Saturday, June 23, 2012

NHL Entry Draft, Recruits, AD Changes, and the WCHA

Considering it's been almost four months since my last post, its probably time for an update on the state of the 'Nooks.

First off with the most recent news as Nanooks incoming freshman defenseman Colton Parayko was selected in the 3rd round of the NHL Entry Draft today in Pittsburgh, selected 86th overall by the St. Louis Blues. The last Nanook player drafted was Chad Johnson back in the 2006 Draft in the 5th round, 128th overall. The last defenseman drafted was Tyler Eckford in 2004, 217th overall to the New Jersey Devils.
Parayko becomes the highest drafted skater in Alaska Nanooks history in the NHL Entry Draft. While Shawn Chambers still holds the "highest draft pick" title, he was selected in the '87 Supplemental Draft 8th overall during a year that yielded entry draft picks such as Brendan Shanahan and Joe Sakic. 

Colton's 6'4" 195lb frame will certainly be a great fit on the Nanooks blue line, adding both size, speed, poise, and offensive skills. Especially late in his junior year, he's really stepped up on the offensive side of his game. In the game against the Canmore Eagles back in January, at 3:29 of this Highlight Reel you can see Parayko sniffing out the flow of the play as he sneaks down the slot from the point, nabbing a pass from behind the net for the score. Not to mention, after the goal as he's skating around you can definitely tell how much bigger he is than everyone else, standing about 6' 7" on skates.

As far as recruits go, both Jared Linnell and Taylor Munson will be staying in juniors another year. I think that's great for the both of them, as it gives them that 3rd year to hopefully further develop and get to the top of the league. Look at Cody Kunyk and Colton Beck, the 'Nooks perennial top-liners both stayed an extra year in juniors. It can clearly pay off. Since Linnell went to the USHL, he's struggled a bit to find his stride. As this past season went on, he found himself traded to the Tri-City Storm and has been reunited with Josh Hauge, Linnell's former coach with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Coincidentally, Chase McMurphy was selected by the Storm in this years USHL Entry Draft which could make for some interesting line chemistry if the two of them can get on the same line this next year. 

John Keeney, a goaltender from Muskegon of the USHL is another great pickup for the Nanooks coaching staff. A diamond in the rough, if you will. He played two full seasons with the Omaha Lancers, the second season as the half time starter going 15-9-3 with a 2.23 goals against average and a .918 save percentage with a fairly decent team. 

After getting traded early this past season, Keeney went from a team who finished 2nd in the West in 2011 to a team that finished last in the East in 2012. But this season was not lost, he had streaks of brilliance that kept his team in the game throughout the season. One streak in particular had the Lumberjacks Radio Announcer calling out the USHL for not naming Keeney the Goalie of the Week. One particular game, a 4-3 Shootout Win for the 'Jacks against the eventual USHL champion Green Bay Gamblers earned Keeney the 1st star of the game honors stopping 36 of 39 shots on goal. A game they probably wouldn't have had a chance in without him in net. 

And the latest recruit that I haven't touched on yet, J.D. Peterson, a 21-year old from the Tri-City Storm helps round out the defensemen class this year. The 5' 10" 190lb California native certainly has some experience under his belt. His 14 point totals were good for top scoring defense men honors for his team, but  again with the Storm's struggles this past season going through a bit of a rebuilding season, it's hard for me to accurately evaluate his defensive style. However, with a defensive-minded coach, I don't see him struggling at this level--at least for very long. 

In the words of one of the greatest comedy skits of all time.... "And now for something completely different..."

Again with the delay in this post you've probably already heard about this and for that I apologize, but two weeks ago UAF Athletic Director Forrest Karr resigned to take the same position with Northern Michigan University in Marquette. While disappointing for us, I wish Forrest the best in his new endeavors, and I certainly understand the reasoning of wanting to be closer to family. Couple all of that with the lower cost of living in Michigan and the dedication NMU has proven to athletics through its facilities and its support from leadership, he's in a pretty good situation already. Not to mention they have a Jimmy John's, Buffalo Wild Wings, and a Tim Horton's, which is probably enough to sell anyone...

The sad part here is I know a lot of you are extremely happy that he's gone. The truth is though, the guy did a lot of good for what he had. While he had emotional support, athletics as a whole has not gotten a lot of support at the Chancellor's level. The facilities are terrible, which makes recruiting hard. When you're missing out on recruits, your teams struggle to compete at a high enough level to win. A lot of people point the finger at basketball, but the coaching is there. Both Coach Durham and Coach Burgess have began resurrecting these teams and have improved the quality of the programs, but I'm not alone in saying there's a long ways to go. But some of that lies outside of their coaching responsibilities in getting the leadership on board with ensuring that facilities and equipment are up to par. 

And like I said before, I think Forrest did the best with what he had. For example, securing BP as the sponsor for the new scoreboard in the Patty Gym. That court would not have seen that new scoreboard installed until that building was torn down and rebuilt if Forrest hadn't secured that grant from BP to make it happen. 

You don't truly know what you have had, until you have lost it.

With one year remaining in the CCHA, the stakeholders for schools in the new WCHA met and discussed a new playoff format that would essentially give the Nanooks a direct pass to the second round of the playoffs every year. Yes, you read that correctly. More specifically, the playoff format of the new 9-team WCHA will feature Alaska and ACC in a best of 3 series EVERY YEAR in the first round of the playoffs regardless of league standings. The home team of course will be chosen by whoever is higher of the two in the standings. Also, whoever wins the regular season title will receive an automatic bye into the Final Five. One of the Alaskan schools would have to receive that bye to exempt themselves from that first round series.

Despite being passed during their in-person meeting, the new WCHA members are planning on meeting via conference call this week to discuss alternatives to this plan, which certainly makes it largely unbalanced for the Alaska schools (mainly ACC, but I like to advocate for the "little guys"), along with the playoffs as a whole. It just kind of throws the whole playoff scheme out of whack when you could possibly take home-ice advantage away from one team because the two Alaska schools don't factor in to the first round home-ice bids. I'm curious to see what materializes from this conference call, and if these plans even change at all. I understand that its a financial burden, but so is losing and having to travel. It's moreso burdening on Alaskan teams, because flights out aren't any cheaper than they are coming in, especially last minute. And when you have to fly to nearly every series all year long I'm less sympathetic to those that whine about having to fly up here more than once.

What also hasn't materialized from this yet is how this will impact the Governor's Cup series. My initial thought was it would be a 4 game regular season series. But now if you throw this into the mix, your possible tie breaker no longer becomes a shootout with this 5th/7th game to break a tie. Granted, that particular series would have to be a split to force that 3rd game, but this certainly opens up possibilities.

Of course, the other elephant in the room is "well who can we take for a 10th team". The obvious decision should be Alabama-Huntsville, who likely won't be considered if they don't come to some similar travel arrangement as the Nanooks/Seapups have. There's also been talk about MSU Moorehead escalating to Division I, but the question is, when?! I don't know about all of you, but I've heared this rumor for years now, so who knows. We saw what another school did to change the hockey landscape last year... Maybe another school starting up will help rock the boat back where it needs to be.

Well that's all I've got for now. I'll be keeping tabs on that WCHA conference call this week. But before I run, congrats to former Nanook defenseman Joe Sova, winning the Kelly Cup with the ECHL's Florida Everblades this season. Nicely done! 

See you next time.