Why more important? Because the Seawolves split with North Dakota. The accepted mantra for success in the league is "win at home, split on the road". There are 56 possible points available over the course of the WCHA season. Allow me to quantify exactly how accurate that mantra is; over the last 10 years the league's regular season champion has gotten 75.7% of those 56 points. The high was 46 in the 99/00 season and the low was 38 last season. The closer a team gets to fulfilling the mantra, the higher in the standings they'll finish. The Seawolves fell below the home part of the mantra last weekend versus UND. That makes this series more important for the Seawolves.
Why more difficult? The Gophers aren't ranked. UND came to Anchorage ranked #2 in the country. Doesn't it follow that UND is a more difficult opponent? No. The polls don't matter. The Gophers haven't won a game. As I mentioned Tuesday they'll be highly motivated to drop the leading goose-egg from their record. Highly. This weekend their effort is likely to be every bit as high as it would during an NCAA playoff game. They can't afford to lose at home. Their next opponent is on the road at their biggest rival; the Badgers in Madison. There is quite simply a helluva lot on the line for the Gophers this weekend. That makes this series more difficult for the Seawolves.
With those big challenges how do the Seawolves come away from the John with points? This weekend I think there are two general keys. The first is to relax. All the pressure is on the Gophers. It's anxiety-ville down there right now; from fans to players to coaches. They think they've got the pieces in place to get the job done ... but NOBODY is confident about it. The Seawolves need to maintain the confidence they built/earned in last Saturday's win vs UND.
That brings me to the second key this weekend; memory. The Seawolves need to simply remember what they did last Saturday. They need to emulate the state of mind they acheived in that game. That's the mental memory part. They also need their bodies to remember exactly what effort they put out. So if it's not congnitively dissonant to be relaxed while maintaining focus on the memory of the last win then that's what they need to do.
If the Seawolves can relax and remember then winning will just be a matter of executing the specifics. The 1st specific will be to replicate the effort and execution they acheived in their own zone last Saturday. Every player will need to be committed defensively. That means getting to loose pucks first. It means sacrificing the body to block shots. It means responsibility in terms of staying with your guy. Lose your coverage on a talented player and they're likely to make it hurt. Good goaltending will of course be necessary. But it can't be argued that if a shot doesn't get to the net it can't go in. I'm pretty sure Craig Dahl said that once.
The 2nd specific needed this weekend is scoring. Kevin Clark, Tommy Grant and Josh Lunden are going to make things happen. They'll get points. But for the team to get valuable league points other teammates are going to have to contribute as well. The Seawolves need to get on the board first. Gopher teams have always thrived on the momentum that scoring a goal gives them. Conversely, they can get frustrated when they don't get on the board. With the pressure to win this weekend, the Seawolves have to do everything they can to get the first goal.
There are more than a couple of forwards on the roster capable of stepping up and finding the twine. Craig Parkinson has a very underrated wrist shot and Nick Haddad is looking much more dangerous this season. Sean Wiles and Jade Portwood have been OH SO CLOSE a number of times each. The only rookie with a goal so far this season is Alex Gellert. Bruijsten, Naslund, Spencer await their first. Could this weekend see one or more of them notch their belt?
I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that Coach Shyiak took Ken Selby on the trip and that he'll play. He's a senior, his family is from Winnipeg and could easily be at the Mariucci to see him play. It would make sense that he get an opportunity to play this weekend. I hope he does. If so, I'll predict he contributes a goal.
Additionally, Seawolves fans have to know that a goal could come from virtually any blueliner at any time. If Backstrom is ready to go, he can score. Trevor Hunt .. yep. Lafranchise ... of course. Leinweber ... oh yeah ... he can score. Captain Jared Tuton can score too but that would be unexpected with his obvious defensive stay-at-home focus. If Luka Vidmar is healthy he's a threat as well. And Lee Baldwin ... he has a cannon.
That's a lot of guys that have the potential to step up and contribute some secondary scoring to enhance what Grant, Lunden and Clarkie are sure to provide.
The last key specific I'll focus on for this preview is disciplined play. The Gopher power play might not be clicking. But typically, few teams move the puck as well on the power play as the Gophers. Ensuring they get as few extra-man chances as possible is going to be important. The Seawolves could be wearing halos this weekend and the Gophers are still going to get some power play chances. That's the way it goes down there no matter who gets the assignment from Big Shep.
The more the guys can keep it 5-on-5 ... the better. The Seawolves PK hasn't been horrible at 80% so far. But that means if you give up 5 power plays that the opponent is likely to score on 1. And right now UAA is averaging 7 penalties a game. Keeping that average lower this weekend is necessary.
What else can they do? Improving the number of shots on goal would be a good thing. So far this season they've taken an aveage of 22.5 shots per game. That ain't enough. More rubber needs to get to the target. Open shots can't be fired high and wide. Rebound goals are just as pretty. They certainly count exactly the same as the ones that hit the high corner.
The power play has had it's bad moments as well as good moments. Last Saturday Coach Shyiak switched from the umbrella formation he'd been using often over the last couple of years and went with the more classic formation using two defenseman on the points with three forwards down low. I think they executed much better moving the puck on the power play because of that change. I expect he did too. Hopefully, we'll see that again.
Normally on these previews I like to use a screenshot from College Hockey News' "Tale of the Tape" comparison page. It's not available because once again GCI seems to have dropped that site from it's Domain Name Server. If you're a GCI customer and you can't see CHN then call GCI and let them know. Reference trouble ticket #229426, tell them this is the 3rd or 4th time in a month this has happened and ask them WTF ... thanks. Edit: Thanks to whoever called and got it fixed. So in leiu of that image ... go ahead and tell me that Minnesota's "M" logo isn't an upsidedown "W".
Don't forget to visit here for the improved chat feature that I'll be hosting for each game. Both days I'll have it up and running about 15 minutes or so before the game. I plan to screen grab the video highlights as well so hopefully if that goes well I should be able to provide them as part of the chat.
Good luck Seawolves. Beat the upsidedown Dubya's this weekend! And as always readers ... please share your "keys" to this weekend in the comments section.