Gustavs Grigals went through an adjustment period last season as a freshman goaltender for the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
The native of Riga, Latvia, had come from Tier II junior A hockey with the Shreveport (Louisiana) Mudbugs, of the North American Hockey League, to the Nanooks, of the NCAA Division I Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
The 6-foot-2, 189-pound sophomore is still growing as a college goaltender, but he’s more confident compared to last season.
“I think my mindset is different than last year,” Grigals, a major in business administration, said after Wednesday afternoon’s practice at the Carlson Center, where the Nanooks face the Bowling Green State Falcons, of Bowling Green, Ohio, in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series at 7:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
“Last year, I played (with) more emotions and stuff like that. As usual, the first year ... a lot of emotions and you want to play.
“And the second year, it’s tough emotionally but I’m more, like, relaxed, experienced ... I’m calm. That’s the big improvement from last year.”
Also big this season for the business administration major is the first two shutouts of his career with the Nanooks, who are in fourth place in the WCHA at 14-13-3 overall and 12-9-3-1 conference for 40 points in the standings.
The first shutout occurred at the Carlson Center on Jan. 10, when he denied 27 shots in a 2-0 conference win over the Lake Superior State Lakers, of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
Last Saturday at the Von Braun Civic Center in Huntsville, Alabama, Grigals registered 26 saves in a 3-0 win over the University of Alabama Chargers for a sweep of the WCHA series.
“Early on, he was tracking pucks really well,” UAF head coach Erik Largen, a former Nanooks reserve goaltender, said after Wednesday’s practice.
“He was playing the puck well and you could tell that he was sharp on his game, and he gave the coaching staff and the players a lot of confidence.
“Obviously, he was good all night.”
The night before in Huntsville, the Nanooks emerged with a 7-6 win after two overtimes. Grigals was on the bench while senior Anton Martinsson got the start and finished with 22 saves.
Grigals, when he got the start Saturday, wanted to help the Nanooks to not allow as many offensive opportunities for the Chargers as UAF did Friday.
“We got scored on six times Friday and so I had to do something on Saturday,” Grigals said. “It was like a different mindset, motivation.
“I went out there and played my game.”
Grigals also has gained motivation this season from Martinsson. Grigals said they also help each other.
“We work hard every day on the ice and we just do our best,” Grigals said. “When he plays, I’m happy for him if he wins or gets a shutout.”
Martinsson has five shutouts in his Nanooks career, including two this season.
“When I play, he’s happy for me,” Grigals said. “Of course, there’s a little bit of competition because there’s only one (starting) spot.
“We’re both happy for each other and we’re hard workers. It’s a friendly, competitive relationship.”
Grigals has played in 14 games this season, and he’s compiled a 7-5-2 record with a 2.26 goals against average and .908 saves percentage. He finished his freshman season with at 5-6-1 with a 3.33 GAA and .900 saves percentage.
• Largen and Bowling Green’s Ty Eigner are scheduled speak during the coaches luncheon at noon Friday in the Pioneer Room of the Carlson Center.
The cost of the lunch is $15 per person.
• The final Skate with the Nanooks and Cookie Social of the season takes place after Saturday night’s game. Members of the Face-Off Club are encouraged to bring cookies or brownies on a disposable plate or container.
• The annual Army vs. Air Force Hockey Game, which pits players from Fort Wainwright against players from Eielson Air Force Base, takes place at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Carlson Center.
The event is free to the public.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter: @newsminersports.