal line for an angle to shoot the puck before finding the back of the net. The goal, credited as an even-strength score, was Kolarik’s fourth on the season and the only one for the game’s first 50-plus minutes.
The Wolverines also had scoring opportunities in the second period, including a 5-on-3 advantage for a half minute, but couldn’t extend their lead.
The third, however, was a whole different story.
Five minutes in, Michigan faced one of its toughest penalty-kill situations of the season. Sophomore Brian Lebler was given a five-minute major for checking from behind and was ejected from the game. But after the Wolverines successfully killed off the first two minutes, Pacioretty broke free with the puck and the Nanooks took a hooking penalty to slow him down, leading to a four-on-four game. The Nanooks nearly halved the man-down disadvantage with the call and made it much easier for Michigan to kill yet another penalty.
Michigan managed just three shots on the other end until six minutes remaining in the game, when the Wolverines blasted the game open with two scores within a minute. Senior captain Kevin Porter nailed Michigan’s third goal, his ninth of the season, to put the game away.
Though Alaska had much less offensive possession in the game, the Nanooks certainly challenged goalie Billy Sauer. On Alaska’s first power play, Sauer made a high-glove save to keep the game scoreless. And in the second, with the puck loose a few feet in front of the crease, Sauer maintained his composure and confidently stifled close-range shots from the Nanooks.
If Sauer continues his drastic improvement from last season (his goals-against-average is better by an entire goal) and the Wolverines can pour in the goals before the closing minutes, it looks like Michigan won’t be challenged by the Nanooks Saturday night or until the College Hockey Showcase over Thanksgiving.