FAIRBANKS — One of Erik Largen’s goals in his first season as the Alaska Nanooks hockey head coach was making sure a certain group of guys experienced four straight seasons of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.
That group is comprised of Nanooks seniors Nikolas Koberstein (defenseman), Chad Staley (forward), Ryker Leer (forward) and Jack Weiss (defenseman). The quartet and the rest of the seventh-seeded Nanooks open a best-of-three, first round series against the second-seeded Northern Michigan University Wildcats at 3:07 p.m. AKST today in the Berry Events Center in Marquette, Michigan.
Game 2 is set for the same time Saturday and if game 3 is needed, it also will start at that time Sunday.
“That’s a big thing for the senior class to be able to make sure that they got into the postseason each and every year,’’ Largen said by phone Thursday.
“I also think a big thing, too, is us playing better hockey in the second half, giving ourselves the best opportunity to be ready for a postseason matchup, which I think the guys have done a good job at that.”
Coincidentally, the second half of this season began with respective losses of 4-0 and 4-2 to the Wildcats on Jan. 4 and 5 at the Carlson Center.
“I think during that series, they did a good job against us in their transition game,’’ Largen recalled. “They play a really fast, up-tempo game.
“We fed into that with some of our puck-management decisions and also, too, some of our discipline issues. I think that’s some of the things we’ve talked about all year.
“It’s been better over the last few games here recently and we hope that it continues into this weekend.”
After that New Year’s setback, the Nanooks went 8-5-1 overall. They secured a postseason berth with a seventh-place finish of 12-19-3 overall and 12-14-2-2 in WCHA games and 12-9-3 overall.
The Nanooks sealed the postseason berth with a road sweep last weekend of the Alaska Anchorage Seawolves, which also gave the Nanooks the Alaska Airlines Governor’s Cup Series trophy for the 10th straight season.
Discipline and special teams were two factors in the late-season success.
“I think for the most part, we’ve been much more disciplined and then I think the big thing, too, is our specialty teams have been really good,” Largen said.
“Our power play was clicking last weekend (against Alaska Anchorage) and it created some timely goals and some big-time goals for us. Our penalty kill was fantastic as well.
“Heading into the playoffs, when you’ve got your special teams and your goaltender playing well, it puts you in a really good position. Overall, I just like our competitiveness and our attitude with this opportunity in the playoffs.”
Northern Michigan ended the regular season at 19-14-2 overall and 18-8-2-0 against WCHA opponents.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.