After letdown of postseason ban, Alaska could be dangerous with Morley leading way

Alaska’s Justin Woods is back on the ice after missing all of last season while being treated for a rare form of bone cancer (photo: Paul H. McCarthy/Alaska Athletics).

At the end of the 2014-15 season, there might not have been a more dangerous team in the country than Alaska. The Nanooks closed the season with an eight-game unbeaten streak, one that included a tie and win against league champion Minnesota State and thrust them into fourth place in the WCHA standings.

However, that home-ice spot went wasted as the season ended abruptly. Academic violations from prior to 2012 led to a postseason ban and left the team only to guess just how far it would have been able to go beyond the regular season.

“Last year was a big letdown for us, not being able to play in the postseason,” coach Dallas Ferguson said. “It’s something we haven’t talked a great deal about, but certainly knowing that’s behind us and we can move forward is nice for our team.”

The Nanooks could be a dangerous team again this season with the WCHA coaches’ choice as preseason player of the year, Tyler Morley, back. The forward was second in league scoring a season ago with 33 of his 37 points coming in conference play.

“Anybody who’s seen him play and seen him practice knows he’s a special player,” Ferguson said. “He plays hard, plays the right way, cares about his teammates, cares about this program. He’s a real pleasure to coach.”

If only All-American defenseman Colton Parayko was back. Parayko, a top prospect of the St. Louis Blues, opted to sign following an outstanding junior year.

“His resume speaks for itself,” Ferguson said. “He’s a very special player.”

The Nanooks lost another top defenseman, Trevor Campbell, to graduation, leaving that position a little thin to start the year.

Last season

19-13-2, 14-12-2 (fourth) in the WCHA. Ineligible for postseason play.

Names to know

Besides Morley, who has 42 goals and 92 points in 100 career games, junior forward Marcus Basara returns after finishing second on the team in scoring last season (12 goals, 24 points). In one of the best stories of the early 2015-16 season, defenseman Justin Woods is back on the ice after missing all of last season while being treated for a rare form of bone cancer. Goaltender Davis Jones had a solid season last year before missing the final third due to injury. (Now-graduated Sean Cahill backstopped Alaska’s unbeaten streak.)

Three questions

1. How significant a loss is the early departure of Parayko, who was the best defenseman in the WCHA last season?

2. Can the Nanooks establish a No. 1 goaltender early in the year, as Ferguson said he’d like to do?

3. Can Alaska survive a tough road schedule that includes early series at Minnesota State, Bemidji State and Ferris State and nearly all of January away from Fairbanks?

Crystal ball

With their history of strong regular season finishes, the Nanooks will find a way to get to Grand Rapids and to the WCHA Final Five for the first time.