Alaska capped its 2009-10 season with the program’s first trip to the NCAA tournament, so it’s only fitting that UAF is picked third this season, the highest preseason prognostication in Nanooks history.
How does Dallas Ferguson, the third-year coach responsible for turning around the UAF program, follow all of this up? With what got him here to begin with.
“I told the team … that it’s nice to be recognized but that everybody right now is 0-0-0,” Ferguson said. “We feel that it’s nice to be recognized but we’re not going to worry about preseason polls or what’s behind us. We’ve got to focus on moving forward and getting better every day.”
The Nanooks began last season with back-to-back hardware, capturing both the Kendall Hockey Classic and the Brice Alaska Goal Rush. They followed that quick start and a record of 9-5-3 at the midseason break. UAF had just one win in January, though, slumping (1-4-3) through the month before rebounding at the end of the season — only to lose a home first-round CCHA playoff series to Northern Michigan.
Ferguson knows that a similar arc to the season may not yield the results he and the Nanooks want. “I think one of the things we want to focus in on is just making sure we’re being consistent with everything that we’re doing in all facets of our program,” Ferguson said. “Finding that level of consistency just doesn’t happen; it’s something we focus in on every day, being your best … just being focused in on today and not worrying about anything else.”
Part of the reason that UAF is on everyone’s radar this season is the depth the Nanooks have at each position. This is a veteran team, and now one that is tournament tested. Said Ferguson, “I’m real happy with some of the decisions that we’re going to have to make being that we have some tough decisions to make about who’s going to be in the lineup every night.”
The Nanooks return a solid defense, backstopped by junior Scott Greenham, but lose 19 of their 108 overall goals with the departure to graduation of Dion Knelsen, who played online with CCHA rookie of the year Andy Taranto. Ferguson said that senior Dustin Slather has been skating with Taranto in the early going; the two are the only returning Nanooks with 10 or more goals last season.
“We’ve been mixing some guys in there to see where the chemistry’s at,” said Ferguson, who added that he expects this year’s captain, Kevin Petovello, to contribute to the offense after missing much of last season to injury.
With 18 returning players, all with tournament experience, Ferguson said his team returned prepared.
“We’ve talked about keeping a level head because that is behind us,” Ferguson said. “There’s a lot of work that has to go into it and our focus was going into the summer and everybody doing what they needed to do to get better so that we can hopefully give ourselves an opportunity to be successful again.”