FAIRBANKS—The Alaska Nanooks open the regular season against the Air Force Academy Falcons for the third time in six years. The Nanooks were successful in those two previous openers and hope the trend continues tonight in the Kendall Hockey Classic at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.
The Nanooks of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association drop the puck at 5:07 p.m. against Air Force, the reigning Atlantic Hockey Association regular-season and tournament champion and a participant in last year’s NCAA Division I Tournament.
“In my experience playing Air Force, they’re a team that’s always working hard, they have a lot of energy and they play at a high pace,” Nanooks head coach Dallas Ferguson, during a telephone interview Wednesday, said of the Falcons.
“You have to come to the rink thinking that you have to match that intensity if you want to be successful against them,” Ferguson continued. “They’re going to have guys who will make you pay if you don’t compete offensively. I’m looking forward to playing them.”
The Nanooks are 17-7-1 all-time against Air Force, including 9-2 in the 49th State.
The Nanooks end the Kendall at 4:07 p.m. Saturday against the Canisius Golden Griffins, a fellow Atlantic Hockey program from Buffalo, N.Y. Canisius faces the host University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves at 8:07 tonight, and UAA and Air Force play Saturday at 7:07 p.m.
Ferguson was a Nanooks assistant coach when they swept the Falcons 3-0 and 8-4, respectively, on Oct. 13-14, 2006, in the Carlson Center. The Nanooks opened the 2010-11 season against Air Force in the Kendall Classic, winning 5-2 on Oct. 8, 2010.
Air Force returned 21 players from last season’s squad, which lost to Boston College in a semifinal of the Division I Northeast Regional in Worcester, Mass. Coincidentally, the Nanooks lost to Boston College in March 2010 in a semifinal of the same regional in the same city. It was Alaska’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
The Nanooks don’t plan to alter their approach to tonight’s game.
“We want to be smart with the puck, we want to be disciplined and we wanted execute when we need to execute,” Ferguson said.
Air Force’s roster includes a former Fairbanks Ice Dog, junior forward George Michalke III.
Ferguson said he isn’t as familiar with Canisius, which last played the Nanooks on Jan. 16-17, 1989 in Fairbanks, with Alaska getting respective wins of 3-2 and 9-2.
“We just have to go play the game that we want to play, and when we do that, it obviously gives us our best chance at being successful,” Ferguson said.
The Golden Griffins had no senior skaters last season, when they finished 10-14-3 conference and 10-22-3 overall for ninth place in the 12-team AHA. The preseason Atlantic Hockey poll predicted Canisius to place ninth again this season and Air Force to finish at the top.
The Nanooks are considering using two goaltenders this weekend, but Ferguson didn’t announce which two it would be among Alaska’s three netminders — freshman John Keeney, sophomore Sean Cahill and senior Steve Thompson, who is from Anchorage.
“We’ll reassess it for next week and see where we’re at,” Ferguson said.
The Nanooks face Merrimack of Hockey East and North Dakota of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in the Brice Alaska Goal Rush on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 19-20, at the Carlson Center.
Nanooks freshman defenseman J.D. Peterson had surgery Wednesday for a broken arm he sustained during the Blue-Gold Game on Sept. 29 at the Patty Center. ... Michigan Tech freshman goaltender Pheonix Copley of North Pole had 18 saves in Thursday’s 4-2 season-opening, nonconference loss at Lake Superior in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. The Nanooks face Lake Superior in Alaska’s CCHA home opening series on Nov. 2-3 at the Carlson Center.
Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.