Nanooks clinch 11th straight Gov Cup, home ice

By Laura Stickells | March 1, 2020 | Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Chris Jandric throws the Governor's Cup to the student section after the University of Alaska Fairbanks defeated the University of Alaska Anchorage 6-1 on Saturday at the Carlson Center. Photo by Laura Stickells.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks went into Saturday night’s game needing only one point to win its 11th straight Governor’s Cup — anything but an outright loss followed up with a tie-breaking shootout loss would have been enough to clinch the title — but the last contest of the 27th annual four-game series against the University of Alaska Anchorage still felt like a must-win.

The game was the last of the regular season and the Nanooks’ quest for home ice in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s eight-team postseason tournament was coming down to the wire. The top four teams at the end of the regular season earn the advantage and UAF was one win short of the goal.

Every other regular season conference game had wrapped up by the time the Nanooks (16-13-5, 14-9-5-2 WCHA) and Seawolves (4-23-7, 4-18-6-3) took to the ice at the Carlson Center on Saturday. Bowling Green sat in the fourth place spot and although a win would leave both teams with 49 points, Alaska would have the edge with the tiebreaker, as they have a better win percentage in WCHA games.

The Nanooks did far more than just enough to clinch the cup and home ice, absolutely routing the Seawolves on their way to a 6-1 win.

Senior forward and captain Kylar Hope stands at center ice during the senior day celebration before Saturday's hockey game. Photo by Laura Stickells.

UAF head coach Erik Largen took the stage at the postgame press conference along with the nine Nanooks who were celebrating their senior night: forwards Kylar Hope, Tyler Cline, Colton Leiter, Logan Coomes, Kyle Marino and Troy Van Tetering; defensemen James LaDouce and Tristan Thompson; and goaltender Anton Martinsson.

“Eleven straight, home ice, I think that’s a pretty good night,” Hope said. “It feels good and I’m just so proud of these guys, the boys over there,” he said, pointing to the underclassmen standing next to the stage, “the guys up here,” he said, gesturing to the eight other seniors. “We couldn’t have done it without everyone.”

“This summer, we didn’t really know what was going on,” he added, referencing the state budget cuts that threatened to end athletics at UAF and UAA. “To have a season like this is kind of moving the program forward and I think there’s exciting things ahead.”

When the Nanooks face off against Bowling Green in the first game of the best-of-three playoff series on Friday, it will be the first time in seven years that the Carlson Center hosts a quarterfinals.

“Speaking on the seniors and this group, I think this year they had a mission and that mission was to be able to bring home home ice to Fairbanks and they were able to complete that,” Largen said. “I don’t think a lot of people gave us a chance to be in this spot and this group believed and they did it.”

While the game turned into a decisive victory, it came as little surprise that the Seawolves found the net first — Saturday was the Nanooks’ fourth consecutive game that started in a deficit. The previous three were by at least two goals.

Alaska’s defense got caught up in a pile up behind Martinsson’s net. Anchorage forward Jared Nash got loose from the scrum and wrapped around the net before sliding the puck past Martinsson’s outstretched left leg for 1-0 lead 1:19 into the second period.

UAF responded with a power play goal 2:22 later when Hope made a backdoor pass to Cline, who was waiting at the bottom of the right circle and tapped the puck past UAA goaltender Brandon Perrone to tie the game.

The go-ahead goal came halfway through the middle frame on a Nanooks power play. Steven Jandric passed the puck back from behind the goal line to Hope, who forced the puck past Perrone for the 2-1 lead.

Alaska’s powerplay, which was ranked as low as 58th out of 60 NCAA Division I teams in late November, has improved exponentially in the last four series. The past eight games have accounted for 12 of Alaska’s 22 power play goals this season.

“I think a lot of it has to do with where players are playing at,” Largen said about the special teams group. “You have Kylar Hope that’s playing in front of the net and Steven Jandric that’s playing up top and I think it’s better suited their abilities.”

Three minutes later the Nanooks tacked on another when LaDouce passed right to freshman Roberts Kalkis at the top of the circles, who one-timed it into the net for his first career goal and 3-1 lead.

Halfway through the final frame, UAF started to pile on with another power play goal from Coomes with assists from Justin Young and Leiter.

Kalkis added a second goal to his resume, popping the puck in from the bottom of the left circle with 5:43 remaining.

Caleb Hite got the final goal for the Nanooks 27 seconds before the final buzzer as the UAF student section chanted, “Ten more years! Ten more years!”