Wildcats cools off Alaska on their home ice

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FAIRBANKS, Ak. The Wildcat hockey program (14-8-4, 12-5-1-1 WCHA) defeated the Alaska Nanooks (13-13-2, 11-9-2-0 WCHA), 4-2, Saturday night to take sole possession of third place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and clinch five of six league points in the weekend series.

Freshman AJ Vanderbeck highlighted the box score Saturday night with a career-high three points, including his first game-winner for the Green and Gold. Darien Craighead also tallied two goals on the night for his 20th and 21st points of the year. His second goal of the night gave him 100 career points (42-58-100) in his four years at NMU. Craighead becomes the second Wildcat to reach that milestone this season after classmate Philip Beaulieu surpassed the mark during the first half of the season.

Griffin Loughran also picked up a goal in the contest to bring his season total to a nation's-best 19 and now boasts 31 points on the season (19-12-31).

The first period proved quiet compared to its counterpart on Friday night in which six goals were scored between the two teams. For the second straight night the Wildcats and Nanooks took to the locker rooms after one all tied up. Craighead opened the scoring with a goal at 11:19 of the first.

Nearly 20 minutes later, Craighead buried his second of the night to give the Wildcats the 2-1 lead but it wouldn't last long, as the Nanooks tied things up again just 48 seconds later. Although outshooting their opponent 19-11 after two periods, including a 10-5 edge in the middle frame, the two teams saw another tie as they headed into the final period.

Vanderbeck fired a one-timer passed the Nanooks' goaltender Grigals with 12 minutes gone in the final period for the go-ahead goal. With the Alaska goalie pulled, Loughran found the empty net at 17:18 of the third to give the Wildcats the 4-2 final.

John Hawthorne, now 5-5-3 on the season made 18 saves in the contest to help his team to the 4-2 victory and secure five of the six league points at stake this weekend.

GOALS
Darien Craighead scored his 20th point of the season and 99th career point with a quick shot between the hashmarks to give the Wildcats the 1-0 lead at 11:19 of the first period.

Tallying his 100th point in a Wildcat sweater, Craighead picked up the rebound glove side of Nanook netminder Grigals for his second goal of the night. Tanner Vescio tallied his first career point on the play with the secondary assist while AJ Vanderbeck had the primary.

Picking up his third point of the night, and fifth of the weekend, Vanderbeck broke the 2-2 tie at 12:07 of the third period when Ben Newhouse fed him the puck from the top of the slot for a rocket one-timer.

Andre Ghantous carried the puck into the Nanook zone with multiple defenders on him as he slipped the puck up to the blue line where Joseph Nardi stood at the ready. Passing the puck off to Griffin Loughran, he tallied his nation-leading 19th of the season and second of the weekend to extend the Wildcat lead to 4-2.

KEY STATS
Darien Craighead picked up his 100th career point with his second goal of the night and moves into a tie for 50th among NMU all-time scoring leaders.
The Wildcats improve to 14-8-4 on the season and their 13 WCHA victories place them third in the standings with a minimum two games in hand over everyone else.

His two goals in the last two games gives Griffin Loughran a two goal lead in the national standings with 19 total. His 0.76 goals per game also ranks him fourth overall with 19 goals through 25 games played. Loughran also averages 1.24 points per game and is tied for 12th overall in the category (19-12-31).

A team that averages 3.38 goals per game, the Wildcats are tied for eighth in the nation in scoring offense.

Tanner Vescio and Ben Newhouse both contributed in large part to the defensive core as both men jumped in front of two shots to keep the Wildcats ahead.

Four Wildcats fired three shots on goal a piece as the Wildcats outshot the Nanooks 27-20 through three periods of play. Mason Palmer, Andre Ghantous, Vincent de Mey and AJ Vanderbeck all had three shots on net in the win Saturday.

UP NEXT
The Wildcats will return home for the first time in three weeks when they host Ferris State next Friday and Saturday.

Friday's game will serve as the Wildcats' annual Zero Waste game where fans are encouraged to leave no waste behind and recycle what they can.

Saturday night is scout night. Group tickets for troops must be purchased in advance through ticket.nmu.edu or any NMU ticketing outlet. A 4th period party will take place following the game on February 1 at the Landmark Inn. All fans are invited to attend.

Earlier this season the Wildcats opened up conference play with a couple of tilts against the Bulldogs in Big Rapids, Michigan, where they earned their first sweep of the 2019-20 season.