FAIRBANKS — Deep in the underbelly of the Carlson Center is a trophy case located a couple feet away from the Alaska Nanooks hockey team’s locker room.
It features various trophies from previous Brice Alaska Goal Rush tournaments. Between them is a large gap, which is where the Alaska Airlines Governor’s Cup trophy has been placed for nearly a decade.
The Nanooks hope to bring the trophy back to the Carlson Center for a 10th straight season. They’ll close out the Western Collegiate Hockey Association series against Alaska Anchorage this weekend at Sullivan Arena.
After the rivals split the first two games of the Governor’s Cup series earlier this year in Fairbanks, one team will hold bragging rights until the teams meet again next season.
UAF senior captain Nikolas Koberstein is mighty confident the Nanooks will continue their decade of dominance.
“It’s going to be here,” Koberstein said after Monday’s practice when asked about the trophy missing from the nearby case. “We’re hungry for that and it’s something we always strive for.”
Koberstein and his senior classmates can lock up a fourth straight Governor’s Cup with a pair of wins this weekend. Because the teams split their past series — UAA rolled to a 4-1 win Feb. 8 before UAF bounced back for a 2-1 victory the next night — the winner of the seasonlong series will have to earn a sweep this weekend.
The cup is awarded to the team that has earned the most points throughout the four-game series. Both teams have three points against each other after two games. Should they be tied at the end of Saturday’s regular-season finale, they’d compete in a shootout to see who takes the cup home.
UAF head coach Erik Largen, a Fairbanks native and a former goaltender for the Nanooks, said the Nanooks are focused on making it 10 in a row over the Seawolves.
“It’s so important to the community, our program and the university as well,” Largen said of the series. “Just to have those bragging rights, it’s important to our guys and our staff to be able to do that. We know it’s going to be a challenge, they’ve been really competitive down the stretch.”
Koberstein echoed his coach’s thoughts, adding that the players understand the Governor’s Cup bragging rights extend beyond the locker room.
“It means a lot, not only for the team but the community, too,” he said. “This team does so much in the community and the community means so much to us, it makes it a whole Fairbanks thing. It’s for everybody involved in the community and with our program.”
Largen said it won’t be easy against UAA. Although the Seawolves enter the final weekend of the regular season with a 2-21-3-2 overall record (3-26-3 WCHA), the Nanooks’ rookie coach said his players are expecting Anchorage to leave it all on the line.
“For them, this is their playoffs,” he said. “This is what they’re playing for — the Governor’s Cup, to bring it back to their campus. We know we have to be at our best and have a playoff intensity from the opening puck drop. It can’t be lackadaisical, like it has been on Fridays, because they’re going to be at their best.”
The Nanooks enter the series — which begins at 7:07 p.m. today — with a 10-19-3 overall record and a 10-14-2-2 mark in conference play. They secured the No. 7 seed in the WCHA Playoffs with a 1-0 win over Minnesota State Mankato on Saturday at the Carlson Center.
Koberstein said the players are still buzzing after upsetting the Mavericks, who were ranked fourth in the nation, on senior night.
“That was a real special feeling,” the captain said. “At the end, us seniors met at center ice and I really didn’t want to get off the ice. It was pretty special because this place has become my home over the past four years. It was very emotional.”
Even though the Nanooks are riding high, Largen said his players have shifted their focus toward the Seawolves.
“Our guys are more confident,” he said. “They were excited about it, because that was obviously a win for the program. But we’ve moved on, and now we’re ready for the Governor’s Cup.”
Tonight’s series opener and the finale — which takes place at 7:07 p.m. Saturday in Anchorage — can be heard on KSUA 91.5 FM.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMSportsGuy.