FAIRBANKS—The Carlson Center is playing host to a youth movement this weekend, in the form of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association series between the Alaska Nanooks and Miami RedHawks.
The conference-leading and fourth-ranked RedHawks of Oxford, Ohio, and the fifth-place Nanooks have each benefitted from solid freshman classes and the growth of sophomore players. Underclassmen also are among the top scorers for the Nanooks (4-4-2-0 CCHA, 6-5-3 overall) and the RedHawks (4-2-2-2, 7-2-3).
Freshmen center Tyler Morley and sophomore defenseman Trevor Campbell are among a four-way tie for the Nanooks scoring lead. Morley has five goals and four assists for nine points in 14 games and Campbell possesses a 1-8-9 scoring line in as many games.
Freshman right wing Riley Barber leads Miami with 5-10-15 totals in 12 games, and the top scorer among NCAA Division I rookies is followed by four sophomore teammates.
Sophomore center Austin Czarnik, an All-CCHA Rookie Team selection and Inside College Hockey.com Second Team Freshman All-American last season, is Miami’s second-leading scorer with 6-8-14 totals in 12 games. Wings Alex Wideman (4-3-7) and Cody Murphy (2-5-7) are tied for third for the RedHawks and sophomore center Blake Coleman (4-2-6) shares fifth place with senior left wing Curtis McKenzie (3-3-6).
Each team’s head coach, though, stresses that it’s not all youth all the time for their programs.
“We don’t really talk in terms of freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors,” Miami’s Enrico Blasi said Wednesday morning during a telephone interview. “We want everyone on the team to be on the same page, and they’ve done a good job at this point in the season. We’re always looking for everyone to contribute.”
Dallas Ferguson has similar sentiments to his RedHawks counterpart. The fifth-year Alaska head coach said, too, the impact that the Nanooks’ freshmen have made this season — 11 goals and 14 assists, statistically — was aided by the leadership of their upperclassmen teammates.
“They’re a good group of freshmen from a talent standpoint, and they’re all a good group of kids who have come in and understood our philosophy and culture,” Ferguson said after Wednesday’s practice at the Carlson Center.
“We have had strong leadership from our upperclassmen who have been here three to four years, and they have acclimated them (freshmen) pretty quickly and made them feel a part of it,” Ferguson added.
Freshmen have also stepped up between the pipes for the Nanooks and RedHawks.
John Keeney is Alaska’s leading goaltender with a 2-2-2 record, .935 saves percentage and a 1.79 goals against average which ranks 10th in NCAA Division I. Jay Williams has backstopped 10 games for the RedHawks, compiling a 6-2-2 record, .915 saves percentage and 2.18 GAA.
The Nanooks are coming off a one-point weekend at Northern Michigan — 4-3 overtime loss Friday followed Saturday by a 2-2 tie and 2-0 shootout loss —and they’re facing a rested RedHawks squad.
Miami last played on Nov. 16-17 against Michigan State in the Steve Cady Arena, gaining five points in the standings against the Spartans with a 2-2 tie and 2-0 shootout win in the opener and a 2-0 win in the finale.
Alaska is facing a Miami team that tends to be at home on the Carlson Center’s Olympic-size sheet. The RedHawks lead the all-time series at 36-14-5, including a 16-7-3 record in Fairbanks that includes a 5-0-1 mark in their last three visits to the Carlson Center.
“It just shows that they can go into an away rink and play the way they want to play, and we’re just going to have to play our game on this ice,” Nanooks junior center Cody Kunyk said Wednesday at the Carlson Center.
The Nanooks, though, have a .500 record (4-4) in their last appearances in Oxford, and they’ll face the RedHawks in the Steve Cady Arena on Feb. 1-2.
“The dynamics of it is both teams like to compete and it doesn’t matter where we’re at,” Ferguson said.
Bruce McLeod, Western Collegiate Hockey Association commissioner, is scheduled to speak during today’s coaches luncheon at noon at the Carlson Center.
The Nanooks are moving next season to the WCHA, joining current CCHA members Northern Michigan, Lake Superior State, Ferris State and Bowling Green State and current WCHA teams Alaska Anchorage, Minnesota State, Bemidji State and Michigan Tech.
The cost of the luncheon is $15 per person and the menu is sweet and sour pork with stir-fried vegetables and fried rice.
Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.