The University of Alaska Fairbanks, compared with Friday night, had a better effort in its series finale against the Minnesota State Mavericks, who lead the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings and are ranked third in two polls for NCAA Division I teams.
However, Saturday night’s finale had a disappointing tone for the Nanooks. The 3-1 loss in the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center in Mankato, Minnesota, marked the first time this season that UAF didn’t register a point in the WCHA standings after a series.
“It’s a little frustrating,” Nanooks head coach Erik Largen said by phone Saturday. “We put ourselves behind the eight-ball a little bit with the standings and us wanting to finish in a top-four spot.”
The first- through eighth-place teams at the end of the regular season advance to the WCHA playoffs, and the top four teams host best-of-three quarterfinal, or first round, series.
“It’s something that we’re going to have to make up the points somewhere else now, and I think it’s only going serve as a motivation going into Lake State and how important it is for those points on Friday night.”
The Nanooks host the Lake Superior State Lakers, of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, at 7:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the Carlson Center.
WCHA teams receive three points in the standings for a win in regulation or a 5-on-5 overtime. A team that wins in a 3-on-3 overtime or a shootout, gets two points in the standings, while the losing team in either scenario receives one point.
Sophomore defenseman Antti Virtanen scored in the third period Saturday in Mankato, and senior goaltender Anton Martinsson had 23 saves for the Nanooks, 10-12-0 overall and 8-8-0-0 WCHA for 24 points, in a tie with the Michigan Tech Huskies for fourth place in the 10-team conference.
Senior left wing Nicholas Rivera scored twice and Reggie Lutz, a sophomore left wing and former Fairbanks Ice Dog, contributed a goal for the Mavericks, improved to 18-3-1 overall and 12-2-0-0 for 36 points in the standings.
The Nanooks were coming off Friday’s 4-0 loss, which the visitors were outshot 39-7, including 14-0 in the third period.
On Saturday, the Nanooks generated 16 shots to the Mavericks’ 24. The Nanooks also finished with a 7-5 advantage in the third period.
One of those third-period shots by UAF was Virtanen’s second goal of the season, occurring at 12:36 and cutting Minnesota State’s lead to 2-1.
The Nanooks’ only shot which got past Mavericks sophomore goalie Dryden McKay ( 15 saves) began with right wing Justin Young’s pass to left wing and fellow junior Steven Jandric.
“Steven was able to beat the (Mavericks) defenseman and keep the puck in the zone,” Largen said. “He ultimately got the puck in a 2-on-1 with Antti and he was able to find Antti off the back post for the goal.”
Rivera scored unassisted on a short-handed play at 16:22 of the second period for the game’s first goal.
Lutz scored the eventual game-winner with junior defenseman Riese Zmolek’s help at 10:47 of the third period. Lutz skated from 2014-16 for the Ice Dogs, of the Tier II junior A-level North American Hockey League.
After Martinsson was pulled for an extra attacker, Rivera planted the puck into an empty net with 50 seconds left in the Saturday’s game. Centers Josh French (senior) and Jake Jaremko (junior) assisted Rivera’s third goal of the season.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.