I heard through the grapevine that MSU goaltender and Fairbanks native Stephon Williams was required by the team to return to Mankato earlier this week after visiting family in Fairbanks for the holidays, only to turn around the next day and leave again. Now I do not know Stephon nor the Williams family but considering the source it's likely true.
Williams is a draft pick of the New York islanders, and an Alaska State Hockey champion with the Lathrop Malemutes alongside Nanook forward Alec Hajdukovich.
Williams was injured earlier this season and has not returned to normal form. Opting to play freshmen goaltender Cole Huggins, Williams has not started until a recent 4-1 win on Saturday 12/14 against Alabama-Huntsville.
The Mavericks come to Fairbanks having won 7 straight, but the real story is the head to head record. Alaska is perfect, 10-0-0 all time against MSU and will play games 11&12 at home. The Nanooks have not played very well at home (3-3-2) this season thus far, and have struggled a bit to get rolling however a 3 game unbeaten streak into the break brings momentum that hopefully the Nanooks can carry through the break to their advantage.
MSU will also be down a couple of their star players to the world junior rosters. Zach Stepan specifically is notably missing.
Their stats are pretty balanced across the roster. No players are really breaking away with the pack, but as I've seen, they are a balanced team. There's not a big dropoff from their top to bottom lines. They play physical, and they take away space. I watched their games against Anchorage and it's no secret why they were picked as the preseason favorite.
I've made a lot of statements in my posts this season that we can play with anybody and this is no exception. If the Nanooks can bring the same energy and sense of urgency to this series it will be a great one to watch.
If I had to pick one advantage for the 'Nooks, it would be speed. Mankato plays solid defensively but they're not perfect, they'll pinch down and cheat a bit on the breakout and of the 'Nooks can catch them in the act they can steal a couple of goals.
On the Nanooks side, sounds like this will be the return to action for Jared Larson since being injured in the Mercyhurst series early this season. Jared brings a lot of positives to the team in skill and offensive awareness.
He was paired as a left winger with the Morley brothers earlier this year but both of them have settled into other pairings. The Beck-Kunyk-Huysmans line has seen some shake ups in recent history with Basara up on that right wing spot. Huysmans could return there with the second line becoming Larson-T. Morley-Basara.
This will be an interesting plot to see develop. I'll have the lineup along with who will be starting in goal in tomorrow's pregame post.
Also for those streaming the game on AmericaOne (they want me to say WCHA TV...) I've been told that the HD equipment has arrived and this game will be the first to see it in action.
Go 'Nooks! See you at the Carlson Center.