History teaches everything, including the future. — Lamartine
The UAF Nanooks will look to their most recent history, namely last year, to learn what’s necessary to take them to their immediate future.
“We got older in age marginally, but by class and experience we’re younger,” says head coach Tavis MacMillan.
Just how young is this Nanook team? Twenty players on the current roster have freshman or sophomore class status, but the team’s average age is over 21 years. Unlike better established and more centrally located programs, UAF doesn’t have the luxury of recruiting kids fresh out of high school, giving the team an interesting mix of relative worldliness and inexperience.
MacMillan anticipates that this lively combination will propel the Nanooks through a challenging first half. “Youth brings a certain amount of energy and excitement to your program. To a certain degree they’re oblivious to certain things, which at times can be very helpful, especially when you’re in a cluster with Michigan and Michigan State.
The Nanooks have three league home series in the first half of the season, one each against clustermates Michigan and Michigan State, with Northern Michigan sandwiched in between. To kick off the second half of the season, UAF travels for back-to-back series against the Wolverines and Spartans.
MacMillan says that the battle-tested Nanooks will be a much better team at the end of the year than we will at the start — maybe not in the standings … but the progression of this year’s team will mirror last year’s.”
With so many youngsters on the roster, leadership is one thing that will emerge as the season progresses, says MacMillan. “The one area that is tough is the loss of Jared Sylvestre. Sly had a certain presence on this team.”
One area about which MacMillan feels fairly comfortable is offense; UAF returns seven of its top 10 scorers from a year ago. “In scoring, we will be led by a small group of players. Kyle Greentree, who led our team in scoring as a freshman, Curtis Fraser, Kelly Czuy, and Ryan McLeod will have to do the bulk of our scoring if we are to be successful,” says MacMillan. “They are four talented kids who we will lean on.”
MacMillan also says that the Nanooks have made progress in shoring up their weakest positions: goaltending and defense. Starting netminder and very likable guy Wylie Rogers will be challenged by two newcomers, Brandon Cross and Chad Johnson. It appears that UAF recruited for height when it came to netminding; both are well over six feet tall. MacMillan says that Johnson is more likely to challenge Rogers immediately with “the ability to be a special goaltender in this league, and a pro player some day.”
Even before the new season has begun, the Nanooks have been bitten by the injury bug. McLeod and winger Jordan Emmerson have returned to the lineup, but defenseman Brandon Gawryletz and forward Aaron Lee are still out. But returning to play after missing nearly all of last season is defenseman Jordan Hendry, who logged over 70 games his first two seasons with the Nanooks.
In addition to improved goaltending and defense, in order to progress this season, the Nanooks will have to play better outside of their comfort zone, away from the Olympic sheet at the Carlson Center. UAF was 8-4-4 at home last season, 7-11-0 away.
Inexperience and a tough schedule are no match for MacMillan’s enthusiasm. The second-year head coach said he trusted the youth of his team last year, and the Nanooks did improve; this year, he’s history repeating.
“I like the youth of our team. I think it was our strength last year and will continue to be one of our strengths. When you’re an older guy who’s been to the rink every day for three years … those young guys can provide a little jump.”