FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) The University of Alaska Fairbanks hockey program has been off the ice since December 7, when they defeated Bemidji State 5-3 on the road. The holiday break is over and the Nanooks are back in action for 2020, gearing up for a two-game series with the WCHA-leading Minnesota State Mavericks.
"Everyone got to go home and got to spend time with family and I think the break refreshed and rejuvenated everyone," Head Coach Erik Largen said. "Practice has been going really well, our guys came back with a good intensity and good work ethic."
The Nanooks (10-10, 8-6 WCHA) currently sit tied for third with Michigan Tech in the WCHA standings with 24 points. Bemidji State is in second place with 25 points, while Minnesota State (16-3-1, 10-2 WCHA) sit atop the standings with 30. UAF could gain as many as six points with a weekend sweep. The Nanooks have split the last eight series they have played in dating back to mid-October, which seems almost implausible.
14 conference games down, 14 more to go for the Nanooks, who look to make some tweaks in the new year.
"I think in the second half we need to find more consistency. With the number of splits we had in the first half of the year, we need to find a way to be able to play games on a weekend," Largen said of the home stretch of the season. "Some stuff we've been implementing and trying to work on is just creating more shot attempts, and more chances for us to score, some things we're trying to do differently in the new year and hopefully the tweaks and changes will work."
Much of UAF's success this year has been anchored by the goaltender duo of senior Anton Martinsson and sophomore Gustavs Grigals. Martinsson is currently fourth in the conference with a 92.2 save percentage and fifth in goals allowed per game with 2.47. Grigals is allowing 2.73 goals per game and is sixth in the WCHA in win percentage with five wins in nine starts. Typically, the Nanooks have ran with a main goaltender and a backup, but with 11 and nine starts respectively for Martinsson and Grigals, they have been a 1a, 1b option for UAF.
"It's great. I think we have that type of depth and it's a wonderful asset to be able to have," Largen said of his goaltending tandem. "If one guy is not going, another guy is able to step up and fill that role. It is good to have those guys there, they have a great working relationship together and push each other on the ice. We feel confident with either of those two guys in net for us."
A trio of juniors lead the 'Nooks in scoring so far this season. Max Newton is the current point-leader with 14, tallying six goals and eight assists, while Justin Young and Steven Jandric have 12 points each.
A big series for the Nanooks, which begins Friday when the puck drops at 4:07 p.m. AKDT in Mankato, Minnesota, before concluding Saturday at 3:07 p.m.