Coming into this weekend, the Michigan Tech Huskies found themselves in third place in the WCHA and facing a team in the Alaska Nanooks whom they swept in Alaska earlier this season. Add to that the fact that the Nanooks were under .500 on the road, and everything about this series pointed to a Huskies’ sweep, on paper. In practice, however, things went almost exactly opposite, as it was the visiting Nanooks who struck four times in the second period Friday night en route to a 7-3 win. On Saturday, the Nanooks scored five times before the Huskies could even get on the board before skating away with a 7-2 win.
From the drop of the puck Friday night, the Nanooks appeared to be the better team. Huskies’ goalie Pheonix Copley made a number of great saves before finally surrendering a goal at 15:33 of the first on a power play. Junior David Johnstone responded for the Huskies on a power play of their own at 16:25. The Nanooks struck again just 1:23 into the second before striking again at 8:06.
Junior Blake Hietala cut the lead to 3-2 with his tally at 14:04. Two late period goals from the Nanooks’ Cody Kunyk extended their lead up to 5-2. The Nanooks struck twice more in the third, the second coming at 9:08. Senior Jacob Johnstone crashed the net to answer the last Nanooks’ tally just 26 seconds later.
“Right from the get go, they were the better team,” said head coach Mel Pearson. “You could tell that they are a desperate team. This game was decided before the puck was dropped, unfortunately.”
The Huskies came out much stronger the sequel, but the Nanooks used a pair of first period goals from Colton Beck to take a 2-0 lead into the first intermission. The first came just after a pow er play, and the second with just 5.4 seconds left in the period. The visitors struck three more times in the second.
Assistant captain Tanner Kero blasted a slap shot from the left point on the power play to break the shutout at 19:18 of the middle frame. The Nanooks answered the goal just 1:48 into the third. Hietala notched his second of the weekend on a tip off a shot from freshman Chris Leibinger at 12:28. The Nanooks picked up their final goal on the power play at 17:28.
“I thought it was a tough weekend, obviously,” said Pearson. “They got the lead on us. We just never could get caught up.”
This week’s Stick Salute goes to freshman center Mike Neville. While it might seem strange to pick a skater who finished the weekend -2 and without a point while Blake Hietala did score twice, Neville proved all weekend that he had the most jump among the Huskies’ forwards. When it appeared to untrained eyes that the bulk of the Huskies’ roster was struggling to keep up with the Nanooks’ speed and physical edge, Neville fought every shift like it was last. The youngster has only two points in his last 13 games, but with him, one gets the sense it is only a matter of time before he breaks through in a big way.