Alaska swept away the Governor's Cup this past weekend. The wins for the Nanooks weren't unexpected. Alaska now sits at 9th in the Pairwise Rankings, and seems to be in a nice spot to make their first ever NCAA tournament appearance. Alaska-Anchorage on the other hand, now has to win their rest of their games up through the national title game in order to avoid their 16th consecutive season with a losing record, which not coincidentally, is every season they've been a part of the WCHA.
Standard argument about the quality of leagues aside--I can't see Alaska being much better than 6th or 7th in the WCHA this year--what is the difference between the two teams? This maybe isn't a popular answer in Fairbanks, but I actually think Doc DelCastillo might deserve a little bit of the credit for this team's success.
I've thrown out the theory before that I don't think Alaska-Anchorage will ever be able to really compete in the WCHA in part because they rely almost exclusively on players from western Canada to fill out their roster, and the weakening of the Tier II Canadian leagues, combined with the strengthening of the USHL puts them at too much of a disadvantage. Alaska was in a similar boat prior to DelCastillo, having a predominantly Canadian coaching staff and relying almost exclusively on BCHL and AJHL players.*
DelCastillo had a different recruiting strategy of trying to pick some diamond's out of the rough from the leagues outside of western Canada. And even though DelCastillo is long gone from Fairbanks, those players are the catalysts for Alaska's success. The team's leading scorer is former USHL forward Andy Taranto(who technically committed well after DelCastillo left, but essentially counts). The team's top defenseman is big Joe Sova, another USHL player born in Illinois. And the team is anchored in goal by Scott Greenham, from Ontario. There's certainly western Canadian players on the roster that deserves lots of credit as well, including the vastly underrated Dion Knelsen, and Dustin Sather, but those couple extra top line guys are a big part of the reason Alaska is looking at an at-large bid instead of being a team on the TUC bubble at the end of the year.
Of course finding players is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to coaching, and DelCastillo was almost a complete failure at every other aspect of coaching the Nanooks. Current head coach Dallas Ferguson deserves a ton of credit for the way he has coached this team the past two years and managed to get the most out of what he has.
It does provide an interesting roadmap for the Alaska schools to be successful though. Dave Shyiak is likely to find himself on the heat seat in Achorage, if not now, then likely in the future. The criticisms are definitely mounting up. On top of the consistent losing, there was the incident last weekend which earned him reprimand, the many nights this year UAA lost in embarrassing fashion, and the lack of local players he's been able to bring in(though that looks to be changing with verbal commitments from Matt Friese and Zach Rall). His success in the Governor's Cup series may have bought him some extra leeway in the past, but the Seawolves lost that this year as well.
If Anchorage does decide they need to make a change. Someone with experience and connections in the USHL--and hopefully with a few people skills, as well--could be what it takes to help turn things around in Anchorage.
*And it should be noted, Alaska did a pretty nice job with that over the Gadowsky/MacMillan era, with 6 kids that have played in the NHL recently: Aaron Voros, Darcy Campbell, Chad Johnson, Tyler Eckford, Jordan Hendry, and Kyle Greentree.