Nanooks fall in first playoff test

By Laura Stickells | March 7, 2020

Two Bowling Green power play goals in the third period lifted the Falcons to a 4-2 win over the University of Alaska Fairbanks on Friday at the Carlson Center.

The loss leaves the fourth seeded Nanooks trailing 0-1 in the best-of-three Western Collegiate Hockey Association Quarterfinals and one more loss will end their playoff run, all but eliminating them from further postseason play.

With fifth seeded Bowling Green ranked 24th and Alaska ranked 33rd in the national PairWise Rankings, an automatic bid as a conference champion will likely be either team’s only shot at a berth in the 16-team NCAA postseason tournament.

Markuss Komuls skates with the puck during the third period of Friday's WCHA Quarterfinals game between the University Alaska Fairbanks and Bowling Green at the Carlson Center. Photo by Laura Stickells.

“Lucky for us it’s a three game series and we have a chance to be able to bounce back tomorrow," UAF head coach Erik Largen said at the postgame press conference.

"The group has done it all year so there's no doubt in my mind that it’s going to be an even better effort tomorrow and a more urgent effort tomorrow... The belief in the locker room is still there.”

Senior forward and team captain Kylar Hope echoed his coach’s statement, saying, "It’s a new day tomorrow, the sun is going to come up and we'll have another opportunity to beat those guys."

The Nanooks found the net first in Friday’s contest with 1:46 remaining in the opening period, marking the first time in five games that they scored the opening goal.

With 54 seconds remaining on the Nanooks third power play opportunity, Steven Jandric passed the puck out of the left circle and connected with Max Newton, whose shot from the slot got past Falcons goaltender Eric Dop for a 1-0 lead. Hope was credited with the secondary assist.

The Falcons came out of the locker room ready to respond, tying the game 1:58 into the second period when Alex Barber beat UAF goaltender Anton Martinsson with a wrist shot from the right of the slot.

Roberts Kalkis (left) defends as Brandon Kruse skates with the puck during the third period of Friday's game. Photo by Laura Stickells.

Alec Rauhauser scored the go-ahead goal for Bowling Green 6:19 into the final period, finding the net with a shot from the left point through traffic past Martinsson.

The Nanooks took only 37 seconds to answer. After Chris Jandric’s attempt from the slot went just right of the net, Max Newton passed it back from a scrum at the boards to James LaDouce who one timed it past Dop to knot the game 2-2.

The Bowling Green power play, which finished the regular season ranked second in the league with a 25.9% success rate, made the difference for the Falcons in the last frame.

A hooking penalty on Alaska put Bowling Green on the power play with 12:40 left in the game and the Falcons were given a further advantage when Martinsson’s stick ended up behind the net. Alaska forward Tyler Cline handed his stick to the goalie.

Down the extra stick, the Nanooks missed what would have been multiple opportunities to clear the puck. Martinsson made a handful of impressive saves, but with nine seconds remaining in the 5-on-4, Tim Theocharidis got the go-ahead goal.

A roughing penalty on Cline following the goal gave the Falcons another power play opportunity. Freddy Letourneau sent the puck top shelf past Martinsson from the top of the left circle 1:32 later for 4-2 lead.

Alaska brought in an extra attacker with 2:42 remaining, but the Falcons were able to clear the puck until the buzzer.

Markuss Komuls (5) and Casey Linkenheld fight for the puck during the third period Friday. Photo by Laura Stickells.

“We just have to do a better job of controlling the momentum in the game,” UAF senior forward Kyle Marino said. “It was too up and down and in the playoffs it’s just about how fast you can get the momentum back.

“If we do that a little quicker and stop staying in our end or getting in those ruts a little bit less, we can string some more shifts together consecutively and have some more success.”

The Nanooks have not won a postseason series since their 2011 sweep of Michigan State in the first round of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.

A win today would be Alaska’s first postseason victory since the 2013-14 season, its first year in the WCHA when the Nanooks beat the University of Alaska Anchorage in overtime in the quarterfinals opener.

The puck drops today at 7:07 p.m. and Sunday at 5:07 p.m., if necessary, at the Carlson Center.