It's time once again for me to verbosely reiterate the most redundantly repetitive palavering (and now cliched) phrase to flow from this keyboard over the past five years regarding the an upcoming WCHA weekend series; this weekends games with St. Cloud are the most important of the season to date.
The 4 points available are 4 points the Seawolves really need. Any failure to secure them puts the Seawolves into a bit of a hole. Successfully acquiring them on the other hand helps the team along a path to a more successful season. With just 3 points in 6 games the Seawolves sit on somewhat of an early season precipice.
A continuation of that rate of league points projects to 12 points by the end of the season. 7 points out of 8 games projects to 21 points by the end of the season. Those trending considerations make this weekend crucial for the Seawolves; it seems the alternatives here are to go over a cliff or back away onto more solid ground. To borrow a short phrase from my favorite scene in one of my favorite movies "that is the atomic ... and subatomic ... and galactic structure of things today!" Am I getting through to you here?
This series is no less critical for St. Cloud. The Seawolves and the Huskies are amongst the minority of teams in the WCHA who have played only 6 conference games. St. Cloud has 5 points in those 6 games. Obviously there is lots of conference hockey yet to be played. But there are corners to be turned at multiple points during the long WCHA grind and this weekend ... either direction represents a sharp 90% turn for both squads.
The Huskies are performing well below the preseason pundits prognostications. Almost universally they were expected to be one of the top teams in the nation. Their roster sports 17 veteran skaters of which 15 are upperclassmen (7 juniors and 8 seniors). Overall they got dam near 100 goals back from last years squad and lost only 31.
Their 2-3-1 conference record includes a split with Minnesota at the Mariucci , a split with Bemidji at home then a loss and a tie at home versus the (newb but rolling) UNO team. The Huskies conference scoring is 18 goals for and 17 against in those six games. Their two wins came with 4 and 3 goal differentials. Two of their three losses were by a single goal with remaining loss by 3.
There can be little doubt that the Huskies have played inconsistently. The resounding theme from the program and fans seems to be that they haven't established an identity as yet. Well, maybe they have and nobody wants to say it. It isn't like they'd be the first team who's identity was Team Inconsistent. In fact, it wouldn't be the first Bob Motzko coached Huskies squad to have that label. The 2008-2009 edition clearly earned that moniker and it could easily be applied to the 2007-2008 squad as well.
So my theory is that the Huskies have indeed figured out who they are this season. They're the team that destroys fan expectations one night and then starts to make everyone believe on another. Hey it's not uncommon at the D1 level. I suppose they shouldn't embrace it, but what's Motzko to do ... tell everyone that Team Inconsistent is the identity his group has become? That would be like him admitting his usage of the neutral zone trap. It just ain't gonna happen.
The Seawolves on the other hand don't seem to be suffering from inconsistent efforts but instead just tough results. Granted there are two games on paper where it looks like UAA folded the tent. But in neither case did that actually happen. Yeah, they got shutout (once by UMD and once by Bemidji) but it's clear to me at least that neither of those scores are really representative of the games that were played.
8 of 10 of Seawolves games have now been decided by a single goal or been a tie. And with 17 underclassmen having seen action now that's more of a hopeful sitution in my mind versus a problem. The season is young still. And younger players tend to improve as the season goes along so I can't help but think there is much potential for this year's team to make positive 90 degree turns.
That can start this weekend. The Huskies are clearly beatable. A trip from the lower-48 to Alaska can be either a team building, identity finding event or a tiresome trek filled with toil. Looks like the Huskies left St. NothingElseToDoville on Wednesday. That should give them plenty of time to adapt to the four hour time change so they don't feel like they're starting a 7:30pm game at 10:30pm. Hopefully they use the extra day to partake in some of the fun activities I described earlier this week.
I think the Friday night game is going to be key and the big opportunity for UAA. Win that game and you've got a legitimate chance for the sweep. With the injuries across the lineup through the beginning of the season, Coach Shyiak has had ample chance to see what his best possible lineup is and this could very well be the 1st weekend where he gets everybody on the ice that he'd like to have there (sans Kane Lafranchise).
The Seawolves will need to play two complete games to get the most out of this weekend. Solid goaltending with plenty of blocking and rebound support is necessary. That means an extra effort on the backcheck. The transition game will be important as St. Cloud is a fairly decent skating team and can be dangerous in their own transitions. Special teams play as always will play a role in determining wins and losses.
The Seawolves upperclassmen need to step it up this weekend. So far I'd credit Nick Haddad, Curtis Leinweber, Jade Portwood and Craig Parkinson as having done so. But the sort of goal scoring threats from Tommy Grant and Sean Wiles that we need to see haven't consistently been there. If they've been pushing then hopefully being at home will help them relax and find their rhythm. If they haven't been pushing then they need to start.
Minimally the sophomore class's contributions this weekend will be just as big a factor. Only 2 goals amongst a group of six forwards just isn't enough. Granted a couple of those guys haven't played regularly but it's time for them to start making the most of their opportunities now. Gellert, Spencer, Naslund and Bruijsten should all be getting on the scoresheet. Granted here that 3 of 4 of those guys have been filling roles on lines that aren't primarily goal scoring roles and Mickey missed some games due to injury but they've also been getting some power play time and regardless of role have pretty much all had a decent share of scoring chances.
And so we get to the freshmen with whom we've all gotten to be a bit smitten. We cannot count on this potential-rich group of guys to always be putting the puck in the net ... but so far they've been exceeding our expectations. Matt Bailey's 4 goals are pacing not only the freshman but are tied for the team lead. Brett Cameron's chances are more and more frequent and he does have a helluva nice release, he really should have more than just his two goal total. Justin Kirchhevel opened with a nice flourish but was quieted last weekend his 2nd series of the season. And of course, Jordan Kwas' playmaking skills and dynamic all around play has got us all twitterpated. Whatever contributions they can bring this weekend will go a long way to helping this team succeed.
The games will be streamed live on the usual webstream (link tomorrow on game day thread) and broadcast tape-delayed on GCI Channel 1 locally and live outside Anchorage and the Mat-Su valley.