Taranto Shines For Upstart Alaska
by Sam Obermyer/CHN Reporter
Without question, one of the early surprise teams in the CCHA has been the Alaska Nanooks. Last season, the Nanooks won only eight conference games and finished in 10th place. A month into the 2012-13 campaign, Alaska is sitting in fourth place in the conference, just three points shy of first-place Miami.
One only needs to look back to the 2009-10 season when the 18-win Nanooks earned a bid to the NCAA tournament, their first in program history. And that year, current senior right-winger Andy Taranto was just a rookie. Now a veteran leader and arguably the top forward on the team, Taranto is just two points shy of 100 for his career.
More importantly, though, in its final season before joining the WCHA, Alaska is off to a strong start, generating plenty of optimism in Fairbanks.
"I'm happy with our start," said fifth-year head coach Dallas Ferguson, who also acknowledged that there remains plenty of room for improvement. "I think, like everyone, you start the season, and there is excitement and optimism, but you know at the end of the day you have to stay focused on what you have to do as a team.
"It's still early in the season but their work ethic has been good, their focus has been good, and those are two things we like to focus on with our program."
Taranto, a Woodridge, Ill., native, cites the camaraderie that has developed already in the young season as a key catalyst for Alaska’s success, which already includes wins this season over non-conference foes such as Merrimack and North Dakota.
"We came together pretty early this year," Taranto said. "A lot of guys really sacrificed their own time with their families this summer and came up early. We really got to train and meet a lot of the new freshmen early so that by the time the season started they were already part of the team."
Taranto, one of seven seniors on Alaska’s roster, established himself as a leader by example early in his college career and is now in his second year as an assistant captain for Ferguson’s Nanooks.
"Andy always had a strong work ethic when he is at the rink,” said Ferguson. “ He did a really good job over the last couple of summers committing himself to his training and staying focused in on developing as an athlete.
"We need him. He plays in a lot of different situations for us, so I certainly think he is ready for that challenge and that responsibility."
Taranto is currently tied for the Nanooks’ point-scoring lead with four goals and four assists. With another two points, Taranto will become the 18th Nanook in program history to score 100 career points.
"It will definitely be a proud moment," Taranto said. "It is definitely something special but you know I did not come here just to score 100 points. It's more about winning a championship with the 27 guys that helped me get to that milestone."
The milestone may be reached this weekend when Alaska travels to Northern Michigan – much closer to Taranto’s home state of Illinois – or perhaps in the following weeks when the Nanooks host Miami and Bowling Green on back-to-back weekends.
No matter when it occurs, it will be a highlight among many in Taranto’s career and an affirmation of his decision to move 3,500 miles away from his home.
“The biggest thing was meeting the coaching staff and seeing the opportunity that they were going to give me,” said Taranto of his decision. “I wanted to go somewhere where I could be an impact player right away, and they really gave me that confidence and trust."
And all these years later, even as a senior, Taranto’s outlook hasn’t changed at all.
“Nothing has changed with how much I love and respect the game,” said the senior forward.
“And I want to continue to play it as long as I can.”