Penalties for violating NCAA rules have made the University of Alaska (Fairbanks) ineligible for all postseason play.
But the Nanooks haven’t quit on the season.
Instead, they’re playing well and winning.
Alaska has won four straight games entering this weekend’s series at 11th-ranked Bowling Green.
The Nanooks are 12-8 overall and 7-7 in the league. They’re fourth in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association with 14 points, just three behind BG. The Falcons (12-3-3, 8-1-1) have played four fewer games.
The NCAA penalties were the result of eligibility infractions that happened from the 2007-08 through the 2011-12 academic years. The school learned of the penalties just days before they hosted BG Nov. 7-8.
The Falcons posted a 3-2, 3-2 sweep in that series.
“It’s a difficult spot for them to be in. It’s unfortunate for this group of boys,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “They’re coming in with not a whole lot to lose because there’s no postseason for them.
“They’ve got a chip on their shoulder because of that. There’s probably a chip on their shoulder because of the way the series with us went in Fairbanks.”
The Nanooks are coming off home sweeps the last two weekends of Ferris State, and Alabama-Huntsville. The three weeks before that, they split with Minnesota State, Northern Michigan and Lake Superior.
“This is a hungry team,” Bergeron said. “They’ve won four straight games, and they’re playing well. We know they’re a good team.”
NUMBERS: The Nanooks are fourth in the league in scoring (2.95 goals per game) and third in power-play conversions (18.4 percent, 14 of 76).
Defensively, Alaska is sixth in goals allowed (2.55 gpg) and seventh in penalty-killing (82.5 percent, 65 of 81).
“They’re an in-your-face team,” Bergeron said. “They’re hard to play against. I’ve always been a fan of the way they play on the road. It’s going to be a difficult series.”
PAIRWISE: The Falcons are fifth in this week’s Pairwise Rankings. The Pairwise Rankings mirror the criteria used to select the teams for the NCAA playoffs.
Six automatic bids and 10 at-large berths make up the NCAA field. The field is then divided into four four-team regions for single-elimination games.
This season’s regionals are in Notre Dame, Indiana; Fargo, North Dakota; Manchester, New Hampshire.; and Providence, Rhode Island. Unless a school is a regional host, it is not guaranteed to play in the regional closest to home.
IN GOAL: The Falcons haven’t announced their goaltending plans for the series, but Chris Nell, Tommy Burke and Tomas Sholl all are playing well.
Nell and Burke split BG’s last three series before Christmas, but Nell and Sholl were in goal last weekend against Robert Morris.
“It’s a competition,” Bergeron said. “For the three of them individually, it’s not the most ideal situation. For the coaches, we’re seeing the competition bring out the best in all three of them.
“It hasn’t solidified itself as a one- or a two-man race. It’s definitely a three-man race and good for all them for taking advantage and playing well.”
Sholl had 34 saves Sunday in a 4-1 victory at RMU, his first start since Halloween weekend. Bergeron said Sholl continued to work hard and play well in practice, even when he wasn’t starting.
“He absolutely deserved to start on Sunday, and he took advantage of the opportunity,” Bergeron said. “Chris Nell continues to play well and grow in confidence. Tommy Burke is a big part of the conversation.”
BG PK: The BG penalty-killing is second nationally at 93 percent (66 of 71), trailing only Vermont (93.2 percent, 69 of 74).
“It’s culmination of four years of the same thing,” Bergeron said. “We’ve been wanting to kill the same way. We’ve got guys who understand what we expect from them and we’ve been executing. That has to do goaltending and that has to do with doing all of the little things you have to do to be good at killing penalties. We’ve been fairly consistent.”
Seniors Connor Kucera, Mike Sullivan, Adam Berkle and Dan DeSalvo are in their fourth season of killing penalties, and a number of younger players are helping with those duties as well.
The Falcons haven’t allowed a power-play goal in 13 of their 18 games this season, including eight of the last nine.
BG PP: The Falcon power play remained inconsistent against RMU, going 0 of 7. It was 4 of 13 in its last three games before that.
“We’ve talked enough about the fact that we have lots of options on the power play, but it’s been inconsistent, whether it’s our execution, whether it’s our intensity, whether it’s our work ethic on the power play,” Bergeron said.
The Falcon power play is fourth in the WCHA (18.1 percent, 13 of 72).
“The process and the number of chances we’re getting have been inconsistent. We need to solidify our power play,” Bergeron said.
LEADERS: The Alaska line of junior center Tyler Morley, sophomore right wing Marcus Basara and senior left wing Garrick Perry has combined for 18 goals and 30 assists, accounting for 30 percent of the team’s offense.
Morley is the WCHA’s second-leading scorer with 20 points on six goals and 14 assists. Basara is ninth with 17 points, including nine goals.
Alaska junior Colton Parayko, a St. Louis Blues’ draft pick, is one of the league’s best defensemen. The 6-foot-5, 218-pounder has four goals and 11 assists, and an on-ice rating of plus 3.
Sophomore Davis Jones is UA’s No. 1 goalie. He’s played in 14 games, posting a 9-4 record, a 2.31 goals-against average and an .897 save percentage.