They've won six straight conference games and vaulted themselves into the thick of the final central Collegiate Hockey Association race. The team is the University of Alaska (Fairbanks) Nanooks, who are 12-8-4 overall and ranked 20th in NCAA Division I by USCHO.com.
The Nanooks (Inuit for "Polar Bears") have opened the calendar year by sweeping Michigan and Notre Dame on the road, and Northern Michigan at home, to improve to 10-7-3-1 (win-loss-tie-shootout) in the CCHA, where they currently sit in fourth place with 34 points. They're just two points behind third-place Notre Dame, four points behind second-place Western Michigan, and five points behind league-leading Miami, whom they will visit this Friday and Saturday in Oxford, Ohio.
It’s been a bit of a tightrope act this season for Alaska, which has averaged 2.71 goals per game and surrendered 2.58 goals per outing so far. The Nanook penalty kill, though, is ranked eighth in the nation, and has eliminated 100-of-113 opponent power plays (88.5 percent) while also scoring four shorthanded goals.
They're also getting things done by committee, at least scoring-wise. Senior forward Jarret Granberg leads Alaska with five goals and 12 assists for 17 points, and notched a game-winning goal at Notre Dame with three seconds left in regulation.
“It’s a long trip and it’s an important part of your schedule,” said Alaska head coach and former Nanook defenseman Dallas Ferguson to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner after the sweep of the Irish. “You want to try to at least get a .500 record on the road. Our kids did a nice job of preparing for the road."
Senior classmate Andy Taranto is right behind Granberg with 7-9, a total of 16 points, and recently passed the century mark for career points. They're just two of nine Nanooks in double figures this season, with Trevor Campbell the highest-scoring blueliner for the Blue and Gold to date with 1-14, a total of 15 points.
In goal it’s been a different story, as freshman John Keeney has firmly taken the reins in the Nanook net, and played in 15 of Alaska's 24 games. The California native has gone 8-4-3 with a 2.30 goals-against average, a .914 save percentage and has been in goal for the last six games/wins.
Following the Miami series, Ferguson’s club will host Ohio State at the Carlson Center in frigid Fairbanks, visit Lake Superior State, and host Michigan State before concluding the regular season with a home-and-home series with in-state and future Western Collegiate Hockey Association rival Alaska Anchorage for the annual Governor’s Cup. The Nanooks will be moving to the WCHA next season along with Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior, and Northern Michigan as the CCHA disbands.
Following the last-ever CCHA Tournament at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit in March, the Nanooks hope to be one of 16 teams in the nation still standing, with their second-ever berth to the NCAA Tournament, and second such selection in the last four years.