Friday, September 26, 2014

It's That Time Again

The time when the trees begin to change colors, the time in the morning to start your car to defrost the windshield, the time when students bustle around campus to get from class to class. Yes, it's fall. Perhaps more universally accepted as hockey season.

Beginning with this past Saturday's Alaska Hockey Fan Fest, the season is underway. The Patty Gym was full of all kinds of fun activities and kids of all ages came out to meet the team, and get pumped up for the season. A few even got picked during the skate with the 'Nooks afterwards to suit up for a shootout contest against the Nanook goalies. All kinds of fun. If you made it out, the photo gallery has been put up with all of the photos from the event. It was a blast!

As for the team.. with three departing seniors, two early departures, and one temporary absence has made room for these six freshman to round out a very balanced roster. We have seven seniors, eight juniors, seven sophomores, and seven freshmen. Of the 29 players, junior Colton Parayko was named team captain for 2014, while seniors Garrick Perry and Tyler Morley will serve as alternates.

The incoming freshman I will say I am pretty excited about, perhaps a bit more so than in previous years. Let's get the run down and take a look at each of the rookies and see where they come from.

#5 Kyle Froese (pronounced "frays") plays with a lot of poise for a defenseman. Just watch the first 10 seconds of this video. Yes it was against the Ice Dogs, but that's why it stuck out in my head. Anyway, the puck finds his stick back out on the point, but he realizes that he has space and waits and fakes a shot to open the shooting lane before ripping it for the goal. A subtle but important thing that a lot of defenseman just get a shot of adrenaline through their veins and try to make something happen and force it. Will be interesting to watch him at the college level where the timing will certainly change.

#6 Zach Frye is probably the guy I'm most excited about. The 4 year USHL veteran is an aggressive guy, highlighted by the 214 minutes he spent in the penalty box last year--over double the average for the rest of the team. Aggressive might be an understatement. But he backs that up with scoring. This clip is from the 2011-12 season, his first season in Lincoln. A beauty of a wrap around on the power play. Someone asked me a while back why other teams weren't high on him, and I don't know whether they were or not. However despite having 27 points, he was a -3 player as a defenseman in 38 games. But prior to that through nearly a complete season Frye was a +23 with 11 points. Increase in scoring, but a decrease in plus/minus in a defenseman typically leads people to believe poor defensive decisions or over aggression. But the Stars had a rough year last year. They had a losing record, and coupled with that, a coaching change before the end of the season. None of that is easy on a player to transition. Hopefully with some solid coaching with the offensive defenseman mastermind behind the bench, we'll see Zach shine before long.

#13 Austin Vieth comes to the Nanooks from an area I know all too well--Marinette, Wisconsin. I've spent collectively about 8 weeks in that town for work in the past year working on the University's new arctic research vessel. Certainly a small town with a not too dissimilar climate to Fairbanks. My fingers are crossed that he got the memo to bring me a burger or two from Mickey Lu's... But when it comes to hockey, I haven't been able to find much media on this guy. The second leading scorer for the Janesville Jets of the NAHL in 2012-13 at just 13 games into the season moved up to the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL, but didn't seem to keep the scoring flame lit. However he joins his Waterloo teammate, and Black Hawks leading scorer Peter Krieger on the Nanooks' roster this season. Here's a sweet highlight from his goal against Tri-City (1:25 into the video). And a 2 point night for Vieth against Dubuque early on in the season.

#16 Tayler Munson also known as "munney" for a reason, the 21 year old Fairbanks native averaged just over a point per game for the Ice Dogs last season, and finished as the team's leading scorer. Tayler did take the leap from the NAHL to the USHL with former Ice Dogs head coach Josh Hauge after winning the Robertson Cup in 2011. However the injury bug bit hard, and Tayler made his way back eventually to the Ice Dogs. Now that he's back in action, he'll join several former Ice Dogs with the Nanooks, including the famous "Local Line" of Ice Dogs legend and lore with Alec Hajdukovich and Jared Linnell. 2010-11 was the last time the trio of Fairbanks natives played together as the Ice Dogs went 40-15-0-3, the "Local Line" combined for 152 points over the season.  One would have to figure the 3 of them would be lined up together at least for the exhibition game. It would be a big win with the fans... Just sayin'...

#26 Peter Krieger is no doubt the hottest scoring rookie to don the Nanooks' sweater this year. The 5th leading scorer in all of the USHL with 67 points topped with a +27 leads to some high scoring expectations. With the departure of Kunyk and Beck last season, I have to imagine coach Ferguson has Krieger penned in for some serious ice time this season. Shortly after Fan Fest,  someone asked me why he wasn't drafted. And the only reason I can point to, is that he didn't start playing in Junior's until he was 19. And with the draconian NHL draft rules, North American players are only draft eligible up until the year that they turn 20. But not getting drafted--especially today--means very little. Non-drafted free agents are making huge waves in today's pro hockey world, and if he's as good as he is on paper, there's no saying what will come for him.

Krieger Goal Highlight (1:03)
Top Shelf from the Slot (Beauty at 1:15)
3 point night against Dubuque (Vieth with a goal as well)

#28 Colton Sparrow is likely going to turn out to be one of the smartest pickups for the coaching staff. Colton is a very versatile player, who seems to thrive and turn it up in the clutch. Scored over a point per game in the playoffs to lead Vernon to the RBC cup finals. As a result, he was named the Player of the Year for the 2014 Playoffs, including Top Scorer and Top Forward for the RBC cup finals with five goals and two assists. This Player Profile by (tip of the hat to Tom B. for finding this one) has some choice words from his coach, as well as a nice one-on-one interview.

#32 Nick Hinz has been a defensive staple for the Ice Dogs for quite a while. The Minnesota native has been a model of consistency for the Dogs, playing in nearly every game of every season he's played there. To top it all off, he was the NAHL's leading playoff scorer among defenseman for the 2014 playoffs. He's a bit smaller at 5'11" 190lbs, but some conditioning and strength training will get him where he needs to be. He plays very well with his size though, and could see some ice time this season.

Practices did start a while ago, and this is going up way later than I wanted it too. The annual Blue/Gold scrimmage is Saturday night, and there's still a lot of things that developed over the summer. I'll admit, I was a bit bitter over the game 3 loss to ACC. But that settled long ago, I've just been busier than a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest this summer. Lots of travel, lots of projects. Moved into a new house. Things that resemble responsible adulthood... I think...

Anyway, this is a kick start. Time to get the blog back in to gear as the 'Nooks start up the new year. Fasten your seatbelt Dorothy, we're not in Kansas anymore...

Also, for the newest of news, Cody Kunyk scored his first goal in a Tampa Bay Lightning uniform. Yes, it was preseason. Still, the biscuit went in the basket. 5-hole on Kari Lehtonen... Check it out.