Denver Hockey Series Preview: University of Alaska Fairbanks

Hello LetsGoDU fans and welcome back to another season of Denver Pioneers hockey. It’s a special year for the University of Denver and their fans as they celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Pioneers. Besides the usual great in-conference matchups, the Pioneers will welcome Boston College, Niagara, and UMass-Amherst to Magness Arena. Make sure to see the Pioneers live this season, you won’t want to miss it.

The Pioneers are coming off their third Frozen Four appearance in the last four years and they aren’t showing any signs of slowing down. Even with unknown expectations last season, first-year head coach David Carle took his young roster to within a game of the national championship. Just like every other school Denver lost a few upperclassmen, but they added several talented freshmen to the fray. On Thursday, coach Carle met the media and had the following to say on this year’s expectations;

“Because of what we did last year, we’ve earned the right to have high expectations from the outside.”

In the preseason USCHO rankings, Denver currently sits as the #2 team in the country only behind back-to-back national champions Minnesota-Duluth. They are joined in the top 20 by St. Cloud State (6), Western Michigan (14), and North Dakota (18).

The Pioneers will have a new captain this season. Junior defenseman Ian Mitchell will wear the “C” with seniors Tyson McLellan and Michael Davies serving as alternate captains.  In 39 games last season, Mitchell scored six goals and 21 assists for the Pioneers. Mitchell also had a leadership role for Team Canada in the 2019 World Juniors.  Mitchell was also recently named to College Hockey News’ preseason all first-team.

For more information on the 2019-20 Denver Pioneers, be sure to check out LetsGoDU’s season preview.

alaska
Photo courtesy of alaskananooks.com

University of Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks (12-21-3)

It was quite the turbulent summer for the University of Alaska hockey program.  First, the University learned that there was a threat to lose significant state funding, some of which assists the athletic programs including the hockey club.  Then, seven of the ten teams in the WCHA (not including Alaska) announced they will be leaving the conference.  Head coach Erik Largen mentioned that it has been difficult recruiting players when the future of the program is bleak, but they have no other choice but to stay the course.  Fortunately for the Nanooks, the state and the University agreed to terms temporarily and will play this season with plans for a long-term solution to be decided during the year.

The Pioneers and Nanooks met last season when Alaska visited Denver in late October.  The Nanooks lost the first contest 4-1, but they made things interesting on Saturday night.  The Pioneers fell behind 3-0 early in the 2nd period, but clawed their way back to force a tie game at 3-3 with goals from Jarid Lukosevicius, Cole Guttman, and Les Lancaster.

This season, the Nanooks returned their three top scorers in Steven Jandric, Tristan Thompson, and Kylar Hope.  They also added a couple young playmaking forwards in Chase Dubois (58GP, 21G, 41A) of the BCHL and Didrik Henbrant (58GP, 19G, 21A) of the NAHL.  In net will most likely be senior Anton Martinsson, but sophomore Gustavs Grigals could challenge Martinsson for the starting job further into the season.

The issue for the Nanooks last season was their goal production.  At just two goals per game, it’s difficult to win games especially against WCHA teams like Minnesota State who averaged almost double that.  But interestingly, when the Nanooks kept the game close they often won.  In one goal games, Alaska was 7-4 last season.  But when the Nanooks trailed after the first period, they were 1-10.  Scoring first always alters a team’s ability to play their style of game and forces them to adjust to their opponent.  The Pioneers are all too familiar with battling to get the first strike, especially on the road.

Prediction – Pioneers sweep

Denver will have another difficult schedule in November, but their first couple series should give them some good momentum going into it. Last season the Pioneers had some soul searching to do but they found their identity a couple months into the season. They had their challenges with consistency, but they won games when they needed to. A combination of some stability to start the season with the Nanooks starting slow should lead to a Pioneers sweep.

Twitter Follow – @NanooksHockey

Where to Watch/Listen

Saturday – 9:07pm MT – tv: FLO HOCKEY radio: 104.3 The Fan

Sunday – 9:07pm MT tv: FLO HOCKEY radio: ESPN Denver 1600

One thought on “Denver Hockey Series Preview: University of Alaska Fairbanks”

  1. Pios got the job done in a shaky game 1 with a late third period goal from Cole Guttman, 4-3 to snare the win from a plucky UAF squad. DU played very poorly to start, and fell behind just 16 seconds into the game.

    Eventually, DU buckled down and took a 3-2 lead on a Bobby Brink’s first college goal in the third, only to see UAF come storming back to tie it 3-3, before Guttman saved DU’s bacon with a goal with 1:03 remaining in regulation. Optimists will be happy that DU’s experience was able to focus and get the road win a long way from home, with Brink getting his first of hopefully many goals and Magnus Chrona’s first DU win in a 30-save performance. Pessimists will say DU was lucky to win this one, with an inconsistent road effort playing down to the competition against a team UAF team lacking the high-end talent that DU has on its roster. The truth is probably somewhere in between. It’s a first game, so some sloppiness is to be expected. I hope DU is better on Sunday night.

    A few surprises: Brett Stapely, Erich Fear and Devin Cooley did not dress last night in favor of Brett Edwards, Kyle Mayhew/Justin Lee and Michael Corson. Since DU did not have an exhibition game this season, coach Carle was likely giving some guys a game start who might not have otherwise have played, unless there were pre-season injuries that have not been disclosed.

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