This weekend’s series at Bowling Green finishes the University of Alaska’s annual trip to the lower 48 states to play back-to-back series.
The Nanooks arrived in BG Wednesday after playing at Ferris State last weekend.
They began their back-to-back weekends on the road when they were members of the now-defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association. Alaska kept the practice when it moved to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association for the 2013-14 season.
Normally, the two series are played in early January before the start of the spring semester. But this season, the Nanooks are missing the first four days of class this semester.
The Nanooks will head home after playing the Falcons Friday and Saturday nights in the Slater Family Ice Arena.
“When we were in the CCHA, it was more of the fact we could be on the road for two weeks and not worry about the school aspect of it,” Alaska coach Dallas Ferguson said Wednesday after his team practiced in the SFIA. “It’s nice to knock out two road (series) back to back when you’re not in school. It’s nice when it happens over break.”
The Nanooks departed Fairbanks Jan. 11 for their series at Ferris State, and remained in Big Rapids, Michigan after the series finale Jan. 14. The team stayed three nights in Plymouth, Michigan before heading to BG on Wednesday.
Alaska also practiced in BG Thursday and Friday. Plymouth is between Detroit and Ann Arbor. The Nanooks attended the Detroit Red Wings’ game Monday against the Montreal Canadiens. They’ll return home after the BG series and have next weekend off.
“There are lots of rinks in this area,” said Ferguson, who is in his ninth season as the school’s head coach after serving as a Nanook assistant for four seasons. “You just have to find one, and they’re all accommodating. We try to make sure we can keep as normal a routine as possible with our practices and our training.”
The Nanooks have five other trips to the continental U.S. this season. Alaska-Anchorage also is finishing back-to-back road series in the lower 48 states this weekend. The Seawolves face Northern Michigan this weekend after playing Michigan Tech last weekend.
Some WCHA schools are playing back-to-back weekends in Alaska when they visit the Nanooks and Alaska-Anchorage in the same season. Michigan Tech did that this season.
“The travel for us is usually tougher the first couple trips because guys aren’t used to the time change,” Ferguson said. “It’s way harder traveling east than it is traveling west. You have to focus on the time change and making sure you’re getting your clock set as quickly as possible. And then you have to make sure you’re getting your sleep and the right things in your body.”
The Nanooks are 4-4-3 on the road this season, but only 3-9 at home. They earned five out of a possible six points at Ferris.
“Everyone has to deal with the travel in our league,” Ferguson said. “These trips we’re on the road for back-to-back series can go either way. I’ve seen where we’re better the second weekend, and I’ve seen it where we haven’t been as good. It’s a matter of staying focused on our routine and getting our clocks set as soon as possible.”
SURPRISE TEAM: After the Nanooks were picked for last place in the WCHA coaches poll, they’re fifth in the league with 24 points — just eight behind third-place BG and Minnesota State. Alaska has two games in hand on the Falcons.
But the Nanooks are only five points ahead of ninth-place Lake Superior. The top eight teams qualify for the playoffs, with the top four hosting best-of-3 quarterfinal series.
“The playoffs have already started in terms of the type of hockey you’re going to see,” Ferguson said. “You start to look at the standings a little bit more, but we’ve always taken the process route. We want to make sure we’re getting better from last weekend. If we do that, that gives us the best chance to be successful. You don’t want to take steps back.
“Is there a chance we get on a run here, we can put ourselves in a home-ice position? Sure. But it’s more important to play the right the game way and play the type of hockey we need to play to be successful.”
Alaska is 7-14-3 overall and 6-9-3-3 in the WCHA. Nine freshmen, seven sophomores, five juniors and four seniors have seen game action this season.
The Nanooks were eighth in the league last season, losing at Tech in the first round of the playoffs.
RECAP: The Nanooks earned their five points at Ferris by scoring during a 3-on-3 overtime in Game 1 after a 3-3 tie through 65 minutes, and posting a 2-1 OT win in Game 2.
“To walk away with the number of points they did means they’re playing very good hockey,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “I’m expecting a confident team and a rested team. They’re here for the week. They’re a handful when they’re hungry.”
The Falcons and the Nanooks have played twice this season, splitting a December series in Fairbanks. UAA is 3-2-1 in its last six games overall, including a 3-1-1 record in league play.
“They’re right behind us in the standings,” Bergeron said. “They know this weekend could close the gap. They’ve got their crack at us, and I want us to look at it the same way. We’ve got our crack at them, and we’ve got a chance to create some more distance between us and them.”
UAF STATS: The Nanooks are sixth in the league in scoring (2.38 goals per game) and last in goals allowed (3.50). They’re fifth in power-play conversions (15.9 percent, 20 of 126) and seventh in penalty-killing (82.3 percent, 102 of 124). Alaska is the second-most penalized team in the league, averaging 16.8 minutes per game.
Marcus Basara is the team’s leading scorer with 16 points. The senior right wing has nine goals and seven assists. Sophomore center Chad Staley has six goals and nine assists, while junior defenseman Zach Frye has four goals and 10 assists.
Sophomore Jesse Jenks and senior Davis Jones have split time in goal. Jenks has started 15 of Alaska’s 24 games and appeared in 16 games, posting a 3.35 goals-against average and an .890 save percentage. Jones has started nine games with a 3.46 goals-against and an .898 save percentage.
Jones played both games at Ferris, stopping 81 of 85 shots.
THE VIEW OF BG: The Falcons lead the WCHA in overall scoring and are second in league-game scoring. They’re scoring 3.04 goals per game overall and 3.15 goals per game in league play.
“They move the puck very well and their (defensemen) activate very well,” Ferguson said of BG. “They have a high-level game to them. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to compete, and ready to manage the puck and be ready to work for 60 minutes to have success.”