FAIRBANKS—The Alaska Nanooks are well into the 2012-13 season, but they haven’t forgotten their last encounter with the Lake Superior State Lakers, who visit the Carlson Center tonight and Saturday night for a Central Collegiate Hockey Association series.
The Lakers ended the Nanooks’ season with a sweep of a first-round playoff series last March 2-3. Alaska lost 4-3 and 2-0 at the Clarence “Taffy” Abel Arena in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
“It was one of those series where after the weekend everyone was like, ‘Man, I wish we could go back and redo that series,’” Nanooks sophomore defenseman Justin Tateson said after Wednesday’s practice at the Carlson Center.
“We are a better team than that and we knew that we could possibly go out and beat Lake Superior State if we had played to the systems and stayed consistent,” Tateson recalled.
There seems to be a correlation between the one-goal setback in the postseason opener at Lake Superior last March and a 6-3 defeat in last Friday’s CCHA opener against Ferris State in Big Rapids, Mich.
“Friday night, we kind of did it to ourselves and let them back in the game,” Tateson said. “I was thinking that’s what happened in that (playoff) game (at Lake Superior).”
Unlike the playoff series last March, the Nanooks managed to change their fortune at Ferris State, rallying last Saturday for a 3-2 victory to split the series.
Coincidentally, Lake Superior opened CCHA play last weekend with a split. The Lakers edged Michigan State 3-2 Friday in the Abel Arena and the Spartans recovered for a 4-2 win Saturday.
Their respective series splits also put the Nanooks and Lakers among six teams tied for third place in the CCHA at 1-1-0-0.
The third-place tie also is an indication of the competitiveness between the Nanooks and Lakers. Lake Superior leads 28-13-6 in the all-time series but Alaska is 5-4-1 in the last 10 games.
“I think if you look at our record (against Lake Superior) in the time I’ve been here, it’s close to .500,” said fifth-year Nanooks head coach Dallas Ferguson.
“It’s a pretty even series and I think it’s comparable to Ferris,” Ferguson added. “We’ve had good series against them as long as I’ve been with the program.”
Lakers head coach Jim Roque cited some similarities of the programs that brings out fairly-even nature of their series.
“We’re both in remote locations and we attract the type of player that works hard, the overachiever type of kids,” Roque said by cell phone Wednesday. “I think both teams work hard and both teams play a defensive style of hockey. I think that’s why we have a lot of close games.”
Fairbanks is located in Interior Alaska and Sault Ste. Marie is on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Roque said, too, that this edition of the Lakers is different than the one that swept last March’s playoff series.
Lake Superior is missing five players to injuries.
“The biggest thing is a lot of guys are getting a lot of ice time that they wouldn’t normally get,” Roque said. “A lot of sophomores who didn’t do much last year are skating on the power play and penalty kill.”
Half of Lake Superior’s 26 players are freshmen (6) or sophomores (7).
Ferguson expects a close, intense series regardless of the demographics of Lake Superior’s roster this weekend.
“They’re a hard-working team, they play the right way, they have good goaltending and they have guys who can score,” he said. “It’s going to be important for us to stick to our game plan and make sure we execute it the best we can.
“I expect it to be tight games, hard battles,” said Ferguson, “and it could come down to the last mistake or whoever capitalizes on the last opportunity.”
The Nanooks are 3-2-1 overall while the Lakers are 3-3-0.
• Junior center Cody Kunyk, Monday’s recipient of the CCHA Offensive Player of the Week, leads the Nanooks in scoring with two goals and four assists for six points in six games. Senior left wing Domenic Monardo leads the Lakers in scoring with similar totals in as many games.
• The Face-Off Club is holding a reception today at the Fairbanks Curling Club, next door to the Carlson Center, for the parents of the Nanooks’ players who are in town for Parents Weekend. The event runs from 4-5:30 p.m. with catering provided by Tubby’s BBQ Grill and Sports Bar. There also is no-host bar during the reception.
• Alaska next faces Ohio State in a CCHA series in Columbus, Ohio, Nov. 9-10. Each game starts at 3:05 p.m. AST.
Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.