Friday, January 31, 2014

GAME DAY - Nanooks Take On UAH - First Series Since 1992

Game Day

Alaska Nanooks (10-12-4, 7-11-2 WCHA) vs UAH Chargers (1-24-1, 1-14-1 WCHA)
7:07PM AST - Carlson Center, Fairbanks, Alaska

Live | Live AudioKCBF 820 Sports | 820 AM Fairbanks

Live Internet Video ($9): WCHA TV | TV: KFXF Fox 7 (Tape delayed)

Twitter: @NanookHockey

Well, after that heartbreaker Saturday falling to Bemidji after watching the guys play so well, I hope the guys got some extra rest and motivation coming into this week. Colton Beck said it best in the post-game Saturday, "we just didn't bring it tonight.".

I hope they bring it this weekend, as it brings opportunity. While Alabama-Huntsville is a great story, having (finally) joined a conference and playing conference opponents, they're in a rebuilding mode. And with that comes some challenging times, which they're facing now currently in last place in the league, and currently at 1-24-1 on the season with a win over Bowling Green, and a tie against our little adopted stepchild to the south. But lets not get too far ahead of ourselves, they are not a bad team. They have nearly gotten a few other wins along the way, including a 2-3 loss to Wisconsin just before New Years. 19 seconds were left on the clock when Jack Prince brought the Chargers to within a goal in that loss to the Badgers.

Excluding the tie against ACC though, since UAH's win over BG, their average margin of defeat is  -4 goals. Not the greatest statistic in the world, coupled with their goals for (25) on the season is overshadowed by their goals against (113).

After Sean Cahill's first career goose egg last Friday, the defense kind of left him to dry a bit Saturday. I'd like to see him get another start this series as well heading into a bye week. The offense has to stick to the game plan and keep their heads in the game. Coach Ferguson said the boys got out of rhythm after allowing those two power play goals to Bemidji early and started chasing the game. They can't do that. UAH plays a tough game, and to have the success that I want to see, they need to simply make passes and make plays.

Defensively, if they can contain the D zone like they did last Friday, I have no concerns. I'd like to see Trevor Campbell and Josh Atkinson step up this weekend and make sure that the crease is clear. Cahill needs to see the shots coming at him and have the angle to make the stop. Saturday, the defense was giving too many lanes open to open shooters, that Cahill had no chance on. Cory Ward's two goals was nothing unheard of, and while the Chargers don't have a sniper like that, their shooters should not be uncontested.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Cahill Stops 'Em All As Alaska Rolls Bemidji 3-0

What a game. The Nanooks brought it tonight, and it paid off. What a game for Sean Cahill as he got his first bagel of his collegiate career. Team rallied around him and took away a lot of the higher quality chances they had. 

A lot of penalties involved in tonight's game early on, as the 'Nooks got called for 3 back to back, but it didn't matter too much as Jared Larson capitalized by forcing a turnover behind the net on Matt Prapavessis, and caught a beautiful look to Cody Kunyk on the backdoor for his 13th of the season.

That would be the only goal scored through two frames as both defenses held solid. Sean Cahill played outstanding in the 2nd period with stops on a clean breakaway and a glorious chance from Gerbrandt low face off circle. But his counterpart Jesse Wilkins was solid as well, but also a bit lucky on a few solid defensive plays in front of him.

But into the 3rd, the Nanooks shined as they stepped up and flat out out-worked the Beavers. They stopped absolutely everything Bemidji had tonight, and I loved every minute of it. 

Then it all paid off as a Bemidji State defender fell into his own goaltender as Larson was at the periphery of the crease, but the other defender was preoccupied behind the net with Huysmans, who made a great pass with this guy draped all over him as Larson buried it into essentially an empty net. Then Basara buried it into an actual empty net to seal the deal in the final 10 seconds.

Like I said earlier, the Nanooks played a complete game tonight, winning in every category. But you can bet that tomorrow will be a tougher game. But the Nanooks will be ready come 7:07PM. And if you can, be sure to stop by and see the Nanooks women's game at 3PM at the Carlson Center in their 2nd game against Delaware.

GAME DAY - Nanooks Set for Rematch Against Bemidji State

Game Day

Alaska Nanooks (9-11-4, 6-10-2 WCHA) vs Bemidji State Beavers (7-12-7, 7-7-4 WCHA)
7:07PM AST - Carlson Center, Fairbanks, Alaska

Live | Live AudioKCBF 820 Sports | 820 AM Fairbanks

Live Internet Video ($9): WCHA TV | TV: KFXF Fox 7 (Tape delayed)

Twitter: @NanookHockey

Well after a 1-2-1 road trip, the positive thing is that the momentum is in the Nanooks favor now. Coming off the program's second ever win in Northern Michigan, the 'Nooks are back on track as they return home for a 4 game stand heading into a bye week. The Nanooks tied, then rallied for a 5-1 Beaver slaughtering in Bemidji back in mid-December.

The Beavers, like the Nanooks, have struggled a bit with the new schedule. The last time these two teams faced, Bemidji had finished 18 straight games without a bye week. However, through that point, they have not yet recovered, despite a two game sweep at Lake Superior two weekends ago. However, two stars continues to shine for BSU, sophomore forwards Markus Gerbrandt and Cory Ward. The two have combined for 26 of the teams 69 goals scored this season, or nearly 38%. A pair the Nanooks will need to keep in check yet again. In fact in the first game against the Nanooks, it was Cory Ward who sprung ahead during the 1st period early to tie the game, and it was Cory Ward in the 3rd, who won the crucial draw in the Nanooks zone to set up the eventual game tying goal.

The Nanooks now have 8 of the last 10 games this season at home starting this weekend, but the 'Nooks can't look past this one. I think they caught Lake Superior looking ahead at Notre Dame a couple of weeks ago, and the home and home with North Dakota was anything but a sure thing. They aired those games on Fox College Sports if you get those channels, albeit tape delayed and Bemidji played them tough. North Dakota plays strong and plays offense first, and the BSU defenders contained the zone well, and got pucks out and up to give the forwards better chances with odd man situations.

The 'Nooks team though looks poised to make a run. Jared Larson returned to form along with Nolan Huysmans, who were both coach's decision scratches Friday night at NMU. They both admittedly had some performance challenges at Bowling Green, but to their credit they came back with a vengeance and proved their mettle. They played opposite of freshman center Shawn Hochhausen, who has played in every single game thus far this season as coach Ferguson stated that he is a well rounded player and can be put in any situation and play confidently. I like the way Shawn compliments these two and they seem to work really well together.

I also liked seeing Garrick Perry up with The Beck and Kunyk Show, his mix of speed and size compliments the others better in my opinion than Basara. Obviously both work, but I like Perry's play. If he's not at the top, I'd go for the Morley brothers with Perry on the right.

Here's how my forward lines would look, with Perry and Basara being interchangeable.

B. Morley-T. Morley-Basara

We'll see how my predictions line up come game time as the puck drops at 7:07PM at the Carlson Center, despite the road conditions.

Also a big weekend for the Nanooks women's club team as they will host their first ever home games this weekend against the University of Delaware. Their games are today and tomorrow. Today at 4:30PM at the Patty Center, then at 3PM tomorrow at the Carlson Center. If you can, get out their and cheer them on!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Morley Brothers Light the Lamp in First Victory Over NMU Since 2005

What a game. Although I had my doubts from the first period, the 'Nooks fired off four unanswered goals to get two points and out if 9th place into a tie for 7th. 

The first period left a lot to be desired for the 'Nooks with two early goals allowed to Northern as their freshmen John Siemer and linemate Erik Higby seemed like they couldn't be stopped early on. 

But the Nanooks showed a lot of grit in the 2nd and really came together to pour it on to tie the game. After getting down 2-0 early in the game with Erik Higby registering both tallies for the Wildcats. But, cue Tyler Morley. The Nanooks' sophomore turned it on in the 2nd being in the right place at the right time. First off a power play shot from Basara as Tyler collected and buried the rebound. Then a wraparound 3 minutes later to knot it up at 2-2.

In the 3rd, the Nanooks did not have as much of an offensive game, and truly neither team had a chance to really set up offensively until northern got the extra attacker out late in the period. But the Nanooks took advantage of the opportunities they had as Nolan Huysmans and Jared Larson caught a 2 on 1 break that they connected and cashed in for a goal. Jared Larson's tally was the first goal for him since October 11th--prior to his injury. Hopefully a big kick starter for him offensively as we head into the home stand to start closing the season. 

But 20 seconds later, the Nanooks would light the lamp again as Wildcats goalie Dahlstrom seemed to initiate contact with  Nolan Huysmans on the periphery of the crease. The Wildcats all seemed to assume that Huysmans was going to be called for goalie interference. But nope. Instead an NMU defender passed the puck right to Brandon Morley who was by himself in the high slot staring at an open net. You know what they say when you assume?

It was a good heads up play by Morley, who has goals in back-to-back games, and three goals on the season. All versus Northern Michigan--a team that recruited him, albeit very briefly. 

While things got interesting late as John Siemer netted his 3rd point of the game on a late extra attacker goal after the Nanooks scrambled to get the empty net goal to pull within one, John Keeney was solid down the stretch to earn his 4th win. And in the Nanooks book of history, only Keeney and his goalie coach Wylie Rogers have won between the pipes in Marquette. 

Overall though a good effort by the Nanooks as a team. They played solid after settling down in the first all over the ice. Since being separated from his brother earlier this season, Brandon Morley had not scored a single point since. Now that he is reunited, he's had 3 points this weekend alone. Safe to say they're permanently paired together now? Probably. 

The 'Nooks return home for the next 4 in very winnable games against Bemidji state and Alabama-Huntsville before the final roadie of the year. The 'Nooks now sit in a tie for 7th with teams that have played two fewer games. But the boys have a chance to kick it in gear here before the two big series at the end with Ferris and Gangchorage. 

10 games left with 20 points at stake. Time to go and get 'em.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Nanooks Fall 5-4 to Northern

As I said in my earlier post, the 'Nooks have to be better on defense. And allowing 5 goals on 17 shots on goal is not the recipe for success. The goal that was reviewed in the 3rd period probably should not have been a goal. The official did not signal a call on the ice, and went to review. Had he called no goal, I don't think it could have been overturned.

Down 2-1 to start the 3rd period, the Nanooks would then score 3 goals and still lose the game 5-4. Keeney had periods of brightness tonight, but weird bounces and unfortunate plays gave NMU the 5-4 edge in goals despite being outshot 32-17.

The rematch tomorrow is even more important as the 'Nooks are now 0-2-1 on this road trip. They need to find a way to win. These are desperate times now.

BG Wrap-up and NMU Preview - Nanooks Need to Be Better

A few days late, especially as the boys are getting ready to take on Northern Michigan in a few hours. So almost a week late, I suppose. Better late than never, I'm told.

Long story short, the 'Nooks need to be better. I thought they played a more complete game on Saturday, but to be held to one goal offensively is disappointing. The offense is better this season than I think it ever has been, but it has come at a sacrifice of defense. What has become a staple of the Ferguson era, the Nanooks have been as high as the 2nd best defense in the country. The season the Nanooks made the tournament, they were allowing 1.8 goals per game and scoring 2.2. 

Certainly not the flashiest offense in college hockey at the time, but dat defense. At the time of the tournament was 5th best in the country with Scott Greenham in the net and guys like Joe Sova, Aaron Gens, and Scott Enders in front of him. And Dion Knelsen, arguably the best two way player this program has had, continued to keep the 'Nooks in games they probably didn't belong in. 

This season, the Nanooks have scored 3.15 goals per game prior to the BGSU series (2.9 after scoring only 1 goal in 2 games), the highest offensive scoring mark the Nanooks have seen since Ferguson took over. But it has come at a sacrifice of defense. The Nanooks are now allowing 3 goals per game scored against them, statistically the worst in the past few years. 

What we have been witnessing as of late is what happens when the Nanooks hit a defense and a goaltender that keeps the offense in check. Conversely the same thing that happens when we don't have a defensive answer for them. You can point to more offensive-minded defensemen, you could point to the absence of a veteran goaltender, but more offensive production should not come at a cost to defensive stability.

Bowling Green's statistics aside, the Nanooks scored just one goal in two games to salvage a tie in the second game. However, John Keeney and the defense played phenomenally in my opinion. I think coach Ferguson made a statement with the team, electing to sit Nolan Huysmans and Jared Larson for J.D. Peterson, and Matt Friese. A bold move, but the 'Nooks did salvage a tie. If the move lights a fire under these two, expect some good waves to be heard through the roster. If they can balance that defensive showing with some smart offense, us fans may get to witness a run to get the 'Nooks up the standings.

What better way to start against Northern Michigan, a team that has had the 'Nooks number throughout the years. Northern is 29-9-10 all time vs the Nanooks, and 16-1-7 in Marquette. The Nanooks lone win ever came 10 seasons ago, a 2-1 thriller in February of 2004 with Wylie Rogers in net, Corbin Schmidt in uniform, and Kelly Czuy with the game winning goal.

It's been a long while, and the Nanooks are due. What better way to spark a run than rewriting history? Getting the second and third wins EVER in the Nanooks' program history. AND the Nanooks are 2-1-1 in the last 5 games against Northern. The Nanooks right now sit as the odd man out of the playoffs in the 9th spot, but just 1 point behind NMU and 6 points removed from 4th place Bemidji, whom the 'Nooks play at home next weekend.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Nanooks End Mavericks Win Streak With 4-2 Win

The guys came out to play tonight. The boys had some jump in their steps and they came out fired up. But an early penalty to Justin Woods early in the first deflated some of that energy a bit. 

MSU had a quick flurry of shots in front of the goal that Davis Jones had some trouble containing. Woods covered the back door and took the Maverick forward off the play. And his skates. It was a good play to prevent a high percentage scoring chance and about half the time does that get called.

But the Nanooks did a good job killing the advantage though, allowing a few shots but from the outside. 

The Nanooks had a power play of their own about 7 minutes in, but couldn't capitalize. The power play unit did not look very sharp, struggling on the entry and finding open ice were big issues. Plus when you get called for icing and you're on the power play, you're gonna have a bad time. 

But the offensive unit was back on the horse late by halfway through the opening frame as Tyler Morley made a great heads up play at the blue line to steal the puck with the glove and make the pass to Huysmans breaking down the right wing. Huysmans took the shot, Morley got the stick on it for the tip in and the 1-0 lead to finish the period. 

Into the second, the refs didn't take too kindly to 3 blind mice being played as their entrance music, and I think it showed a bit. A bunch of fluky calls early, including a 5 and a game called on Atkinson, when a Maverick player hopped on and speared our goaltender (by my count) 3 times (I heard 5).  Which didn't get even a minor. But they got Atkinson's reaction sadly. 

During the major, Cody Kunyk drew a hooking call to even it up 4 on 4 but a bounce in MSU's favor put it right on the stick of Matt Leitner to tie it up. 

Into the 3rd, some back and forth, but the Nanooks punched through midway through as Cody Kunyk dialed up another highlight reel dangle to find Tyler Morley for his second of the game and the 2-1 lead. Then Kunyk does it again with the read at center ice to force the turnover and a 3 on 2 chance as he wills the defense to open the back door. Kunyk to Basara to Beck for the 3-1 lead late in the 3rd

Then with 3:44 to go, the Mavericks pulled their goaltender to close the gap, and they did. 23 seconds later they close the gap to 3-2 on a flurry in front of the net. 

But a minute later off a faceoff Cody Kunyk gets a clean break to put the icing on the cake as the Nanooks get the 4-2 win over the Mavericks despite being outshot 39-18. 

What a game by Davis Jones tonight. He's really putting it together especially from the last Saturday win over Bemidji State before the break, he's emerging as the starter here coming down the stretch. 

Should be another hard fought game tomorrow. Hopefully we'll see Jared Larson's return, who knows.  

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Hot Streaks - Nanooks and Mavericks Collide, Both on Win Streaks

The last time the 'Nooks played at home was Thanksgiving weekend against MTU 5 weeks ago. My hockey withdrawals are in full effect, but with turkey and prime rib and all of the holiday trimmings the anxiety was kept to a minimum. But I'm travelling back to Fairbanks now and looking forward to a good series of hockey against a strong Minnesota State-Mankato team. 

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.