HOUGHTON - Alaska (Fairbanks) entered Friday night's game tied for sixth place in the conference standings, just two points ahead of the playoff cut and one bad weekend away from missing the WCHA playoffs all together.
Michigan Tech on the other hand, sat in third place, one point ahead of Bowling Green and Alaska-Anchorage and in control of its own destiny in the battle for home ice.
The different circumstances led to different levels of effort. The Nanooks were ready to play.
Michigan Tech’s Tanner Kero braces for a hit from Alaska (Fairbanks)’s Josh Atkinson during Friday’s game at John?MacInnes Student Ice Arena. The Nanooks won 7-3. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
The Huskies were not.
Alaska jumped on Tech from the opening whistle, skating to a 7-3 win in a contest that was exactly as close as the margin of victory suggests.
"This game was decided before the puck was dropped, unfortunately," Tech coach Mel Pearson said.
Alaska 1 4 2 - 7
Michigan Tech 1 1 1 - 3
First period - 1, UAF, Nolan Huysmans 6 (PP) (Colton Beck, Michael Quinn), 15:33; 2, MTU, Davod Johnstone 9 (PP) (Alex Petan 12, Shane Hanna 15), 16:25. Penalties - MTU, Walker Hyland (hooking) 15:20; UAF, Brandon Morley (holding the stick), 15:44.
Second period - 3, UAF, Garrick Perry 9 (Brandon Morley), 1:23; 4, UAF, Josh Erickson 2 (Nolan Youngmun), 8:06; 5, MTU, Blake Hietala 6 (Tanner Kero 10, Reid Sturos 12), 14:04; 6, UAF, Cody Kunyk 16 (PP) (Colton Parayko, Nolan Huysmans), 16:19; 7, UAF, Cody Kunyk 17 (Colton Beck), 16:39. Penalties - UAF, Josh Atkinson (tripping), 2:08; UAF, Jared Larson (roughing), 8:42; MTU, David Johnstone (high-sticking), 16:01.
Third period - 8, UAF, Jared Larson 7 (Nolan Huysmans, Shawn Hochhausen), 5:49; 9, UAF, Tyler Morley 13 (Garrick Perry, Brandon Morley), 9:08; 10, MTU, Jacob Johnstone 5 (Walker Hyland, Chris Leibinger), 9:34. Penalties - UAF, Garrick Perrry (roughing, misconduct), 17:52; UAF, Tyler Morley (misconduct), 17:52; MTU, Mike Neville (roughing, misconduct), 17:52.
Goalie saves - UAF, Sean Cahill 24 (7-12-5), 3 goals; MTU, Pheonix Copley 28 (14-14-0), 5 goals; MTU, Jamie Phillips 5 (0-0-5), 2 goals.
"Right from the get-go Alaska was the better team.
"Everybody is talking about third place but we have a chance that if we don't get our act together and get some points to not make the playoffs still. That is how close it is."
The loss drops Tech into fourth place - either tied or alone depending on the outcome of BGSU at Anchorage, which took place after press time - and in desperate need of points tonight to keep pace in the WCHA arms race.
The Huskies had won four straight entering Friday's game, a streak that may have left the players content rather than hungry for more.
"You get fat and happy and we played like we were fat and happy tonight," Pearson said.
"They out-competed us and out-skated us," senior captain Brad Stebner added. "The preparation definitely wasn't there."
The Nanooks put the Huskies on their heels from the first shift, repeatedly peppering goaltender Pheonix Copley - and drawing some impressive saves - before finally breaking through 13 seconds into a power play midway through the period.
Tech junior winger David Johnstone halted the onslaught momentarily, wiring a power-play shot past goalie Sean Cahill to even the scoring through the first period.
Alaska picked it up immediately to start the second, however, with Garrick Perry and Josh Erickson lighting the lamp when the defense gave up way too much time and space.
"We did not play with any defensive responsibility and desperation tonight," Pearson said.
A rare bright moment from the Huskies cut the lead to 3-2 when Tanner Kero slid an inch-perfect pass to cousin and linemate Blake Hietala, but Alaska buried the game for good just over two minutes later.
Cody Kunyk scored goal No. 16 of the season with a man-advantage and then beat Copley exactly 20 seconds later for No. 17 with a clinical backhand finish off a turnover and breakaway.
"Once we got it to 3-2 I thought we were starting to play better," Pearson said. "But then we gave up two goals in 20 seconds and that was pretty much the game."
"I can't tell you what their power play formation is because the first one took 13 seconds and the other one 18 seconds," Pearson added. "Off the same type of situation where there is a scrum in the corner, we try to outnumber them we three guys and somehow (Alaska) comes out with the puck ... just too easy."
Jared Larson and Tyler Morley scored two more in the third on Jamie Phillips - Copley played the first two periods - before Jacob Johnstone got one back to limit the rout.
It was the most goals the Huskies had given up in one game since October, and the most shots allowed on goal (40) since the first weekend of November.
"They played with that desperation you need to play with every game," Pearson said.
"We did not respect that team tonight."