FAIRBANKS — The Alaska Nanooks brought their momentum home Friday night.
The Nanooks held on a for 2-1 victory over the Northern Michigan Wildcats at the Carlson Center, raising their unbeaten streak in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association to six games while improving their fifth-place record to 9-7-3-1 conference and 11-8-4 overall.
The streak includes five straight wins that began with a 4-0 finish on a two-week road trip at Michigan (Jan. 11-12) and at then fifth-ranked and league-leading Notre Dame (Jan. 18-19).
“I think it’s (momentum) huge, just to show everybody that our road trip wasn’t a fluke,” said Nanooks junior center Cody Kunyk, who provided the game’s first goal and assisted on Colton Beck’s game-winning short-handed marker. “We’ve just got to keep thriving off of all of our victories.”
The Nanooks, aided by 24 saves from freshman goaltender John Keeney, were thriving Friday off a defense that helped halt a six-game unbeaten streak for the eighth-place Wildcats of Marquette, Mich.
Kunyk capitalized on a turnover and produced the game’s first goal and his 75th career point at 48 seconds into the series.
Freshman defenseman Josh Atkinson stepped into between Reed Seckel’s pass intended for Erik Higby in the high defensive zone. Atkinson relayed his interception to senior right wing Andy Taranto, who passed to Kunyk for a shot from the top of the slot and over the glove of Wildcats goaltender Jared Coreau (36 saves).
“I think it was just more or less getting the puck on net. I wasn’t really planning on scoring,” Kunyk said outside the Nanooks locker room. “The funny thing, though, is I’ve been working on that in practice, trying to get it through the defenseman. It happened to turn out the way I wanted, so I was lucky.”
Kunyk forced another turnover that gave the Nanooks a 2-0 lead at 2:38 of the second during a short-handed situation.
Kunyk made a block near the blue line, engaged a 2-on-1 with Beck and the junior left wing sent the puck through Coreau’s pads with 10 seconds left in the Wildcats’ first power play of the weekend.
“Cody did everything on that play — he blocked a shot, brought the puck up the ice and made a perfect pass. All I had to do was get a piece of it,” Beck said during the postgame media conference in the Pioneer Room.
It was Beck’s second game-winner of the season and the first time he scored since a 3-1 conference win at Ohio State on Nov. 10.
“I was trying not to think about it, and I know at times it was in the back of my head,” Beck said of the 12-game goal-scoring drought. “I just had to get back to playing simple and doing all the little things, and it would come — that’s what the coaches told me.”
The Nanooks coaches also told their players Friday to be poised defensively against a resilient group of Wildcats.
“They’re head to play against, they do a lot of little things,” Alaska assistant coach Lance West said during the media conference. “You have to be patient, you have to be smart and just battle through everything.”
Northern Michigan, now 5-10-1-1 CCHA and 11-11-4 overall, leads 28-7-12 in the all-time series and is 9-5-5 in Fairbanks.
Northern Michigan senior center Matt Thurber cashed in on a two-man advantage at 14:00 of the second period Friday. Thurber’s pass from the left circle skipped off of the skate of Nanooks defenseman Michael Quinn and snuck by Keeney.
Though the Wildcats avoided the shutout, head coach Walt Kyle was hoping for a better performance from his team, which had gone 5-0-1 in its previous six contests, including a 2-1 upset of then sixth-ranked Miami (Ohio) in Marquette on Jan. 11.
“Coreau was good, or it could have been worse,” Kyle said. “We make a horrible play to give up the shorty, they score on two turnovers.
“I didn’t like our game tonight,” he added. “I thought they did a great job of forcing us into problems, and I thought Kunyk’s line was dominant tonight.”
It also was Alaska head coach Dallas Ferguson’s first win in 15 tries against Northern Michigan. He was 0-8-7-4 against the Wildcats before Friday’s victory.
Tonight marks the fourth and final CCHA regular-season game between the teams, which are moving next season to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.