FAIRBANKS—Andy Murray is unbeaten in the Carlson Center, but the second-year Western Michigan University head coach expects that streak may be tough to uphold this weekend against the Alaska Nanooks in a Central Collegiate Hockey Association series.
“I think when we look at Alaska Fairbanks, I think it’s one of the best-coached teams in our league,’’ Murray said in an online video of the Broncos’ weekly media conference Tuesday in Kalamazoo, Mich.
The Nanooks hold third place in the CCHA at 3-2-1-0 conference and 5-3-2 overall. The Broncos reside in seventh place (2-1-1-1, 5-2-1), but they’re the reigning CCHA Tournament champions and are ranked ninth in the latest USCHO.com Poll of top 20 NCAA Division I teams. Alaska received 36 points in the poll.
“I think Dallas does a tremendous job,’’ Murray said. “He’s a great young coach, he’s had experience as a player in the league, and he was a quality player. He’s developed into a quality coach and he’s also a quality recruiter, because we look at a lot of the players that went to Fairbanks this year and they were certainly on our board as well.”
Alaska coach Dallas Ferguson expects a tough series against the Broncos, who like the Nanooks, are coming off of wins and ties.
“There’s a reason why they’re in the top 10 in the country,” Ferguson said Tuesday at the Patty Center. “They’ve got talent in all positions and their goaltenders have always been really solid for them. Up front, they’ve got some dynamic players. They play with a lot of speed and they have a lot of poise.”
The Nanooks earned four points in the standings last weekend at Ohio State. In the opener, Alaska tied 1-1 and lost 2-1 in the shootout. The Nanooks came back Saturday with a 3-1 win.
The Broncos gained five points from a home-and-home series against Bowling Green State. Western Michigan won 3-1 Friday in Kalamazoo and the next night in Ohio, tied 2-2 before winning the shootout 2-0.
Murray debuted in 2011-12 for Western Michigan following a 20-year coaching career in the National Hockey League that included the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues. His first stint in college coaching included four games against the Nanooks, starting last Oct. 21-22 at the Carlson Center.
The Broncos won 4-1 in the opener and the next night, the teams tied 2-2, but WMU prevailed 2-1 in the shootout. The Nanooks gained a split last Feb. 3-4 in Kalamazoo, winning 2-1 and falling 4-1.
The Broncos, seemingly, aren’t much different from the squad that won the CCHA Championship Tournament last March in Detroit and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
“They’ve got a really good defense and they’re offense is very fast,’’ Alaska senior left wing Jarret Granberg said. “I think one of our biggest challenges is going to be attacking that defensive corps and getting shots.”
The Nanooks, based on their record, are different than the group which placed 10th in the CCHA last season and was swept in a first-round playoff series at Lake Superior. Alaska also has gained points in the standings every weekend so far this season.
“They’ve got good players, and I thought they had one of the top centermen in the league last year in (junior Cody) Kunyk. He’s off to a great start again this year,’’ Murray said. “They’ve added some more weapons, they’ve got guys who can score.
“We know how tough they are to beat in their building,’’ Murray added. “We’re expecting a great opponent and it will be a tough series for us, and we’ll have to be at our best.”
For the Nanooks, the feeling is mutual.
Nanooks senior center and team captain Adam Henderson is among 20 candidates for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award for college hockey. The award recognize academic achievements, community service and competitiveness.
• Three players share Alaska’s scoring lead with seven points each — junior left wing Colton Beck (four goals and three assists); senior right wing Andy Taranto (three goals, four assists) and Kunyk (two goals, five assists).
Taranto also is three points away from 100 career points.
Senior right wing Dane Walters leads Western Michigan with 3-4-7 totals.
Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.