Thursday, February 27, 2014

Nanooks Look to Burn the Bulldogs in Tropical Fairbanks

What a finish the WCHA is poised for as we come Into the final 4 game home stand for the Nanooks. Currently Alaska sits in a tie for 5th place behind Tech and Anchorage, who have a two game advantage over the rest of the league, and both are off this week. The Nanooks would pass both with a win this weekend and tiebreakers in hand for 3rd place. 

This makes things even more interesting with Anchorage staring at the Nanooks for the final series of the season. Which could turn into not only a series for home ice, but Anchorage may be fighting for a playoff spot depending on this weekend's results. There will certainly be more implications than just the Governor's Cup.

But that's for later, on to this weekend as the Nanooks welcome Ferris State for vengeance of the sweep that was handed to the Nanooks in Big Rapids back in November. But the Nanooks are a lot more solid than they were 4 months ago. In fact a lot has changed since then. As my good friend mmf has so graciously summarized, every aspect of the 'Nooks game has improved drastically since.

Our goals against in conference has been a vulnerability early on, 2.83 (6th) total.
…the first 14 games = 3.21
…the last 10 games = 2.30
Ferris is #1 at 2.12

Overall our conference “goals for” average = 3.33 (3rd).
…the first 14 games = 3.00
…the last 10 games = 3.80
Ferris #1 at 3.50

Alaska Power Play = 20.2% (2nd)
Ferris #6 at 17.0%

Alaska Penalty Kill = 84.5% (3rd)
Ferris #4 at 84.2%

The Nanooks conference record, 11-11-2
...first 14 games = 5-8-1
...last 10 games = 6-3-1

Big difference there across the board, and the Nanooks have a lot to be proud of there, but it's not over yet. Sean Cahill has also really come in to his own. He's been solid between the pipes, staying in good position, and making all of the saves that he's supposed to. Seems like the coaching staff has finally settled on a goaltender in Cahill, who has 4 consecutive wins under his belt now, which I hope equates to confidence coming into this weekend. 

Don't get me wrong, Ferris State is a tough team, but they're not invincible as Mankato proved at home last month. But Ferris is coming off a sweep of our adopted siblings to the south down in Big Rapids. Two games they never trailed in from start to finish. 

The Bulldogs have, like the 'Nooks, benefitted from distributed scoring across the lineup, but one person  I personally don't want to see get loose is Cory Kane, who has 7 points in the last 4 games. Justin Buzzeo also leads the team in scoring but has just 2 points in the last 5, all against ACC. 

All the Nanooks need to do is stick to the game plan, bring all they've got, and take Ferris to the wood shed and put those hockey sticks to good use. If they can keep the offense rolling, and keep the defense solid, everything should fall in line. They just simply have to outwork the Bulldogs--just play Nanook hockey.  If you ask me, the guys are in good shape, and seem poised to make a run here as home ice for the playoffs are well within reach. 

For those that haven't heard, if the Nanooks do end up hosting for the playoffs the series will be played  on Thursday, Friday, & Saturday 3/13-15 (if needed) due to the opening ceremonies of Arctic Winter Games on 3/16. 

If anyone is looking for some pump up music for this one, I've been rocking out to Back For More by Five Finger Death Punch lately. It's heavy and great motivation for me to keep pushing at the gym lately. Hope the players' can jam to this too. Here it is fory our listening pleasure. Minor language.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

'Nooks Truck Through Houghton in Offensive Showcase

What a series by the Nanooks at Houghton this weekend. Coming off a bye week, the 'Nooks took an extra day to get up to the UP and it paid off. A big weekend and 4 points needed and received for the 'Nooks to solidify their position and get into the playoffs. Nothing of course is guaranteed, but the 'Nooks now have a tie in 3rd with 24 points, with the tie breaker with 11 conference wins vs UAA/BG/MTU each with 10. Now, BG and UAA play a bit later tonight and it would be in the Nanooks best interest for the two to tie yet again.

And in the first, they started right where they left off with Colton Beck notching a pair of goals. The first on a flurry in front of the net to put the 'Nooks on the board. Then another with just 5 seconds to go in the period working on a 5 minute major to Malcolm Gould for checking an already injured Michael Quinn from behind.  Quinn got down to block a shot earlier in the shift, then moments later played the puck along the boards and got railed into the boards. Gould got the gate and the Nanooks capitalized.

Cody Kunyk made a great play on a no-look cross the crease pass to an open Colton Beck on the back door who buried in the open net. Such talent with those two. Beck with two goals, and Kunyk with the primary assist on both.

In the 2nd, the 'Nooks kept lighting the lamp with 3 more. Nolan Huysmans buried a backhand feed from Larson across the crease down low on a 3 on 2 rush on a forced turnover by Hochhausen. Then the Morley Brothers connect as Tyler nabbed the puck on an errant play by Tech defenseman Leibinger. Tyler made the shot, and beat Copley but the puck sat laying on the crease for Brandon to tap in for the 4-0 lead.

The 'Nooks extended to a 5-0 lead as Nolan Huysmans swung the puck towards the goal that trickled through as Larson got the deflection, but paid the price as Leibinger put his shoulder into Nolan, and apparently knocked the wind out of him as he was slow to get up. But he did skate off under his own power, and was right back on the ice next shift.

Then Tyler Morley buried the 6th goal from a behind the net feed from Beck, and Michael Quinn had the last laugh after the MTU defense ignored him on the rush and he rifled top shelf over the glove of Williams for the 14th goal on the weekend.

Nanooks now with 24 points, but BG and UAA play again tonight after tying last night putting each of them to 24 points. So one of them at least will jump. Nanooks of course close the season with Anchorage at home. Now with a week off, the 'Nooks can only watch as 3 other series take place next weekend, including Lake Superior with a series at Alabama-Huntsville.

Friday, February 14, 2014

'Nooks Turn Friday Into Hockey Clinic, Take Down Tech 7-3

The boys put on a hockey clinic tonight in Houghton. After the first, I'm thinking to myself that with the scoring chances the 'Nooks generate, no way in hell is this going to be a low scoring game. Sure enough, 4 buried biscuits in the second and 2 more in the 3rd and school is out. North Pole kid Phoenix Copley was even pulled after the 2nd, but it wasn't his fault. The 'Nooks just simply took it to them tonight. 

And it was no fluke either. The 'Nooks had the Huskies number in every end of the ice. I was very impressed with the effort the Nanooks brought today, racking up the highest score against a WCHA opponent this season and avenging the Chargers who took 10 goals from Tech last Saturday. 

Some of the goals for the 'Nooks tonight were nothing short of beautiful. Kunyk's pair just 20 seconds apart, the second of which was a clean breakaway and a beauty top shelf to just break the game wide open. Brandon Morley's great showing of patience from the high slot to get the traffic going up front then buried 5-hole. Jared Larson's tip on Huysmans shot right in front perfectly over the goaltenders shoulder. And my personal favorite of the night, Garrick Perry's Iron Man wraparound. 

Perry made a strong possession play to power his way around the net, and managed to catch both Husky defenders chasing him around which opened up Tyler Morley on the trailer, alone on the back door. Perry gift wrapped, addressed, and put a bow on that one to Tyler who didn't miss that time.   

The 'Nooks left a few goals on the ice too having missed a few grade A chances with a few missed passes and a few odd bounces missed a few stick blades. Lindell's sticks out in my head on the back door as well, but the puck just took a strange hop just over his stick at the last second. 

So the 'Nooks dominate on a Friday, and need to follow up on Saturday. Nanooks have struggled with consistency both nights, no secret there. But hopefully the tide has changed and the light stays turned on for the boys tomorrow to keep lighting the lamp. 

Cards are falling in the Nanooks favor as Lake State beat Northern, hoping they split. Bemidji lost. And UAA and BGSU tied, so they each just got one point. Which puts the 'Nooks alone in 6th, 2 points ahead of LSSU and 2 points back from the now-3-way tie for 3rd. Still lots of ways the cards can fall down the way, but the 'Nooks just need to Win Baby, Win!

GAME DAY - Nanooks To Return the Favor in Houghton

Game Day

Alaska Nanooks (10-12-4, 7-11-2 WCHA) vs Michigan Tech Huskies (1-24-1, 1-14-1 WCHA)
7:07PM EST - MacInnes Student Ice Center, Houghton, Michigan

Live | Live AudioKCBF 820 Sports | 820 AM Fairbanks

Live Internet Video ($8): WCHA TV

Twitter: @NanookHockey

Pretty good coverage of the 'Nooks final roadie of the season. SID Chris Brooks is tagging along with the boys armed with a video camera, a YouTube channel, and the charming hosts in defensemen Nolan Kaiser and J.D. Peterson. Yesterday--Day 3 of the trip--was pretty eventful as the team's bus got stuck in the snow leaving the hotel. The video tells all, but with the snow as deep as it was, and the curve of the hill being just right the coach just didn't have the traction to get 'er up there. Kaiser being the guy that he is hopped out and directed traffic at the top of the hill to try and make way for the bus to get up the hill. The camera obviously wasn't able to get a good shot of him with the traffic, but I'm pretty sure it looked something like that Geico commercial last year. Anybody remember that? I'll just leave this right here...

The guys eventually got bailed out by a tow truck driver, but it didn't look pretty. For those that want to catch a bit of the behind the scenes look at the trip, here's the Nanooks' Trek to Houghton series thus far in order.

As far as actual hockey is concerned, the 'Nooks need to return the favor in Houghton against the only team to sweep the 'Nooks on home ice this season with a stellar series from North Pole kid Phoenix Copley. It's no secret, but the 'Nooks need points right now. Currently in a tie for 5th, with two teams below having two games in hand, both playing against Alabama-Huntsville, the guys just need to win at this point. Regardless of how you look at it, eventual standings aren't going to be solidified until the last game of the year.

MTU comes in this weekend off of the Winter Carnival and a series against the UAH Chargers, with a cumulative score of 14-5 (4-1, 10-4). That gives the Huskies a 7-3-3 record at home this season, and now a 4-game winning streak with a sweep at Bowling Green. When MTU came to Fairbanks on Thanksgiving weekend, I thought they were terrible. But the 'Nooks must have had a turkey hangover themselves. It was not a good series to watch, and the Huskies just capitalized on the 'Nooks mistakes.

Now Alaska is a much more solid team, and the rookies have a lot more experience under their belt. Expect this to go a much different way than the last series did. It's not going to be very high scoring. The Huskies have a solid defense, and the 'Nooks get Davis Jones back. But the 'Nooks are now at 3.95 goals per game offensively, and MTU has put up some goals as of late.

It's going to be a tough series as both teams obviously are fighting for wins. The 'Nooks are 4 points back from MTU who sits in third. But there is just 6 points separating 3rd place, and 9th place. It's anyone's game right now. The 'Nooks just need to do their thing.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Weekend Wrap-up - Nanooks Earn First WCHA Series Sweep

A good weekend for the 'Nooks to tune up their game and they took advantage. While the 6-1 finish Friday was nice to see, although I thought the 'Nooks were a little out of their element and seemed to be a bit showboatish and not sticking to their systems.  Personally, if the guys had a record over .500, I wouldn't care as much, but these last 8 games are the difference between playing for a title, or watching everyone play from home. I just got a little frustrated with a few players seeming to be a little individualistic, and I get that UAH isn't great but it needs to be about the team, not just their individual stats. Mike Corbett, their head coach said it best that the teams they play are earning their seeding, not just skating by them.

Saturday was more evident of that as I thought they played the 'Nooks much tighter despite the results, which was more of a team result as the guys seemed to stick to their systems a bit more. They got a few more shots on goal, and played a more well-rounded game in my humble opinion.

On the whole, the 'Nooks scored 12 goals in the same weekend for the first time under head coach Dallas Ferguson. A good offensive effort against statistically the worst defense in hockey as we see the offensive potential of the Nanooks offensive units. Happy to see the guys get their first official sweep on the season. A few close ones, but the Nanooks have not been able to close games out occasionally.

The 'Nooks now sit in a tie for 5th as the boys get a week off here throughout Hockey Week in Fairbanks, and the guys have a lot of community outreach activities planned. They'll take on the Special Olympians in a round of floor hockey, as well as reading some stories to kids in area elementary schools and some presentations as part of their "Buddies, Not Bullies" anti-bullying program. Also had the Hockey Hall of Fame Heritage exhibit in the Carlson Center this week with several Alaskan NHLers on display, as well as several of the trophies making their way to Fairbanks (Stanley Cup excluded) to highlight several other Hockey Week activities.

After this week settles down, the Nanooks will hit the road Monday night, flying into Green Bay, Wisconsin before bussing up to Houghton, Michigan for the final road series of the regular season against Michigan Tech. Big series there as the Huskies sit tied with the Nanooks at the moment with a few games in hand.

Not to look too far ahead, but you have seen the last of the normal Nanooks' home sweaters. The Ferris State series is Military Appreciation weekend, and the Nanooks debuted the Arctic Camoflauge jerseys last weekend during warmups. After the series, those jerseys will be auctioned off by the Face-Off club. Then the throwback whites will be donned again for the 2nd time this year for the final two games of the Governor's Cup series.

Forgive me for the brevity as of late, this blogger is in much need of a rest. Crazy weeks at work and teaching these last couple of weeks have kicked me pretty hard. I won't lie, I've been looking forward to the bye week here for a bit.