Sorry for the late posting on this, but better late than never. This weekend, the Nanooks do battle against the Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus in yet another crucial series for the Nanook's hopes for a first round bye. In a Thursday-Tuesday series against Bowling Green, Michigan eked past Alaska into that coveted 4th place spot, leading by two points (37-35). Michigan takes on UNO this week, who also has 35 points, as if every weekend in the past few weeks hasn't been interesting, this one will be especially.
Ohio State, just second to last place Bowling Green, has allowed a whopping 76 goals this season, for a 3.455 goals against per game. That isn't exactly what I would call a tight defense. On a related note, the Nanooks sit in 5th place, the highest of any CCHA team who has allowed more goals then they've scored. The fact that we have 7 CCHA ties, and winning 4 shootouts, has helped us earn crucial standings points.
Last week, against MSU, Coach Ferguson stressed puck support, not leaving any Nanook player alone battling for the puck. That worked very well against Michigan State to maintain puck possession. The one point of the game coach is stressing this week, neutral zone play. In the Michigan State series, the Nanooks had a hard time maintaining puck possession in transition, coughing it up to a strong Spartan backcheck.
Make no mistake, Ohio State may be in 10th place, but their team can score goals. Two OSU players have the 1 and 2 spots in the scoring lead atop the CCHA, and Zac Dalpe is a force to be reckoned with. The Nanooks have our own stars. Last weekend, Dion Knelsen scored 3 goals, rocketing him to a 13 goal total, tied for the CCHA conference goalscoring lead. Andy Taranto is still leading the rookie scoring race in the CCHA, topping Michigan's Chris Brown by 4 points.
Paired against OSU, under Dallas Ferguson, the Nanooks have a 5-3-1 record against the Buckeyes. The two met 5 times last season, which the Nanooks exited the season with a 3-2 record, including two shutout performances by now-NHL netminder Chad Johnson. OSU goalie Dustin Carlson is 3-4 against Alaska in his career, however, sources point to the possibility, and ultimate probability, that the Nanooks will see Cal Heeter for the first time in net at least once this weekend.
This is the last of the Nanooks 50,858 miles worth of travel this season. The race for 4th is still really tight, and the Nanooks are still in it. Technically, 2nd and 3rd can be thrown in the mix too, but MSU and Ferris would have to fall on their faces to fall out of the top four. There are still 12 points to be had in the CCHA. After OSU, the Nanooks return home for their final CCHA bout before the playoffs, taking on Lake Superior State, at the culmination of Hockey Week in Fairbanks.
My take for the weekend? The Nanooks earn a precious 6 point sweep, just their second of the season.
Friday: 3-1 W
Saturday: 3-2 W OT
This weekends games are being broadcast on the Big Ten Network. So, if you're like me and don't have a dish, you can check out the games in the Nanook Lounge inside the Patty Center on campus, or you can kick back with a basket of kick ass hot wings at Tubby's BBQ, and watch the games in HD.
Since OSU has a stuck up relationship with Big Ten Network, they refuse to allow a B2 feed, nor give the video feed to any of our local stations to show the game in town. So unless you have a dish with the sports package, if you want to watch the game, you're out of luck unless you want to go to one of the aforementioned places.
But, as usual, you can always count on Bruce Cech for the radio play by play in Fairbanks on 91.5FM, or streaming online at ksua.uaf.edu.