FAIRBANKS, Alas.—No. 20 Northern Michigan University Men's Ice Hockey (7-4, 5-2 WCHA) opened their four-game road trip with a 5-3 victory Saturday night over the University of Alaska Fairbanks (3-8-2, 1-5-1 WCHA). Senior forward Robbie Payne (Gaylord, Michigan) guided the Wildcats to back-to-back wins recording a hat trick in the series-opening victory.
A fast start for the Wildcats put the Nanooks in a 15-4 deficit in shots at the first intermission after NMU took the first five shots of the period. Half way through the period, Payne found his first goal of the game and his tenth of the season giving NMU the early lead. Freshman forward Joseph Nardi (Edmonton, Alberta) won a faceoff in the UAF zone, sending it back to Payne who quickly found the back of the net. It was Nardi's third assist of the year.
Fairbanks would even the game up at one goal each with a break away score 15 minutes into the period, but a power-play score quickly put the Wildcats back on top. Rockwood gave the Wildcats the lead 16:56 into the opening period with his first goal in an NMU uniform. Assists on the goal came from junior forward Troy Loggins (Huntington Beach, California) and sophomore defender Philip Beaulieu (Duluth, Minnesota). For Loggins, it was his ninth assist of 2017, while Beaulieu picked up his fifth.
Despite taking a 2-1 lead into the first intermission, UAF evened it up again at two just under five minutes into the second period. Less than a minute later, Payne answered with his second goal of the contest, his fourth multi-goal game of the season. Sophomore forward Darien Craighead (Surrey, British Columbia) found his fourth assist of the year, while Nardi earned his fourth assist of the season.
Craighead wasted little time increasing the NMU lead to a pair, 4-2, with his fourth score of 2017. It was senior defender Jordan Klimek (Langley, British Columbia) earning the assist for his third of the year. It was also the third-consecutive game with an assist for the squad's alternate captain.
The scoring continued just three minutes later with Payne netting his third goal of the game and 12th of the season to put the Wildcats ahead, 5-2. The score marked the first NMU hat trick since Dominik Shine accomplished the feat last season on January 12 in a 6-1 victory over the University of Alaska, Anchorage.
Recording his third point of the game with his second assist of the night was Craighead, while Rockwood also scored multiple points on the evening with an assist on the play, his sixth of the year. The score for Payne put him atop the national list for most goals scored in 2017.
NMU managed to hold on despite a late goal from the Nanooks that trimmed the deficit to a pair, 5-3. The Wildcats held Fairbanks scoreless the rest of the way, which including killing two penalties and fending off 17 shots to secure the Western Collegiate Hockey Association victory.
Between the pipes, junior goaltender Atte Tolvanen (Vihti, Finland) picked up the win to improve to65-3 on the season. His 32 saves bring his season total to 228, while he is already halfway to last season's win total.
Defensively, NMU went 4-4 in the penalty kill Saturday, including a stop of a UAF five-on-three advantage. The Wildcats have now held opponents scoreless in their last 18 power-play opportunities and are 22-23 in the penalty kill over their last five contests.
The Wildcats will look for the series sweep in Saturday's contest. NMU has one sweep in 2017 coming in the second series of the year on the road at Ferris State University. The puck will drop Saturday at 11:07 p.m.