A Reason to Play
Alaska Finds Motivation Despite Postseason Ban
by Jen Dobias/CHN Reporter
Since the day the NCAA handed down the sanctions, barring Alaska from postseason play for compliance-related violations committed between 2007 and 2011, head coach Dallas Ferguson hasn’t talked about them with his team.
“Obviously, it was unfortunate news for our program and for our players,” Ferguson said. “The day that we found out, we addressed it with the team and, from that point forward, we haven’t talked about it at all. If we sit there and focus on something that we can’t control, then it’s going to take away from what we’re trying to do. And our focus hasn’t changed; it’s about winning hockey games and getting better every day.”
The violations involved players in multiple sports at the school not having the correct course requirements to compete, among other things. The school self-imposed sanctions in 2012 and the NCAA added to them in November 2014.
Alaska, also required to vacate all of its wins from the seasons during which the ineligible athletes competed, lost its lone NCAA Division I tournament appearance and two Governor’s Cup championships.
Faced with the daunting of idea of having nothing tangible to play for this season, the current Nanooks have refused to dwell on it, instead dedicating their efforts towards putting their program in position for future success.
“We’ve come together as a team and made the commitment to stay together as a team,” junior captain Colton Parayko said. “To represent the logo on our jerseys is a major thing for us. We want to play our best for the guys in the locker room, the fans who come to watch us, the community and for the program itself.”
The Nanooks opened the season with a six-game winning streak and were ranked as high as No. 16 two weeks before the NCAA released its ruling on Nov. 5. While they weren’t able to maintain that hot start, they stand at a respectable 12-11-1 (7-10-1 WCHA). On Dec. 5, they pulled off a dramatic 5-4 win against Minnesota State in Mankato, with freshman Austin Vieth netting the clincher in overtime after the Mavericks rallied to tie the score three times during regulation play.
They have succeeded in finding enough intangible motivation.
“Every guy has contributed in different ways,” Parayko said. “Whether it’s our first line, second line, third line or fourth line, I feel like everyone’s contributing. You never know who to look for to score the goals for our team to get the win each night.”
One player opponents have to look out for is Tyler Morley, who’s been a top point producer for Alaska since his arrival on campus in 2012. As a freshman, he totaled 21 points, and he followed that up with a 34-point sophomore campaign, which was good for third on the team behind only 2014 WCHA Player of the Year Cody Kunyk and senior captain Colton Beck.
Now healed of the injury that cut short his 2013-14 season, Morley has again been one of the Nanooks’ main offensive threats and leads the team with 24 points (7g-17a) in 24 games. Seven of his points (4g-3a) came in Alaska’s six dates so far with Minnesota State and Bowling Green.
After calling the 5-foot-8 center “the most physical player I’ve seen at that size in a long time,” Ferguson noted that he has helped motivate the team to keep fighting through the adverisity they currently face.
“The one thing that defines Tyler the most is his competitiveness, his willingness to compete to find ways to be successful,” Ferguson said. “He brings intensity to his game. When you have players in your leadership group who compete and work like he does, it certainly gets the team to fall in line with that.”
Morley isn’t the only one who has inspired the Nanooks this season. In May 2014, rising sophomore defenseman Justin Woods was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that mainly affects children, adolescents and young adults.
“I’ve known him for quite awhile so I know the character that he has and how tough he is,” Ferguson said. “When you’re dealing with something as serious as this, you need to have the will to be able to push through it, battle through the tough days. He’s always maintained a very strong spirit, and now he’s getting towards the end of his treatment.”
In early December, on their way back to Fairbanks from Mankato, the Nanooks visited Woods at the Ronald McDonald House in Seattle, where he has been receiving treatment since May. While there, they also spent time brightening other residents’ days by spending time with them and handing out Alaska-themed gift bags.
“It was very eye-opening and something that I’ll never forget,” Parayko said. “It puts things into perspective, how good we really have it when people are going through such difficult times.”
It's enough to sustain the Nanooks through this season, knowing they are setting up the team for success in 2015-16 and beyond. They know they have only 10 games remaining in their season, and they plan to make the most of them. For their teammates. For their fans. For their school.
And for Woods.