Nanooks prepare for postseason puck drop

By Laura Stickells | March 6, 2020

Three weekends ago, Bowling Green and the University of Alaska Fairbanks left the Carlson Center with two ties and three points each.

With Bowling Green ranked 24th and Alaska ranked 33rd in the national PairWise Rankings, an automatic bid as a conference champion will likely be either team’s only shot at a berth in the 16-team NCAA postseason tournament.

“Why not us? Why not our team?” UAF head coach Erik Largen said after the team wrapped up what was likely its last practice at the Carlson.

“I think we have a good mix of guys, good goaltending and our special teams have been better as of late … I think we match up well against any team in the conference and obviously we have to earn it and play well and do the little things right, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be us to have an opportunity to make a run.”

As is generally the case with a middle bracket matchup, the series between the No. 4 seeded Nanooks (16-13-5, 14-9-5-2 WCHA) and No. 5 seeded Falcons (19-13-4, 14-10-4-3) is expected to be one of the more competitive quarterfinal contests.

At the close of the regular season last Saturday, both teams ended up tied for fourth place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings, each with 14 conference wins and 49 points. Alaska, however, had a slightly better win percentage and thus won the tiebreaker for first-round home ice, an advantage awarded to the top four teams at the end of the regular season.

The Nanooks spent extra time on Thursday preparing for what they expect will be a tough special teams matchup.

The Falcons have the second best power play in the league, capitalizing on 25.9% of their opportunities while allowing no shorthanded goals, and have four of the top eight PP point scorers in the WCHA with defenseman Alec Rauhauser and forwards Connor Ford, Brandon Kruse and Alex Barber.

“We need to make sure we are staying out of the box against them,” Largen said about his team, which was the second most penalized team in the league through the regular season.

However, when Alaska does inevitably end up in the box, its penalty kill should provide solid defense. The Nanooks have the third best penalty kill in the league with a 85.6 PK% and in their February series, Bowling Green converted only one power play goal on a 5-on-3 opportunity.

And UAF isn’t without it’s own scoring threats. The Nanooks first line, particularly junior left wing Steven Jandric, has been on a tear as of late. Jandric has collected at least four points in each of the last three series and earned the WCHA Forward of the Month title for February.

“It’s really easy once the Ds start getting the puck up quick. It gives us forwards either more time to make plays or shoot it and I think that’s what has really helped us these past couple series,” Jandric said after Thursday’s practice.

“This was our last practice at the Carlson Center so I was just soaking it in and just spending these times with friends you’re going to have forever,” senior captain Kylar Hope said. “It’s kind of bittersweet … Hopefully we have more practices on the road. Hopefully we aren’t done.”

The games are scheduled to start today and Saturday at 7:07 p.m. and Sunday at 5:07 p.m., if necessary.