Starting with the northern-most team in the WCHA, University of Alaska, we’ll be taking a look quick look at the other teams around the league. The Nanooks finished sixth last year with a conference record of 11-13-4 and an overall record of 12-20-4. The finish earned them a trip to Mankato where they were swept by the Mavericks to finish out the year. The Nanooks will look to improve on last year’s performance with the start of Lance West’s time behind the bench.
Just like the Huskies, the ‘Nooks will have a familiar face stepping up to lead the team behind the bench. Long-time assistant Lance West was promoted to head coach following alumnus and eight-year head coach Dallas Ferguson’s departure to coach the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen. With only four seniors and sophomore Jesse Jenks departing, the on-ice losses are smaller than what most programs will face this year. The leadership of captains Josh Erickson and Brandon Morley will be missed along with Morley’s physical presence on the ice. Leading scorer Marcus Basara will leave a gap in the points department as well. Goaltending duties were split between senior Davis Jones and sophomore Jesse Jenks, both of which will not return for this year.
While Basara may have lead the goals column, he was only third in total points. Forward Chad Stanley and offensive-minded defensemen Zach Frye will be expected to continue with last years pace and lead the team going forward offensively. Troy Van Tetering should now be comfortable with the pace of college hockey in his second year and should be looked to increase his offense output as well.
On the defensive side of things, with no departing seniors, the Nanook’s blueline should be expected to hit the ground running as an experienced unit. This should help with the early non-conference series and give the Nanooks a solid foundation for the start of the WCHA campaign.
While it may seem like the loss of two goalies would be a negative, sophomore Anton Martinsson is expected to take the starting role after spending last year ineligible to play but with the team. His transition to starter should be smoother with the experienced defensive corps ahead of him.
The Huskies will see the Nanooks at least four times this year. The first series will be in the Carlson Center up in Fairbanks as the tail end of the Thanksgiving Alaska double roadtrip on the 24th and 25th of November. The trip has proved to be good to MTU the last few years with Tech sweeps the last few years. With the schedule including back to back weekends in Alaska, the negative effects of the long trip seem to be reduced and Tech hopefully can bring all six points home from Fairbanks again.
The Nanooks will make the trip to Houghton in mid January. The Huskies will be coming off of a bye week after the Ice Vegas tournament and the series will mark the start of the second half of the year for Tech. After a long absence from the MacInnes and the home fans look for good series as the Huskies look to start 2018 well.
Out of Conference
One of the large problems faced by the WCHA last year was a dismal out of-conference record and Alaska was no exception going only 1-5 in non-conference games with the only win a non-WCHA game against Anchorage. Losses came to Minnesota, Canisius, UNO and a pair to Notre Dame. The schedule for the Nanooks this year is front-loaded with most October games out of conference:
Oct. 06/07 Air Force
Oct. 13/14 at St. Cloud
Oct. 20 -at Alaska-Anchorage
Oct. 21 -Alaska-Anchorage
Playing annual AHA title contenders Air Force will prove to be an early test and an important series with PWR implications for the league this year come March. An away series at St. Cloud will be quite a challenge as the other Huskies have been picked second in the NCHC preseason poll. The final series is with WCHA foes and intrastate rivals UAA, but will not count as a WCHA conference game.
The Nanooks bring an experienced defensive corp to the table with what should be solid goaltending. Will Lance West’s first year behind the bench bring a jump forward? The offense will definitely need to click a bit more than last year, but expect Alaska to be slugging it out in the middle of the WCHA again this year perhaps fighting for the final home spot in the playoffs.