Riding a six game win streak into the No. 2-ranked Wolverines weekend series with the University of Alaska Nanooks, junior goalie Billy Sauer has been a big part of the hot start for the youthful Wolverines.
Friday night, in the first of two games the Nanooks this weekend, Sauer continued his hot play and turned aside all 15 Alaska shots on his way to a 4-0 win, and his first shutout of the new season.
"It is a tough game when you only get 15 shots. It is hard to stay in the game and stay focused," said Sauer, who lowered his goals against average to 2.22 on the season.
"There were only a few chances that I really had, so there was not a whole lot that I had to do tonight. But the penalty kill did a great job, and that really made a difference in the game."
On the offensive side of the ice, Chad Kolarik's goal at 10:27 of the first period was the difference. With Sauer's third career shutout, and second against Alaska, Kolarik's early goal would be all the Maize and Blue needed to improve to 5-0-0 in conference play and 8-1-0 on the new season.
Skating on the power play just moments earlier, Kolarik nearly connected to extend the Wolverines power play streak, but his shot rang off the post to keep the score 0-0 for the time being.
"Alaska did a good job. They are a hard team to play against. They played good defense. We could not get much attack on the net," said Michigan coach Red Berenson.
"We came back and played within ourselves in the third period, and then we were rewarded for it. A lot of it was hard work. We did not get as many scoring chances in the game, and it came down to the third period."
Alaska maintained their best scoring opportunities in the second period. Billy Sauer turned away six shots in the second period for the second stanza.
Halfway through the third, the Wolverines were called for their second five-minute checking from behind penalty of the season.
With Brian Lebler sent back to the locker room near the middle of the final period, Sauer and the team had to protect the then one goal lead for a five minute penalty kill. One minute in, Max Pacioretty drew a hooking call to negate almost half of the power play time.
The five-minute penalty may have helped our team, because it really helped us focus on defense. Then we went back out and scored the goals we needed. It was a tough game to play and a tough game for Billy Sauer. He did not get a lot of shots, and then had a flurry of good opportunities."
With 6:03 left, Travis Turnbull added an insurance goal on a scramble just off the Nanooks left post. With the puck bouncing around a pile up of players, Turnbull whacked at it until it crossed the Alaska goal line.
Fifty seconds later Aaron Palushaj made it 3-0 with a shot between the circles.
Captain Kevin Porter added his team high eighth goal in the final minutes to conclude the scoring.
Game two of the weekend series is scheduled for 7:35 p.m. Saturday night at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor.
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