The Nanooks this season are off to similar starts as their past seasons in conference play. When you look at the first eight conference games...
Last year, which most consider the best year under Ferguson's tenure with 19 wins didn't start to have that feel until February, the beginning of a 9 conference game unbeaten streak. Early last season, similar woes on special teams frustrated the Nanooks on both sides...
A 6-1 loss at Bemidji State had several chances as the 'Nooks failed to convert on any of six power play chances, including a major. Or a 4-2 loss to Western Michigan, whose power play was essentially 2-for-5. They counted six on the stat sheet, but one only lasted for about 11 seconds.
Special teams this season is no exception. The Nanooks have allowed 13 goals out of 52 disadvantages, equating to an even 75% on the penalty kill. If the Nanooks had a 25% power play, things would balance out. But they don't. They have just 5 power play goals scored on the season in 44 chances. That's 11.4%. When you combine the numbers, 44/96, that's a 45.8% combined special teams percentage. 52nd in the nation.
The tide shifted last season. The Nanooks had a 42.1% combined special teams on December 1st last season and poured it on to bring up the season cumulative to 51.9%, 21st in the country.
It's not time to hit any sort of panic button yet...
The last couple of weeks for the Nanooks was tough, no doubt about that. Two straight weeks on the road--15 days away from their own beds--is tough even for the most seasoned travelers. Let alone young men playing arguably the most physically strenuous sport there is. You can never be disappointed when taking points.
All in all, the Nanooks took 4 out of a possible 8 points on the road. A split at Bemidji, followed by back-to-back ties at Ferris State. The last time the Nanooks managed a winless/lossless series was at home against Northern Michigan on Thanksgiving weekend in 2009. A series in which the Nanooks held leads in both games, only to see NMU come back to tie it up.
Looking at the Bemidji series, the Nanooks started slow. Conversely, Bemidji started fast. 23 seconds in fact the Nanooks found themselves down in Jesse Jenks' second career start as Charlie O'Connor crashed the net with the rest of his linemates and found the back of the net. Add a power play goal allowed and the Nanooks now find themselves in an infamous 2-0 deficit. If you had to put this season thus far into one word though, its perseverance. They've battled it before and won, and this was no exception thanks to a hat trick from Brandon Morley.
Saturday, a similar story with a much different ending. Down 2-0 to the Beavers at the end of 1. The Nanooks battle to a 2-2 tie through 40 minutes. Then the flood gates open as the Beavers would score 4 goals on 9 shots in the 3rd to win 6-3. Not a great afternoon for the defense. Davis Jones played that game, but those goals aren't all on his shoulders either. Defensively, too many chances were surrendered, and they didn't miss.
After a week still out on the road, the Nanooks headed to Ferris State in Big Rapids. Now I've been around the program for the better part of a decade now. The number of games I've failed to watch or listen to live can be counted on one hand, but two of those were last weekend. Jesse Jenks played both games, and made 36 saves Friday and 39 saves on Saturday to earn two points. A goalie battle all weekend for sure as both teams racked 38 shots on Friday, and Ferris had a slight 42-37 edge on Saturday. And talk about a rink that's rough to play in on top of that...
But what about special teams? In 8 advantages for the Bulldogs to tally a goal, the Nanooks said no. And the Nanooks power play tallied a goal in the waning seconds of Saturday's game to earn the tie with under 42 seconds to play in regulation. Check out the Highlights for yourself. A nice goal for Huysmans down low on a possession play with the extra attacker. Good puck movement and control catches the Bulldogs out of position and gets them into scramble mode as the Nanooks work the puck to the slot. Tyler Morley had the initial chance but it came off his stick, but he nabs an assist as Huysmans didn't miss the wide open net.
Looking ahead, the Nanooks need points. No question about it. Sitting in 7th behind that community college down the Parks with 6 points leaves much to be desired. If you're looking for a breakout series, this could be it. Michigan Tech comes to town atop the conference (playing the most games of all teams, however) with 12 points and ranked 19th in the country at 7-4-1. I like the Huskies, they play fundamentally solid hockey. They're not really flashy, they just get it done,
Offensively, they have seven players with two or more goals, and a lights out defense backed by a senior goaltender who has racked up all of the minutes in Jamie Phillips. Solid numbers for him with a .910 save percentage and 2.47 goals against average.
When you look at the Huskies though, they're not running over anyone. Save for their regular season opening 5-1 drubbing of Ferris State, all of their wins have been by one or two goals. They're not an offensive juggernaut, nor a defensive powerhouse. They're a sound team that finds a way to win games. They're not that much different from the Nanooks in the way that they play, honestly. They're a very similar team that play similar styles.
Either way you look at this series going in, it's going to be a couple of good games. Both teams top 2 lines are pretty stout, and should see some good matchups going there on both sides of the puck.
The last time the Huskies came to Fairbanks, it was part of a two game road trip through the Thanksgiving holiday as MTU made the first stop in Anchorage for the meeting against the Seawolves before venturing north for the series Thanksgiving weekend here with the Nanooks. Two seasons later, they're back this weekend, and next weekend they return home to play UAA in Houghton. Interesting scheduling coincidence I suppose...
Anyway, it's now 2:00AM here. Time for some sleep before game day tomorrow.