The WCHA mandates a 28 game league schedule. The WCHA has 10 teams. The WCHA has an unbalanced schedule. There is no way you can get 10 teams to play an equal number of times per season within that 28 game schedule. So several years ago in an attempt to develop some sort of consistency from year to year the league adopted a schedule suggestion from Don Lucia and hence the "designated rival" was born as a concept. Designated rivals are two teams that play each other 4 times EVERY season. Well lets face facts here. UAA's geographic isolation means we have exactly one real rival; and it ain't Mankato. Oh well, without changing the league mandated 28 games (which ain't gonna happen) this unbalanced schedule thingy (with it's manufactured rivalries) is about as good as we're gonna get I suppose. Familiarity breeds contempt? I suppose I'd ascribe to that time honored blurb. Because the more UAA plays Mankato the less I like them as an opponent.
If you recall I'd labeled Mankato as "Chuck Wepner University" earlier this season because of the seemingly unorthodox nature of Troy Jutting's game plan. I'll leave that label in place but I did review the two games from early this season and quite honestly they weren't overly unconventional in their play against UAA. Instead, they used a well-executed high zone trap and took every opportunity they could to engage UAA players on the puck. For those of you not familiar with a "high zone trap" it is simply the same thing as a "neutral zone trap" only moved forward into the high part of the oppostion zone. They made it a more effecitve strategy by combining it with an ethic of always moving their feet.
We can expect to see the Seawolves counter by carefully setting up in their own zone before a transition. That means you'll see a Seawolf defenseman standing behind his own net with the puck on his stick more this weekend than you've seen all year. The only times you won't see that is when UAA manages to make an effective 1st time pass off a turnover. The Seawolves will have to be sharp mentally this weekend. They will need to be patient and make good choices. They'll need to be aware of exactly where their teammates are at the beginning of any transition effort and they'll have to execute the passing game well. Otherwise, we'll be seeing the puck turned over right after gaining possession.
On the offensive end it will be classic Shyiak hockey. Get the puck in deep, cycle it and work it closer and closer to the net for chances. When the Seawolves do make that excellent first pass out of their zone we will likely see some good opportunities on the rush. If the Seawolves can make a couple of those rushes successfully then it should put the Mavs off a bit from their high zone trap. A good analogy is to think of a football team who's defense blitzes a lot. Get a couple of nice long gains with the passing game (or even with a quick QB draw) and suddenly they aren't blitzing as often. It's all about good execution this weekend. Every Seawolf that gains puck possession in his own zone is going to need to do his best Troy Aikman impression.
Both games will be on TV this weekend. So all credit to the broadcasters in Mankato, who unlike the folks in Grand Forks, don't think their broadcast rights are worth some ridiculous amount. An interesting tidbit here; Mankato is College Hockey New's "Team of the Week" coming off their sweep of stumbling DU. This is the third time this season (and second in a row) that UAA has faced the reigning CHN Team of the Week. November 23rd's TofW was Colorado College and UAA faced them on Novermber 30th/December 1st. MTU was CHN's TotW last week before playing UAA.