Best in the State 11 years straight: Nanooks capture yet another Gov. Cup and home ice for the playoffs
The University of Alaska Fairbanks hockey program accomplished two goals they set out at the beginning of the season on Saturday night; capture another Governor's Cup series over their in-state rival, the University of Alaska Anchorage, and secure home ice for the first round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.
In a 6-1 rally over the Seawolves, the Nanooks built on their decade of dominance of the 2010s, winning the 2020 Gov. Cup for their 11th consecutive title.
"It's obviously exciting to be able to bring the cup back to Fairbanks, and being able to host home ice," Head Coach Erik Largen said at the press conference.
Saturday's game was also senior night, where the Nanooks honored 10 seniors (Troy Van Tetering, James LaDouce, Tyler Cline, Colton Leiter, Jack Weiss, Kylar Hope, Tristan Thompson, Anton Martinsson, Kyle Marino and Logan Coomes), who swept the Governor's Cup, winning four straight titles as several senior classes did before them.
"Speaking on the seniors in this group, this year they had a mission. That mission was to bring home ice to Fairbanks and they were able to complete that," Largen added. "With everything that has gone on with the coaching changes and the budget stuff, and everything else, to be able to stick together and do it as a group is pretty incredible. I don't think that a lot of people gave us a chance to be able to be in this spot and this group believed and they did it. It is just kudos to them for the type of work they put and the type of people that they are."
The Nanooks put themselves in position to win the Cup and clinch home ice with a 5-2 over UAA on Friday that featured a natural hat trick from junior Steven Jandric, who scored three straight goals to close out the victory. The three-goal, two-assist weekend earned Jandric the WCHA Forward of the Week award.
On Saturday, the Seawolves got on the board first, but it did not waver the confidence or swagger of the Nanooks on the ice. UAF responded with three straight goals in the second period. Senior Tyler Cline netted a power-play goal early in the period to tie it at one, before Captain Kylar Hope gave the 'Nooks the lead midway through the frame, to add to their legacies in the Blue and Gold. Freshman Roberts Kalkis cemented the first chapter of
legacy when he scored his first career collegiate goal to make it a 3-1 game by the end of the second. By then, chants of "10 more years" echoed throughout the Carlson Center crowd, encouraging another decade of supremacy in Alaska collegiate hockey.
Senior Logan Coomes added one more Carlson Center memory to his bank when he scored on the power play to extend the lead to 4-1 in the third. Kalkis (WCHA Defensemen of the Week) added his second of the game before former Fairbanks Ice Dog Caleb Hite added the icing on the cake when he scored with 27 seconds remaining.
The victory gives the 'Nooks 16 wins on the season, their most in five years and it secures home ice for quarterfinals of the playoffs this weekend against Bowling Green, their first time hosting since their inaugural season in the WCHA in 2013-14. The senior group that accomplished so much in their final year together, shared their thoughts on their time as a Nanook.
"Spending the last year up here, it is just a great atmosphere, the fans, the town of Fairbanks is unbelievable for the support and all the games you guys show up to," Coomes said.
"Just to everyone, thank you," Hope said at the post-game press conference. "The city of Fairbanks, such a great place, there is endless opportunity for us. As you can see how we have grown and turned into men. I think a few of us came in boys, but we are all leaving men. Be excited for this team, we have a lot left to prove."
"To the boys, it is a great group, it has been an awesome year, we have had a lot of fun and accomplished a lot," Van Tetering said. "We set out goals at the start of the year and we were able to achieve them, so it was a big year for us and it is a great group over there. I know I am excited to have playoffs here for you guys, for us, and I think there is big things coming for this team next weekend."
"To the fans, we can't do what we do without the support that you guys give us in this community it is amazing, and we are always going to be thankful for everything that you guys do." Thompson added.
"I think the biggest thing, as Coach Largen touched on, is the adversity we've been through," LaDouce said at the presser. "We stuck with it, we didn't get down or count ourselves out. We believed in this group, we wanted to do this for one another. I think this was a big thing from start to now. You can see how we've grown through the four years that we've been here."
The fourth-seeded Nanooks now prepare for the opening round of the playoffs, where they will host the fifth-seeded Bowling Green Falcons.
In their lone meeting this year (Feb. 14-15), the two teams skated to a tie both nights. In game one, the Nanooks gained a point in the standings by scoring in the 3-on-3 overtime period, before falling in a shootout the following night.
The best-of-three series begins on Friday at 7:07 p.m. at the Carlson Center. If necessary, the two teams will play the decisive third game on Sunday at 5:07 p.m.