So that's how it ends ... again. For the past few years UAA's regular season was puncuated at both ends by a series with UAF. Normally this it'd be the time where we'd come back to UAF taunts of "we've got the cup" with a "who cares about the cup?" in response. This year we got to do that in January though; I'm not sure which would be better. Now we've all got to sit around for two weeks waiting to see whether or not UAA will go out with some style in the WCHA playoffs. I learned this weekend that if Minnesota isn't unbeatable they sure are damn close to it.
Friday night UAA finally played another one of those games where not only did they get a great game from the goalie but gave him some goal support. If John DeCaro hadn't come up big for UAA in the first period it could have easily been 3-0. While UAA did have a few quality chances and some occassional territorial advantages the Gophers had extended tilts in UAA's zone that resulted in multiple quality chances. DeCaro really stood tall playing probably his best period of hockey this season making 39 saves on 43 shots. Overall the team had energy and skated well at both ends of the ice with the #1 team in the country. Thats all good. Saturday night? It was a completely different game. I'd guess the number of odd man rushes given up Friday night was a primary concern for Coach Shyiak and so UAA played very a very conservative "block the lanes" game and hence held UofM to 32 shots. Nothing wrong with that as a strategy but tactically it killed the UAA offense. 10 shots for the game with only 2 or 3 legitimate scoring chances? I heard a number of fans saying that they didn't think the players put much effort into the game but I disagree. I don't have a stat but I saw a helluva lot more shots blocked by UAA players on Saturday than on Friday. That sort of defensive effort (coupled with Minnesota's awesome puck possession game) too often ended with leg weary UAA players struggling to get a shift change and therefore unable to even begin to generate anything at the other end. My conclusion? We played a more uptempo style and lost 4-3. I think the coaching staff has two very different games to look at and that's a good thing.
Other More Random Thoughts:
Jay Beagle deserves a huge mention for his play this weekend. He singlehandedly killed off nearly half a Gopher power play in their end in the corner by himself. It was definitely a nice highlight moment and I hope the players noted the crowd's response to his effort. Though these past few seasons have seen dwindling attendance the core group that regularly attend are very knowledgeable hockey fans and properly respect such an awesome effort. J.J. will always have a good story (knocking an opponent through the glass ... sweet!) to tell about his last game at the Sully in a UAA uniform. He went out with style and the usual 120 percent effort we've ALWAYS seen from him. I'd struggle to remember ANY player in UAA history that worked harder game in and game out than Justin. Maybe he's got a couple more highlights left in him in a couple of weeks? Who knows? He looked real confident handling the puck this weekend; he's so strong on his skates that he's been having more and more scoring chances. I also thought Luke Beaverson played another real strong game Friday night. I assume he was a healthy scratch Saturday so that Underwood could finish out his career on home ice (who played well both nights with some big hits ... WTG Daron!). Luke has really become a mature WCHA quality defenseman in my book this season. If he continues to improve at the rate we've seen this year then we're all in for a real treat the next two years. Lastly I'd be remiss if I didn't say something about the play of Eric Walsky. I've heard and read people begging Eric to shoot the puck and/or labeling him as a puck hog. I just think the guy is such an ingrained set-up player that UAA needs to find a scorer that can establish some sort of rhythm with him. Who? Maybe Tarkir would be a good fit. I've likened Tarkir's style to Curtis Glencross's. Glencross's hard charging style greatly benefitted from Fournier's "set-up" game. Either all that or ... Eric ... take some shots please.
Can we all just agree to agree that the DEFENSE .. stomp stomp .. DEFENSE chant has got to go?