As in years past it's time for me to weigh in with some grades and comments about the season. Actually, it's past time as I usually get to this earlier. Fortunately, the delay was caused by the team's trip to the Final Five. I'm not one to stick to some pre-formatted standardized grading methodology and every year I've done this, I've done it a bit differently; same thing here. The first caveat is that I'm arriving at these grades subjectively and relatively. What matters here is how I think the team performed in the noted areas based on my expectations as to their potential.
The Seawolves scored 89 goals this season in 37 games for a 2.41 per game average. They did that by averaging 25 shots on goal. These numbers are very close to the totals for 09-10 which were 2.42 goals per game for a total of 87 in 36 games on 24.4 shots per game. This season however the scoring was a bit more balanced with 3 players in double digits compared to 1 last season. Also, 20 players this season found the twine. Last year 17 players managed at least one goal.
The power play accounted for 24 goals this year which was identical to last season's 24. The percentage was increased slightly from 13.1% in 09-10 to 15.1% this year.
Overall there was a slight improvement offensively but I'd add that in the 2nd half of the season the team really looked excellent going forward. Passing was crisp and much improved with tape-to-tape passes completed successfully much more frequently than in the 1st half or last season. Speed in transition was good. That said, there could have been better finishing. I estimate another 10 goals scored at the right times and the Seawolves would have wrapped up a home ice spot and probably had a better than .500 record going into the postseason.
This season the Seawolves gave up 106 goals compared to 141 last year. That is a dramatic improvement. Spectacular even. In 09-10 the squad gave up 14 shorties to opponents; this season the total was 4. Far fucking out. Really, I said that.
The all-around effort on the backend by the entire squad was nothing short of excellent. It only got better and better and better as the season progressed. I said it somewhere along the line that I'd be surprised to find another Division 1 team that blocked as many shots as our guys. I stand by that wholeheartedly. The level of commitment defensively was as high as any fan could expect to see from their team.
I'm not stranger to hockey games having watched probably at least 1,000 games live and god only knows how many others on TV. And never before did a single team make me more cognizant that there are two ends of the ice in this sport. The defensive schemes used and the execution of those by the players were both exceptional.
I'm very high on both Rob Gunderson and Chris Kamal. They both did very well this season and grew into their game as the season progressed. Both guys though I think are a bit vulnerable to being sniped high. That's not a horrible criticism to lay on them as many goaltenders would have problems with some of the really talented scorers in the WCHA. Experience will serve them both well as they each become a little more confident they should both be able to sneak out that extra 12 inches necessary to deny some of those snipers that beat them high this season.
With the criticism out of the way; it must be noted that both of these guys showed good maturity and poise. You want to see a goaltender who is unflappable and both Chris and Rob were pretty damn close to being just that. I'm sure both would credit the guys in front of them for giving them the opportunity to play as they did. Last season, Johhny O and Bryce got bombed all too often by bad defensive breakdowns and got lots less help clearing 2nd chances. There is room for Rob and Chris to step up their games and that's how it should be for rookies.
Coaching Staff: B+
Last season I gave the staff a C-. I would have given them an A this year but for the lack of power play production. The penalty kill was great at 84.9% for the season. The transition game was smart. The defensive structure was fantastic. Breakouts were sharp and confident. The team was ready to play every game it seemed. Last year there were nights they didn't seem prepared.
While I recognize that coaches can't finish for the players they've got to implement a power play system that produces. So here's where I get to rail against the umbrella power play. I know I'll sound a bit old school when the fact is that the umbrella system is favored by so so many coaches and is virtually the only setup you'll see at the NHL level. But it ain't getting it done.
There was a time when power play goals got scored by methods other than wicked first timers from high in the slot and rebounds banged home. Remember when guys would set up down low and find open back doors? I know, I know ... penalty killing in the WCHA is ultra-aggressive but jeez other teams find a way to score more than 15% of the time. Maybe it's just personnel? I dunno.
There was a shitload to be happy about this season. Lots of that came in the 2nd half and especially in the stretch run. But that is slightly tempered by a first half where the record was 5-10-3. Granted that the lineup included a lot of rookies seeing their first action and that 9 of those 10 losses were essentially one goal games. Nevertheless, it is what it is.
That said, there is so much quality in the 2nd half that will carry over to next season. Again, the team will be younger than it is experienced but with leadership from the upperclassmen like we saw this year there is every reason to expect to have more success than we saw this year. This is a team that is trending upward and the future looks bright.
That whole "playing for each other" pervasive team attitude was beautiful wasn't it? I hope the guys are all proud of each other and that positive attitude continues. If it does, then we'll see something very special down the line.
I'll have individual player report cards in the next day or so as I get time to get to them. But let me finish with an email that Dr. Cobb shared from a family in Minnesota regarding their experience with the Seawolves during the Final Five.
I would like to take the time to congratulate your hockey team on a fine season. During the Final Five games on Friday in Minneapolis, I was at the game with my sons and their hockey team. Sitting close by were a few players from the UAA team who were watching the game. During the intermission, our players went over to talk with the players from Alaska. The college players did not brush off the young players but instead talked to them and even signed autographs for the young players. This has a huge impact on the young guys who went back to the hotel that night and while playing knee hockey were the Alaska Team when they played even taking on the names of the players. This is a positive reflection on your University, program, and those players who made a difference in the lives of those young players.
Too often we hear the bad things about athletes and do not get to acknowledge the positive. I just wanted to pass this along to you and say thank you to the players. As a parent and a coach, I appreciate those players taking the time to entertain the younger players and create heroes for them. Those kids will not forget this and neither will the parents.
Awesome stuff Seawolves. Way to represent. Thank you all for an enjoyable season and congratulations on all your accomplishments.