L’Esperance scores in final minute as No. 14 Michigan Tech edges Alaska

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HOUGHTON, Mich. — Hockey is a 60-minute game.

Friday night, No. 14 Michigan Tech needed 59:22 to escape from the MacInnes Student Ice Arena with a 6-5 win over Alaska.

The Huskies used a six-minute stretch to take an early 3-0 lead and led by four before the opening period ended. However, it was a late-game goal from Joel L’Esperance that was the difference in the contest.

“It’s definitely huge, especially for the standings,” said L’Esperance. “We got away from our game a little bit in the middle of the game there. We started to get back to it there in the third. That was a big shift there, and that definitely helped.”

With less than a minute left in regulation, Dylan Steman grabbed a turnover in the neutral zone and carried it into the slot before firing a shot that rebounded right back out front. L’Esperance wasted no time burying the rebound to give the Huskies the 6-5 lead with just 37.2 seconds left in regulation.

“Our game was focused on 40 minutes after that,” said Nanooks coach Dallas Ferguson when asked about his team’s slow start. “I liked the way our team responded. For the most part, it was a good team effort. You hate having an effort like that go for naught when you battle hard to get it tied and then making a turnover on a play — that is just not a play that we need to make at that time of the game.”

The Nanooks opened the game hard and fast looking to catch the Huskies back on their heels. A turnover by MTU goalie Jamie Phillips nearly resulted in a goal for Ryker Leer, who stole the pass from Phillips and attempted a wraparound, which Phillips stopped. After a shot from the point deflected to him, Leer had another scoring chance, and again Phillips made the stop.

“I thought, for the most part, we just did not manage the game very well,” said Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson. “Give them credit, they worked hard. They could have packed it in after the first period, but they continued to play and play hard.”

The Huskies broke the early tie at 9:08. Mike Neville pressured Alaska’s Justin Woods to make a mistake playing the puck on the power play at the Huskies’ blue line. Neville exploded down the ice with the puck and fired a wrist shot from the slot that beat Jesse Jenks over the left shoulder.

Just two minutes later, the Huskies struck again. Malcolm Gould picked up the puck at center ice. He eluded one check before carrying the puck into the offensive zone and feeding it to C.J. Eick, who quickly fed the puck over to L’Esperance, who fired a quick shot that beat Jenks at 11:08.

Less than two minutes after that, the Huskies struck a third time. Neville found Reid Sturos as the pair drove into the offensive zone. Sturos waited for Max Vallis to set himself up on the back door, and then fed a perfect pass right on the tape. Vallis deposited the puck into the gaping net at 13:07.

Michigan Tech found the net a fourth time at 16:28 as Tyler Heinonen moved the puck back to Matt Roy at the right point. Roy unleashed a slap shot that beat Jenks.

“Michigan Tech is a very talented team,” said Ferguson. “One turned to four very quickly in the first period. They force to play quick without the puck and you have to be in the right spots.”

Davis Jones replaced Jenks to open the second period.

The Nanooks (8-19-4 overall, 6-15-4 WCHA) used the goaltending change as a spark as they swarmed the Huskies from the drop of the puck.

The Nanooks broke through just after killing off a penalty. Josh Erickson, who was coming out of the box, skated down to his defensive blue line. Nick Hinz fed him the puck behind the Huskies defense, and Erickson skated down on Phillips uncontested. His shot slipped through Phillips’ legs for a goal at 8:15.

Roy was whistled for interference at 10:22 and during the ensuing advantage, the Nanooks cut the lead in half. Hinz had the puck at the left point and he fed it across to his partner, Zach Frye, who blasted a slap shot through traffic to beat Phillips.

A goal mouth scramble led to the Nanooks cutting the lead to just one, 4-3, on their next power play. After a shot from the right point was nearly knocked into the net with a glove, the Huskies cleared the puck away from the crease, but not out of the zone. Peter Krieger picked up the loose puck and fed it to Woods, who found the open net at 15:22.

The Huskies regained the two-goal lead 2:20 later when Neville fed the puck over to Vallis in the slot. Vallis wasted little time launching a wrist shot over Jones’ left shoulder at 17:42.

Michigan Tech (18-8-5 overall, 15-7-3 WCHA) came out better to start the third period, but could not solve Jones.

Just under a minute in, Alex Gillies had two chances in the slot, but was stopped.

Drawing a power play shortly after, the Huskies appeared to score, but L’Esperance’s goal was called back as the whistle blew before the puck crossed the goal line.

The Nanooks notched their third power-play goal of the contest 8:47 into the third when Woods took pass at the left point from Marcus Basara and wired a wrist shot that beat Phillips.

The Huskies held onto their one-goal lead until the 15:17 mark when Erickson got loose in the slot. Taking a pass from the corner to Phillips’ right, Erickson beat Phillips with a well-placed shot, evening the game 5-5.

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