Thursday, January 28, 2010

Seawolves vs. Gophers Preview

The Gophers come to Alaska this week limping a bit.  Leading goal scorer Mike Hoeffel is out with mononucleosis.  Sophomore Nick Larson had ankle surgery recently.  Jay Barriball went out for the season before UAA and UofM met at the end of last October.  They have won only 1 of their last 4 games (10-7-1 since playing UAA in Minneapolis) and are approaching the "bleeding edge" of their fanbase's tolerance.  So there are surely some limping egos ... here's why.

With several years of sub-par Gopher results there has been a year long conversation amongst UofM fans with regard to Don Lucia's future.  The Goph's ply their trade inside a dense cloud of media coverage that is without peer in the college hockey world.  Here in Anchorage, there is the ADN, then me and a few other regular Internet voices.  The ADN? ... well ... you know.

In Minneapolis, there are half a dozen me's, multiple-hundreds of Internet voices and gawd only knows how many media sources (print, online and TV) in a metro area with 3.5 million people ... all focused like lasers on the Gophers.  And you know what?  Every single one of them is an expert.

As I think about it, all those NHL draft picks might be actually glad to get outside of that goldfish bowl and all it's visibility.  7 of 8 of their last games have been at home, the 8th was a short drive to St. Cloud.  Through those 8 games they went 4-3-1 and the media attention has been as thick as ever.  If I was a Gopher player ... I'd never pick up a paper or watch local TV.

I know in past years, that Don Lucia socialized quite closely with his friend and mentor Brush Christiansen when they're in town.  So that's got to be a good thing for him.  And hey, it's beautiful up here pretty much no matter where you stay in Anchorage.  Gaze east at the mountains and breath deep.  It's relaxing.  There are no media demands on anyone associated with the Gophers when they're up here.

So I think this road trip is almost certainly a good thing for them overall.  Cripes, Anchorage is so awesome that if they'd brought Hoeffel it probably would have cured his mono.

None of that though has any effect on the Seawolves.  They certainly could give a rat's ass that the poor Gophers are constantly under media pressure at home.  There will be no "Pity the Gophers" parties thrown by Seawolves.  In fact, I'd imagine that a certain amount of secret pleasure might be there.  The downfall of arrogance (and don't think for a second that label hasn't been earned over the last 40 years) is always a pleasurable thing to see.

Guess who is the leading point producer for the Gophers?  Tony Lucia.  That's right, The kid that sure looked like a marginal prospect when Pops brought him in is leading the team in points.  I really didn't want to call him their leading scorer.  Point producer seems more apt to me.  Look up "D1 Grinder" in the dictionary and there's Tony's picture.  Their 2nd leading scorer is quite a different story.  Jordan Schroeder is a true prospect in every way you might define one.  In his freshman season he bagged 13 goals.  That defines impact in the WCHA.  He's a talented 1st round NHL draft choice.

But this weekend, Seawolves fans will see a new player on the other side of the bench.  Just as UAA was able to add Brad Gorham at mid-season, the Gopher's added Jacob Cepis who'd transferred from the forlorn BGSU program.  Since suiting up, Cepis has 5 goals and 3 assists.  He will definitely be a dangerous scoring threat.  For comparison, think of Kevin Clark wearing that silly upsidedown W; Cepis is dynamic and can finish.  He and Schroeder are playing on a line together and certainly ought to be their #1 scoring line.  That said, there are 15 guys on their roster who have at least 2 goals.

My dark horse player on the Gopher squad is Josh Birkholz.  I always like a player with pure speed and Birkholz can fly.  Whatever Seawolves defensemen is on the right side when Birkholz is on the ice better be paying attention and keep their feet moving.  If this kid gets the puck with some open ice, he's a threat to get around the outside.  He's one of the faster players in the league by my estimation.

As I've thought about the intangible "fucking hate" factor over the last couple of days, I'm now leaning toward thinking that some displays of attitude this weekend are more likely than I originally thought.  I don't have a basis for that other than I've thought my way into it.  There were some fairly hardcore exchanges between these two teams and to be frank about it ... I'm fairly certain there was some "initiation" of that from behind one particular team's bench.  I've talked myself into thinking that some of those bitter feelings may very well not have mitigated with time.  So watch out for all that.

Hopefully, the Seawolves can play "professionally" and keep focused on the task at hand if those other distractions arise again.  Importantly, I hope Shyiak's potential exchanges with the referee's are controlled and limited.  I want to see the game called in the same way that Dave has expressed, but I have to admit that nothing Dave says this weekend is going to go any major distance to making that change happen.  So if he can limit those interactions to only addressing grievous errors that will be a good thing. 

As always, power plays and penalty kill efficiency is going to be a factor.  Mentioning and highlighting that week after week gets boring as a writer but it does have to be said.  All the other repetitive things should be mentioned as well.  Supporting the goalie by blocking shots and clearing rebounds is always important.  Generating possession in the Gopher's end with a strong cycle is another important additive property to be highlighted.  Smart heads up breakouts and sharp passing in transition are two other keys.  Skating through checks, winning pucks battles and blah blah blah ... right?  It all matters at this point ... if you want to win.

I think the Seawolves have a bit of an advantage in overall maturity.  The overall height/weight matchup isn't hugely in UAA's favor.  But I think the Seawolves know how to use their size to their advantage.

All in all, our guys will have to play two quality hockey games this weekend to come away with a sweep.  It's more important to focus on winning a Friday hockey game and worry about the sweep after that.  As I noted earlier this week, I think the Seawolves enthusiasm was perhaps a bit ungoverned and was a contributing factor to losing last Friday night.  So my new encouragement motto is for the guys to play professionally.  That means to get excited after something good happens rather than before or as it is happening.  This sort of professionalism ... this "governed enthusiasm" ... will lead to smart hockey and should enable two wins this weekend.


On Sunday, the Seawolves host their 2nd Annual "Skate With the Seawolves" event at Westchester Lagoon.  The session begins at 1pm and ends at 3pm.  The first 350 kids to turn up will receive a Seawolves beanie.  I'm not exactly sure anymore what is considered a beanie.  But if you've always wanted your kid to have one then drag them down there with their skates.  The Blueliners will be providing hot dogs and drinks (hot and cold).  Hot Chocolate with Peppermint Schnapps?  Well ... I guess if you BYOPS.

The weather forecast looks pretty good for the event so you can't use that as an excuse for not going.  Me?  I dunno.  Maybe I'll go.  I won't skate though.  Don't get me wrong, I have skates (they're badly in need of some sharpening) but the last time I was on them was more than 10 years ago and I weighed about 50lbs less back then.  So .. um yeah ... if I can manage to go, I won't be skating.

Regardless of my presence (or lack thereof) this event is a great chance to put your youngsters out on the ice with some great hockey players.  And what 12 or 13 year old future UAA player could turn down the chance to cup-check Kevin Clark?


Anonymous said...

The Gopher's are gonna be desperate, don't overlook them Seawolves.

Donald Dunlop said...

There's no doubt they'll want all four points. I have to believe that our guys want the four points more. I hope they do.

We need seniors to play the best hockey of their careers down the stretch. We need juniors to play like they're seniors. We need sophomores to play like juniors and we've got to get some production from our freshman.

I read an interesting thing the other day. In 2004 the Pios had won only 6 conference games at this point in the season. They won the NCAA tournament that year.

If there is a time in any season for players to step it up and show what they're made of ... it is now. This is the stretch run.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Media Fishbowl? Now that's funny.

Gopher hockey rarely gets mentioned on local newscasts. The coverage in the local papers is pretty weak too, high school basketball gets much more coverage.

The circle jerk known on line as GPL consists of a few whiney dicks, but you are correct in one observation. They all view themselves as real hockey experts. Actually they are primarily the very worst sort of fair-weather fans imaginable. Very few go to the games (too cheap), instead sitting on their sofas and diddling with their computers during the games. All the while bitching about why, if the Gophers won, why they didn't score more goals. If the Gophers should lose then the experts descend upon GPL to offer up their X and O analysis or bitch about David Fischer.

It's comical.

-30- said...

Gophers sweep. Just fuckin' with ya. Wolves sweep. Funny.

Donald Dunlop said...

Are you saying there is a more covered D1 hockey program than the Gophers? If so, I'd have to disagree. It isn't like I'm not familiar with the Gophers and their coverage.

I can't think of another program that raised up a non-descript boob (Jeff Dubay) to a guy whose career (before he snorted it away) was a complete and total response to media demands for coverage of the program.

Didn't KFAN have a dedicated daily slot to discuss the Gophers? I was pretty sure it wasn't just weekly. Am I wrong? Doesn't Roman cover nothing but Gopher hockey? That's pretty rare.

GPL is fairly unique in it's status. No other college hockey team has a forum with anything like the membership/traffic of GPL. Most forums for other teams slowly die out (excepting dahuskies and tPB).

I wouldn't want to get into comparison's with because Grand Forks and Minneapolis are totally different animals.

My point wasn't to say that all media in Minneapolis is obsessed with the Gophers ... but to point out that all media there has Gopher coverage.

I'm comfortable with "fishbowl" but perhaps might add the adjective "relative".

444 said...

In the college hockey world it is a fishbowl. Currently, the Gophers are being talked about from the scouts to the mites. They are disapointed the way the season is unfolding. Since, the Vikings are finished all the media hawks make a grand entrance into Mariucci, in fact Lucia always says so the Vikings season is done eh? LOL! Donald you are absolutely correct no where else in the college hockey world does a coach and his players have a media circus like the Gophers.

All the following examples are talking about the putrid Gophers season.

1.) Talk Radio
2.) Game day broadcast
3.) Game day television broadcast
4.) Both major newspapers
5.) All 4 televsion sports dept.
6.) Internet blogs etc.
7.) Weekly Lucia coaches show
8.) Lets Play hockey weekly
9.) Former coaches and players
10.) The list goes on and on.

bbef said...

Come double D - let's read the pain. This is pussy shit so far. Oh everyone in MN loves the hopers... so what. They stink this year. Let them have it!

Donald Dunlop said...

I prefer D or even Ds ...

As to bashing the Gophers, I get feedback from both ends of the spectrum from Seawolves fans regarding my style here. So I try to mix the bashing with actual hockey discussion.

And just so you know ... there will be literal Gopher Bashing here tomorrow.

UAA Fan (not)in Florida said...

I look forward to the bashing, in fact, I'm thinking this should be the new hockey song.. just listen all the way through..

'It's been a long time coming, but you got the message now.' :OP

Donald Dunlop said...

I like the tune ... sounds a lot like Nickelback ...

UAA Fan (not)in Florida said...

Yeah, but Nickelback is 'dirty', probably explains why I like them also... :O)

Their new song.... Shakin' Hands (lyric)'Naughty wicked witch of the west' omg..

But I digress, UAA Hockey blog after all, and I LOVE them. Big weekend, play hard and come out on top. We gots you guys back, no matter what.

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