The Seawolves were the first WCHA playoff opponent to win a game at Mariucci Arena. That wasn't last year. On March 10th, 2007 the Seawolves broke that Gopher unbeaten streak. Last year they became the first team to win 2 games at the Mariucci Arena during the WCHA playoffs. Then the next night they became the first team to win 3 games at the Mariucci Arena. The Seawolves are 6-8-2 against the Gophs since.
It's a pretty good possibility that this weekend could be the last chance to see the University of Minnesota men's hockey team on the ice at the Sullivan Arena for quite a long time. The WCHA's unbalanced schedule means that the Gopher's won't be coming to Anchorage for it's final season in the league next year. As a Big 10 member the chances they'd schedule a non-conference series up here is close to nil as they'll be maximizing their home dates.
It's possible that they'd accept an invitation to the Kendall Classic (such an invitation would greatly offend my sensibilities to be honest) but at the very least that will likely be quite a number of years from now. None of that means anything on the ice this weekend. Cos, like I said. This weekend is about some payback if you're a Gopher veteran. And with the Seawolves coming off a couple of bad results combined with not having played at home since the opening weekend then you have to expect lots of high energy play this weekend.
If these two games are anything like the SCSU game at the Kendall then hockey fans at the Sullivan will get their money's worth this weekend. Will it be that sort of up and down racehorse hockey? I"m sure we'll see a good rush or two or three ...
In looking at some early reporting I see Don Lucia is using his well worn "...they play a 1-1-3" analysis of the Seawolves. And oh yeah ... the Seawolves are "gritty".
Hopefully he thinks that is all UAA is. You and I know differently. This year's edition is more dynamic offensively. Scoring has been pretty balanced thus far. The offensive execution has been at a higher level as well. We've seen the improvement of the passing game and how that's influenced the transition game and improved the look of the power play.
If this year's Gopher squad comes up here thinking UAA is just going to sit back and play some purely defensive game they'll be making the same mistake as last year in the playoffs. How many times did you see a Gopher forward back check during that series? Yeah ... me too. Few. The Seawolves won those games because the Gophers ignored what had happened on Friday night; they still thought all they had to do was go forward. Two-way play? Basically none from them. The Seawolves defensively matched the Gopher's offensive execution (blocked dozens of shots and got solid goaltending) and the Gopher's near complete absence of back checking provided all the offensive opportunities UAA needed.
That all said ... the Gopher's are better too this year. Especially offensively. They're only averaging 5.83 goals per game so far. But even if you throw out the 15 goals against Sacred Heart they'd still be averaging 5 goals per game. And then there's the whole payback thing.
Expect to see Chris Kamal in the net on Friday. His 37 save outing on Saturday and his past success against the Gophers makes that a clear choice in my book. Curtis Leinweber is questionable for this weekend and Jordan Kwas' sprained shoulder will keep him in street clothes. Expect whoever else is in the lineup to play their asses off. A series like this could be a chance for a young player to get noticed or an established one to stake a claim. The first chance is Friday night. Win that one first.
Should be a fun series. I got word from SID Dallas Baldwin that they will not be hosting "Live Chats" on a regular basis but instead will be doing them during special events like the Kendall etc ... So I'll be hosting one both nights this weekend. I liked them doing those. I liked them doing those a lot. More than a lot even. They of course are cordially invited to spend as much time as they wish in our chat over here.