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Brian Leblerâ€™s two goal performance and Bryan Hoganâ€™s shutout provided Michigan the spark they need to continue their quest to climb back into the upper echelon of the CCHA with a 6-0 whitewashing of Alaska Friday night at Yost Arena in Ann Arbor.
The Wolverine victory also exacted a measure of revenge for a nonconference shutout they suffered at the hands of the Nanooks in the season opening weekend back in October.
With the win, Michigan set themselves up to pull even with Alaska in the CCHA conference standings with a second victory in Saturdayâ€™s series finale. The Wolverines also maintain two games in hand over all their closest rivals in the CCHA race.
After playing even with Alaska for the gameâ€™s first 17 minutes, Michigan exploded for three goals in 83 seconds late in the first period. Alaska never recovered.
â€œWe knew Alaska would be a tough team and we knew how important the start was,â€ said Michigan head coach Red Berenson. â€œI think the first goal was a big goal. They had a couple of big chances before we scored that goal. Then, the first power play goal — to get another goal was a huge one. Even with a three-goal lead this game never felt like we were safe. We felt like we had to play a 60-minute game just to keep them off the scoreboard.â€
â€œMichigan has the ability to win games in a minute or a minute and a half and they did, basically three shifts in a row,â€ said Alaska coach Dallas Ferguson.
â€œThey scored, scored, scored. When they got the first one, we just kind of unraveled and broke mentally. We just weren’t able to recover. Credit Michigan, they played hard. They skated hard. They won all the battles. They never once gave us the opportunity to get back in the hockey game.â€
Hogan turned aside 17 Nanook shots in his fifth career shutout. After the Michigan first period flurry, Alaska freshman netminder Steve Thompson replaced starter Scott Greenham at the start of the second period and stopped 19 Michigan shots over the final two periods.
On the strength of two quick goals in 27 seconds plus an unlikely shot by Lebler, Michigan jumped to a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes..
Playing 4-on-4, Michigan junior forward Carl Hagelin centered the puck from the left corner to a wide open Lee Moffie who buried a one-timer at 17:00.
Only 27 seconds later, freshman Chris Brown increased the Wolverine margin to 2-0 re-directing Steve Kampferâ€™s blast from the high slot.
At 18:23, Lebler completed the three goal Michigan blitz when, on an innocent-looking play, he snapped a shot from the right point high over Greenhamâ€™s stick.
â€œWhen a team gains excitement, momentum and confidence, they score goals and prevent the other team from scoring goals,â€ said Berenson. â€œWe had our way tonight and Iâ€™m sure theyâ€™ll talk about tomorrow nightâ€™s game. Tonight, the puck went in for us, the power play scored, and we had balanced scoring.â€
Ferguson replaced Greenham with freshman netminder Thompson at the start of the second period for Thompsonâ€™s first career minutes in goal for the Nanooks.
Michigan wasted little time welcoming Thompson to the CCHA. Wolverine Ben Winnett broke down right wing and held the puck just long enough at the half-boards for A.J. Treais to cut toward the net. While still being checked by a Nanook defenseman, Treais managed to deflect Winnettâ€™s pass by Thompson from close range.
Thompson held his own for the rest of the period, turning aside 11 other shots from the hard-pressing Michigan offense.
â€I thought the team needed a different look,â€ said Ferguson of the goaltending switch. â€œI was real happy with the way Thompson stepped in and competed hard and made some big saves. I was very proud of him, the way he responded. I thought he played two good periods.â€
Lebler notched his second goal of the game and his seventh of the season early in the third period and Michiganâ€™s hottest scorer since the holiday break, Lindsay Sparks, completed the Wolverine scoring with a power play marker at 12:11 of the final frame.
â€œI think you’ve got to acknowledge it (the loss), but I don’t think if we sit here and feel sorry for ourselves, it’s going to help us,â€ offered Ferguson of his teamâ€™s approach to the Saturday night re-match. â€œI think, per man, everybody knows they can be better. I think as a group we’re going to be better.â€
After their series concluding game Saturday night at Yost Arena, both Alaska and Michigan face top CCHA conference foes next weekend. The Nanooks (10-7-4 overall, 7-7-3-3 in the CCHA) finally play in Fairbanks for the first time in 2010 next weekend hosting two games against Miami. The Wolverines (13-10-0, 8-7-0-0) face off with Ferris St. in a home-and-home series.