UAF Hockey releases first full independent schedule since 1992-93
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - A year removed from the ice, the University of Alaska Fairbanks hockey program is preparing for a strong return next season. Dates and opponents are set for UAF Hockey’s 2021-22 season - without the support of a conference - unfamiliar territory for the Division I program in recent memory.
The end of the 2020-21 season marked the end of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, for now. In the summer of 2019, seven of the 10 programs that comprised the WCHA elected to leave the conference to revive the Central Collegiate Hockey Association by the 2021-22 season - with Bemidji State, Bowling Green State, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State-Mankato and Northern Michigan joining forces on the effort. This left Alabama Huntsville, the University of Alaska Anchorage and UAF on the outside looking in.
UAH has since been cut, reinstated and have now suspended operations for the upcoming season as it has not secured a conference home. UAA has had little time to think about a conference, as their program hangs in the balance as well.
Nanook hockey has stayed afloat through the many waves - including not competing during the 2020-21 season - and administration has been consistent on its stance to maintain all of its sports, including hockey.
This, all leading up to the 2021-22 independent season, that will take the program to new places against new opponents.
“You’re talking about teams that are making NCAA tournaments, you’re talking about preseason Top 10 teams..” UAF head coach Erik Largen said of the upcoming schedule. “It is difficult throughout and it is going to places that we haven’t been as a program historically. It is a lot exciting things for the program, new opportunities, new challenges and I think all of our players are looking forward to it.”
With 14 NCAA regular-season home games and over a dozen different opponents scheduled, Largen was satisfied with the way it unfolded, considering how putting together an independent schedules can go.
“You get nervous about finding home games for independent schedules, that is the hardest part,” Largen added. “It is a pretty fun schedule for the fans to be able to watch and it is pretty spaced out as well, so there is a couple of games for every month throughout the course of the year.”
Alaska Fairbanks will begin their new chapter with a pair of exhibition contests at the Carlson Center with the annual Blue and Gold scrimmage September 24, before hosting Simon Fraser University (British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League) the following night. The Nanooks will have an early-season chance to see where they stack up when they visit the University of Minnesota (Big Ten) October 2-3, winners of five NCAA DI National Championships. These two programs have only squared-off three times, twice in 2005 (4-3 win, 3-3 tie) and once in 2016 (6-3 loss).
The program’s Fairbanks debut will come October 8 when they host Clarkson University (ECAC) to begin a two-game series, a program they have yet to skate against. UAF will then embark on their first extended road trip, stopping at the University of Nebraska Omaha (National Collegiate Hockey Conference) October 15-16, returning the favor to Clarkson in Potsdam, New York October 22-23, before taking on Cornell University (ECAC) for the first time in history October 29-30.
After two weeks off, Nebraska Omaha will visit Fairbanks for just the second time since 2006, a former travel partner with the Nanooks when they were a part of the CCHA.
UAF will then face maybe their strongest opponent on the schedule; 2021 Frozen Four finalist Minnesota-Duluth (National Collegiate Hockey Conference) November 26-27 on the road. The ‘Nooks will return home in December to face Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (ECAC) for four straight games over two weekends at the Carlson Center. UAF has only faced RPI two times, once in 2009 (1-1) and 2015 (4-2 win).
Back on the road, the Blue and Gold will take on the University of Denver (National Collegiate Hockey Conference) December 30-31, a program they dropped a pair of games to in 2019.
The ‘Nooks will occupy the Alfond Arena for the first time when they visit the University of Maine January 7-8. The Nanooks took down the Black Bears 5-2 in their only meeting at the Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage in 2014.
UAF will make a pit stop in Fairbanks for the Alumni Game January 22, before returning to the east coast to face the University of Vermont (Hockey East) January 28-29, another first-time opponent.
Facing a fellow independent team, UAF will square-off with Arizona State University at the Oceanside Ice Arena February 4-5 to take on a program they have skated with five previous times. Down the home stretch, the Nanooks will host the University of St. Thomas (CCHA), a newly-approved NCAA Division I program February 11-12.
Alaska Fairbanks will invade Brooklyn, New York February 18-19 to battle the University of Long Island, also a new NCAA hockey team. The Nanooks will conclude their regular-season in Fairbanks, hosting Arizona State February 25-26 and Long Island March 4-5.
“You get a chance to play more teams in different conferences and I think it is great to have that variety,” said Largen of the benefits of an independent schedule. “The ability to be able to play across all conferences, that is a really exciting thing and we are really playing the upper echelon from each of the conferences.”
As UAF did not compete during the 2020-21 campaign, they will be eager to get back on the ice with a full slate next season. Many of the players -who come from the United States, to Canada, to Latvia, to Russia and more - expressed their eagerness and dedication by sticking through the winter to train in Fairbanks.
“We play hockey, that is what we do right? So when you get that taken away, you’re a little bit frustrated. They could have reacted, in the long-term, very negatively, but instead they continued to show up, continued to work, continued to train with Mike Curtain in the gym and then be able to work on a lot of skill development on the ice,” Largen said. “We were still able to get a lot out of that second half of the year. I think those games mean even more to the guys having a chance to be able to do that now that they haven’t done that this past year.”
And for Curtain, the longtime strength and conditioning coach for Nanook Athletics, it was his last chance to train the program he has been a part of for two decades.
“Mike Curtain is retiring after 20 years of elevating this program and helping all of our student-athletes across all of our different sports,” Largen added. “Mike is going to be missed by our program and by all the different programs. We just want to wish him the best in retirement and for him to know how much he as meant to us and to the UAF community as a whole and more importantly all of the student-athletes who have come through here.”
2021-22 ALASKA NANOOKS HOCKEY SCHEDULE
|9/24 - 7:07pm||Blue & Gold Scrimmage||Fairbanks, AK|
|9/25 - 7:07pm||Simon Fraser University||Fairbanks, AK|
|10/2 - 4:07pm||University of Minnesota||Minneapolis, MN|
|10/3 - 2:07pm||University of Minnesota||Minneapolis, MN|
|10/8 - 7:07pm||Clarkson University||Fairbanks, AK|
|10/9 - 7:07pm||Clarkson University||Fairbanks, AK|
|10/15 - TBA||University of Nebraska at Omaha||Omaha, NE|
|10/16 - TBA||University of Nebraska at Omaha||Omaha, NE|
|10/22 - TBA||Clarkson University||Potsdam, NY|
|10/23 - TBA||Clarkson University||Potsdam, NY|
|10/29 -TBA||Cornell University||Ithaca, NY|
|10/30 -TBA||Cornell University||Ithaca, NY|
|11/19 - 7:07pm||University of Nebraska at Omaha||Fairbanks, AK|
|11/20 - 7:07pm||University of Nebraska at Omaha||Fairbanks, AK|
|11/26 - 7:07pm||University of Minnesota Duluth||Duluth, MN|
|11/27 - 7:07pm||University of Minnesota Duluth||Duluth, MN|
|12/10 - 7:07pm||Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute||Fairbanks, AK|
|12/11 - 7:07pm||Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute||Fairbanks, AK|
|12/15 - 7:07pm||Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute||Fairbanks, AK|
|12/16 - 7:07pm||Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute||Fairbanks, AK|
|12/30 - TBA||University of Denver||Denver, CO|
|12/31 - TBA||University of Denver||Denver, CO|
|1/7- TBA||University of Maine||Orono, ME|
|1/8- TBA||University of Maine||Orono, ME|
|1/22 - TBA||Alumni Game||Fairbanks, AK|
|1/28 - TBA||University of Vermont||Burlington, VT|
|1/29 - TBA||University of Vermont||Burlington, VT|
|2/4 - 5:07pm||Arizona State University||Tempe, AZ|
|2/5 - 5:07pm||Arizona State University||Tempe, AZ|
|2/12 - 7:07pm||University of St. Thomas||Fairbanks, AK|
|2/13 - 7:07pm||University of St. Thomas||Fairbanks, AK|
|2/18 -TBA||Long Island University||Brooklyn, NY|
|2/19 -TBA||Long Island University||Brooklyn, NY|
|2/25 -7:07pm||Arizona State University||Fairbanks, AK|
|2/26 -7:07pm||Arizona State University||Fairbanks, AK|
|3/4 -7:07pm||Long Island University||Fairbanks, AK|
|3/5 -7:07pm||Long Island University||Fairbanks, AK|
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