On to the semifinals

NMU?completes sweep of Alaska with 4-3 victory

In the photo above, Northern Michigan University’s Philip Beaulieu goes diving as he and fellow Wildcat Adam Rockwood try to keep the puck from Alaska-Fairbanks’ Max Newton on Saturday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. In the photo at left, NMU goaltender Atte Tolvanen keeps a close eye on the puck. (Journal photo by Trintiy Carey)

MARQUETTE — After Friday night’s thrilling double-overtime victory in Game 1 of its WCHA first-round series, Northern Michigan University center Adam Rockwood said his line needed to play better.

They did exactly that Saturday as he, Troy Loggins and Denver Pierce produced two goals (from Loggins and Pierce) and four assists to lift the second-seeded Wildcats to a 4-3 victory over Alaska Fairbanks.

The win clinched a Wildcats sweep of the best-of-three series and moved NMU into the second round, where it will host third-seeded Bowling Green State next weekend.

“I talked to a couple of them (on the top line) today and they’ve been so good lately,” NMU head coach Grant Potulny said. “Yesterday was just a hiccup. You’re going to have those things in playoff runs. You’re going to have guys step up.

“It would’ve been concerning if they hadn’t responded tonight. Obviously, two huge goals from those two guys and for Darien (Craighead) to get back on the board. He doesn’t play with that top line, but he’s on the top power play and he’s a real important player for us. I consider him one of or top guys and sometimes I think I need to remind him how good of a player he can be.

“You saw it tonight, he should’ve had two. He’s a little bit of a streaky scorer, so hopefully he catches fire.”

After playing almost 100 minutes of hockey Friday, fatigue might’ve been a concern heading into Saturday, but Pierce dismissed the idea.

“During the whole game, I didn’t feel great, but it’s playoff hockey,” he said. “Nobody feels great and a lot of guys are hurting. You’ve got to battle through it and they’re feeling the same way, I’m sure.”

After a slow start to the second period, the Wildcats came out with a little more jump in their skates in the third with the game tied 2-2.

Ty Readman and Loggins both made Alaska goalie Anton Martinsson scramble for saves in the first five minutes. Midway through the period, Northern got one past Martinsson on a good individual effort by Loggins. The senior winger got a pass in the slot from Pierce and sent a shot on net. Martinsson made the save, but left a rebound in front, which Loggins sent into the open net to give the Wildcats a 3-2 lead.

Northern struck again with about eight minutes left, this time on a power play. After missing on a beautiful scoring chance in the second period, Craighead redeemed himself when he got a cross-ice pass from Rockwood and sniped it past Martinsson’s glove.

“I kind of had a feeling that I was going to get another chance and that I’d put it in,” Craighead said. “It’s been a tough little stretch for me lately and I’ve had great coaching and great teammates helping me through it.

“‘Rock’ put it on the platter for me and I had the same chance I think a couple of weekends ago and I missed it. I just had that feeling that I was going to put it in and it felt pretty good.”

Now in desperation mode, the Nanooks pulled Martinsson for an extra attacker and got a goal back on a nice shot by Tyler Cline, who fired a shot just under the crossbar with two minutes left. However, Alaska couldn’t get the equalizer.

Things started off a little physical as NMU’s Joseph Nardi and Alaska’s Max Newton were shoving in the faceoff circle before the puck drop and the physical play continued for the majority of the game.

The Wildcats got the first two good scoring chances, but Pierce’s shot from the slot was saved by Martinsson in the first minute and he also stuffed Nardi with 15:45 remaining in the opening period.

Northern may have gotten early scoring chances, but just like Friday night, the Nanooks scored first. A shot from Alaska center Colton Leiter was deflected up in the air and winger Kylar Hope batted it past Tolvanen to put the Nanooks up 1-0.

The Wildcats started to put more pressure on the Alaska defense in the final five minutes of the period, the first coming on a penalty kill as Klee got free on a partial breakaway, though his shot went high.

In the final minute, Martinsson made two nice saves to keep NMU scoreless, making a kick save on Phil Beaulieu’s shot from the point and then stuffing Nardi in the slot with 6 seconds left.

Down 1-0 to start the second period, the Wildcats looked a step behind through most of the period as they left Cline and Hope open with great looks at the net, but Tolvanen stopped both shots.

NMU had a golden chance to tie it with 15 minutes left as Craighead has a wide-open net by the near post, but sent his shot wide. Three minutes later, the Wildcats dodged a bullet as Max Newton’s shot rolled just outside the far post.

Northern couldn’t dodge the Nanooks’ second bullet, though. On an Alaska rush, Tolvanen made a kick save on Colin Doyle’s shot, but kicked it right to Kyle Marino, who snapped it into the open net, making it 2-0.

NMU on the board with 7:06 remaining when Pierce beat Martinsson on a rebound. Less than a minute later, Garrett Klee fed a pass to Vincent De Mey in the slot, who paused, then snapped a shot over Martinsson’s blocker.

Pierce said Northern did a good job staying tough.

“It’s playoffs,” he said. “You go down two goals or three goals, it doesn’t matter. You’ve got to come back and keep pumping shots on net. They’re going to go in as long as you keep doing things the right way.”

Information compiled by Journal Sports Writer Ryan Stieg. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.