Well, with the ACC Fan Blog no longer in production, I suppose its up to me to break down the Canisius Golden Griffins, and the Air Force Falcons. If Seapups fans want to read this, feel free. I can't stop you. But it's not going to help your team any...
Anyway, this weekend's action should be pretty exciting. Both of the visitors to the Kendall are Atlantic Hockey members, and the Falcons have pretty much owned that league for the past five years or so. Of course, Air Force is no rookie to the Alaska tournaments. Cansius is the newcomer to the tournament, and the first game between these two teams in over 20 years.
Each of these teams come in to Anchorage fresh off of two punishing losses to Canadian teams: Canisius falling 2-5 at the hands of Ottawa, and Air Force dropping one 2-4 to British Columbia. Air Force's game was not without its fair share of excitement though.
With a little over a minute remaining and down 2-1, Air Force pulled their goaltender, only to have an unassisted empty netter scored just seconds later. Not giving up on the game though, Air Force kept their goaltender out and kept pressing with the extra attacker and Cole Gunner scored with 22 seconds left on the clock. Of course, still not losing hope, the Falcons still with the extra attacker was able to win a few battles, but eventually allowed the 4th goal with 7 seconds left on the clock, and no netminder to stop it…
Air Force is returning a LOT of of their scoring for a year ago, boosted by a strong senior class this year to help. Kyle De Laurell and John Kruse are both top returning seniors this year having lead the team in scoring a year ago. And the 8 sophomores who contributed well last year for the Falcons all return to the team more experienced. The interesting part is that a few of the Falcons players have ties to Alaska, including George Michalke who played with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs in his junior career. A number of other Falcons have also played with other Alaskan NAHL teams as well.
Canisius took a 2-1 lead to the locker room at the end of the second period, but a defensive collapse, and a rookie goaltender in Adam Harris allowed 3 goals in the final period (plus an empty netter) to take the 5-2 gut check. Canisius really seems to like a collapsing style defense, with all 5 skaters pitching in allows them to take some more risks and chances, but their system isn't very polished. From the film I've seen, an efficient cycle will bait the defenders into chasing the puck, which create passing and shooting lanes. We'll see how the Nanooks prepared this past week and see if the passes get any more crisp.
On the offensive side, the Golden Griffins return a large part of their scoring from a year ago. Their top 4 were all sophomores last season, and return to the lineup for their junior year. Both Tyler Gibbons and Taylor Law were about as identical in stats as you can get, both putting up 11-15-26 scoring lines, but with Law having 3 more games played last season. Truth be told, I haven't reviewed any of their scoring plays but I've been told they can be pretty dynamic offensively. They didn't put too many goals in the back of the net last season, but it sounds like head coach and Ohio State alumnus Dave Smith allows his forwards to be free and creative in the attacking zone.
I would expect that these teams will at least challenge the Nanooks a bit. I've been talking a bit about these teams returning a lot of their scoring personnel, but if you calculate it out, the Nanooks are returning 95.6% of their scoring from last season. Hopefully, the Nanooks will be adding a bit more in that category as well, but time will certainly tell. Huysmans and Morley were two players that coach Ferguson was particularly impressed with, and so was I. But headed into the NCAA season this weekend, we'll see how these guys react to a stronger and faster team.
That's really what this weekend is all about, getting two solid games under the belt and make some adjustments before North Dakota comes to Fairbanks next week to give the 'Nooks the best chance to win. Two wins would really bolster the confidence of the team, which is a big thing too.
As far as the Nanooks roster goes, I would expect Steve Thompson to start the first game coming off of his one-game suspension against Regina last week for a violation of department rules. But don't be surprised if Keeney or Cahill make their presence known this weekend as well. The Beck-Kunyk-Huysmans line seemed to click quite a bit, so I'd envision them to stay together. Also Morley-Granberg-Taranto were in good stride, and keeping them together as well makes sense. Defensive pairings may be shaken up as well, but we'll see what Coach Ferguson has in store for us this weekend when I get the roster sheet tonight. I'm actually writing all of this on the flight down to Anchorage this morning. Should be a fun weekend for hockey!