Pierce Nets the Game-Winner in OT Victory

Pierce Nets the Game-Winner in OT Victory

MARQUETTE, Mich.—No. 20 Northern Michigan University Men's Ice Hockey (19-11-3, 17-6-2-2 WCHA) earned their seventh-consecutive victory in the Berry Events Center Friday evening with a 2-1 overtime defeat of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (11-17-2, 9-12-1-1 WCHA).

The Wildcats outshot their opponents in the opening period, 11-3, with four NMU skaters taking a pair of shots each at the net. It was one of the quickest periods of the season for the Wildcats lasting just 27 minutes.

After nearly 38 minutes of action, NMU scored the first goal of the game courtesy of freshman forward Joseph Nardi (Edmonton, Alberta). His eighth goal of the season came in the power play at the 17:39 mark of the second period and was assisted by sophomore forward Darien Craighead (Surrey, British Columbia) and junior Ryan Black (Stillwater, Minnesota). For both Craighead and Black, it was their 15th assists of the season.

It only took 21 seconds for the Nanooks to even the game at one goal each. Neither team would score in the final two minutes of the period, sending the game into the third period locked at one goal each. Despite UAH outshooting the Wildcats in the period, NMU maintained a 16-12 advantage for the game heading into the final 20 minutes.

Five combined penalties gave both teams advantages throughout the third period, but neither team was able to break the tie. Junior goaltender Atte Tolvanen (Vihti, Finland) stopped all six shots he saw in the frame, including three while the Wildcats were a man down.

With neither team able to score in the third period, the Wildcats entered their sixth overtime contest of the season and first since January 13 when NMU defeated then No. 14 Bowling Green State University on a sophomore defenseman Philip Beaulieu (Duluth, Minnesota) overtime goal.

The overtime period did not last long with just a single shot taken. Junior forward Adam Rockwood (Coquitlam, British Columbia) had the puck in the left face-off circle. Rockwood sent it in front of the crease where junior forward Denver Pierce (Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan) tapped the puck up and into the net for the OT just 1:06 into the period. The goal came just 1:06 into the period and was Pierce's seventh goal of the season while, Rockwood his 27th assist. Junior defenseman James Vermeulen (Stony Plain, Alberta) was credited with his seventh assist on the game-winning score. For Pierce, it was his second game-winning goal in overtime this season with the first coming against the University of Wisconsin on October 20.

His assist on the game-winning goal gave Rockwood a point in 10-consecutive games dating back to January 6 versus Boston College. The season high for a Wildcat includes three goals and 12 assists during the span. His 27 assists for the season leads the WCHA and the NCAA.

Tolvanen finished the game making 17 saves to earn his 17th win of the season, the most in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and fourth-most in the NCAA. His save percentage for the year rose to .902, while his goals against average improved to 2.49. 

With the win, NMU moved to 3-0-3 on the season in overtime contests. In all three ties, the Wildcats earned a victory in the exhibition overtime period or a shootout.

The Wildcats will look for the series sweep and their eighth straight win on their home ice in Saturday's series finale. At least two points on Saturday would ensure that the Wildcats finish in the top-three of the WCHA standings having already clinched home-ice for the opening round of the league playoffs. The game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. start.