The UAF Nanooks won their first game versus the UAA Seawolves in 4 years, 1 month and 27 days tonight. They improved their record over that 11 game span to 1-8-2. Whoever said, "You can't win 'em all" was right. It had to happen sometime.
Didn't look that way early on as UAA jumped out to a 2-0 lead playing a strong checking and fast skating game. The Seawolves capitalized first on a 5 on 3 power play at 9:39 as Josh Lunden banged in a loose puck at the side of the net. Then exactly one minute later Tommy Grant rifled a shot from inside the circle that Scott Green(eggsand)ham never sniffed. About a minute and a half later though UAF cut the deficit to one with a power play goal of their own. Three minutes and ten seconds later they tied the game. Then took the lead for good just one minute and twenty-five seconds later. End of the first 3-2.
The game was far from decided at that point. With 5:57 gone in the 2nd frame Luka Vidmar was forced to pull down a UAF player during a 2 on 1 breakaway and the referees awarded a penalty shot. 4-2 for UAF at that point. The Seawolves though put together chance after chance throughout the 2nd period outshooting UAF 10-4 but could only find the net once at 8:02 when during a rush Curtis Leinweber deftly slid the puck to a perfectly positioned Kevin Clark at the top of the slot. Kevin made no mistake with it ripping a wrister to the top right corner. Game still on at 4-3.
The Seawolves continued to flurry throughout the period. But when Tyler Currier was checked into Scott Greenham by a UAF player and did everything he could possibly do to avoid contact (including grabbing the crossbar with both hands) the referees called him for a contact to the head penalty. A defensive breakdown by the Seawolves during the PK left a wide open UAF player with an easy goal to make it 5-3. The game still wasn't over at that point.
Just :48 seconds into the 3rd Kevin Clark tallied his 2nd of the night and 19th goal of the season with a great tip on the backside off a Luka Vidmar shot. 5-4 at that point and definitely a tightly contested game. The Seawolves continued their strong play through the next 14 minutes until another brutal defensive breakdown led to a UAF player standing alone 8 feet out, a nice pass and an easy finish made it 6-4 at 15:02 of the 3rd. Inattention, lack of focus and nearly zero intensity following the ensuing faceoff though ended the game just :12 seconds later.
UAF was entirely and completely opportunistic in the win. With less than 20 shots on the night they bagged 7 goals. Bryce Christianson hadn't played since before the Xmas break but I thought he played fine. I certainly wouldn't credit him with giving up soft goals. Perhaps he could have been sharper on one or two. I've no doubt he'd like to replay the penalty shot goal. But anytime you have defensive lapses against a team that thrives on opportunism you're more often than not going to get burned. And for me, that was the story of the game.
It isn't that the backchecking was bad all night. But when the errors came, credit to UAF for finishing those chances. It was far from the most responsible defensive game for the Seawolves. There was quality focus and lots of scoring chances going forward, but too often in their own end backchecking forwards simply failed to pick up their man.
I'd have to add that more than a few good offensive chances for the Seawolves resulted in pucks shot wide. If you don't put the puck on the net it ain't gonna go in. Still though, I'm not unhappy with the efforts going forward. There were lots of nice rushes from the D and passing was mostly crisp and intelligent. If the guys can replicate that effort tomorrow night while not breaking down defensively then they'll come out with a split in this series.
A win by the Seawolves tomorrow night will create a shootout for the possession of the Governor's Cup. I believe 3 of UAF's 8 Governor's Cups have come as a result of a split series with them winning shootouts to decide it. None of UAA's Cups have come via that method. With the CCHA using that entirely bogus method to break ties in it's league the odds would certainly seem to be in their favor at this point to win back the cup for the first time since the 05-06 season. The Seawolves though just have to concern themselves with getting the win. We've seen more than a few great efforts on Saturday nights throughout this season from the Seawolves. I'm guessing we'll see another one tomorrow night.