A brawl broke out between the players remaining on the ice as the final buzzer sounded at the Carlson Center on Saturday night, ending what was a high strung Western Collegiate Hockey Conference matchup between University of Alaska Fairbanks and Ferris State.
Alaska won the game 3-1 and UAF forward Max Newton said the “stick up for one and other” mentality was what made the difference.
“We were playing for each other. I mean, you see it at the end there. Guys were sticking up for each other and sacrificing the whole game,” the junior said in the post-game press conference.
“I mean obviously we don’t want to be carried away with some of those, whatever you want to call them, scrums, or whatever they are, but it shows we care about each other.”
The win gave Alaska its sixth consecutive series split. The Nanooks outshot the Bulldogs 37-12 on Friday, but left the ice with a 3-2 loss.
“This conference is really tough to be able to get all six points … but at the end of the day getting points on a weekend is great and doing that six consecutively is a really good thing,” UAF head coach Erik Largen said.
The Nanooks entered the series in a three-way tie for first place in the conference standings with Minnesota State and Northern Michigan in the 10-team conference
The series split puts the Nanooks (8-8-0 overall, 6-4-0-0 WCHA) in a two-way tie for second place with Bemidji State with 18 points. Minnesota State holds the top spot with 21 points.
The Nanooks scored first Saturday, 3:21 into the first period while on the power play. Bulldog goaltender Carter McPhail deflected Tyler Cline’s top shelf wrist shot from the deep slot and Newton scored on the rebound to make the score 1-0.
The Nanooks have been disappointing on the power play through the first half of the season. Entering the Ferris State series, Alaska was ranked 58th out of 60 NCAA Division I teams with a .064 power-play percentage, converting on only 4 of 62 opportunities.
However, Newton’s goal marked the third consecutive outing the Nanooks have converted with the 5-on-4 advantage.
“There’s more of a shooter mentality and you could even see on the goal that Max scored tonight — he was able to get a second opportunity,” Largen said.
“It’s not always going to be the pretty tic-tac-toe ones it’s going to be the ones where. It’s an effort based thing and I think the guys have been working at it … and I think it’s only going to see more improvements.”
Alaska extended its margin 7:07 into the second frame. Garrett Pike passed the puck from the left hash and found Newton on the right of the slot. The forward whipped the puck past McPhail on the strong side for his second goal of the night.
The two goals puts Newton at five for the season and ties him for a team-best with Justin Young.
Ferris State narrowed the game to a one goal margin while on the Power Play. Nate Kallen’s wrist shot from the left hash went low glove side past Nanook goaltender Gustavs Grigals with 4:54 reminging in the second period.
The tension in the Carlson Center was palpable the last 20 minutes. Cline sealed the deal for Alaska, scoring an empty net, power play goal from the blue line with 49 seconds remaining.
Grigals made 17 saves in his seventh outing for the Nanooks, improving his record to 3-4-0.
“He made some big saves early on. Especially after we made it 1-0, I thought he did a good job of locking it down and being able to get us to two,” Largen said about the sophomore.
“He played with a lot of confidence. Even after that goal … you could see in his demeanor, he didn’t get rattled at all and was able to bounce right back from it.”
Alaska next hosts conference opponent Michigan Tech on Friday and Saturday. The Nanooks swept the Huskies in their first meeting in October. The 2-0 road series was UAF’s first sweep of Michigan Tech since 2014 and its only sweep this season.
“I thought it was one of our best weekends since I’ve been here,” said Largen, who is in his fourth season with the Nanooks and his second as head coach.
“Our transition game was really good against them. We played really direct and really fast against them and because of that we didn’t give them many opportunities.
“To me this team is good enough to where if we play the game the right way and if we play for one another like Max talked about and we work and we do all these things, we are going to have success with it.”
The puck drops at 7:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Carlson Center.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Laura Stickells at 459-7530. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMsports.