FAIRBANKS — Chad Gehon found an effective way Saturday night to end a nearly nine-month, 15-game scoring drought: Deliver the game-winner in a 2-1 victory over No.
2 North Dakota for the title in Brice Alaska Goal Rush.
The Alaska Nanooks senior left wing scored with a wrist shot low in the North Dakota zone early in the third period to help his team celebrate its third title in its five-year-old tournament.
The Nanooks were aided by a power-play goal from freshman defenseman Josh Atkinson and 25 saves from senior goaltender and tournament Most Valuable Player Steve Thompson, adding to the titles they earned in 2009 and 2010.
Freshman right wing Colten St. Clair scored his first collegiate goal for North Dakota, which gained the title bid in its Goal Rush debut after winning 5-0 Friday against the Alaska Anchorage Seawolves, a Western Collegiate Hockey Association rival.
The Goal Rush title also occured with one of the most significant upsets for the Nanooks. In the 2005-06 season, Alaska posted upsets of three No. 1-ranked teams — Minnesota of the WCHA and Central Collegiate Hockey Association rivals Michigan and Miami (Ohio)
“It definitely shows our team has a lot of character and we can battle through adversity,” Gehon said of the Goal Rush’s top prize while he stood on the Carlson Center ice following the postgame awards ceremony and the Nanooks’ title celebration.
Last Jan. 27, Gehon produced the game’s last goal in a 6-3 CCHA win over Notre Dame at the Carlson Center.
He did likewise Saturday at 3:02 of the third period with a wrist shot from the right circle that got past the stick side of North Dakota junior goaltender Clarke Saunders (30 saves).
“We had pressure all night long and we had a few chances,” Gehon said.
“It definitely felt good to bury that one and get the monkey off my back.”
Gehon had something else, too, while he was camped in the low portion of the right circle. He had time to pick his spot against Saunders after retrieving a rebound of freshman defenseman Colton Parayko’s shot. Parayko had gained a rebound of freshman right wing Nolan Huysmans’ attempt.
“It was just a cycle play and there was a lot of traffic around there,” said North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol. “Unfortunately, we left him (Gehon) alone right on the edge of a grade-A shooting area and he made a good play. He had good poise and good presence, and he found a hole.”
The Nanooks also were helped by a 31-14 advantage in blocks, and seemingly benefitted from a simple strategy — get up the ice fast, get shots if possible, and if not, transition quickly to defense and form a barrier in front of Thompson.
“We’re playing such simpler hockey than we were last year, and I think that’s why we’re being successful so far,” Thompson said. “You’re not seeing so many turnovers in the neutral zone and you’re seeing the puck get quickly out of our zone.”
The Nanooks evened the score at 1 with their fourth power play goal in two days. Atkinson, open at the top of the slot, corralled Tyler Morley’s pass from the left corner and blasted a low wrist shot past Saunders at 54 seconds into the second period.
North Dakota had grabbed the lead at 17:49 into the first period, as St. Clair fired a hard wrist from between the right circle and goal line. The puck deflected off Morley’s stick and bounced in off his stick-side bicep.
“We just got in there and got some shots, and I think the puck ended up in the air,” St. Clair said. “I brought it down with my hand and I put it on my stick quickly and I got a little lucky.”
The Nanooks open CCHA play against Friday and Saturday in Big Rapids, Mich., against Ferris State, last year’s NCAA Division I national runner-up and CCHA regular-season titllist.