FAIRBANKS - Dallas Ferguson is in rare company in a short time as the Alaska Nanooks head coach.
He has his team in the NCAA Division I Hockey Tournament in only his second season of running practices, developing plays and motivating skaters and goaltenders.
The 2009-10 Nanooks received an at-large berth into the Northeast Regional in Worcester, Mass., where they’ll face the Boston College Eagles at 9:30 a.m. ADT Saturday. It’s Alaska’s first appearance in the
16-team, four-regional national tournament in the program’s 30-year history.
This year’s regional winners advance to the Frozen Four on April 8 and 10 at Ford Field in Detroit.
Ferguson was asked during an interview earlier this week if he started this season or started two years ago thinking that Alaska would be in the national tournament in only his second season at the helm.
He told the interviewer that it’s about process.
“I wouldn’t say that we didn’t say we weren’t going to be, and we didn’t say it was a five to seven-year plan,” Ferguson said. “Our plan was to take care of today and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow and come to work every day with a good attitude, good work ethic and stick together, and remember that the team aspect is the most important part of it.
“Let’s have a good attitude, a good work ethic and let the process work its course, and if you do that, you will be successful.”
Ferguson was an assistant coach for four seasons for the hockey team of his alma mater, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, before he was named the Nanooks’ bench boss in 2008.
Making history in two years wasn’t an immediate goal for the 37-year-old native of Wainwright, Alberta, and married father of two daughters after he stepped into the role of guiding the program for which he was a defenseman from 1992-96.
He just wanted to make it fun for the Nanooks play when they came to the rink.
“I love our team, I love our guys’ attitudes,” Ferguson said of the character of his team, which is 18-11-9 overall and seeded 13th in the national tournament and fourth in the Northeast Regional.
“I think the guys know when to keep it serious and when to enjoy themselves,” Ferguson continued. “We said from day one last year that it was about coming to the rink and making that the funnest part of your day.
“I think our guys do that. They’ve created a culture and a balance that you can still come to the rink and have fun, but you’re going to come to the rink and work hard.”
Working hard has been fun for Alaska, and often under Ferguson, the Nanooks have looked like a group of 6-year-olds enjoying a day at Disneyland.
“He’s had a huge impact on everybody on the team, especially us three up here,” junior center and team captain Derek Klassen said during Tuesday’s media conference, where he was seated between senior center and team-leading scorer Dion Knelsen and junior left wing and assistant captain Kevin Petovello.
“He’s done an amazing job if you just look at his record (35-27-15),” Klassen said. “He just keeps getting better and better and we just keep winning more and more. I can’t say enough about coach Ferg.
“... From day one, everything’s been ‘we want it this way and this is how it’s going to be’ and everybody buys into that, and that definitely helps. You can definitely see it with the product on the ice.”
This product on the ice starting developing last season.
In Ferguson’s first season at the helm, he earned the Central Collegiate Hockey Association Coach of the Year honors after guiding the team the CCHA Championship Tournament at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
Those same Nanooks were predicted by the conference’s preseason polls for an 11th-place finish after Alaska went 9-21-5 overall in 2007-08 under then head coach Doc DelCastillo.
In 2008-09, Ferguson coached Alaska to a fourth-place finish in the CCHA regular season, a first-round bye in the playoffs and a quarterfinal series win over Ohio State at the Carlson Center.
Wade Klippenstein, like every Nanooks alumni, beamed when he heard that that Alaska received at an-large berth Sunday into the NCAA Tournament.
“Any time you get on a national stage, it helps with the awareness of the program,” said Klippenstein, now the assistant general manager and player personnel director of the Prince George (British Columbia) Cougars of the major junior-level Western Hockey League.
“... There’s so many kids who leave Fairbanks with such a strong feeling of belonging to such a good hockey team, and the university is a good place to go to school,” Klippenstein said. “People want to go somewhere they have a chance to win, and this winning tradition they’ve got going on is another step in that growth.”
Klippenstein and Ferguson were Nanooks teammates, as Klippenstein was an Alaska left wing from 1990-93. They were also assistant coaches for former Nanooks head coach, and alumni, Tavis MacMillan from 2004-07.
Klippenstein isn’t surprised at the Nanooks’ accomplishments under Ferguson.
“His demeanor is very calm and I think that’s so important because you go through highs and lows,” said Klippenstein, “and at the same time, he is a very good teacher.”
Alaska assistant coaches Lance West and Brian Meisner and have also helped Ferguson and the Nanooks’ progress.
“They have a great mind for the game. There’s not one player on our team that they don’t have good read on,” Ferguson said of his staff, which this season includes volunteer assistant Ryan Reinheller, a former Alaska center (1997-2001).
“Everybody has an opportunity to provide input and the common goal is we want to do the very best for our players and for the program,” Ferguson said.
On Saturday at the DCU Center in Worcester, the Nanooks and their coaches will experience one of the best moments in the program’s history.
CAMPUS TRAILS: Senior forward and Chugiak graduate Kelsey Griffin had a game-high 14 rebounds to go with her 18 points for Nebraska in an 83-70 win over UCLA on Tuesday in Minneapolis in a second-round game of the Kansas City Regional of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament ... Senior guard and North Pole graduate Kelsy McIntosh scored 11 points for Nyack College (N.Y.) in a 71-46 loss to Franklin Pierce (N.H.) in the first round of the East Regional of the DII women’s tournament on March 14 in Fitchburg, Mass.