Feb. 21, 2013
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer
Tanner Sorenson is not exactly going "home" this weekend. But it's close. And he's really exciting about visiting his home state.
The Michigan State sophomore forward this week is making his first trip to Alaska to play hockey as a collegian, as the Spartans play a two-game CCHA series at Alaska-Fairbanks.
Sorenson, 20, grew up playing hockey in Anchorage, about 260 air miles south of Fairbanks, and will have about 20 family members and friends watching him play at the Carlson Center on Friday and Saturday.
"I'm going to have a lot of family making the trip and I have a lot of buddies living in Fairbanks. It'll be pretty cool,'' Sorenson said. "The U-16 and U-18 states are this weekend and I know a lot of the coaches and they'll come to the came, too.
"It'll be a nice little reunion because I haven't seen of lot of these people in a long time. My brother, whom I haven't seen in a year-and-a-half, is coming. A lot more people wanted to come but the driving (359 miles through the mountains) is too much and flying is kind of hassle. But I think it's on TV.''
Sorenson said he's played in the Carlson Center, the city-owned rink that is home to the Nanooks, many times.
"Growing up, we always played a team from Fairbanks, and occasionally, the state (tournament) would be there,'' he said. "And when I was 13 or 14, nationals were played there.
"And I've been there for baseball and soccer, too. So, I've been there a bit.''
The Spartans and Nanooks meet at 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at the 4,595-seat Carlson Center, which is an Olympic-size rink at 100 feet wide.
Northern Michigan has the only Olympic-size rink in the CCHA, although Notre Dame's new building is 90 feet wide, five feet wider than the usual 200 x 85 surfaces. The Spartans didn't play at NMU this season, but did visit Minnesota and got swept on the larger ice surface at Mariucci Arena the first week of the season.
"It's really a big rink. It seems even bigger than Northern's rink,'' Sorenson said. "I like the big ice. It gives you more room to do stuff and it opens up the game.''
The Carlson Center has deeper corners so it feels wider and maybe longer than NMU's Berry Events Center in Marquette. But there are areas in which teams have to adjust - protecting the middle of the ice if you get spread out too wide and different angles defensemen have to deal with while defending onrushing forwards or playing in their own zone.
Sorenson told the freshmen and sophomores to expect it to be cold and dark and the trip to be long.
"I think a lot of the guys were dreading it,'' Sorenson said. "When we looked at the weather (early in the week), it was like minus-40. February is the coldest month in the Alaska.''
The forecast shows the Spartans will be facing sub-zero temperatures for Thursday and Friday. Thursday's high is expected to reach -4, with a low of -15. It'll be worse on Friday with projected temperatures of -9 as the high and -22 as the low. On Saturday, it's supposed to warm up to 4 degrees as the high and -14 as the low. Light snow is expected Thursday and Friday.
MSU's seniors have been to Fairbanks three times - 2009-10 and twice within two weeks in 2010-11 for a regular-season series and then a CCHA playoff series. MSU's juniors did the double-visit as freshmen.
In those last six games in Fairbanks, MSU is 1-4-1. In the last 10 meetings, the Spartans hold a 5-4-1 edge.
The Nanooks (13-13-4, 11-12-13-1 CCHA), who have clinched home ice for the first round of the playoffs, but they can still finish fourth or fifth and earn a first-round bye, have been anything but invincible at home.
Alaska is 5-6-1 at home against CCHA opponents and 7-6-1 overall. On the road, the Nanooks own sweeps at Michigan and Notre Dame and are 6-6-2 in the CCHA and overall on the road.
"Alaska was a red-hot team and they had won a bunch in a row. This is their last CCHA series so they'll be amped up to play and try to push to finish in fifth,'' Sorenson said.
After sweeping Michigan, Notre Dame and Northern Michigan (at home) in mid-January, the Nanooks are 1-5 in their last six games, including coming off a pair of losses (5-1, 4-2) at Lake Superior State last weekend.
Next week, Alaska closes the regular-season with a nonconference home-and-home series against rival Alaska-Anchorage.
Sorenson, who's 5-foot-9 and 172 pounds, has played a much more of a role this year than he did as a freshman. On a team that has struggled to score, Sorenson would have liked to have produced more offense but he's still having fairly consistent season with five goals in the first 19 games and five in the 13 contests since Jan. 1. He has 10 goals and six assists for 16 points, fourth-highest on the team, in 32 games. His 10 goals are second only to fellow-sophomore Matt Berry's 12.
Sorenson is the Spartans' second-leading scorer in the 2013 portion of the schedule. He has five goals and seven points in the last 13 games. Greg Wolfe has five goals and 10 points.
As a freshman, Sorenson battled for playing time on the fourth line and had two goals and six assists for eight points in 32 games.
MSU sophomores Berry (12-10-22), Darnell (8-9-17) and Sorenson make up three of the team's top four scorers. Wolfe (7-10-17) is tied with Berry.
"We're just a little older and stronger and I think all three of us are skilled players,'' Sorenson said. "We have a lot of freshmen and we knew we'd have to step up. I think we've had pretty good seasons to date, but we still have to get better.''
NANOOK NOTES: Alaska, with the fourth-highest offense in overall games (2.60), has three players with 10 goals apiece. Senior Andy Taranto leads the Nanooks in scoring with 10 goals and 12 assists for 22 points; freshman Tyler Morley has 10 goals and eight assists for 18 points, to rank third, and junior Colton Beck has 10 goals and six assists for 16 points and he's tied for fifth in team scoring.
Meanwhile, junior Cody Kunyk, one of the Nanooks' most skilled forwards, is second in scoring with 21 points - eight goals and 13 assists.
Defensively, the Nanooks have struggled at times. They're 10th in CCHA goals-against (2.92) and 10th overall (2.83). But penalty killing has been a strength. After nine straight successful penalty kills last weekend at LSSU, Alaska improved its efficiency to 89.2 percent - 2nd in the CCHA and 6th nationally. In CCHA games, UAF is No. 1 with 88.4 percent efficiency.
Freshman goalie John Keeney (20 games, 2.55 GAA, .905 saves percentage, 9-8-3 record) is a former teammate of MSU freshman forward Matt DeBlouw and freshman defenseman Travis Walsh with the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL. They played together last season. Keeney, 19, is from Twin Peaks, Calif., 90 miles east of Los Angeles.
SHORTHANDED SURGE: After playing the first 27 games without a shorthanded goal, the Spartans have scored three in their last five games. Chris Forfar scored against Michigan on Feb. 2, Greg Wolfe found the net against Bowling Green on Feb. 8 and Lee Reimer connected last Saturday against Northern Michigan, set up by a perfect pass from Wolfe.
SELLOUTS LEAD TO VICTORIES: The Spartans have had four sellouts at Munn Arena this season and each game ended up in a victory for MSU. The Spartans defeated Michigan, 7-2, on Nov. 10; Ferris State, 3-1, Dec. 15; Notre Dame, 4-1, Jan. 18, and Northern Michigan, 4-2, last Saturday.
Nine of the last 11 home crowds have been above 6,000. A sellout is 6,470.
The Spartans are averaging 5,837 fans over 15 home games, which ranks 8th nationally and No. 1 in the CCHA.
SUPERFAN: Janeen Geisenhaver has been selected as one of 11 winners of the CCHA Celebrate the Legacy Super Fan contest. Geisenhaver has missed just five Michigan State games since the 1984-85 season. Her attendance streak includes not only regular-season games, CCHA playoff and championship games, but also preseason and non-conference games.
Geisenhaver has also made 15 of the 16 trips to watch the Spartans play in Alaska - which includes this weekend's voyage to cheer on the Green and White at the Carlson Center.
This year's Frozen Four in Pittsburgh will mark her 30th consecutive Frozen Four, a streak which began in 1984 at Lake Placid. Geisenhaver has been named President of the MSU Blue Line Club for the 2013-14 season, has served on the Board of Directors and has assisted with countless fundraisers and receptions.