November 11, 2004
Fair Warning

By Mike Eidelbes

 CCHA Notebook

Why not Wylie? The UAF freshman has a 1.00 GAA and a .967 save percentage in three starts for the Nanooks. (Paul McCarthy photo)

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The Inside College Hockey e-mail inbox was peppered with messages from the Last Frontier earlier this week. A common theme emerged – respect for Alaska Anchorage and Alaska-Fairbanks.

After last weekend’s sweep of a solid Nebraska-Omaha team, Alaska-Fairbanks has earned its due. The Nanooks are 4-2-0, 3-1-0 in the CCHA, heading into this weekend’s series at Lake Superior State.

While Fairbanks hockey fans may be getting swept up in Nanook fever, first-year coach Tavis MacMillan looks at his team’s start with tempered optimism.

“If we were to play up to the level I think we can play, there’s a good chance that we’d be undefeated right now,” said MacMillan, an assistant at UAF for seven seasons. “At the same time, I’m not sure we deserve the record we have. We have a lot of areas we need to clean up.”

One area that appears to be pretty tidy is goaltending, where freshman Wylie Rogers has been spectacular. Rogers, who spent time with the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor prior to joining Victoria in the British Columbia Hockey League last season, has won each of his three starts and owns a 1.00 goals against average and a .967 save percentage.

“The thing that stands out about Wylie is his athleticism,” MacMillan said. “He’s very quick and he competes really hard. Once he learns how to work smarter instead of working harder, he’ll continue to get better and better.”

Rogers, a Fairbanks native, has also been a key component of the Nanooks’ improved penalty killing unit. UAF, which ranked 54th in the nation in that category last season, enters the weekend with the country’s fourth-best penalty kill with a 91.9 percent success rate.

“The biggest difference is the willingness of a bunch of kids to block shots,” MacMillan explained. “We blocked a ton of shots.”

With 11 freshmen on the roster and first-year coach, a strong start wasn’t a guarantee. But the newcomers, led by forward Kyle Greentree (four goals and eight points in six games) have played well and promising sophomores Curtis Fraser (eight points) and Nathan Fornataro (six points) have shown improvement. If leading scorer, junior Kelly Czuy, can stay out of the penalty box – he has a team-high 10 penalties in six games – the Nanooks have the makings of a formidable offensive threat.

“Our young kids have done well, but it’s early,” MacMillan said. “Anyone can play good over a four, six, eight-game stretch. Doing it over 36 or 40 games is a lot tougher. I think that’ll be the tell-tale sign…seeing how many guys can sustain that performance level for that duration.”

An area that’s dogged UAF since joining the CCHA is the ability to earn points on the road. While the Carlson Center is one of the league’s toughest places to play, those gains have been offset by lackluster efforts in the Lower 48. That said, MacMillan believes his team’s showings away from home aren’t a focus.

“We’re more concerned about our performance,” he said. “If we go down and we play well, I’ll be happy. I’m not too concerned about how many points we get.

“As long as we play well, I’ll be happy. The wins and losses will take care of themselves.”


No Night Shift –
At times during the 2003-04 season, Michigan State suffered from a lack of veteran leadership. With only two seniors on the roster, juniors such as forward Adam Nightingale, who transferred from Lake Superior State, were forced to assume those roles.

One year later, Nightingale is in his second season as an MSU assistant captain, but he’s watched most of the team’s games in street clothes. The Cheyboygan, Mich., native has dressed for three of the Spartans’ eight games, earning one assist. It’s a curious spot for a leader on a team that has lurched to an uneven 4-4-0 start, but coach Rick Comley says keeping Nightingale out of the lineup is strictly a hockey decision.

“He's frustrated right now and he's taking penalties,” Comley said following his team’s 5-2 win against Ferris State in East Lansing last week. “That's the worst combination possible. As hard as it is for a senior, he's a good kid and he'll fight through it.”

In addition to his penchant for taking untimely penalties – Nightingale was whistled for four minors in three games – he’s been caught in a numbers crunch. Comley says Nightingale is much more effective at center, but the strong play of newcomers such as pivot Chris Mueller and Bryan Lerg has created a logjam at the position.

"Some things you can't control, and we respect Coach's decision,” said Adam’s younger brother, Jared, an MSU junior defenseman who’s played in seven games. “I think he's shown a lot of the rest of the guys on the team leadership in that way. Sometimes it's tough when you're in a little – not slump – but when you're in and out of the lineup, when you're in, you're nervous.”

Both Comley and Jared Nightingale expect Adam to return to the lineup and contribute before the season is over. Until then, says Jared, Adam will continue to work hard in practice and stay positive.

"Adam even tells me that it would be pretty selfish of him to put himself in front of the team and get upset about it,” Jared Nightingale said. “He handles it better than I would and I think most guys would."

Stenfanishion Suspended – The CCHA suspended Ferris State freshman forward Matt Stefanishion two games for kicking a Michigan State player in the Bulldogs’ 5-2 loss to the Spartans in East Lansing last weekend.

With less than three minutes remaining third period of Friday’s game, Stefanishion kicked MSU’s Tom Goebel, opening a gash in the sophomore forward’s left leg. Stefanishion earned a five-minute major and a game disqualification for his actions. Goebel, who left Friday’s game immediately following the incident, played in Saturday’s rematch in Big Rapids and scored a goal in the Spartans’ 5-1 win.

“That's certainly not something we advocate, and the last thing we want to see is a player on the other team get injured,” Ferris State coach Bob Daniels said. “We'd hate to have one of our players get injured that way. I was very disappointed in (Stefanishion) and we'll put an end to that."

Stefanishion, the Bulldogs’ leading scorer with eight points in nine games, will sit out this weekend’s non-conference series against visiting Connecticut.

Great Weekend Getaway
120x60 - Brand Red

Northern Michigan at Ohio State (Sat.-Sun.)
The CCHA’s highest-scoring team (Ohio State, with 41 goals) meets one of its stingiest (Northern Michigan, with 18 goals against) in Columbus this weekend. The Buckeyes have 11 players with five or more points to their credit this season. Not to be outdone, the Wildcats have nine players with four or more points on the year. This series may be a precursor to epic conference battles in the years to come – OSU and NMU have a combined total of six seniors on their rosters.

While you’re there: If you’re looking to kill time prior to Saturday night’s game, stop by the old OSU Ice Rink (located adjacent to St. John Arena) as the Ohio State women’s hockey team meets Northeastern in a non-conference tilt that starts at 2:05 p.m. Oh, and if a guy named Maurice offers you a ride in his car, just politely decline.

Stick Salute

The Michigan State pep band added another song to its four-tune repertoire, unveiling its rendition of The Who classic, “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Whether the song is directed at the Spartan football team’s recent two-game slide that followed a promising 3-1 Big Ten start isn’t known.

Bench Minor

True story: Traveling along I-75 in southern Kentucky en route to Knoxville, Tenn., last weekend, I spotted a billboard for a local Days Inn. The sign told motorists, in large letters, that the hotel was located just off “EIXT 42”. As Li’l Jon would say, “WHAT?!?!?!” The billboard consisted of a Days Inn logo and "Exit 42," and someone still messed it up? This, my friends, is how stereotypes are perpetuated.


• Two impressive home winning streaks remained intact thanks to series sweeps last weekend. In Fairbanks, the Nanooks improved its record against Nebraska-Omaha at the Carlson Center to 10-0-4 with two wins. Michigan extended its Yost Arena winning streak against Miami to 19 in a row with a pair of victories against the visiting RedHawks. The Wolverines haven’t lost to Miami at home in nearly 10 years.

• Miami, losers of six straight, enjoys a much-needed bye this weekend. The injury-riddled RedHawks were without forwards Marty Guerin and Andy Nelson and defenseman Matt Davis for the Michigan series.

“It’s pretty important,” captain Andy Greene said of the weekend off. “We’ve got some guys recovering from injuries. Hopefully, we can get those guys back. We’ve got to get back to working hard and winning some games. We’ve got to keep it simple and go back to the basic fundamentals.”

• Northern Michigan is 5-0-2 after losing its first game of the season, and hockey fans in the Upper Peninsula are getting excited about the Wildcats. A record-setting crowd of 4,193 at Berry Events Center watched the home team skate to a 6-3 win over rival Michigan Tech Saturday. The previous attendance mark of 4,163 was set last month, when NMU topped Michigan State on Oct. 23.

Notre Dame is off to a 1-5-3 start, its worst showing through eight games since the 1995-96 season. With an 0-4-2 conference mark, the Fighting Irish are out to their poorest CCHA start since 1992-93. Offense has been a concern, as the team ranks 54th out of 58 Division I schools in scoring with 15 goals in nine games. Notre Dame has scored more than two goals on just two occasions thus far – they notched three against Boston College in a win over the top-ranked Eagles and registered four in a tie with Bowling Green last Friday.

Hall of Fame official Neil Armstrong has joined the CCHA staff as an officiating supervisor. Armstrong, who worked as an NHL linesman for 22 years and was inducted into the Hockey
Hall of Fame in 1991, will be regularly assigned to CCHA contests to monitor the actions of on-ice officiating crews and serve as a liaison between the league and its coaches. Armstrong is best known for working 1,744 consecutive games between 1957-78.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report.

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