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Seeing his team struggle to a .500 record entering this weekend’s series with Alaska-Fairbanks made Michigan State head coach Rick Comley a little more tired than usual.
“I wake up and my eyes hurt,” the Spartans first-year head coach said. “I’m trying so hard to sleep.”
Rest should come a little easier this week for Comley after MSU beat Alaska-Fairbanks 6-2 on Saturday to sweep the weekend series after winning 5-2 on Friday night.
It was MSU’s first series sweep since defeating Lake Superior State twice in October, and it vaulted the Spartans from 10th place in the CCHA into a tie for seventh.
Sophomore Mike Lalonde had two goals, sophomore Ash Goldie had a goal and two assists, senior defenseman John-Michael Liles had a goal and an assist, and freshmen Nenad Gajic and Colton Fretter each added goals for the Spartans (11-9-1, 7-6 CCHA).
“We’re playing every game the rest of the way like it’s a playoff series,” Comley said. “If we want to move up in the standings, we have to play with desperation.”
With 11:13 left in the first, MSU took 1-0 lead on a UAF power play when Liles broke up a potential Nanook 3-on-0 at his own blue line and then skated in free to the side of Nanook goalie Preston McKay, beating McKay for a shorthanded goal.
The Spartans went up 2-0 with 9:20 left in the first when Fretter tapped home an easy rebound off a shot by sophomore center Ash Goldie.
It was about as bad as it could get for the Nanooks in the first, as they fell behind 2-0, gave up a shorthanded goal and had a pair of too-many-men on the ice penalties.
The Nanooks cut the MSU lead to 2-1 at the 1:42 mark of the second on a power play when senior Blaine Bablitz took a rebound off of a shot by freshman Russell Spence and fired the puck past MSU goalie Matt Migliaccio.
It didn’t take long for MSU to regain its two-goal edge, as senior Mike Lalonde took a bouncing puck behind the Nanook net and fired a wraparound that beat McKay for a 3-1 Spartan lead at 2:16 of the second, just 34 seconds after Bablitz’s goal.
With 5:53 remaining in the second, Gajic gave MSU a 4-1 lead on a goal that was simply too easy.
Just as a Spartan power play ended, Gajic skated from behind the net right in front of McKay and had time to deke the Nanook goalie before slipping the puck under his glove.
At that point, head coach Guy Gadowsky pulled McKay for senior goalie Lance Mayes.
With 13.1 seconds left in the second, MSU struck again shorthanded when sophomore Jim Slater poked a puck at the Nanook blue line past two UAF defenders to Lalonde, who skated in untouched and beat Mayes on a backhand deke.
MSU made it 6-1 on a power play exactly one minute into the first when Liles fed a wide open Goldie in front of Mayes. Goldie make no mistake to earn his second point of the night.
Bablitz rounded out the scoring with another power-play tally with 8:19 left in the game to make it 6-2 MSU.
The Spartans are still a far cry from catching first place Ferris State — the Bulldogs lead MSU by nine points in the conference standings — but Lalonde said MSU still feels it can make a run.
“We’ve always felt that,” he said. “We were just waiting for a series like this that would lift us.”
For Fairbanks, fatigue seemed to set after being on the road since Dec. 29.
The Nanooks (8-9-3, 5-8-3) were lethargic in their defensive zone coverage all night and gave up two shorthanded goals in their eight power plays.
“You can’t use that excuse,” Gadowsky said of the fatigue factor. “Michigan State made us look like a struggling hockey club.”
The one bright spot for the Nanooks was that they outshot the Spartans 35-33.