ANCHORAGE — On the upside for the Seawolves: They won’t have Andy Taranto to kick them around the rink any longer.
The Nanooks’ right winger is a senior and he closed his career against UAA on Saturday night by lording over them once again, piercing them this time for two goals and an assist.
UAF’s subsequent 3-1 victory at Sullivan Arena earned the Nanooks possession of the Governor’s Cup for the fourth straight season.
Taranto’s fingerprints are all over that hockey hardware. In eight career games against UAA, Taranto racked eight goals and six assists, and a plus-6 rating.
The work of his line, which includes junior left wing Colton Beck and Cody Kunyk, accounted for all three Nanooks goals Saturday. Coupled with UAF’s 2-1 overtime win in Fairbanks on Friday, when Kunyk delivered the kill shot to offset Chris Kamal’s career-high 39 saves for UAA, the Nanooks’ seven seniors have never known anything but owning the Cup against their intrastate rivals.
“That’s unbelievable,’’ Taranto said. “I can speak for all of us seniors — we’re so happy to have that Cup all four years.’’
Meanwhile, UAA’s five seniors never hoisted the hardware and watched the Nanooks lift it in the Seawolves’ final home game of the season.
UAF leads the Cup series, 12-8.
UAF (16-14-4) prospered Saturday by book-ending first-period goals on UAA (4-21-7) that served as a devastating one-two combination.
The Seawolves, who have won once in the last 20 games (1-16-3), inexplicably surrendered a 2-on-1 that the Nanooks turned into a breakaway a mere nine seconds into the game before a season-high, announced crowd of 4,858.
Taranto collected an indirect pass off the right wing boards by freshman defenseman Colton Parayko at the UAA line and centered the puck to Beck for a breakaway. Beck settled the puck with one deft touch and snapped a dart over the blocker of Kamal (17 saves), sending his water bottle rocketing off the top of the net and to the end boards.
Giving up a breakaway in a heartbeat is not exactly how a team lets its goalie settle into the game.
“I got a little piece of it, but not enough,’’ said Kamal. “You want the first one to a nice, easy shot in your stomach, not one like that. But he made a nice shot.’’
The Seawolves settled down — until Taranto struck with 2.5 seconds left in the period. Beck got around defenseman Scott Warner on the left boards and centered to Taranto, who stepped around defenseman Blake Leask and redirected the pass from point-blank range for a 2-0 lead.
“Playing with (Beck) the last three years, I knew he was going to get me the puck,’’ Taranto said. “I just wanted to get inside position and get my stick down.’’
Considering UAA averages just 1.97 goals per game, 57th among 59 Division I teams, a 2-0 deficit proved tough sledding.
“That was definitely a tough one to swallow,’’ Kamal said. “You’d like to get out of there down 1-0 and chalk it up to a bad period. Instead, it was 2-0 and as you know, we sometimes have trouble scoring goals.’’
UAF coach Dallas Ferguson said Taranto’s goal was critical.
“That was a big, big first period for us,’’ he said.
Taranto raised UAF’s cushion to 3-0 six minutes into the second period, when he took a pass from Kunyk, fired a shot from the slot and followed it up to punch in the rebound. That marked his team-leading 14th goal and team-leading 27th point — Taranto owns 57-60—117 totals in 143 career games.
UAA answered quickly when Bobby Murphy beat Nanooks goalie John Keeney (19 saves) 31 seconds later off a helper from fellow Anchorage native Hayden Trupp.
But that’s all the offense the Seawolves, who have lost four straight games, mustered. Even their power play, exceptionally strong of late, was barren — UAA went 0 for 4 with the man advantage, including 0 for 3 in the game’s final 23 minutes.
“We really wanted to win a Cup for our seniors because they’ve worked so hard,’’ Kamal said.
Saturday’s crowd of 4,858 was 1,019 more fans than in its previous biggest crowd of the season.
Still, UAA attendance plunged 11.8 percent this season to an average of just 2,729. That marks the first time average attendance has been below 3,000 since 1985-86 and marks the second-lowest average in the program’s 30 seasons with Sullivan Arena as its home.
The Seawolves went 2-10-5 at Sullivan this season.
UAA won the first annual Alumni Game against UAF, 4-3, on Saturday afternoon.
UAA this week travels to the University of Denver for its final Western Collegiate Hockey Association series of the season.
UAF, meanwhile, this week entertains Michigan State in a first-round, best-of-3 Central Collegiate Hockey Association series.
Find Doyle Woody’s blog at adn.com or call him at 257-4335.
UAF 2 1 0 — 3
UAA 0 1 0 — 1
First Period — 1, UAF, Beck 11 (Taranto, Parayko), :09; 2, UAF, Taranto 13 (Beck, Quinn), 19:57. Penalties — Henderson, UAF (roughing), 10:58.
Second Period — 3, UAF, Taranto 14 (Kunyk, Kaiser), 5:49; 4, UAA, Murphy 2 (Trupp), 6:20. Penalties — Kunyk, UAF (elbowing), 16:44.
Third Period — None. Penalties — Currier, UAA (boarding), :51; Odegard, UAF (cross-checking), 3:16; Crowell, UAA (boarding), 9:20; Henderson, UAF (holding), 14:40.
Shots on goal — UAF 11-6-2—19. UAA 7-9-4—20.
Power-play Opportunities — UAF 0 of 2. UAA 0 of 4.
Goalies — UAF, Keeney, 12-9-3 (19 shots-18 saves). UAA, Kamal, 2-12-3 (19 shots-16 saves).
A — 4,858 (6,251). T — 2:25.
Referees — Don Adam, Butch Mousseaux. Assistant referees — Travis Jackson, Brent Johnson.