HOUGHTON – No. 10 Michigan Tech trailed twice on Saturday (Jan. 24) but came back both times, and Tanner Kero scored the game winner after a great play by Brent Baltus to earn a WCHA series sweep of Alaska. The Huskies won 3-2 and improved to 18-7-1 overall and 13-4-1 in the WCHA.
“It was big weekend for our guys,” Kero said. “We knew we needed to get a few points to stay in that second place spot and gain a couple on Minnesota State. We dug ourselves a few holes but showed a gutsy effort coming back both nights.”
Tech trailed 3-1 on Friday before coming back to score the game’s final three, including the overtime game winner by Blake Pietila.
At the midway point of the game Saturday, and the Huskies trailing 2-1, Pietila scored for the third game in a row to tie it up. With the home team on a man advantage, Malcolm Gould carried the puck down the left side, dropped it over to the second trailer, Pietila, who one-timed it in. Kero added the second assist.
Kero scored the game winner 12:38 into the third. A long rebound squirted over to Baltus who kicked it up to his stick before finding Kero wide-open on the far side of the ice. For Baltus, it was his second assist of the night and fifth point in the last five games. Petan also assisted on the play.
“I can’t say enough about Brent Baltus,” Tech coach Mel Pearson said. “He was in and out of the lineup earlier in the season but never gave up on himself. He kept working hard in practice and has taken advantage of his opportunities.
“He’s playing his best hockey since he’s been at Michigan Tech, and he’s a big part of our team and the success we’re having right now.”
Husky goaltender Matt Wintjes stood tall for the Huskies in the late stages of the game, earning his first career win in the final two periods of play. He had 11 saves in the third and finished the game tying a career-high with 16 saves.
“Defensively, I think the second half of the game we played unbelievable,” Wintjes said. “We stuck to our game plan.
“I feel goaltending is all confidence. I get more confident as I get more ice time, and that can take you a long way as a goaltender.”
Alaska scored twice in the first period. Tyler Morley had a power play goal 10:28 into the frame, while Austin Vieth had an unassisted goal with 54 seconds left in the first.
Sandwiched between the two Nanook tallies was Chris Leibinger’s first goal of the season and second of his career at the 17:06 mark. The Baltus-Kero-Petan line cycled the puck in the UAF end and swung it out to the blueline. Leibinger carried the puck across the zone and wristed in a long shot to knot it at one. Petan and Baltus were credited with the assists.
The Huskies had chances to take the lead before the Kero goal. Blake Hietala had an open net late in the second, but a bouncing puck allowed UAF goaltender Sean Cahill to get in position for the glove save. Early in the third, Dylan Steman carried the puck across the crease and waited for space before firing a shot that was gloved down by Cahill.
Steman had a chance to make it a two-goal lead late in the game on a shorthanded breakaway. After making a move his shot sailed wide. Reid Sturos also missed an open net after the Nanooks pulled their goaltender in the final minute.
Tech outshot Alaska 30-27. Jamie Phillips started in net for the Huskies and had nine saves in the first period.
Tech was 1-for-5 on the power play after six Alaska penalties. The Nanooks were 1-for-4 on the man advantage after five Husky minors.
The Huskies continue their nine-game home stand next weekend (Jan. 30-31) against Alabama Huntsville. It will be the second meeting between the two teams this season. Tech won 4-2 and 5-2 on Nov. 28-29 in Alabama.
The Chargers currently sit in a tie for eighth in the WCHA standings and have won four of their last six league games.
(Information Courtesy of MTU Athletics)