WCHA: Reijola sparks Alaska-Anchorage in tie with Michigan Tech

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In a surprising move, Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves coach Matt Thomas started senior Rasmus Reijola in place of junior Olivier Mantha at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena Friday night. The move proved nearly brilliant, as Reijola stopped 41 of 44 shots from the No. 20 Michigan Tech Huskies en route to a 3-3 tie.

It was about this time last season that Thomas noticed Mantha struggling with the intense load the Seawolves heaped upon him. In order to keep that from happening again, he went to his senior, who had only seen action in two games prior to Friday.

“When you start winning, you get different people stepping up,” said Thomas. “What can you say about our goaltender? He’s played a game and a half all year, and he hasn’t played since the first weekend of November. For him to go in and stand on his head the way that he did, he kept us in that game.”

Reijola was tested a bit early, but not as much as Huskies coach Mel Pearson would have preferred, seeing as his team had only eight shots through 20 minutes and most of those came from outside the slot area.

It was not a recipe for defeating a club playing as well as the Seawolves have been for the past month.

“I didn’t think we were ready to play tonight,” said Huskies coach Mel Pearson. “Quite frankly, I just thought we were expecting things to go easier than they did. We didn’t play as hard as we needed to, as strong as we needed to, to beat this team.”

To make matters worse, the Seawolves led 1-0 after winger Mason Mitchell took a lead pass from winger Tad Kozun and skated in alone on the NCAA-leading goaltender Angus Redmond. Mitchell, who has been hot of late, made a quick move to his backhand to beat the freshman.

The Seawolves struck again just 13 seconds into the second when Mitchell seized control of a Huskies’ miscue behind their own net and fed the puck out to defenseman Tanner Johnson for a shot from the right point through traffic that eluded Redmond.

The Huskies battled back to tie the game on goals from center Jake Lucchini at 7:08 and assistant captain Michael Neville at 16:01.

The Huskies peppered Reijola with 15 shots in the second and 15 more in the third, but it was the second-to-last one he saw that gave the Huskies their third lead of the night. Defenseman Matt Roy took a pass from Neville and blasted a shot from the right point that beat Reijola with 1:14 remaining.

Rather than give up, the Seawolves fought back and drew a power play with 56.3 seconds remaining in regulation. On the ensuing advantage, winger Austin Azurdia evened things up when he batted a rebound home at 19:35.

“For us to go down 3-2, that was a little bit of a heartbreaker,” said Seawolves coach Matt Thomas. “For us to come back and get one ourselves, it was just a good game. You have to believe in all of your players. I think the biggest thing our team has right now is belief in each other.”

The Huskies dominated the 5-on-5 overtime session, getting six shots through to Reijola. His biggest two saves came on a wraparound attempt by Huskies winger Reid Sturos. Completely sprawled on his stomach, Reijola stopped Sturos twice on the play.

The Seawolves earned the extra WCHA point in the 3-on-3 overtime when captain Matt Anholt beat Redmond on a breakaway with 2:19 left.

WCHA roundup

Bowling Green 3, at No. 18 Minnesota State 2 (OT)
The Falcons found a way to even the game at two when Kevin Dufour struck for the second time in the second period with just 1:15 remaining to answer a goal by the Mavericks’ Zach Stepan just 1:41 earlier. In overtime, Mitchell McLain found the back of the net at 3:55 to seal the victory.

Lake Superior 1, Northern Michigan 1 (OT)
The Lakers jumped out to an early lead on a power play when Max Humitz scored just 5:02 into the contest. From there, Wildcats goaltender Atte Tolvanen shut the door on the Lakers the rest of the night, making 22 saves. Sami Salminen evened the game for the Wildcats at 14:24 of the first period.

Alaska 3, at Ferris State 3 (OT)
Trailing 2-1 in the second period, the Bulldogs got a power-play marker from Chad McDonald and an even-strength goal from Andrew Dorantes to take a 3-2 lead into the third. Troy Van Tetering needed just 1:38 of the third period to score a power-play goal and force overtime. The Nanooks put 50 shots on the Bulldogs’ Justin Kapelmaster in the contest.

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