MARQUETTE - The Northern Michigan University hockey team failed to finish off a series sweep of the Alaska Nanooks at the Berry Events Center on Saturday night following the 4-3 overtime victory the night before.
The Wildcats did, however, create some breathing room between themselves and the basement of the CCHA.
After starting the weekend last in the league, Northern moved into a tie with Michigan State for ninth place in the CCHA by rallying in the third period for a 2-2 tie and shootout win over the Nanooks.
NMU then picked up an extra league point via a pair of scores by sophomore defenseman Mitch Jones and freshman forward Ryan Aynsley, plus a pair of saves by junior netminder Jared Coreau.
"I thought it was a gutty performance," NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. "Last night we were down by two and get a win. Tonight we're down by one and we wind up getting a tie."
Jones helped set up the game-tying goal 11:27 into the third period after junior forward Erik Higby - back Saturday from a one-game suspension for a game disqualification at Ohio State on Nov. 17 - won the face off in the Alaska zone and sent the puck back to the blue line.
Jones rocketed a shot onto the Nanook net and sophomore Reed Seckel tipped the puck past UA goaltender John Keeney, forcing overtime.
"We kept on battling, but luckily I got a lucky tip and found the back of the net," Seckel said.
NMU junior forward Stephan Vigier gave the Wildcats a 1-0 lead 6:09 into the game with assists from Seckel and senior defenseman Scott Macaulay - who scored the game-winner 52 seconds into overtime Friday.
NMU 2, Alaska 2
NMU wins shootout 2-0
Alaska 2 0 0 0 - 2
NMU 1 0 1 0 - 2
NMU - Stephan Vigier (Reed Seckel, Scott Macaulay), 6:09, PP
AK - Nolan Kaiser (Nik Yaremchuk, Chad Gehon), 6:57
AK - Tyler Morley (Trevor Campbell, Josh Atkinson), 12:35, PP
NMU - Reed Seckel (Mitch Jones, Erik Higby), 11:27
AK - Colton Beck (Coreau save); Morley (Coreau save).
NMU - Mitch Jones (goal); Ryan Aynsley (goal).
Goalie saves: Jared Coreau, NMU, 34; John Keeney, AK, 29.
Penalties: AK, 7-25; NMU, 2-4.
Power play: AK, 1-2; NMU, 1-6.
Vigier, who has three goals and seven assists for 10 points, left the game nearly three minutes later after his knee collided with the knee of Alaska freshman center Tyler Morley, sending the Nanook to the penalty box and Vigier to the locker room for the night.
In between Vigier's goal and injury, the Nanooks tied the game at 1-1 via a goal by sophomore defenseman Nolan Kaiser, then took a 2-1 lead over NMU on a goal by Morley.
"We just couldn't get in the rhythm or the flow of things and it was difficult moving people around and trying to find line combinations," said Kyle, who admitted his team played apprehensive following the loss of Vigier.
"We rode the heck out of (Ryan) Daugherty, Vigier and Seckel last night. When we lost Vigier tonight, we had to try to find different line combinations. We were bumping people all over."
After giving up three goals on 26 shots Friday and two goals on 10 shots in the first period Saturday, Coreau settled in to stop 25 shots in the second, third and overtime periods to finish with 34 saves.
Coreau admitted he gave up a pair of soft goals on Friday and thanked the team for bailing him out. On Saturday, it was Coreau getting thanked, though, like when he denied Alaska senior wing Andy Taranto's initial shot and rebound on a short handed break away in the second period.
"Tonight, I did what I had to do and as a junior goalie, I can't be doing what I did last night," Coreau said. "Tonight was laid out for me. My work was cut out. I just took it and just kind of ran with it."
Coreau appeared to have given up the game-winner to Alaska 22 seconds into overtime when a puck bounced off the torso of Taranto while the Nanook was in the crease running over Coreau, but the score was quickly waved off, reviewed for what seemed like three overtime periods, and then waved off a second time by the officials.
"The puck just got flipped in," Coreau said. "I tried to keep my eye on it. Then all of a sudden, I felt a stick go into me and a body crash me into the net. I had a pretty good feeling it wasn't (a goal), but when they were taking about 15 minutes to check it out, I was kind of getting nervous."
Coreau had to make a game-saving stop in the closing minute of OT, denying Alaska junior center Cody Kunyk, who tired to go back door on the NMU keeper via a pass from UA senior wing Jarret Granberg.
It's saves like that one, and the second period stops against Taranto one-on-one, that have Kyle still convinced Coreau is the best goalie in the CCHA despite his 2.89 goals against average and .908 save percentage, which are good for 12th and eighth, respectively, in the CCHA.
"In the league right now, it's real unfair for him," Kyle said. "I think I counted the other day, we have 35 manned games missed to injuries. They are all high-end guys. I don't think he numbers are reflective of how good he's been.
"Would he like to have some goals back at critical times that have cost us? Yeah, he would, but I think he's been pretty good.
"We just haven't been as good in front of him as we need to be."