Today's guest column is by HOCKEYBEAR, renowned primeval force of destruction known for his appearances in University of Alaska hockey intro videos. When not traveling across the galaxy destroying planets and stars, he lives in Fairbanks and supports his hometown Nanooks. You can follow HOCKEYBEAR's satirical path of destruction and links to cute polar bear videos on Twitter at @AKhockeybear.
Greetings once again, small humans of Michigan! The proprietor of this most excellent hockey blog has invited me, HOCKEYBEAR, to inform you regarding the hockey-playing abilities of my Alaska Nanooks! You will undoubtedly find this information useful while preparing to watch this weekend's games. I hope that none of your coaches or players are reading this, though.
Before beginning my preview, HOCKEYBEAR has a statement to make. In the 1980-81 season, my Nanooks went 0-22-0 as a D-II Independent. Did HOCKEYBEAR abandon his 'nooks for the Edmonton Eskimos or another polar-bear-mascotted team? NO, even though Edmonton was the CENTER (CENTRE?) OF THE HOCKEY UNIVERSE in the early 1980s. I stick with my Nanooks through thick and thin. Not only did I have to wait SIXTY-TWO YEARS for my team's only NCAA tournament appearance, I spent much of that time frozen in a giant block of ice! I am INFURIATED that the Michigan "faithful" are so willing to abandon their team during a down season, by which they mean a season where the Wolverines might not make the tournament that my 'nooks have made ONCE. Your lack of perseverance in the face of adversity now is suspiciously similar to the time a few years ago when your foot-ball team played atypically poorly. HOCKEYBEAR IS NOT IMPRESSED by your attitude. I expect full houses at Yost Friday and Saturday, loudly cheering against my 'nooks and telling them repeatedly that they are terrible at hockey. Of course, do not be so foolhardy as to cheer against HOCKEYBEAR. That is something you would regret.
With that said, on to my preview.
My 'nooks are currently 6-8-4 overall, with a CCHA record of 4-7-3. The season's highlight-to-date is a 2-1 victory over the North Dakota Očhéthi Šakówiŋ to win the Alaska Gold Rush. Despite the sub-.500 record, HOCKEYBEAR is not disappointed. Much like the pains of Michigan foot-ball losing a game 41-14 can be alleviated by Notre Dame playing the same team and losing 42-14, any Alaska hockey season can be saved by a regular-season ending victory over the perfidious SEAWOLF of Alaska-Anchorage.
WHEN ALASKA HAS THE PUCK: My 'nooks' points leader so far this year is sophomore defenseman Trevor Campbell with 12, but he actually leads the way with 11 assists. Goal-scoring duties are divided between freshman Tyler Morley and senior Andy Taranto with 6 each, juniors Colton Beck and Cody Kunyk with 4, while four more 'nooks each have three.
My 'nooks take a lot of shots (656 compared to 465 for their opponents) and the shots can come from any direction. HOCKEYBEAR is not impressed by the number of low-percentage shots they take, but their shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later approach could pay dividends against a defense that's prone to mental errors.
KEY MATCHUP: Jon Merrill vs. rust. If Merrill is back up to full strength on defense, he should shore up Michigan's D and help clear the zone against Alaska's shot barrages.
WHEN MICHIGAN HAS THE PUCK: Alaska's goaltending situation has improved since senior Steve Thompson was replaced with a tandem led by freshman John Keeney. Keeney's save percentage of .914 is the best of the bunch; he isn't outstanding yet but shows lots of potential for the future. Finding Keeney way down in Twin Peaks, CA was a shrewd piece of scouting by head coach Dallas Ferguson.
KEY MATCHUP: Jake Trouba vs. Winnipeg desperately wanting him now, now, now.
ON THE POWER PLAY: Alaska doesn't do much either way on the power play, being among the CCHA leaders in penalty-killing and near the basement in power play efficiency.
FEAR LEVEL: 0. With HOCKEYBEAR at the vanguard, the Nanooks have nothing to fear.
DESPERATE NEED TO WIN LEVEL: 0. The Nanooks have HOCKEYBEAR's unconditional support.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES: KenPom doesn't predict hockey games.
THE STRICTURES AND CONVENTIONS OF SPORTSWRITING COMPEL ME TO PREDICT: Nothing compels HOCKEYBEAR to do anything. However, I predict that Michigan fans will expect to get six points this weekend and come away disappointed. (Don't RAMPAGE me, BEAR, but I don't think Michigan fans would expect to take six points from Huntsville or SEAWOLF at this point.... -ed) A combination of some hot goaltending by Keeney and even more Michigan defensive breakdowns will allow my 'nooks to take home 1-4 points. If it's just one point, you'll be mostly okay. If it's four, the wailing and gnashing of teeth will continue and you will contemplate replacing Red Berenson with an actual red bear and son.
I also predict lots of cheers for HOCKEYBEAR from the crowd at Yost, because you wouldn't want me smashing your nice newly-renovated arena. But you had also better shape up and support your team.
Lastly, more than half my 'nooks are Canadian and we don't have Tim Hortons in Alaska. If you could be so hospitable as to direct them to your new 24/7 location, that would be very nice of you. Plus it may be to your advantage to get my 'nooks full of do-nuts and make them sluggish.