The Michigan hockey team is going to Alaska for a learning experience, either on the ice or off.

As the sixth-ranked Wolverines play No. 15 Alaska-Fairbanks on Friday, it will mark the beginning of the end of Michigan’s five-day trip to the 49th state. After making the 12 hour journey Wednesday, the Wolverines used Thursday to get acclimated to the time difference and learn about the history of Alaska.

“It’s not that fun, but it’s interesting, it’s educational,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said Tuesday. “I think the team enjoys it because they are away from school and away from all the distractions, and they’re just together … It’s good for these kids. They could write a paper on at least five different major topics, and they should. I like that, I think it’s educational for our players to get some exposure to that.”

For seasons which Michigan has to play in Fairbanks, Berenson likes to schedule the trip early in the season for team camaraderie purposes. The trip is used as a bonding experience and this year, six of the seven freshmen made the trip with the team. The only one staying home is third-string goaltender Adam Janecyk.

The most anticipated bonding activity came in the form of curling on Thursday.

“We’re pretty excited about that,” Senior forward and Woodbridge, Ontario native Louie Caporusso said after Tuesday’s practice. “Usually the coach lets the Canadians pick the teams.”

But important than Caporusso’s curling team is the actual hockey series. The Nanooks (2-1-1-1 CCHA, 5-2-1 overall) are third in the CCHA, just two points behind the Wolverines in the conference standings. With six conference points at stake this weekend, a sweep by either team vaults them to the CCHA’s upper echelon and leaves the other on the outside looking in.

For Michigan, the game will likely come down to scoring. Alaska, which came into the season with some of its highest expectations ever after making the NCAA tournament last year, typically plays a defensive style. Instead of sending two players in hard, the Nanooks lay back, closing the middle of the ice in the neutral zone. It’s worked so far this season, as Alaska averages the second fewest goals against in the nation.

“My fourth year playing them, I know what it’s going to be like,” Caporusso said. “It doesn’t mean we can’t score goals. We’re Michigan for a reason. We have our name, our reputation for a reason. It’s because we’re a talented team and we can perform against teams that are playing defensive. I’m not concerned about that, but we know that they could be a frustrating team.”

The Wolverines (3-0-1-0, 4-1-3) took on a slightly similar system in Ferris State last week and had inconsistent results, splitting the series. The difference this weekend is that both games take place on the road.

Playing in the Carlson Center only adds to the team’s adjustments. The past two seasons the Wolverines’ tired legs have led to losses in the first or only game they played on the Nanooks’ wider ice sheet. But with nine experienced seniors and the rest of the team already having played on an Olympic-size rink at New Hampshire three weeks ago, pucks will be flying.

“Usually the first game we don’t get enough pucks on net,” Senior forward Carl Hagelin said. “We decided that this week we were really going to focus on getting pucks to the net, getting a lot of shots, getting a lot of traffic in front, hopefully get that first goal to get our team rolling.”

Maybe they have learned something about Alaska.

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