Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Know Thy Enemy: Fear the Bear

Michigan State heads off to Alaska to take on the Nanooks for a pair of games. This could be the final time Michigan State ends up going to Alaska, since the Spartans are leaving the CCHA for the Big Ten next season. The Nanooks will join their in-state rival Alaska-Anchorage in the WCHA next season.

The Nanooks come into this series with a 11-12-3-1 CCHA record good enough for 6th place (37 points).  Alaska is going to have to sweep MSU and hope Ferris State AND Ohio State lose out if they want to assure themselves a potential home ice spot and first round bye. They will need other help on top of that, so I suppose at this point Alaska is going to be concerned about playing good hockey. The Nanooks are basically guaranteed a first round home series unless a lot of crazy things happen the last two weekends, and if Michigan State does something they haven't done yet this year (sweep a weekend series - no time like the present!). Alaska is 13-13-4 overall this year and 7-6-1 at home.

2013 started off with a bang for Alaska winning six straight games to start the calendar year. This included back to back road sweeps at Michigan and Notre Dame. However, the Nanooks have hit hard times lately dropping five of their last six games, and they are coming off back to back losses to LSSU.

The Spartans enter the weekend still in last place, but they are playing better hockey of late with back to back splits. Michigan State is a long shot at this point to get home ice for the first round of the CCHA playoffs, so this weekend could be as much about trying to avoid Alaska in the first round and avoid making two trips out west in three weeks.

While I won't miss the 11pm game times, I know I will miss one thing when it comes to Alaska: the videos:

It would be wise to avoid angering the bear

Fear the Bear.

Ah. Good Stuff.

The last time these two teams met, Michigan State swept Alaska in East Lansing on February 17th and 18th (2012). MSU won the first night 3-2 in OT and posted a 3-0 victory on the second night. The last time the two teams played in Alaska for a regular season series was the 2010 - 2011 season when the teams split the series. They met two weeks later in the CCHA tournament (also in Alaska), and the Nanooks won back to back overtime games to sweep MSU out of the CCHA playoffs, and end the Rick Comley era. 

Michigan State leads the all-time series 41-15-3. This includes a 15-9-2 mark in Fairbanks.  Alaska has dominated the series of late holding a 4-1-1 edge in the last three series in Alaska.

Fast forward to this year, the Nanooks look stronger, even on their recent slide, they are going to be a team to pay attention to in the playoffs.

Leading Scorers

Andy Taranto   10 goals, 22 points
Cody Kunyk    8 goals, 21 points
Tyler Morley   10 goals, 18 points
Jarret Granberg 5 goals, 17 points
Colton Beck     10 goals, 16 points
Trevor Campbell  2 goals, 16 points


John Keeney    9-8-3   2.55 GAA, .905 save %
Steve Thompson   2-3-0, 3.30 GAA, .876 save %
Sean Cahill    2-2-1,  2.37 GAA,  .882 save %

Series Thoughts

The Nanooks have blistered opposing goaltenders getting on average 34 shots on goal a game. On the flip side, they are only allowing 26 per a game. Despite that, they have been outscored 85-78 this season - though the widest margin by period is a 29-24 deficit in the 3rd period. Alaska's penalty kill is very strong at 89.2%, and they are one of the least penalized teams at just over 13 minutes per a game. 

The biggest thing for the Spartans will be to adjust to the larger ice sheet. This will make turnovers even more critical. The Spartans need to be able to protect the puck coming out of the defensive zone and into the offensive zone. If they have a lot of turnovers, Alaska is going to be able to turn that right back on the Spartan goal. 

On the flip side, Hildebrand & Yanakeff will need to be sharp. 

At this point, the Spartans just need to look to build back to back games - and continue to build to the post season. They need to take care of business first before really worrying about anything else. Take it one period at a time, and they need to come ready to go right away. Friday night was a little disappointing to see, but the Spartans played one of their better games of the season the very next night. Now let's see if they can building that into something this weekend. Then, if the two teams happen to face each other again, it may give the Spartans the confidence they need to put it together for a playoff series out there.

Both games are scheduled for 11:05 pm eastern and can be heard on 1240 am or the spartan sports network.

Go Green!

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