Nanooks

University of Alaska Fairbanks players wait for the start of “Juice Boy”, the team’s shootout drill, during Wednesday’s practice at the Carlson Center. The Nanooks face the Lake Superior State Lakers in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series at 7:07 p.m. today and Saturday at the Carlson Center. 

The University of Alaska Fairbanks hockey team didn’t leave Mankato, Minnesota, last weekend with results they wanted.

The Nanooks fell 4-0 Friday and 3-1 Saturday to the Minnesota State Mavericks, who are in first place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and were then third in the NCAA Division I polls by U.S. College Hockey Online and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine.

However, the weekend in the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center in Mankato may have benefited the Nanooks’ preparation for a WCHA series against the Lake Superior State Lakers at 7:07 p.m. today and Saturday in the Carlson Center.

“Whenever you play a team as good as them, I think it benefits your group because you see where you need to get to,” Nanooks head coach Erik Largen said after Wednesday’s practice at the Carlson Center.

“Mankato (Minnesota State) set the bar high for our league and really across the country. We know we have to improve our game in order to get to that level.

“Anytime you have a chance to play that good of a team, you know you’re going to get better, you know you’re going to have an opportunity to improve as an individual and as a group.”

The Nanooks, at 10-2-0 overall and 8-8-0-0 WCHA, share fourth place in the standings with the Michigan Tech Huskies. The Lakers, of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, are 7-18-1 and 5-10-1-1, respectively, and have seventh place to themselves.

“Now we’ve got to take steps forward this weekend against Lake State, who’s going to be hungry for points (in the standings), and has a very good team,” Largen said.

The top eight teams at the end of the regular season advance to the WCHA playoffs and the top four teams each gets to host a best-of-three quarterfinal series.

Lake Superior State split at Alaska Anchorage last weekend. The Seawolves won 2-0 Saturday and the Lakers rallied Sunday for a 5-3 victory after trailing 2-1 in the first period.

“They obviously play hard and they’re competitive,” Largen said. “A big thing, too, is their defensemen are a lot more active under Damon (Whitten, head coach).”

The Nanooks noticed that last season at the Carlson Center, as Lake Superior swept 4-1 and 5-2, respectively, on Dec. 7 and 8, 2018.

“Their defensemen were very active in the rush and gave us a lot of problems on our rush coverage,” Largen said. “They do a good job of getting involved and their ‘D’ are active in the offensive zone, active off the rush.”

The Nanooks are 19-39-8 in the all-time series with the Lakers.

Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.