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Season Preview: Alaska

My choice for 7th place in the CCHA this year is Alaska-(Don't call us)Fairbanks.

Projected Depth Chart

LW Kyle Greentree C Dion Knelsen RW Braden Walls
LW Aaron Lee C Curtis Fraser RW Kyle Jones
LW Jeff Lee C Lucas Burnett RW Trevor Hyatt
LW Cory Rymut C Adam Naglich RW Brandon Knelsen
LD Tyler Eckford RD T.J. Campbell G Chad Johnson
LD Darcy Campbell RD Nathan Fornataro G Wylie Rogers
LD Brandon Gawryletz RD Steve Vanoosten G Eric Largen

Strengths:

Alaska has possibly the best goaltender duo in the country in Wylie Rogers and Chad Johnson. Either one could play as a full-time starter and be excellent. Rogers saw a few more starts last season, and is called upon as the team’s "big game" goalie. In his first two seasons, Rogers racked up 7 playoffs win, and all 7 came on the road. Only Michigan State has won more postseason games over the past two years in the CCHA.

The Nanooks also have a pretty solid defense playing in front of Rogers and Johnson, led by sophomore Tyler Eckford. Eckford quietly earned a spot on the CCHA’s all-rookie team last year. He’s more of an offensive-minded defenseman, but is such a smart hockey player that his defense should improve tremendously this year.

Weaknesses:

Alaska won’t allow many goals this season, but they will also have difficulty scoring goals. Kyle Greentree and Curtis Fraser have been the team’s top two scorers the previous two seasons, and they both return, but the Nanooks lack consistent scoring from their lower lines. There are high expectations for freshmen Dion Knelsen, but he’s only 17, and aside from Jonathan Toews, it’s rare that a player that young can step in and be a great player.


Overall:

For a 7th place team, Alaska has a lot of potential to finish a lot higher in the standings. Rogers and Johnson were excellent as a sophomore and freshmen respectively, and with an extra year of experience, they could be even better. Fairbanks could be a better team next season just by virtue of their schedule, as well. They drop two games against each of Minnesota, Michigan, and Michigan State, and add two games against Air Force, Bowling Green, and Notre Dame. Not having Michigan State in their cluster should be particularly helpful. Alaska went 1-5-1 in seven games against the Spartans last season.

Question Marks:

How quickly will talented freshmen Dion Knelsen adjust to college hockey? How will the freshmen that were brought in a year early due to the academic ineligibility of a couple recruits adjust to college hockey?

Key Player: Dion Knelsen. Again, it’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid who won’t be 18 until the new year, but he has the potential to be an offensive catalyst for the Nanooks. If he can be a solid set-up man for big Kyle Greentree, they could give Alaska the high-scoring first line they need.

Breakout Player: Tyler Eckford. Eckford has only played defense for three seasons, after making the move from forward. Expect him to make a big jump now that he is a little more experienced at the defensive position, and look for him to be one of the best defenseman in the CCHA this year.

Bellwether: Alaska will start the season with 6 winnable games at home(2 each against Air Force, Alaska-Anchorage, and Ferris State), before heading on road trips to Omaha and Northern Michigan. If they start out the season picking up 5 or 6 wins, they could build some momentum that could carry them throughout the season.

Did You Know?


Alaska has more Canadians on their roster than any other college team(21). Every player on the Alaska roster, except for third string goalie Eric Largen and transfer Dustin Molle, played junior hockey in either the BCHL, AJHL, or SJHL prior to playing in Fairbanks. Not surprisingly, all three of Alaska’s coaches hail from Canada.
Alaska will have two brother combinations on the roster this year with Jeff and Aaron Lee, and Dion and Brandon Knelsen.

The Carlson Center will have a new jumbo-tron scoreboard this year which is estimated to be worth $1.4 million.

If You Go There:

You Have to Eat At: The Pump House seems to be the place to go. It’s an old, historical type restaurant with wooden floors and old pool tables. Definitely a place to check out.

You Have to Visit: Pioneer Park. It’s a large amusement park featuring all things old and Alaska.