The Seawolves saved their season Friday night.
Someone’s is going to end Saturday night.
Bouyed by Rob Gunderson’s 25 saves, UAA defeated UAF 2-1 at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks on Friday to avoid elimination and force the first-round, Western Collegiate Hockey Association series to a decisive Game 3 Saturday night.
Saturday’s winner advances to the WCHA Final Five next week in Grand Rapids, Mich. Saturday’s loser packs its bags on the season and laments what might have been.
The first two series games between rivals, who have played 153 times since 1979 yet never clashed in a playoff series until now, have proved tight-checking and taut, as is custom in the postseason.
Neither team has owned more than a one-goal lead. Both games have been decided by a single goal — UAF won 3-2 in overtime in Thursday night’s opener — and that’s been a trend in the rivalry all season. Four of the six games between the clubs — each owns three wins — have been one-goal games.
Friday marked the second straight weekend the Seawolves have rebounded from defeat. Last week, in the final series of the regular season, UAF thumped UAA 7-2 in the opener before UAA answered with a 3-1 win.
After WCHA Defensive Player of the Year Colton Parayko blew a 50-foot slapper past Gunderson’s blocker in the final minute of the first period to afford UAF a 1-0 edge at the first intermission, the Seawolves answered in rapid succession early in the second period. The goal was Parayko’s fifth of the season, yet his first at even strength, and came with an assist from senior Colton Beck, who notched his 100th career point.
Center Matt Bailey took a pass from Scott Allen three minutes into the second period and rifled a wrister over the glove of Nanooks junior Sean Cahill (22 saves) to forge a 1-1 tie. Bailey’s team-leading 19th goal was aided greatly by linemate Brett Cameron, whose screen of Cahill was so tight he was practically in the goalie’s lap.
Just 98 seconds later, freshman winger Brad Duwe of Soldotna furnished a deflection that earned UAA a 2-1 lead. That was Duwe’s fifth goal in 25 games this season, prosperous production from a walk-on.
After that, Gunderson made the lead stand. He has started the last three games against UAF and generated a .943 save percentage, surrendering five goals in that span.
“Gundy was a difference-maker and gave us a chance again,’’ texted UAA coach Matt Thomas.
Gunderson is one of several seniors who delivered with their Seawolves careers on the line. Bailey’s five shots on goal tied Duwe for the team lead Friday. Senior winger Jordan Kwas assisted on Duwe’s goal.
“Bailey’s line’’ — he centers Allen and Cameron — “played great on both sides of the puck,’’ Thomas said.
The third-seeded Nanooks, who have played the series without third-team All-WCHA forward Tyler Morley (lower-body injury), on Friday were also without junior defenseman Trevor Campbell.
Sixth-seeded UAA has been without freshman defenseman Chase Van Allen.
None of that matters much now. Saturday night will be prosperity to one team, punishment to the other.
“It’s an exciting time to be playing, that’s for sure,’’ Thomas said.
Around the WCHA
Ferris State 8, Bemidji State 0: The league champion and top-seeded Bulldogs exploded for eight even-strength goals — nine Ferris State players furnished multiple points — and humiliated the eighth-seeded and visiting Beavers in the series opener.
Kyle Schempp and Justin Buzzeo each scored two goals, and C.J. Motte earned the shutout with 26 saves. Ferris scored its eight goals on just 23 shots.
Bowling Green 2, Michigan Tech 1: First-period goals from Bryce Williamson and Ryan Carpenter held up for fourth-seeded Bowling Green in a tight win over the visiting and fifth-seeded Huskies.
Pheonix Copley of North Pole made 22 saves for Michigan Tech.
Minnesota State-Mankato 3, Northern Michigan 2: Bryce Gervais scored one goal and set up another, and the second-seeded Mavericks held off the visiting and seventh-seeded Wildcats.
The Mavericks held the Wildcats to eight shots on goal in the first two periods, then were outshot 10-3 in the third.
Find Doyle Woody’s blog at adn.com/hockeyblog
UAA 0 2 0 — 2
UAF 1 0 0 — 1
First Period — 1, UAF, Parayko 5 (Beck, Quinn), 19:31. Penalties — Sproule, UAA (interference), 10:38.
Second Period — 2, UAA, Bailey 19 (Allen), 2:59; 3, UAA, Duwe 5 (Tatchell, Kwas), 4:27. Penalties — Atkinson, UAF (tripping), 9:41.
Third Period — None. Penalties – B. Morley, UAF (tripping), 4:01; Pettitt, UAA (boarding), 11:00; Atkinson, UAF (delay of game), 13:18.
Shots on goal — UAA 5-8-11—24. UAF 7-8-11—26.
Power-play Opportunities — UAA 0 of 3. UAF 0 of 2.
Goalies — UAA, Gunderson, 9-7-2 (26 shots-25 saves). UAF, Cahill, 10-5-1 (24 shots-22 saves).
A — 2,318 (4,595). T — 2:21.
Referees — Peter Friesema, Butch Mousseaux. Assistant referees — Carl Saden, John Conoy
By DOYLE WOODY