Thursday, November 16, 2006

UAA vs. UND: Keys to Victory

The story this weekend for the Seawolves will have many chapters. Obviously, "Skating" is going to be an important chapter vs. UND who once again have plenty of wheels. The "Goaltending" chapter is always of key importance in the WCHA; without which success doesn't find it's way into the book title. And lastly ... the chapter called "Special Teams" could once again be the most important. What will the authors deliver for publishing? I think it could be something special.

This Seawolves team is the best skating team I've seen in years. I can't name a sophmore or freshman that hasn't improved the overall team speed. Beagle, Robinson, Lunden, Crowder, Clark, Selby, Tuton, Backstrom and Hunt can all motor. Among the upperclassmen Bourne, Tarkir, Lowe, Waldrop and Anderson are all top notch. And I'm not saying that Kronschnabel, Beaverson, Cartwright, Corrin, Tassone, and Smith are not good skaters. If I had to pin the "worst skater" badge on someone I'd reluctantly award that to Shane Lovdahl. But in Shane's favor he does a helluva job in his end and if the opposition gives him the room he'll move the puck up the ice just as confidently as anyone. His open ice hits have been frequent and his ability to get the number of hip-checks he gets is surprising. And of course there is that rocket of a slap shot which in my mind is needed on the PP. So knowing that there's that many excellent skating players on the squad gives me plenty of confidence that the Seawolves come out on top of the team speed comparison.

Coming into these games the goaltender comparison seems pretty clearly to be in UAA's favor. The Sioux will be going with a freshman that has 4 games under his belt and won the WCHA weekly rookie of the week award by holding a team that scores 3.13 goals per game to 2.5 goals per game in a 1-0-1 weekend in their own barn. Nathan Lawson is a proven commodity in the net for UAA and he has been stable and solid in all his recent games. And as always he has the capability to rob forwards. His abilities to move the puck up the ice could be a factor this weekend if the up and down skating game develops. So even though I don't know if Grieco might be the second coming of Ed Belfour, I'm going with "The Law".

The most important chapter of this weekends book though is that "Special Teams" chapter. The Seawolf power play has been MIA for a while now. But the PK has been excellent as it's hovered near 85% for most of the season. Every penalty killer on the team has really shown committment; going down blocking shots, breaking up passes and pinning the puck on the boards. They've limited the number of good shots that anyone has gotten and I'd rank the two MSU-M goals that Wagner got last week as two of the only major breakdowns in that effort. Nathan never saw either of those because of traffic. Traffic that has been cleared in most cases this season. I get a feeling that perhaps the importance of the PP has been delivered enough that maybe the players are feeling a bit of pressure and responding by gripping the stick too tightly. There is one certainty about special teams play in the WCHA. And that is that both teams are going to get their chances. There's no doubt that for a long time WCHA refs have been in the "even it up" philosophy camp. So both teams will get chances to play both sides in the special teams equation and the one that comes out on the better end of that computation will often be the team with the best chance to win.

So if UAA does well this weekend in those three comparisons then I think it makes sense to think they have a good shot at having a 4 point weekend. Win at home, split on the road. That's the mantra right? The 'Wolves did the "split on the road" part last weekend. It's time to see the "win at home" part right?

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