The Nanooks played a great game on the road last Friday, earning a 5-4 OT win against arguably the best team in the country in Minnesota State. The 'Nooks didn't have the strongest offensive showing in the world, but they cashed in their chances when it counted. The first was a play by the top line of Perry-Morley-Basara, and Garrick Perry who has been a man possessed in recent games, really wheels hard on a forced turnover by Basara at the blueline and beats his defender on a wrap around and made the pass to Tyler Morley across the crease. The play happened so fast, the puck was in the net so fast if you blinked, their sticks are already in the air in celebration. Undoubtedly my favorite play on the weekend.
The guys kept after it, and even when MSU took the lead in the 3rd period, the Nanooks didn't falter, kept grinding, and simply got it done. Austin Vieth takes over late and crashes the net and cashes in for the last lead goal and the overtime winner. Both coming off chances generated by Tayler Munson, who has been playing on another level the last few games. Friday alone had 3 points on a goal and a pair of assists for the freshman making now 3 goals and 2 assists for the season.
Saturday's game didn't produce the same results...
The game got rolling with both teams getting a bit more physical, and getting Nolan Kaiser to the box early with a double minor for roughing. Then again for interference as the senior defenseman took the brunt of the calls throughout the game with 4 total on the day. Which were the first 4 penalties tallied against Alaska.
But the Nanooks penalty kill unit took the brunt of the loss, allowing 3 of the 5 goals on 5 shorthanded disadvantages. The special teams units have been solid for the Nanooks all season so far. The power play unit struggled early, but the penalty kill was solid with over 95% until a few games ago. Now the power play is surging (27% last 6 games), and the penalty kill is struggling. All of this is coachable, but the Nanooks have to be able to clear the zone and not get trapped.
Special teams were the difference Saturday, but the 'Nooks didn't have the offense to keep firing. They chased goaltender Stephon Williams after allowing 2 goals on 8 shots through 2 periods. I was kind of optimistic going into the 3rd when Cole Huggins came in, especially after the success the Nanooks had against him last season (8 goals on 43 shots on goal in 2 games).
Now this weekend sees the Chargers of Alabama-Huntsville come to town. Their 3-11-2 record thus far doesn't make them the strongest team in the league, but with wins over Ferris State, Lake State, and Air Force makes them a team you don't want to sleep on. They did get swept last weekend by Michigan Tech, and they have allowed 14 goals in their last 3 games but as Ferris State found out, they can generate some offense too.
Honestly I don't expect the Nanooks to have much trouble this weekend, but their starting goaltender, despite a 3-6-1 record, has great numbers with a .931 save percentage and a 2.43 goals against average which bests any of the Nanooks goaltenders' stats. If Guerrero gets hot, he will be UAH's X-factor this weekend and can give them a chance to upset the Nanooks this weekend if the boys in Blue and Gold don't show up to play.
The series this weekend is the last of 2014. After this, the Nanooks don't play again until New Years' weekend when the Ferris State Bulldogs come to town. Saturday has a few festivities going as well, including my personal favorite: The Teddy Bear Toss. For the last 4 years, the the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee made up of Alaska Nanooks athletes have organized the event to benefit families in need and give kids something to look forward to this Christmas.
And make sure your kiddos pack their skates for Saturday, as its skate with the 'Nooks following the game. Expect to see the guys in their Santa hats and signing autographs for the kids. The Face-Off club will also provide cookies and other light refreshments as well.
See you all at the rink this weekend.