FAIRBANKS — Buckle up, because the rest of the Alaska Nanooks hockey team’s season is going to be a wild ride.
There still are 10 games to be played, but first-year UAF head coach Erik Largen said his team is looking at the remainder of the season as if the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Playoffs are underway.
It all starts today, when Alaska meet WCHA rival Alabama Huntsville at
4:07 p.m. AKST. The Nanooks and Chargers are battling for playoff position and enter this weekend’s two-game series in a tie for seventh place in the WCHA standings with 20 points apiece.
“When you’re tied with your opponent, everybody knows how important it is,” Largen said Thursday. “I think the group knows how important these games are. It’s like the playoffs have already started. We’ve got to have a good start on Friday and we’ve got to be competitive and find a way to earn points this weekend.”
Both teams enter tonight’s series opener after posting strong performances last weekend. UAF (6-16-2, 6-11-1 WCHA) split a two-game series against No. 9 Bowling Green, while UAH (6-19-1, 6-11-1 WCHA) earned a series sweep against Alaska Anchorage.
The Nanooks and Chargers met Nov. 16-17 in Fairbanks, with Huntsville skating to a 3-1 win in the opener before Alaska bounced back for a 2-1 victory the next night.
Largen said UAH will have the benefit of having star defenseman Kurt Gosselin, who was out during the November series, back in its lineup.
“The last time we played them, they didn’t have Kurt Gosselin, who’s arguably their best player,” he said. “He’s almost their leading scorer as a defenseman and has played half as many games as everybody else. Getting him back in the lineup was big for them.”
UAF will look to replicate the strong showing it had against Bowling Green, when it cruised to a 4-1 win in last weekend’s series opener.
Although each game is a separate challenge, Largen said he feels like his team’s performance against the nationally ranked Falcons has carried over into this week.
“It’s nice when you have success against as good of a team as B.G.,” the coach said. “I think it’s nice to have a weekend like that. ... I think it’s carried over to more up-tempo practices. But at the end of the day, you still have to get results during the next games you play.”
Largen said junior goaltender Anton Martinsson will get the start between the pipes tonight. The Klippan, Sweden, native made a combined 67 saves during the series split against the Falcons.
“Anton has been playing really good,” Largen said. “He’s given us a chance to win every game, allowing one goal on both Friday and Saturday night. We’ll keep going with him until he’s not the best option.”
UAF freshman defenseman Chris Jandric didn’t make the trip with the Nanooks because of an injury.
Both tonight’s series opener and Saturday’s series finale, which also takes place at 4:07 p.m. AKST, will be broadcast on KSUA 91.5 FM.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMSportsGuy.