In the last 3 WCHA seasons UAA and CC have had quite the battle. They have played each other 9 times. CC has won 5 games. UAA has won 4 games. 2 of UAA's wins have come in OT with CC getting 1 OT win. 7 of the 9 games have been essentially one goal games. UAA has won 4 of those 7 games. The remaining two games were 5-0 and 6-1 wins by CC. I can't imagine another UAA series over three years that had much tighter results. Can't help but think that this weekends games will live up to that history.
The three games against each other already this season gives the match-up some bit of familiarity and so both sides should know enough about the other's tendencies to keep the games close. Special teams threatens to be a factor as CC has good numbers on the power play. Likewise, UAA will need to convert on some of their chances. Coach Shyiak will need to maximize his advantage having last chance to make sure he's always got the guys he needs on the ice at the right times.
Leadership from the seniors will again be important for UAA. Grant, Haddad, Parkinson, Vidmar and Wiles were a pretty strong group in the first half. They performed well on both ends of the ice, on power plays and penalty killing as well as 5x5 play. If there's a game breaking goal to be scored on Friday night I'd be looking to some combination of those guys to make it happen.
No less important will be the play of Leinweber, Gorham and Portwood. They all present a scoring threat as well from Leinweber leading a counter attack, Gorham snapping off a shot from the high point or Portwood coming off the wall and driving hard to the net.
CC has just a small group of 7 upperclassmen and they've been no less important for CC success in the first half. Schultz, Johnson, Guentzel, Dineen, Civitarese and Lowrey have provided the majority of CC's scoring with 39 goals.
Those are your eight Seawolf guys that will be the keys to victory this weekend. If every one of those eight play their best game then the Seawolves will sweep this series. That sort of play from those guys will elevate the play of ten underclassmen where there is what I judge to be a heap of scoring potential. Kwas, Bailey, Bruijsten, Warner and Cameron are amongst the top 10 UAA scorers in the first half.
So in my estimation this is a weekend where the upperclassmen must perform well. Every week in the WCHA is a battle. UAA's upperclassmen are grizzled veterans now. They know what it takes to win a battle. The improved results of the late first half of the season were due in large part to the way these eight guys played as a group. Success down the stretch will only come with a continuance of that level of performance from those eight.
Goaltending is worth talking about. Both Gunderson and Howe are playing well and both seem pretty consistent. It wouldn't surprise me to see either Thorimbert or Kamal get a game but I'd think Thorimbert would be the more likely of the two. I know somebody calculated Gunderson's sv% over the last 6 games and that it was around .925. Howe is 10-8-1 for the season with a respectable .906. Gunderson's number for the year is .896 and approaching respectability. His play over the last six games has been vastly better than just respectable though. It's been stellar.
CC and UAA have some similarities in terms of underclassmen. Both dress a large number of underclassmen each game. Both squads have good secondary scoring from the sophomores and freshman. Jayden Schwartz's 11 goals being the one thing to differentiate the two teams substantially. He's not playing this weekend though. So there's that. Sophomore Rapuzzi I touched on the other day. 7 of his thirteen career goals have come against UAA. So there's that too. Freshman Skalbeck has 5 this season, Rylan Schwartz and Andrew Hamburg (sophs) have potted 5 as well.
After Bailey's 7 goals and Bruijsten's 4, there's more than a couple of UAA underclassmen who I think are capable of having a break out (2 or 3 goal) weekend at any time. Jordan Kwas could easily have triple the number of goals he's scored this year. I think Brett Cameron could one of those guys as well. Daniel Naslund has begun to find his game a bit more this season and is hopefully gaining confidence. Mark Pustin can't help but finish more of his chances. Scott Warner has shown a bit of a nose for the net and is dangerous rushing the puck and on the power play taking a shot.
So the more at look at these teams the more I see how similar they are. Couple that with the recent history and you've got the story for the weekend. Two tight battles probably with single goal differentials. Everything points to it.
Now is where I once again promise to consider believing in the god(s) if I never again see a forward on the point during a power play. It's a crusty old-time hockey thing that's stuck to me ... and I won't be swayed by any logic or otherwise dissuaded from the belief that defensemen who have always played the point are best suited to keeping the puck in the zone. It is a skill best left to those who have employed it throughout their playing career. And the one thing I want most out of a power play is to score a goal and the only way that happens is if you keep the puck in the zone. And they way you keep the puck in the zone is by having players who are expertly experienced at that role doing the job. End of crust induced rant.