The question entering the opener of the Governor's Cup between UAA and UAF isn't what's at stake -- answer: pretty much everything -- but whether there's anything that isn't on the line.
The annual Cup, which this season returns to a four-game format, determines bragging rights for superiority between Alaska's two college hockey teams and which club's fan base gets ample material to chirp its rival.
Yet the 21st edition of the Cup -- and remember, this is a rivalry that extends back to 1979 in its entirety -- also for the first time since the 1987-88 season features points on the line. That's because both programs play in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and the Cup games double as league games.
On top of all that, UAA is coming off two league losses at Minnesota State-Mankato and UAF has lost its last four games and six of seven, all of them in the WCHA. Both the Seawolves and Nanooks are trying to get their groove back.
Also, UAA sits eighth in the 10-team WCHA and UAF sits ninth, and only the top eight teams in the regular season qualify for the first round of the league playoffs.
Oh, there's more. UAF, which owns a 12-8 advantage in Cup history, has won the last four editions. That means its seniors know nothing but hoisting hardware and UAA's seniors have never lifted the Cup.
All those factors -- "A perfect situation,'' said UAA senior winger Jordan Kwas -- should make this weekend's series sublime.
"It should take it to another level,'' said UAA first-year coach Matt Thomas. "It's hard to elevate a rivalry because it's already so intense. But there's a lot at play.
"There's league points on the line and two teams that are coming off being swept, so they want to get back in the win column.''
On this occasion, believe the hype.
Still, UAF coach Dallas Ferguson, who played in the first three editions of the Cup as a Nanooks defenseman, said his team needs to concentrate on turning a corner and not get distracted by all the hoopla.
"What's going to matter is the 60 minutes on the ice, not all the stuff that surrounds the series,'' Ferguson said. "For us, we have to be focused on what's in front of us, not what's behind us.''
For UAA, protecting home ice is crucial. The Seawolves have gone 5-0-1 at Sullivan Arena this season. Also, the Seawolves are mindful that the Cup finishes March 7-8 with games at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks to wrap the regular season.
And with four games left before the Christmas break, the Seawolves would do well to get back to accumulating league points and also making inroads on breaking the Nanooks' recent domination of the Cup.
"Especially going into Christmas, you want to clean up as many points as you can,'' Kwas said. "These games are a pretty good opportunity to turn things around. You are aware of the history, and it means a lot for us seniors to change that.''
The last time UAA and UAF belonged to the same league was the 1987-88 season, when the schools were part of the three-team Great West Hockey Conference that also included U.S. International University in San Diego.
That was so long ago that no current player on either Alaska team had yet been born. It was so long ago that it preceded Ferguson's college career at UAF, which began in 1992.
UAF owned the rivalry that season 26 years ago, going 4-1-2 against UAA and winning the league title on a circuit -- well, if you can call a three-team league a circuit -- that expired after that season.
UAF junior center Keith Street was the league's Most Valuable Player with 37 goals and 83 points in 31 games. And the Coach of the Year was Don Lucia, who then was in his first season as bench boss of the Nanooks and went on to Colorado College and Minnesota. He has won two national championships with the Gophers and remains their head coach.
While that was long ago -- more than a lifetime for all the current Seawolves and Nanooks -- the rivalry lives on in the intrastate series that reaches its 148th all-time meeting when the puck drops Friday night.
Time to make more history.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
5-7-2, 2-6-0 WCHA
6-6-2, 3-5-2 WCHA
Friday and Saturday, Sullivan Arena, 7:07 p.m.
Radio: Live, AM-650 KENI
TV: Tape delayed, GCI Channel 1, 10:30 p.m.
HOISTING HOCKEY HARDWARE
Alaska's two college hockey teams, UAA and UAF, have played the Alaska Airlines Governor's Cup series for the past 20 seasons, and UAF owns a 12-8 advantage. The Nanooks have won the last four seasons, putting them one shy of their record five straight Cups in the early 2000s.
Here's the history of the Cup, which has been played in both four-game and two-game formats, and this season is a four-game series in which all games double as WCHA games:
|2011-12||Tied 1-1, UAF won shootout 2-1|
|2010-11||Tied 1-1, UAF won shootout 2-0|
|2003-04||Tied 1-1, UAF won shootout 3-2|
|1998-99||Tied 1-1, UAF won shootout 2-0|
|1994-95||Tied 1-1, UAA won shootout 2-1|
|1993-94||Tied 1-1, UAF won shootout 3-1|