FAIRBANKS — Long before the season started, several
Wolverines circled this weekend’s trip to Fairbanks as one of
the highlights of the season. The longest road trip of the year
— just short of 3,000 miles — gave players a chance to
enjoy some extended time together.
The last time Michigan traveled to Fairbanks was two years ago,
in a season when Alaska-Fairbanks was part of Michigan’s
schedule cluster and the two teams played four times. As a result,
the freshmen and sophomores on this year’s roster had not yet
traveled to the Last Frontier.
“A lot of guys had never been here, so it was a good
experience (for them),” Andy Burnes said. “We took
advantage of what Alaska had to offer.”
The 49th state offered a chance to play another ice sport
— curling. The basic premise is to push a large stone down a
sheet of ice and attempt to make it stop on a target on the other
“Curling was a lot of fun; the boys had a blast,”
sophomore Andrew Ebbett said. “Coach (Red Berenson) was out
there watching us. We were out there for two hours.”
The 22 players that made the trip to Fairbanks left early
Wednesday morning and arrived after stops in Minneapolis, Seattle
and Anchorage. Michigan had a light workout on Wednesday, as the
players needed to adjust to the four-hour time zone change.
“It was good we came up here Wednesday,” Ebbett
said. “(It gave us) a couple days to rest.”
But, providing more than just fun and games, the five-day trip
was a chance to build team morale and camaraderie. Hockey was
always on the minds of the players, but there was room to have fun
on the side.
“We didn’t (just) come up here to have a good time;
we came up here to win two hockey games,” Burnes said.
“You spend five days on the road with 22 of your best
friends. It’s always a good time and we had some
Alaskan Homecoming: Anchorage native Jason Ryznar knew
there would be extra pressure to perform this weekend, and he
didn’t disappoint. The junior had about 10 family members
travel the 300 miles to Fairbanks for Friday night’s
Ryznar opened the Michigan scoring Friday on an odd-man rush
with Ebbett. Ebbett fed Ryznar and Alaska-Fairbanks goaltender
Preston McKay couldn’t slide over fast enough to stop the
puck from sailing over his shoulder.
Ryznar also got to tip his hat to his fellow Alaskans by scoring
an empty netter with under a minute left in the game to assure the
Michigan victory. The two goals matched Ryznar’s goal total
for the season prior to the game. He also scored a goal at the
Carlson Center two years ago.
“It’s always good to come home to play a little
hockey,” Ryznar said. “You only get so many chances to
play in Alaska; it was pretty gratifying to get a couple of goals
in front of my parents.”
Penalty Killed: The Michigan penalty kill unit has been
fairly successful this season, but when it has lapses, it tends to
cost the Wolverines the game. Saturday was one of those days. Two
Nanook powerplay goals were the difference in the games, as both
scores came at key points during the game. The first came early in
the second period, giving Alaska-Fairbanks a 2-1 lead. The second
was the game-tying goal, which opened the floodgates for two more
third-period goals by the Nanooks.
“Special teams comes down to hard work,” Burnes
said. “The penalty kill is something we pride ourselves on,
but they scored some goals. They outworked us and got the best of
us on special teams.”