Well after that 8-0 romping, I'm pretty excited to get this season underway with some quality games this weekend. I will say that, in defense of the Northern Alberta team, it could have been a lot worse. Shannon Szabados (for the record, it's pronounced "za" (like zap)-"bah"-"doss"), a veteran goaltender and former Olympic gold medalist played her heart out for the Ooks. She made some very impressive saves that not very many goalies can make. She stood on her head that night and stopped what very easily could have been 4 or 5 more goals. Having seemingly 5 forwards and a goaltender doesn't really bode well against a team playing at a completely different level. Kudos to her though for sticking it out. But it goes to show you how well a goaltender, even as good as she is, can stop the puck with little to no help in front of her.
Looking ahead at the future, Clarkson and St. Cloud State lie in the cross hairs in front of us and both of them should be a pretty good test.
The St. Cloud Huskies have been consistently in the top 5 in the WCHA these last few years, and have made their way into acceptance into the new NCHC with North Dakota, and those other teams. Safe to say I don't think that they will be a top 5 team any more... Somebody has to lose...
The interesting part, the Nanooks will be the first opposition that the Huskies will see this year, opting not to schedule an allowed exhibition game. Which some teams choose not to, but with both Spanchorage and Fairbanks running up the score on squad from Alberta, at least the Alaska teams have a grasp of their systems and line chemistry coming into this tournament.
Their leading scorer, Drew LeBlanc (just don't dare pronounce the "c", its silent, unlike their trolls online) returns for his senior season. Drew tallied 39 points last year in a season that ended with two losses--including one heartbreaker in overtime--to the eventual national champions in the first round of the WCHA tournament. Listed at 6' 195lbs, this USHL product and now team captain is a force to be reckoned with. Now he's not the kind of guy though that will take the puck and try to blast through coast to coast and score, he's going to hang around in the offensive zone and try to catch the defense in a spot where they forget about him and Drew will position himself to make a play. The Nanooks D will need to keep tabs on him and keep him in check. But then you've got to watch out for guys like Cam Reid and Jared Festler, who are just as sly and capable of finding twine.
The interesting wild card is their junior netminder, and co-captain Mike Lee. Andy Taranto's former team mate from the Fargo Force has had quite a career with the Huskies thus far. During his tenure, he has shown some interesting spurts of inconsistency between being cool and calm one game, and flying all over the place the next. However, as last season progressed Mike started earning the majority of the starts and really maturing in net for the Huskies. Carrying a 2.77 goals against average and a .910 save percentage from last year, Mike very well could be a tough egg to crack for the 'Nooks this weekend. It will all depend on their defensive strategy, which as the story goes with this team, they just choose not to defend. Whether that's at the level of NAIT, I don't know. I haven't had a real chance to see them play a real team (ACC doesn't count).
While accustomed to playing the nerds at Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Cornell, Clarkson is a relatively unknown team outside of the eastern time zone. A team not known for their outlandish scoring, but for their outlandish penalties. After leading their conference with over 18 minutes in penalties a game last year, it will be interesting to see how many power play opportunities they give to Anchorage and us, respectively. Their top returning scorer coming back this year sophomore Allan McPherson who notched just 23 points in 36 games for the Golden Knights. Not bad, but not the greatest of numbers you'd like to see from the person leading your team in scoring. But it was enough to tie him for 42nd in the conference in scoring last season.
Clarkson will be an interesting game. They have a brand new head coach in Casey Jones. And they've been known to take down some pretty big name teams in recent years, too. They even took down their Kendall-mate St. Cloud last year 6-2. As the number three seed in the 2008 NCAA East regional, they
knocked off St. Cloud State 2-1 (I'm noticing a trend here...) to advance to the second round. They eventually lost to Michigan that year, but an impressive outing to say the least. Clarkson went 15-19-2 overall last year and 9-12-1 in the ECAC to finish 7th.
If the Nanooks can capitalize on their power play chances that Clarkson will likely give them, this one shouldn't be too bad.
The games this weekend will be broadcast on Fox 7 in Fairbanks (tape delayed due to baseball playoffs). You can also catch Bruce on the radio at 820AM in town, or on 820sports.com by clicking the Listen Live link in the menu bar, then clicking the big play button in the middle of the page to listen to local sports broadcasts. I'm assuming GCI will be planning on airing the game on GCI channel 1 statewide, as well as their usual internet feed, but I'm not seeing it on their normal streaming page. But who knows.
If you choose to read more, feel free to venture behind enemy lines and check out Donald's write-up over at the UAA blog posted earlier today.