The Seawolves gutted out a character based win tonight. For really the first time this season we UAA fans saw the team play near or to it's full potential. They met expectations. I'd expect they all looked at themselves in the mirror this afternoon.
As quick as I was to criticize Coach Shyiak last night let me first give him some credit tonight. No doubt some of my criticism of Shyiak last night was out of fan frustration. I know some people weren't happy about reading it. All I can say is take a look again at the very last line of that post. Tonight, he started by changing the line combinations. Kevin Clark centered Josh Lunden and Tommy Grant. I think it proved to be a key change.
Whenever those three guys were on the ice they made things happen. They created turnovers. They applied the same sort of forward going pressure that we saw from UND last night. They were monsters in the neutral zone. They straight up outplayed whoever was on the ice against them. I also think Clarkie is a natural center versus playing on the wing.
So many of the good things that happened tonight started in the defensive zone. The coaching staff is to be congratulated for making the defensive adaptation as well. Shyiak also engaged the referees more intensely and more often that last night. I think that has two effects. It sets a tone for his players and it can help keep the referees honest. Let's face it ... these guys don't like being told on a Monday or Tuesday that they're going to Anchorage for the weekend. They don't get to hang out after the games with their friends of families like they do in so many other of the close to home located WCHA cities.
All four lines forward lines played well. All the defenseman played well. Good on every player tonight. They all deserve credit. I think Shyiak was more cognizant of matching up lines as well. I think UND did tire a bit as the weekend progressed due to the physcial game that the Seawolves played. It's noteworthy that UAA players finished their checks more often tonight.
The other key difference tonight was that Seawolves players were getting to the puck in their own zone before UND players. The 2nd and 3rd chances that UND was able to capitalize on Friday night were virtually non-existant tonight. Credit for that goes to everyone. Not only were the defensemen more effective in manning up but forwards were more committed to backchecking, blocking shots and pouncing on loose pucks. The entire team played a completely different game in their own zone. They were very responsible. They all kept their feet moving.
I also think that from early in the game that Bryce Christianson made a difference. His abilities handling the puck are important and I think they set him apart from Jonny O. No knock on Olthuis there ... I love the guy. I think he played well last night. But there is a clear difference between him and Bryce with regard to playing the puck outside the crease. Early in the game, Bryce put several quality clearances onto forwards sticks at the opponents blueline that kept UND honest. That ability is a difference maker. If all things are equal when Jonny O and Bryce are in the crease then I think Bryce's stick work outside the crease should earn him the #1 spot. Rotations are fine and I don't have an issue with them philosophically. And that's enough armchair coaching from me. Right?
It was a quality team win that should buoy the confidence of every player. UND applied lots of pressure at various times of the game. They worked hard in UAA's zone and were able to have some similar possession type opportunities to the ones they cashed in on last night. But determined backchecking and (as I already said) responsible play kept them from finding the extra chances tonight that they would have otherwise turned into goals.
The intensity and quickness to the puck belonged more to the Seawolves tonight. Again ... that was opposite of last night. It was a solid win. The dramatic differences between last nights performance and this one should be engraved in every Seawolf player's mind. It's a lesson both body and mind need to remember. A very tough road series coming up against a winless Gopher team at the John awaits and so hopefully the freshness of this weekend's experiences will be a factor in the effort the guys apply.
UND certainly made it interesting in the last two minutes after pulling their goalie. They hemmed the Seawolves in, somebody in green and gold lost or broke their stick and the whole shift got stuck out there for a fairly long time. It made the last minute of so pretty intense. Props to the crowd for having the team's back tonight. They made noise at all the right times.
The referee's in this league just can't keep from trying to involve themselves in the game. Josh Lunden lifted a guys stick, stole the puck and gets called for hooking? Puhlease ... Curtis Leinweber gives a totally clean check while challenging for the puck along the halfboards and gets whistled for cross-checking? Then the Mike Prpich/Rylan Kaip goon replacement Ben Blood interferes, cross checks and then mugs Kevin Clark with the referee staring at it the whole time? Clarkie gets called for a dive? There's no doubt he goaded the idiot Blood into hacking him. At minimum Blood should have gotten 4 mins for the three offenses he committed if Clark had to go off for that. The linesman have no idea how to apply the icing rules and their judgement for offsides is brutal. It was no surprise to anyone sitting in my area that UND got the two late 3rd power play chances. Unlike last night ... the Seawolves were able to overcome. The penalty kill was solid all night.
A good WCHA win. It's better to have 2 points than none. Getting road points at Minnesota will be as big a challenge as playing the #2 ranked team this weekend. It never really gets any easier in the WCHA. DU swept the Gophers shutting them out twice at the Mariucci this weekend. They'll be here in two weeks.
Here's tonight's boxscore. And thanks to USCHO's "dude" for the Jade Portwood picture.