In the final, frantic 2 minutes, 20 seconds Friday night, with UAA clinging to the 3-2 lead it refused to surrender to No. 1-ranked Minnesota-Duluth, chaos reigned around Seawolves goaltender Rob Gunderson.
The defending national champion Bulldogs had pulled goalie Kenny Reiter for an extra attacker at Sullivan Arena and they were buzzed in the Seawolves' zone.
Four shots came Gunderson's way and he rebuffed each of them to cap his 27-save performance. Four other shots whistled high or wide. Two other bids were blocked -- defenseman Scott Warner got his stick on one at the edge of the crease and Jade Portwood turned back another in the high slot.
All that, mind you, against the nation's most prolific offense.
"My heart (was) racing at 250,'' Gunderson said.
UAA sophomore center Matt Bailey, whose fingerprints were all over the Western Collegiate Hockey Association victory -- he racked two goals and assisted on the other -- took a series of face-offs in crunch time.
"I was just trying to win face-offs, or at least not lose them clean,'' he said. "After that, it was making sure they weren't getting good looks.''
At one point, UAA defensemen Derek Docken and Brad Gorham pinned the puck against the boards for a long spell, holding it in that harmless area. With just 2.9 seconds left, Gorham simply fell down on top of the puck along the wall to get a whistle.
"That's a senior play,'' Gunderson said.
Finally, the clock hit zeroes, and the Seawolves had unburdened themselves of a season-worst, eight-game losing streak.
"It felt good,'' Bailey said, "especially hearing that buzzer.''
UAA (7-17-2, 4-17-1 WCHA) won for the first time since Dec. 9 -- granted, there was an extended holiday break of more than a month in there.
They did so by playing with the lead, which has been an infrequent luxury. Friday night, for instance, they were behind nearly all the way in a 4-1 loss to the Bulldogs.
"When you're behind, you're always playing on your heels, playing catch-up, so getting that lead was huge,'' Gunderson said.
Saturday, the Seawolves owned a 2-0 led through two periods. Freshman defenseman Corbin Karl, a scratch in six of the previous seven games and in the lineup because Tyler Currier suffered a rib injury Friday, whistled a low shot past Kenny Reiter (17 saves) just 83 seconds into the game. Bailey and Curtis Leinweber both screened the younger brother of former UAA masked man Kevin Reiter.
And Bailey raised the count to 2-0 with a power-play deflection of Austin Coldwell's shot in the second period. Playing from the front kept a jump in the Seawolves' collective stride.
"You start playing the game on your toes, and you have belief,'' said UAA coach Dave Shyiak. "It keeps everybody alive, and you don't have that deflating feeling.''
Minnesota-Duluth (18-6-4, 12-5-3 WCHA) closed its gap to 2-1 midway through the third period, when J.T. Brown accepted a drop pass from Caleb Herbert on a power-play counter-attack and cranked a slapper past Gunderson. That marked Brown's fifth goal of the series -- he scored all four goals Friday.
But Bailey response about two minutes later proved not only a pivotal strike, but the game-winning goal.
Attacking 3-on-1 into the Bulldogs zone with Docken and Gorham, Bailey had the puck on right wing when he fed Gorham at center ice. Gorham immediately relayed a return pass into Bailey's wheelhouse and he one-timed a shot over Reiter's glove for a 3-1 lead.
"I didn't even think about it,'' Bailey said. "Just shot it.''
Bailey's three-point night marked his career high and his two goals gave him the third two-goal game of his career. He scored 10 goals as a freshman, but was held to just three goals in his first 20 games this season before scoring three in the last four games. Bailey has furnished six points in the last five games after being limited to five points in his first 19 this season. He also won a game-high 13 face-offs Saturday.
And his second goal became especially critical when Reiter was pulled for an extra attacker with the teams skating 4-on-4 with about four minutes left and Mike Seidel roofed a rebound to cut UAA's lead to 3-2.
But on a night when the Seawolves blocked 19 shots - Warner led the parade of pain with six blocks, and Portwood and Alex Gellert were credited with three each - Gunderson and crew made that lead stand.
For the first time in 15 games, UAA held an opponent to fewer than three goals. And Gunderson's .931 save percentage Saturday night -- 27 saves on 29 shots -- marked the first time in that span a Seawolves starter has gone the distance and posted a save percentage above. 900.
UAA's WCHA victory was just its second on home ice this season in 10 league games at Sullivan. It also gives the last-place Seawolves a chance to pull even with 11th-place Minnesota State-Mankato when it entertains the Mavericks, who have a four-point cushion over UAA, next week.
"I just hope we feed off this and keep it going,'' Gunderson said.
UAF 4, Western Mich. 1
Michael Quinn delivered one goal and two assists, and Scott Greenham turned back 37 shots Saturday night to lead UAF to a 4-1 victory at nationally ranked Western Michigan in Kalamazoo.
The Nanooks also received goals from Jarret Granberg, Adam Henderson and Colton Beck, and two helpers from Cody Kunyk. Greenham didn't surrender a goal to the Broncos until just 25 seconds remained.
UAF (10-14-4 overall) sits 10th in the 11-team Central Collegiate Hockey Association, eight points ahead of last-place Bowling Green, which has two games in hand on the Nanooks.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
UMD 0 0 2 -- 2
UAA 1 1 3 -- 3
First Period -- 1, UAA, Karl 2 (Bruijsten, Bailey), 1:23. Penalties -- Naslund, UAA (tripping), 5:23; Coldwell, UAA (holding), 18:03.
Second Period -- 2, UAA, Bailey 5 (Coldwell, Scheid), 13:39 (pp). Penalties -- Connolly, UMD (holding the stick), 2:26; Warner, UAA (holding), 5:39; Kishel, UMD, major-game misconduct, served by Tardy (checking from behind), 11:03; Warner, UAA (holding), 11:43; Lamb, UMD (boarding), 12:26; Bailey, UAA (interference), 17:37.
Third Period -- 3, UMD, Brown 15 (Herbert, Basaraba), 9:26 (pp); 4, UAA, Bailey 6 (Gorham, Docken), 11:31; 5, UMD, Seidel 10 (Connolly, Oleksuk), 15:57. Penalties -- Gorham, UAA (cross-checking), 7:57; Sproule, UAA (roughing), 14:53; Grun, UMD (roughing), 14:53.
Shots on goal -- UMD 9-7-13--29. UAA 4-12-4--20.
Power-play Opportunities -- UMD 1 of 5. UAA 1 of 4.
Goalies -- UMD, Reiter, 17-5-4 (20 shots-17 saves). UAA, Gunderson, 4-7-2 (29 shots-27 saves).
A -- 2,548 (6,251). T -- 2:23.
Referees -- Derek Shepherd, Marco Hunt. Assistant referees -- Carl Saden, Travis Jackson.Blog: Woody on Hockey
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News