HOUGHTON, Mich. — The No. 13 Michigan Tech Huskies used two goals from Joel L’Esperance, four points from Cliff Watson and a goal from Alex Gillies as they scored seven times en route to a 7-1 victory over the Alaska Nanooks Friday night at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
With the win, the Huskies take a 1-0 lead in the two teams’ WCHA quarterfinal series.
“An important victory tonight for our team,” said Huskies coach Mel Pearson. “You want to get that first game, especially in a short series like this. I thought our team was ready.”
The Huskies regained their lead for good at 13:29 of the opening frame when a shot from Alex Petan rebounded right out front to Dylan Steman, who beat Davis Jones cleanly with a wrist shot. Watson netted his second assist of the night on the play.
Through the first five minutes of play, the Huskies held the advantage offensively, getting seven shots through to Jones. Malcolm Gould fed the puck out to Watson for one of the of shots from the left point. C.J. Eick found Gould in the slot for another good chance with L’Esperance cutting through just in front of Jones.
Jamie Phillips was challenged right off a faceoff to his left about five and a half minutes into play. About three minutes later, the Nanooks had a great scoring chance when Marcus Basara fed the puck to Tayler Munson on a two-on-one, but Munson’s one-timer was stopped.
The Huskies broke through after a shift in which they attempted between four and six shots before Gould fanned on a shot just to Jones’ left. Gould recovered enough to grab the puck and backhand it right back into the slot where L’Esperance buried a one-timer at 8:36.
Nanooks captain Tyler Morley evened things a few shifts later. The Huskies turned a rebound over in the circle to Phillips’ right. Morley picked up the loose puck and threw a backhand towards the net. The shot hit the left post, bounced off of Phillips and in at 11:05.
The Huskies (22-8-5 overall) started the second period on their second power play of the night. Twice during the advantage, they attempted to set up Reid Sturos to Jones’ right. The first one was stopped by Jones. The second missed the net to the near side.
Michigan Tech found the net for the third time when Matt Roy got the puck at center ice. He carried it over the Alaska blue line before feeding the puck quickly to his left where Jake Lucchini was attacking. Lucchini carried the puck towards the net and wired a wrist shot over the right shoulder of Jones at 4:05.
On the Huskies’ third power play of the night, they twice tried to set up Petan in the right circle. His first shot missed the net. His second attempt was stopped by Jones.
Over the next five minutes, the physical play picked up as did the pace of the game. Both the Huskies’ Watson and the Nanooks’ Josh Atkinson had trouble getting off the ice after taking checks deep in each end of the rink.
MTU extended its lead to three during a strong offensive shift that carried through a line change. Tyler Heinonen got the puck in the left circle and fired a shot that Jones stopped. The rebound kicked out to L’Esperance, who buried his second of the night through traffic at 13:12.
“Whether it is 7-1 or 2-1, you still lose the hockey game,” said Alaska coach Dallas Ferguson. “Emotionally, once they score and we score, we kind of feel good about ourselves. All of a sudden they get one and it is 2-1 after [one]. I just think that we didn’t respond to the third and fourth goals very well.”
A little over a minute later, the Huskies found the net again. During a strong shift for Lucchini, Brent Baltus and Gillies, Lucchini got the puck in the slot. He fired a shot on Jones that rebounded back out front. Gillies swatted at the puck, which then bounced off a Nanooks’ defender and into the net at 14:28.
The Nanooks had a power play late in the period. They did a nice job of moving the puck out into the slot, but the shot from Basara was stopped by Phillips.
The Nanooks (10-21-4 overall) started the third period with Jesse Jenks between the pipes in place of Jones. They also started the period on the power play, but were unable to challenge Phillips much.
Watson gave the Huskies a 6-1 lead when his shot from the left point bounced off a pair of Nanooks’ players on the way to the net at 7:38. Heinonen and Steman assisted on the goal.
Mark Auk had a chance to extend the Huskies’ lead to six on the next shift when he exploded out of his own end and took a lead pass from Sturos. Skating in alone, he deked to his backhand, but Jenks tracked him and made the stop.
Eick extended the Tech lead at 15:24. Taking a pass in the right circle from Petan, Eick spun and wired a shot just under the crossbar and over Jenks’ right shoulder for the goal. Watson notched his third assist of the night on the play.