Alaska 'Goal Rush' Preview
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
This weekend, the Carlson Center in Fairbanks, Alaska, hosts the Alaska Goal Rush event, with the Alaska Nanooks of the CCHA welcoming state rival Alaska-Anchorage, Colorado College and Union. The Tigers and the Dutchmen will play each Alaska team during the course of the weekend.
Coach Dallas Ferguson's Alaska squad opened the season with a 5-2 victory against Air Force but is looking to rebound from a 3-1 loss to North Dakota last Saturday night.
The Nanooks have high expectations following them around already, especially as they welcome back 18 players from a team that qualified for the NCAA tournament last season, including nine of its top 11 scorers.
One of those — Andy Taranto, the reigning CCHA rookie of the year and the Nanooks' leading scorer a season ago — was held scoreless in two games last weekend, as Ferguson paired him with senior Dustin Sather and sophomore Jarrett Granberg. Ferguson had said before the weekend that he planned to use a "committee approach" to determine who will play alongside last year's leading scorer, so fans in Fairbanks may see some adjustments this weekend.
Still, Ferguson — fresh off leading Alaska to its first NCAA tournament berth last season — remains focused on the big picture.
Said the third-year coach, "We want to come to the rink every day with intent we are going to get better. We want to focus on what we can control, like our work ethic and commitment. This season we have another strong schedule and maintaining our focus will be very important."
Alaska's opponent on Friday night, Union, also heads into the season with high expectations. Coming off a season in which it set the program record for wins (21) and made its first appearance in the ECAC Hockey Championship Game, the Dutchmen opened their 2010-11 campaign with a statement last weekend, outscoring Sacred Heart by a 16-3 margin in a pair of games in Schenectady, N.Y.
In Saturday's 7-3 victory, junior forward Kelly Zajac scored four goals and senior forward Adam Presizniuk tallied five assists. Both efforts are school records.
Now, the Dutchmen will see if they can maintain their explosive offensive firepower 3,100 miles from home.
"I am checking our mental toughness and road mentality," said Union coach Nate Leaman, whose current senior class of eight players has never experienced a losing season. "Alaska wins a great deal on Fridays nights because many teams have a tough time with the travel and time change. I want to see how we will respond to this adversity."
Also making the long trip to the Great White North this weekend will be Colorado College, who opened the season with a win and a tie last weekend against Renssalaer. The Tigers finished 6th in the WCHA last season but lost leading scorers Bill Sweatt and Mike Testwuide, as well as top defenseman Nate Prosser.
The team is young, featuring 16 freshman and sophomores.
"We're not exactly sure yet what our strengths and weaknesses are going to be at this point," said coach Scott Owens. "On paper, we have pretty good depth at all positions. I think we'll have balanced scoring, a quality defensive corp and we return the WCHA's all rookie team goaltender, Joe Howe. But quite honestly, we're going to let the season unfold and see who emerges and what personality the team takes on."
Owens' Tigers will take on Alaska-Anchorage on Friday night. The Seawolves are similarly young, with 10 freshmen, and are also dealing with the loss of their leading scorer (Kevin Clark, 23 goals) from a season ago.
"We need to manufacture more shots that lead to an increase in goal production," said coach Dave Shyiak before last weekend
In its season opener, the Seawolves did just that, except not until after they found themselves trailing 5-1 to North Dakota. UAA showed some gusto the rest of the way, storming back to tie the Sioux 5-5. The following night, Shyiak's squad hung on for a 3-2 win over Air Force.
Senior Sean Wiles scored three goals on the weekend, including two in the victory in Saturday night's victory over the Falcons, and may be poised for a breakout season in Anchorage after increasing his point total each season throughout his career.