Win tonight, and live to play in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs. Lose, and start summer training.
Those are the stakes tonight between the Seawolves and Alaska Nanooks in game four of the Alaska Airlines Governor’s Cup.
Davis Jones’ 28 saves helped UAF (9-20-4, 7-16-4 WCHA) to a 3-2 victory over the Seawolves (11-19-3, 8-17-2 WCHA) before a raucous Carlson Center. The win clinches the Nanooks’ seventh consecutive Governor’s Cup, having now beaten or tied the Seawolves over three meetings this season.
“That’s only half the job this weekend,” UAF assistant coach Lance West said. “That’s a really, really big hockey game tomorrow it will be even more emotional and the team that can come out and control those emotions the right way will be successful.”
Emotions were high throughout Friday’s game and came to a head after a minor scrum formed after the final whistle, leading to a handful of penalties including three 10 minute game misconducts.
After a scoreless first period, the Nanook’s began the second period in dramatic fashion, scoring 52 seconds in. The Nanooks cycled the puck on a power play carried over from the first period. Sophomore Justin Woods’ barely got his stick on a rebound off a Marcus Basara shot before backhanding the puck in.
The goal started a back-and-forth, free-wheeling period in which both teams put pressure on their opponent’s goaltenders. Despite Olivier Mantha and Davis combining for 23 saves in the period, it was 2-1 at the end of the second period.
UAF once again beat Mantha as the period started to wind down. Freshman Jasen Fernsler sent a puck on goal that ricocheted off forward Colton Sparrow that bounced into the net.
“Most goals were just pucks on net from anywhere, and that’s the game plan we’re going to come out with tomorrow again,” Nanooks’ Colton Sparrow said, who scored the game-winning goal in the third.
Seawolves forward Jeremiah Leudtke’s shot at 16:16 was robbed by Davis from point-blank range.
Just when it looked like Jones was on his way to a shutout, UAA responded with 1:24 left in the period.
Matt Anholt won a faceoff draw in the UAF zone. Senior Austin Sevalrud maneuvered from left-to-right with the puck and before unleashing a slap shot that made it all through to Davis, scoring his first of the season.
Down 2-1, UAF continued to follow the game plan: shoot, shoot, shoot. This strategy was rewarded 14 minutes into the third period much to the elation of 3,000-plus fans in attendance.
Defenseman Josh Atkinson shot a puck from the left point. The biscuit was halfway to the goal when it was redirected to Peter Kreiger on the opposite faceoff dot. The sophomore had plenty of open twine to shoot at and didn’t miss.
The Seawolves did not give up though after going down 3-1, and when Nanooks Nolan Huysmans was called for an interference penalty at 1:31, UAA found a second-wind. The penalty set up a minute of 5-on-4 desperation hockey after UAA pulled its goalie. Blake Tatchell’s shot was stopped but the rebound went to Tad Kozun, who bured his 13th of the season and brought UAA within one.
The Nanooks could not take advantage of the open net, even after a puck hit off the post. It didn’t matter though, as Davis stood tall with several saves in the last minute to preserve the home team’s lead and win the Governor’s Cup (to be presented following Saturday’s game).