On Friday night, the Chargers showed a good crowd what they can do when things go right. On Saturday night, they showed what they can do when things go wrong. Both nights, they left entertained.
Connor Merkley’s goal with 0.9 seconds remaining completed a rally from a two-goal deficit as the Chargers tied Alaska Anchorage 3-3 on Saturday at the Von Braun Center. UAA won the second WCHA point in a shootout.
UAH (3-6-1 overall, 2-1-1 WCHA), after dominating in Friday’s 5-1 win in the series opener, got two goals by Josh Kestner and 31 saves by Jordan Uhelski.
But Alaska Anchorage (1-7-2, 1-2-1) had built its lead on three unanswered power play goals in the second period, two on a major penalty.
Still, the Chargers found a way to at least get a point in front of another good crowd for homecoming and military appreciation weekend, thanks to the freshman Merkley’s critical goal, his first at UAH.
“We were fighting the whole third period to get back into the game,” Merkley said. “We had a lot of good opportunities. We knew if we just stuck to it, we’d get a bounce.
“We had a couple of good keeps by the D-man and ran a normal play that had been working. It had just popped loose to me free in front of the net and I hammered it home.”
The announced attendance of 3,072 was excellent for a college football Saturday.
“The fans want wins, and so do we,” Kestner said. “The more times we win, the more fans we get. Coming out Friday night with a 5-1 win made our reputation pretty high. It was a bigger crowd than I thought tonight, but it was a great feeling. I love playing in front of my hometown. It was fun to play and I imagine it was fun to watch as well.”
“Homecoming weekend, a lot of fans, a lot of kids and their parents coming to a game for the first time — I don’t think anybody was let down,” UAH head coach Mike Corbett said. “Anybody who stayed to the end both nights was not let down. Hopefully we’ll build on it.”
Just like Friday night, the Chargers came out strong, dictating the action for the first 10 minutes.
On UAH’s first power play, Kestner fired a one-timer from the left circle to beat Olivier Mantha for the first goal of the game. It was Kestner’s fifth goal of the season, with Cam Knight’s pass to Kestner being his fourth assist. Tyler Poulsen also got his third assist of the year.
“I liked our start again,” Corbett said. “We did build on it (Friday’s win) and we were able to get a power play goal. Once again we were outshooting them pretty handily.
“We had a couple of game objectives as a team,” Kestner said. “One of those was to get the first goal, so to cross that off the list was nice.”
The second half of the first period, however, saw the Seawolves try to fight back as the Chargers made some sloppy turnovers. Jordan Uhelski was there to make saves and covers, including a point-blank stop on Austin Azurdia that almost tied the game.
The second period saw plenty of chances on both sides. But then late in the period, things went south for UAH fast.
Anchorage tied the game up at the 14:03 mark on the power play. Following a Tyler Poulsen tripping call, Nicolas Erb-Ekholm scored from the high slot.
With 2:53 left in the frame, a scrum in the corner of the UAH zone after the whistle, and Brennan Saulnier got a roughing major and a game misconduct. There were also offsetting penalties on UAH’s Richard Buri and UAA’s Corey Renwick.
Anchorage capitalized twice on the major power play. Austin Azurdia gave UAA the lead with 2:03 to go in the period, and Tad Kozun made it 3-1 Seawolves with 7.5 seconds left.
“We’re talking a lot about what you can control right now, and you can’t control the referees,” Corbett said. “As young players, they get consumed by something that they can’t control, and it showed in our penalty kill. We were standing right next to the guy that scored the goal in the back door twice. We weren’t dialed in, and that’s what led to their 3-1 lead after two.”
UAH weathered the rest of the power play to start the second, and then got started on a rally.
On the power play, Poulsen’s shot from the right circle rebounded to near the goal line, and Kestner took the puck with Mantha out of position and easily scored his second goal of the game with 15:24 to go.
“I had a nice dish to Poulsen, who I thought was going to bury it but it ended up landing right on my stick,” Kestner said. “So it was nice to get another one on the board.
“Our special teams had struggled for the past 20 reps or so. Now that we got one on the board, it definitely got everyone’s momentum and hype up.”
Then at the buzzer, during a 6-on-4 advantage with a power play and Uhelski pulled for the extra attacker, Merkley from the slot found the net for his first collegiate goal. Video replay confirmed the puck crossed the line at 0.9 seconds left, causing the crowd to erupt again as the game was tied at 3-3.
“We got back to controlling what we could control,” Corbett said. “We killed the last two minutes of that five-minute power play, then OK: We gotta go at ’em. And they just kind of sat back. We get a power play, we score on that power play.
“Just be resilient. We knew we were going to have to fight through adversity. This was adversity we created by ourselves and we fought through it. I’m proud of the kids, because maybe in years past, we don’t do that.”
“It was great to see that we could come in between the second and third, rally the troops, and throughout our leadership,” Merkley said. “We just stayed composed and we knew that if we stuck to the game plan and fought hard, we could battle the adversity and come back. That’s a great thing to see out of the team moving forward.”
UAH had a power play chance in overtime but could not score. The extra period ended resulting as an official 3-3 tie.
No scoring occurred during the 3-on-3 overtime period. Jeremiah Luedtke scored in the first round of the shootout to earn the extra point for the Seawolves, and Kestner could not answer it.
Uhelski finished with 31 saves on the night, and Mantha had 35.
The Chargers continue their six-game home stand with Lake Superior State next Friday and Saturday.