UAF is fresh off a rampage of a run to wrap the regular season – six straight wins and a 10-1-0 heater in its last 11 – and now the Nanooks wait – and wait, wait, wait – for word of their NCAA tournament fate.

The Nanooks punished Lindenwood 8-0 Saturday night in Fairbanks to finish 22-10-2, their most wins in more than two decades. They awoke Monday morning sitting No. 13 in the Pairwise Rankings, which mimic the formula the NCAA Ice Hockey Committee uses to determine 10 at-large bids to the 16-team NCAA Division I tournament.

And a long wait it will be. The field will be unveiled Sunday, March 19 – the announcement will come when conference tournaments conclude.

UAF is an independent, so it does not belong to one of the six conferences that employ tournaments to determine the six automatic bids to the NCAAs.

What would serve the Nanooks best is if favored teams – those ranked above UAF in the Pairwise – claim conference crowns. What could dash their dreams is if multiple outliers capture conference crowns to earn auto bids despite being lower in the Pairwise than the Nanooks. So, big scoreboard watching ahead in the Golden Heart City.

The Nanooks have earned their Pairwise power by virtue of road victories at defending national champion Denver, at Notre Dame and at Omaha. They also went 15-1-0 against fellow independents.

UAF is trying to become the first independent to make the NCAAs since Arizona State in 2019. The biggest impact an independent has made in NCAA history came in 1991 when UAA swept a best-of-3, first-round series at Boston College before being eliminated by eventual national champion Northern Michigan.

Speaking of UAA, the Seawolves (7-19-0) wrapped a brutal schedule of six games in 10 days – that included a trip to the East Coast – with Saturday’s 4-3 victory over visiting Arizona State. Max Helgeson of Anchorage scored a goal and fired a team-high four shots on goal to give him 7-11—18 totals in 26 games. He’s tied for the team lead in goals and points. Also, freshman defenseman Caleb Huffman of Anchorage, who joined the team in midseason from the Kenai River Brown Bears of the North American Hockey League, furnished a goal for his first college point.

UAA, a program resurrected by a community fundraising campaign after two seasons idle, closes its season by entertaining Lindenwood on Friday and Saturday.

In other Division I men’s play, RIT (24-11-1) used three assists from senior center Caleb Moretz of Fairbanks to sweep Mercyhurst, 5-3 and 4-3 in overtime, from the Atlantic Hockey tournament. Moretz, who owns 5-12—17 totals in 28 games, assisted on the game-winning goal Friday and generated two helpers, including one on the power-play dagger in OT, on Saturday. The Tigers also include senior defenseman Calvon Boots of Fairbanks, who is 5-1—6 in 25 games.

Minnesota State-Mankato (23-12-1), which includes sophomore forwards Zach Krajnik of Eagle River (3-6—9 in 31 games) and Tanner Edwards of Anchorage (1-1—2 in 10 games), advanced to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association semis by sweeping Lake Superior State, 6-1 and 2-1.

Hunter Strand hockey

Hunter Strand

Notre Dame (16-16-5), which includes sophomore center Hunter Strand of Anchorage (5-10—15 in 37 games) and junior defenseman Zach Plucinski of Eagle River (1-4—5 in 31 games) is likely done after being eliminated in the first round of the Big Ten postseason. Notre Dame beat Michigan State 1-0 Friday, but then lost to the Spartans by a 4-2 count both Saturday and Sunday. Strand scored a goal Sunday. Alas, the Fighting Irish are tied for No. 18 in the Pairwise.

Meanwhile, in Division III, the season will continue for senior defenseman John Banovetz of Eagle River (0-2—2 in 24 games) and Norwich University (19-6-2). The Cadets earned one of three at-large bids in the 12-team NCAA tournament. Norwich on Saturday will play Plattsburgh State (20-5-2) in the first round.

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