It’s no secret among the University of Alaska Fairbanks hockey team that Antti Virtanen is an offensive-minded defenseman.
It showed in the statistics of last weekend’s Western Collegiate Hockey Association series against the first-place Minnesota State Mavericks in Mankato, Minnesota.
The sophomore business administration major from Kitilla, Finland, scored the only goal for the Nanooks during the weekend on the Mavericks’ home ice in the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center.
“He does a really nice job for us on both ends (of the ice),” Nanooks head coach Erik Largen said after Wednesday’s practice at the Carlson Center, where UAF hosts the Lake Superior State Lakers, of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, in a WCHA series at 7:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
“He’s a guy that when he’s on his game, he’s moving pucks and transitioning to our forwards. He’s a guy that’s able to get into the play as well offensively.
“He’s got a few assists for us and even that goal against Mankato (Minnesota State) was him jumping into the rush and Steven Jandric making a nice play, and him finishing off the back post.”
That goal to which Largen referred arrived Saturday at 12:36 of the third period with the Nanooks behind 2-1. UAF ended with a 3-1 loss, which followed Friday night’s 4-0 setback.
Virtanen scored at 12:36 of the third period Saturday with assists from juniors Justin Young (right wing) and Steven Jandric (left wing).
“I think it was little scrum play,” Virtanen recalled. “Justin Young had the puck there and Steven Jandric got the puck from him, and we just kind of moved up to a 2-on-1 and he (Jandric) made an unbelievable pass.”
Virtanen focuses on the defensive side of his position but he can be a two-way blueliner when it’s necessary.
This season, he’s contributed a goal and three assists for four points in 10 games. In 54 career games, he’s compiled a 2-8-10 scoring line.
“I keep the mind of a D-man and stay back but I join the rush whenever I can,” Virtanen said.
Virtanen also has contributed to the Nanooks penalty killing unit, which ranks in the top 25 in NCAA Division I.
“He’s a big penalty killer for us. He’s willing to sacrifice and block a lot of shots for our group,” Largen said. “I think he’s someone who continues to work on his game.”
UAF’s penalty killing is 21st nationally, and third in the WCHA, with an 82.5% efficiency from 50 denials in 60 power plays. The Nanooks penalty killers also have one short-handed goal this season.
“To me it’s a big attitude thing; if you really want to do it, if you want to block the shot,” Virtanen said of his philosophy of penalty killing.
“I take a lot of pride in it and try to do it as well as I can.
“We have a lot of guys who can kill penalties; it’s like an ongoing competition. If you want to play those minutes, you have to do well, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.