Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Everyone Complains About the Weather

Gawd, it's cold tonight. Jeez, it sure is hot today. Yikes, is it ever going to stop raining? We all complain about the weather but nobody ever does anything about it. So with that knowledge I decided to write a letter to the Anchorage Daily News Editor regarding the coverage we've all been bitching about. It isn't a letter to the editor per se ... (especially since it's WAY longer than what they'd publish). I was cruising around their redesigned website when I noticed that the Editor had a blog. I read this entry and subsequently watched Frontline (which I do every week anyway) and the show spurred me to write as he invites in his "About this blog ..." section.

Here's the letter:
It was nice to see you mention the PBS Frontline series about the state of journalism. As a long time viewer of that series I recognize the excellence they bring to each and every topic they cover. This most recent series lived up to their reputation and I'm writing tonight because some of the issues they covered have a certain synergy between a personal interest of mine and the ADN.

I write a blog that covers UAA Hockey at I started the blog about 15 months ago because I was disappointed in the amount of coverage in your sports pages about my passion. While I'd say that your coverage of "newsworthy" events regarding the program is generally adequate, for several years there's been a steady decrease in the number of profile-style articles. I'm all good with that as it provides a niche for what I write and since I understand the newspaper business has a bottom line. But this season a disturbing turn of events has left me (and other local college hockey fans) scratching our heads.

Please pardon in advance any incorrect assumptions I make here but your co-marketing arrangement with the Alaska Aces and the subsequent assignment of Doyle Woody to that "beat" on a full-time basis seems to be a slap in the face to a program that essentially created the Aces. I don't question that arrangement since it seems to be good for the Aces and the ADN. Such agreements between two commercial entities are reasonable but in this case it seems that agreement has elevated their status while the non-profit state university program gets less coverage as a result. Since you were a sportswriter for the Times it would be a waste of my time to detail the history of Seawolf Hockey but the truth is this program is improved in almost everyway since it's early 90's glory days. The overall talent of the players is greatly improved. The commitment of the administration to the program is greater than it's ever been. Yet your local coverage (you did notice the predictions of "localization" in the Frontline story tonight?) has inexorably been declining year after year.

Unfortunately (for anyone I write to) it's not in my nature to be concise (the above preamble being a good example) but I'll do my best now to get to the main point. You guys don't send anyone on the road trips anymore. That's crap. You pay people to write about art, dogs and shopping (all in your blog menu) yet you can't send Andrew Hinkleman on the road with the team? As the local newspaper you have access that is unavailable to me yet even just a cursory glance at my blog coverage ought to show you how much more you could be doing. It's clear from the Frontline piece that there are many challenges facing your industry but I can't help thinking you're abrogating your responsibilities to the community with the editorial choice to basically ignore the program. You sent Doyle Woody on the road with the team for about 15 years and suddenly when co-marketing arrangements come into place with the Aces then UAA is shit? No wonder nobody involved with the UAA Hockey program goes an inch out of their way to engage your reporter. Send Hinkleman to Minnesota with the team when they travel for their playoff series next weekend. The players and the program deserve it.
I signed it "Sincerely" because I am. I added a postscript indicating that he should be aware that I may or may not post his response here. If and when he answers I'll edit this post to include and/or summarize his answer.

So ... cool. The editor (Pat) gave me both a timely and weighty answer (he surprised me by posting it all in his blog and usurping my territory ... lol). I'll take issue with a couple of minor points at the end.

Pat's Response:
I want to respond to several of your comments, but let’s go to your central point first.

We do have less money for travel. That, combined with the fact that the cost of travel keeps increasing, means that we face difficult choices. (I’ve discussed some of the economic challenges in the news business in earlier posts, so I won’t try to rehash that here.)

We didn’t go to the last winter Olympics, probably for the first time in 20 years. We aren't traveling with the UAA men's basketball team, despite a very respectable season. We also don’t travel with the UAA women's basketball team, the university's most successful program this year.

Nor did we travel to the Yukon Quest or the Kuskokwim 300, after the Iditarod the two biggest sled-dog races in Alaska. We have never had money to travel to events like the Nordic World Ski Championships in Japan, where three Anchorage skiers are competing with the best in the World.

We are in the process of spending something over $15,000 to cover the Iditarod, and that represents a scaling back of what we have done in the past. (Rising costs have been a big factor here.)

With respect to hockey specifically, here’s an accounting from Doyle:

“Andrew made just one UAA trip this regular season and I've made just one Aces trip . . . By comparison, Matt Nevala (who covered the Aces) and I made a combined seven regular-season trips Outside in the 2005-06 season, and this season the ADN will make a combined two trips. To be fair, Nevala last season traveled Outside four times in the Aces' run to the Kelly Cup, and I went to the first round of the WCHA playoffs, so the total number of hockey trips Outside for the 2005-06 season was 12. By comparison, the most trips we will possibly make Outside this season -- and that's provided the Aces win the Cup again and we travel with them -- is six.”

And so far we are just talking about sports travel. There are many other, competing demands for money to travel around the state, for features, news, business, all of which have less than they have had in the past. The one exception to these constraints is that we will always travel for big breaking news, regardless of the cost.

When you think about this, I would ask you to keep two things in mind: even though we are the biggest paper in Alaska, we are a relatively small paper, and almost all of our travel involves air travel. Even at its current level, we may have the largest news travel budget of any newspaper our size in the country. But it doesn't go as far as we'd like because we also have unsually high travel costs. What’s the nearest school in the WCHA? Colorado College? Alaska to Colorado is not exactly Minnesota to Wisconsin.

Now, what about Doyle and the Aces?

We lost Matt Nevala, our Aces beat reporter. The Aces were the hottest team in town, and the reigning national champions. Doyle is the best hockey writer in Alaska and probably beyond, and he had covered UAA for 21 years. We asked him to cover the Aces. He said yes. We hired a talented reporter with hockey experience, Andrew Hinkelman, and assigned him to cover UAA.

None of this had anything to do with the advertising and promotional relationship between the Daily News and the Aces. If you want to go to, you’ll see that the Daily News is also a Diamond-level sponsor ($15,000+, the highest level) of UAA athletics.

I don’t believe that Andrew is going about his coverage of UAA in any way different than Doyle would have. There would not have been more space, more time or more travel money for UAA hockey coverage, regardless of the reporter assigned to cover the team.

What could change those elements would be the actual newsworthiness of the story. If UAA were on the brink of winning the WCHA title, and generating lots of interest in the community, we would shift travel money from somewhere else to UAA, because that would be a bigger story.

Instead, as Doyle points out, “The Seawolves finished last in the WCHA this season and attendance over the last five years or so has been tepid at best -- it went up about 300 per game this season (to about 3,900) after falling about 300 per game last season, and that number is tickets distributed. The number of no-shows at UAA games is staggering, which I believe reflects lack of fan interest. (Dunlop) may love Seawolves hockey -- and good for him, seriously -- but area fans apparently love the Aces significantly more.”

It is not my intention to speak ill of the Seawolf hockey program. I was a multiple-season-ticket holder from the first game they played in Sullivan Arena until long after the "glory days.' Nothing in sports would make me happier than seeing UAA win a WCHA title.

But as a famous editor once said, the job of an editor is to make choices, and that’s I do. In the case of this discussion, I wish we had the staff and the money to do it all. But until that day comes, we’ll just keep doing everything we can the best way we can.
I guess I want to take exception to one point primarily. The attendance. The Sullivan arena uses barcode readers on every ticket that passes through the door. When a boxscore says that 4132 people were in the arena that's how many people walked through the door with a ticket. Otherwise, I'd just add: I tried to do something about the weather. I stopped bitching about the freezing temps and tried to do something about it; but the long cold winter of ADN's UAA coverage just wouldn't abide.

Winning really does solve everything.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Still Here ... Barely

I've looked at results from the 2nd half last year and I've looked at the 2nd half this year. They're not identical. But damn, it sure feels like they are. 10th place. 10th place? 10th place!?!? With all the promise that we've witnessed, with all the potential I've seen and with all the misery supposedly behind us? WTF ... over?

I'm probably the biggest idiot purveyor of overly optimistic bullshit about a hockey team as exists on this big series of tubes. Go back and look. I stupidly predicated, prognosticated and expected much more than another 10th place finish from this squad. That's what a fan is supposed to do. Yet when a fan blabs his bullshit all over the internet he ends up feeling like "big dummy" ; especially when none of what he said would happen ... actually happens. Don't get me wrong. I still feel good about this particular team. I love the effort I saw tonight from some guys. But dayum ...

I'm a fan. I want to be an unapolegitic fan. I love my team; but I haven't written simply because the performances (and quite honestly my expectation of upcoming performances) haven't inspired me to write.

When you write this shit weekly and people honestly give you their thanks it's very gratifying. I've had nice emails but meeting someone and sensing their sincerity doesn't compare. No doubt about it. I had the chance last weekend to meet a couple of parents that I hadn't met before and I'm always very happy for that. I also know at least one set of parents that was looking for me that I didn't manage to connect with and I regret that. It honestly humbles me. But (and this is THE big "but") I find it hard to write negative things when I see them happening. Combine all the above with this fan's loyalty to the program (and primary mission here to support UAA Hockey) then what results is a blogger that is reticent to say what must be said.

There'll need to be some big changes in the next two weeks if the Seawolves have any hope of doing something other than watching the WCHA Final Five on TV. Big changes. Not little ones. Not medium ones. Big ones. Like what? Like finding an offense. Like finding some defense. The biggest thing that needs finding is some confidence and belief. Last year I during the second half I could see the shoulders drop. I saw that same thing on Saturday night. It didn't take 4 or 5 goals. It only took 2 and there didn't appear to be anyone on UAA's bench that believed they could come back. And if you don't think you can win you won't. So who's supposed to find this offense, defense and belief? The staff. They're supposed to pull those things out of their asses. With two weeks before the playoffs they'll at least have some time to dig. The "work hard and execute the systems" mantra is officially defunct in my book. How about a little "kick ass and take names" instead?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Monday Potpourri and Linkages

The Anchorage Daily News actually managed for the first time in my season memory to publish a profile-style article on one of the players. Blair Tassone was singled out for an article highlighting his excellent play over the last part of this season. It's nice to see. The paper has done a decent job covering the normally newsworthy events and has even occassionally strayed into an article or two that revealed interesting things about the players. So, I think Andrew Hinkleman's profile of Blair is great and I hope to see more of that in the paper in the future. Such coverage had been the norm in the past but ADN has clearly downgraded UAA Hockey coverage this year. You may have noticed that road game stories haven't included comments from the coach with a "Coach Shyiak did not return calls" comment. I guess if the ADN would send Hinkelman on the road (as they'd done for the last 15 years with Woody) with the team then they'd be able to find him for post game stories.

In an ADN related story, RunninWithTheDogs is reporting on her blog that I'm enveloped in my own Shyiak-esque immigration battle to continue as the UAA Blogger. I'll get back to y'all on that.

I hadn't mentioned it before now (and since RWD has some sort of provincial belief that Anchorage isn't sophisticated enough to support multiple bloggers) but another famous UAA hockey fan has started JimmyJam's World. I've been lazy and (since that has pretty much workin out good for me) I simply haven't gotten around to mentioning it before. I liked his post about no "state of hockey" team ever winning the Stanley Cup. And he hit the nail on the head calling Mexican national team goalie Oswaldo Sanchez a douchebag.

Tommy Grant, Winston Daychief and Chris Rengert have apparently decided to cluster themselves together on the BCHL scoring leaders board at 15th, 16th, and 17th. Rengert's 50 assists are 8th best in the league. Tommy Grant's 34 goals are 11th best in the league. Brad McCabe has 2 goals and 2 assists in his first four games with Texas; a nice start on his new team. Jeff Carlson continues to lead the NAHL in goals by defenseman and is 3rd amongst defensemen with 35pts (15g, 20a in 50 games). Kane Lafranchise is cruising along on the strength of the sports coolness of his surname.

Eric Carlson's UAF blog was busy last week after a hiatus. Have you noticed they're bringing in a pretty damn nice list of recruits? I have. They might be a team to watch out for next year. No worries though for Seawolf fans, UAA will definitely be improved so beating the Nonookies 4 times next year is pretty much a sure thing ... but hey, the CCHA better watch out.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Lessons Learned Yet?

At the end of the 1st period Saturday night I was straight up flabbergasted. I had been wondering what Dean Larson was up to since leaving as the Alaska Avalanche head coach. I had no idea he'd sneak into Nick Lowe's jersey and play in a game for his alma mater. Seriously, Could Nick Lowe have had a better Senior Night game? Two weeks ago he picked up a puck in neutral ice and streaked into the Minnesota Gophers zone but instead of driving to the net or taking a shot he passed the puck. Maybe it was a 50/50 thing but it really looked like he had zero confidence. Last night when the puck got on his stick he owned it. His sweet rush wide on the left and then back across to the front of the goal and the authoritative finish was the goal of the night. It wasn't his only offensive highlight of the evening either. He had a sweet wraparound chance in the first and was the key to the sixth goal with his physical play in front of MSU's crease. Definitely one of the best games of his career but more importantly he played with confidence.

Nick wasn't the only Senior to play a big part in the win. Chad Anderson made the first goal with his rush and shot and was a constant offensive threat both deep in the offensive end or out on the blueline as his rocket of a shot power play goal showed. He had a close wraparound chance as well. Chad's been playing with confidence all year and having his best season. He's definitely going out with some style. The team tried to feed him late in the third to get him the hat trick but alas it didn't happen. Mark Smith was steady steady steady last night playing another mistake free game. Justin Bourne was an offensive force all night creating chances as well as do an excellent job backchecking and/or covering for d-man going deep into the zone.

There were other feel good stories with Merit picking up a well deserved goal on the weekend to go along with his otherwise excellent play. And hey ... Jonny O playing 5 quality periods of hockey in the net most certainly has to raise his playing status. Ken Selby saw a couple of legitimate scoring chances and his foot speed was apparent to me. Trevor Hunt played a real solid game after being out injured. Missing Kronschnabel and Lunden from the line-up created the need to restructure the lines and Peter Cartwright bagged a couple of assists as a result. I thought he played with more confidence as well. Kevin Clark was influential all night long. He got into Travis Morin's head at one point and goaded him into a bad penalty. Then Wagner decided he had to defend the 6'-2" against the 5'-8" Clark and was shown the gate for that error. Nice work Kevin! His power play goal at 4:27 of the first proved to be the game winner.

Blair Tassone had another good game and a few scoring chances as well. Jared Tuton continued to be a force physically and looked good all night. Jay Beagle's point production may not be where it could be at this point of the season but his value on every shift is big. His penalty killing efforts continue to be the best in the league. Managing to corral the puck deep in the other teams end is no easy task, yet each and every game Jay does exactly that by killing anywhere from 20 seconds to up to almost a minute by himself. Beaverson, Backstrom and Robinson all played well at both ends of the ice. Luke played a strong defensive game. Chris Tarkir had a more impactful game last night than I think I've seen for a while and I liked him on the line with Clark and Beagle. Adam Corrin continued to show good energy and physical play skating with Jared Tuton and Ken Selby last night. Ryan Berry played forward on Friday night but I didn't see anything but the third period and wasn't looking at any individual players so I don't really know how that worked out.

It's not like it should be hard for a group of young men to figure out what sort of effort they need to make to win in this league. The February has been defined by a poor effort one night then a better effort the next night. That should have taught the players. They must know now that if they play with confidence and execute well that they will get the "W" more often than the "L".

A sweep next weekend might be enough to keep the Seawolves out of Mariucci and/or the NHC for the playoffs and is a worthy short term goal. It's impossible to say who is going to finish in 3rd place as DU, CC and UND are all within a point and Bucky is only two more back of them. It's also impossible to say who is going to finish anywhere between the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th place teams though Tech and UMD both have games in hand over MSU and UAA. For UAA to finish higher than 9th they'd need to win the last two at UMD as well as have MSU lose both games against CC. And (less likely) if MTU fails to get any points in it's last two series (Wisc then Twinkietown) and UMD also loses it's last two games against Wisconsin UAA would finish 7th. There could be tiebreakers involved at any number of levels in the standings this year; UAA would have the tiebreaker advantage with MTU and MSU if it all went down like above.

It's always interesting to look at the tiers in the WCHA each year. This season it's turned into a three tier-league once again. But they're really close tiers without big separations between them.
1. Minnesota (37) (17-4-3)
2. St. Cloud (30) (12-6-6)
3. DU (27pts) (12-9-3)
4. CC/UND (26pts) (12-10-2, 11-9-4)
6. Wisconsin (24pts) (11-11-2)
7. MTU/MSU (21pts) (8-11-5, 8-13-5)
9. UAA (17pts) (8-17-1)
10. UMD (15pts) (6-15-3)
There's only three points between each of the tiers with DU trailing St. Cloud by only 3 points and MTU/MSU only 3 points behind Bucky. As an example of how much tighter the league is this year; at this point 2nd place St. Cloud has a grand total of 4 more league wins than 9th place UAA and only one more than 6th place Wisconsin.

How many games are left now? That's up to the players. Could be as few as 4. Could be 7 or 8 even; if they play with confidence the rest of the way (like they did last night) it's certainly possible.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Chris Rengert To Seawolves

The "commitments" list on the BCHL website now includes Chris Rengert (previously reported as only a rumor) as coming to UAA next season. Chris is 5'9" 175, shoots left and turns 20 years old tomorrow (Friday February 16th). He is playing on Burnaby's #1 line with Kyle Turris and Tyler McNeely. In 50 games so far this season he has scored 22 goals and added 47 assists for #18 in the league.

The addition of Chris to next years class gives UAA 3 recruits from the top 20 scorers in the league. Tommy Grant has continued his ascent up the scoring ladder and is currently 12th with Winston Daychief at number 13.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tribute For The Seniors

The last two home games are upon us. I've appreciated every single last home game of the season since 1984 primarily for one reason. It is the last opportunity to see the Senior class play. This weekend five Seawolves finish their home ice careers. These five guys have done the work on the ice and off the ice to earn the recognition that comes with this weekend's "Senior Night". This is a very specific moment where we as fans can show our appreciation (not for the hockey accomplishments of any specific player) but instead for all their efforts while representing the school.

College sports is about many things. This weekend and this post though is all about thanking these 5 guys for all their hard work. Thanking them for 4 years of practices. Thanking them for the bruises they endured as well as the vicarious thrill for all the fans when they bruise an opponent. It's about thanking them in particular for suffering through the 1 win season but playing with pride nonetheless. It's about thanking them for everything that isn't "wins and losses". I exchanged a couple of emails with former UAA goalie Chris Davis from Calgary and when I mentioned the difficulties of playing through some "tough times" Chris said,
"We had some tough times when I played there, but I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. Anchorage is such an awesome place, and if I didn't live here, I would definitely be up there."
Here's hoping that all five of these guys feel the same way in 10 years as Chris does now. The challenges of life are mirrored in sports programs like UAA's all across this country. So few championships and so many participants. Thousands of athletes giving their blood and guts for their school and it's fans with only a very select few getting all the attention. But championships or not and professional contracts or not; the college sports institution is a win for the student-athlete. It's also a win for the school. And of course it's a win for the fans. All that "wins" talk is difficult for me to type sometimes as a Seawolf hockey fan but those sorts of disappoinments are greatly offset for me by the high quality person that college sports creates. And so ultimately it's a win for whatever community a former Seawolf lives in because that town is definitely getting a guy who knows the meaning of the word character. And so here comes five such guys into the world: (in alphabetical order)

Chad Anderson
Chad came to UAA from Tri-City of the USHL where he was a Captain. When he finished his junior career he was Tri-City's all-time leader in games played. During his freshman year at UAA I said that Chad was capable of becoming an All-WCHA caliber defenseman by his Senior year. Well, he has done exactly that. Whether and where he appears on this years WCHA list isn't up to me but there's little doubt that his level of play this season is at that level. Chad is a big guy at 6'4" 218lbs that has always looked good carrying the puck up the ice. But this season he has managed to make that effort a bigger part of his game than past seasons. Chad is a leader having worn both the A and C in his last two seasons here. He's always been a punishing hitter as well as stalwart in front of his net. When I attended the preseason picnic this year Chad instigated a rendition of "Happy Birthday" by the team's freshman for a younster which was the highlight of the event. Chad is always well-spoken on TV. His career at UAA has included ups and downs as anyone's would over 4 years. But consistency in the amount of effort that Chad has given over those 4 years should never be overlooked. He's always been good for a few goals from the blueline (14 in his career so far) so maybe he's got a couple more in him during the rest of his last season as a Seawolf. Chad has not only grown into an All WCHA "class" of player but the class with which he has represented the program should be a source of pride in his future life. Best of luck to Chad. And thank you very much.

Justin Bourne
Justin's career totals of 30g-51a aren't by any sense of the word record breaking (35th all time in goals) but he is the first player since Curtis Glencross to reach the 30 goal mark in a career. I've always thought Justin's wrist shot was one of his strengths. He's a good skater and goes into any situation necessary to help the team. Justin came to UAA from the BCHL where earned the Coaches Choice Award, Most Sportsmanlike Trophy and 3-Star Award with 02-03 BCHL Champion Vernon Vipers. The first series I saw Justin play in with UAA was memorable. He was skating with Curtis Glencross and Brett-Arcand Kootenay against UAF in Fairbanks. In the first game (which UAA probably shouldn't have won) they were the best line on the ice generating chances on almost every shift. It was a great debut for a career that never lacked his effort but unfortunately sometimes lacked team results. If determination on the ice were equal to $$$ then Justin would surely be a millionaire. No doubt it's a genetic trait as his dad's determination on the ice helped the Islander's in a big game or two (poetic understatement). Justin has shown leadership on the ice as well as that ever-determined effort and the Seawolves will miss both. Thank you Justin. Good luck to you in all your future life's challenges.

Charlie Kronschnabel
Cap'n Kronsch came to UAA as an unrecruited walk-on from River City Lancers in the USHL. He wasn't guaranteed a spot in the lineup. He wasn't promised anything other than a chance. In four years he's gone from a junior hockey player that everyone overlooked to the Captain of a Division 1 team in the well regarded WCHA. It's not an accomplishment that should be overlooked. In fact, I already called Charlie "The Best Walk-On Player Ever" and I stand by that proclaimation wholeheartedly. He's the team's best faceoff man. He's the first guy to take punishment in front of the other team's crease. He's "the" Captain in every sense of the word. Here's the best example and how I characterized his play back on Sunday Dec. 3rd when he broke his leg leading to a 13 game absence.
"Charlie broke the leg on an odd collision in the corner. He got up to get back into the play and took another big hit after a few seconds THEN got right back up and got his body into a lane to help block shots on the PK. The guy "gave it up big time" for his team. His leg was broken and he gets up not once but TWICE and contributes defensively until the puck mercifully went out of play? Wow. Real Wow. Ya know? That says so much about his passion as a leader on the ice. If Charlie needs some help toting things around campus then I can think of 24 guys that oughta be more than happy to volunteer their assistance.
It's a fitting legacy and just one of many examples of the leadership that Charlie has shown this team. In my mind he's certainly one the finest examples of a Captain that has been at UAA in the last ten years. A bit of UAA's soul won't be present on the ice next year. Thank you Charlie. And best of luck to you in everything your future brings.

Nick Lowe
Nick literally blazed into town in my mind. From the first time I saw him skate at a preseason practice his freshman year I was sure his speed would be an excellent source of offense for the Seawolves. But as fate and circumstances sometimes dictate the fruition of that vision never quite materialized. Nick came to UAA from the South Surrey Eagles of the BCHL and was the "Fan Favorite" there. There's no doubt that Nick can skate. There's no doubt that he can grind effectively. But ignoring Nick's snake-bitten goal scoring history at UAA wouldn't be fair but mentioning it doesn't deny his contributions. Does anyone track posts hit? Even without loads of success burying the puck Nick has been a very valuable player for UAA. He earned a WCHA ROTW award in February of his freshman season. His skating ability made him an effecitve and valuable penalty killer. His work ethic and strength made him a valuable 3rd and 4th line player for all four years of his career. His versatility was a positive when he played most of his games during his Junior year playing defense. Nick is the embodiment of a journeyman contributor in college sports that should be remembered for toiling in anonymity with grace and class. He's always been one my favorite players because of his effort. Thank you Nick. Best of luck in the future and remember that shooting the puck and hitting the post is greater than not ever having shot the puck at all.

Mark Smith
Mark came to UAA from the Sherwood Park Crusaders of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. He was the MVP at the league All-Star game and the team's "Unsung Hero" and "Best Defenseman" awards. As a freshman at UAA Mark was the team's leading scoring defenseman with 5g-16a that year. In Mark's 2nd year he struggled with no points and had his season cut just about in half by injury. As a Junior though Mark's 15 points from the blueline lead the entire team in points. So far this season Mark has 5 goals and 5 assists. 5 goals from a blueliner in each of the three full season's he's played at UAA is a nice accomplishment. I'd characterize Mark's play over 4 years as consistent consistent consistent. He's virtually always in position; he takes opportunities to carry the puck intelligently and often turns them into scoring chances. He play in his own end has always been responsible and committed. Like Chad Anderson, when Mark was a freshman I characterized his potential to become an All-WCHA caliber defenseman and I think he has reached that level of play. I don't ever remember seeing Mark being interviewed by the press so I'd guess he is perhaps a bit of an unassuming kind of guy. His play has been that way too; quiet but strong or sometimes not noticed but always effective. I'm proud that he played for UAA. Thank you Mark. And of course best of luck with everything your future holds.

All of these guys will be missed for one reason or another. I'm happy that I had the opportunity to watch each and every one of their careers develop. It's been both my pleasure and my honor to do so.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

New Arena: The Skinny

Last summer in this post I talked about a new arena for UAA under the assumption that nobody important was thinking about much less planning for an on campus arena. I quickly found out I was wrong and since that time there has been planning and I understand the University is scheduled to make some sort of announcement sometime this spring. If you click on the picture above it will enlarge and you can see the location of the new arena along with a couple of other landmarks for reference. Not long after my intial post about this subject I was pointed to this webpage and this document (14.2Mb PDF) which as you can see is the long term Masterplan. A short scroll to the 2nd page of the "concept" PDF shows the configuration and initial timelines for some of the additions campuswide.

From what I hear and read I'd guess somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 seat arena in use within the next 6 years (by 2013) is the goal of the Athletic Department. There's obviously a lot of expansion planned when you spend anytime perusing the Masterplan. There's a fair amount of speculation and I'll try to leave that up to others. But it is clear this proposal is in it's early stages. Funds for planning and design are budgeted/planned this year ($1,000,000). Hopefully, the powers that be regarding timelines and priorities (Regents, Admins, Alumni and Community) find the need for UAA Sports programs to share a home of their own an important consideration. It's clear reading through the Masterplan that a desire to create a more student-centric campus is a desire and a new arena would certainly be one of the goals of that entire effort. The assumption amongst many fans is that UAA plans to move to Division 1 in all sports and a new arena supports that effort. It's important to not get confused by the effort to build a new arena and the planned expansion/retrofit of the Wells Fargo Sports Center. They are two separate efforts. So I have to believe that getting it all done within 6 years is probably a reasonable estimate.

I've added a photo below that gives some context to those not as familiar with the Anchorage area as those of us that live here.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Just Open It Up

If a 1-8-1 record in 2007 isn't disappointing then I don't know the definition of the word. If there is any single element with some causality relationship, I think it's pretty clear that it is a lack of scoring. I've thought about it enough that I've come to the conclusion that it isn't a lack of talent since they finished 10-8-3 in 2006. So let's see ... in the first half of the year they scored 3.55 goals per game. So far in 2007 they've scored 1.4 goals per game. What happened? Lots of things. The schedule in the first half included 6 non-conference games that where the Seawovles averaged 3.83 goals per game. In conference they were scoring 2.7 goals per game giving a net loss of 1.3 goals per game. That's more than a 50% drop against WCHA foes. Why? Naturally, I don't ask a question when I'm writing that I don't intend to answer.

In my mind there are 2 possible causes. Either the players aren't producing or the system isn't producing. It's no big secret that UAA intends its physical play to "spur" offensive opportunities. It's a good use of the size advantage that UAA has over most of it's competition. It's a possession game deep in the other teams zone; it's grinding and working and counterattacking. They've played that style game all season and in my eyes they've all given it their best effort on a good majority of nights. And I'm saying?

With a post title like "Just Open It Up" I bet you don't need a psychic to tell you what's coming next. Hey ... there's four regular season games left before the playoffs. The horse you rode to get here is plum tuckered out. So it's time to get a new horse ain't it? Is there really anything to be lost by opening the offense up? What would be wrong about trying to skate up and down the ice with the other 2 of the bottom three teams in the league? There are more than a few good playmakers (Clark, Crowder, Waldrop) and more than a few reasonably good finishers (Lunden, Beagle, Bourne) that are playing in a system right now that quite frankly doesn't utilize their strengths. There's untapped offensive potential on the blueline. Anderson and Smith have both been contributing but Mat Robinson is underutilized as an offensive threat. He's been excellent especially in the last 10 games. Backstrom's good skating and heads up play always looks good moving forward. So why not try to encourage these strengths over the last four (less meaningful) regular season games? Just Open It Up. Let's see the team skate. Wouldn't it benefit the team and staff to do an "about face"? If there is a loss of confidence with some players couldn't opening it up rebuild some confidence? Wouldn't you rather lose 8-7 than 3-1? I don't see as much fun out there as I saw earlier in the season.

Friday, February 09, 2007

This One's On Me

Without my complete and total failure this week to find enthusiasm for this series against Wisconsin the Seawolves would have certainly dominated tonight's game. Yup. It's all on me. I didn't spend any time pouring over Bucky's roster and stats. I didn't replay the two Wisconsin games from earlier this year to scout them. I didn't write a preview. Shit ... I didn't even listen to the game live. I waited around for the tape delayed FSN broadcast.

What a fucking horrid mistake that was. Instead of listening to Kurt Haider call the game I sat through Paul Braun's reasonably serviceable play-by-play and legendary Wisconsin goaltending coach Bill Howard's graphically one-sided horseshit color commentary. That guy may be all they say he is in terms of coaching goalies and getting them to improve etc etc etc blah blah blah... but you know what? He's ten times the homer I would be if I was a color guy on TV. I'm surprised Braun did a reasonable job with the play-by-play considering how often he was on his knees blowing "Howie". You'd think that at least once that rusty old shit Howard would add a kind adjective when referring to the Seawolves. But over three periods of hockey nary a positive word came out of his mouth regarding their play. When asked about Olthuis all he could come up with was that he was tall and stayed squared up to shooters. Whenever UAA did anything positive it wasn't because they did something to earn it ... it was because Bucky screwed up. What a dick. When I heard the almost-compliment about Olthuis, I nearly shit my pants.

It all sure reinforced my opinion that Kurt Haider is the most honest and graceful announcer working in the WCHA. Hell even if Doug Woog can't pronounce a name correctly he'll generally find something positive to say about an opposition kid during the game. When Kurt calls a game it is filled with positive adjectives describing other teams players. Please please please let the players watch a replay of the game so they can hear how much of a dick that guy is. Maybe it will motivate them.

My bad entirely. My apologies to Kurt for not listening on the radio. My apologies to the players for being lazy last week and not writing much. My apologies most of all to my fine readers whom I didn't serve well either.

The Game:
Inability to stay out of the box cost the game. The Seawolves did well enough in the first period killing 3 power plays. But 3 penalties in the first 9 minutes of the second turned the tide enough that UAA was never able to gain any sort of momentum as a result. It sure would be nice if Campion does what the dickhead "Howie" said he was going to do and evens it up for the weekend by calling 12 penalties against Wisconsin tomorrow night. Chances of that actually happening? Zero.

McCabe Traded to Texas

UAA Seawolves recruit Brad McCabe was traded to the Texas Tornado (Frisco) this past Tuesday (Feb. 6th) at the NAHL trade deadline. This looks like a nice move for McCabe. He gets off the worst team in the league and will be playing for the 3 time defending NAHL champs who look to be positioning themselves for a playoff run through late acquisitions. In addition to McCabe they picked up a proven veteran goaltender (Ritter) with a .905 sv% who played for Providence College last year. The Tornado have been idle since the trade but McCabe should see his first action tonight vs. Springfield.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Badgers Inspire Blogger Malaise

I've been forced to take a few days off. The cause wasn't physical. I simply had nothing to say about playing the Badgers that seemed worth writing. Nothing I'm thinking today seems worth writing either but hey ... it's Thursday afternoon and not a peep from me? There's six regular season games left. I'm not sure if there is any chance for UAA to get home ice. The remaining six games are all against the three other teams that occupy the bottom four league spots with UAA. A sweep of Bucky and UAA will have 19 points. If UND gets swept by MSU-M that helps UAA but keeps MSU-M three points ahead of UAA. The if UAA were to sweep the Mavericks they'd be close to fifth (depending on other results of course) with just one series remaining. Then if the Seawolves take 4 points from UMD in the last series they would finish with 27 points and who knows? I suppose they aren't eliminated per se yet but is any of that worth considering?

With 4 of the remaining 6 games on somebody else's ice I'm hardly optimistic about any of the above happening. I want to believe that it's possible. In the grand scheme; not any of it matters. If the Seawolves want to get into the NCAA's they'll have to win the WCHA Final Five league tournament. That's reality. Winning the remaining 6 games won't do anything dramatic for their Pairwise rating since they won't have beaten anyone with a substantially higher rating. I hate to sound like I'm down on the team. I'm really not. They've accomplished some nice things this season. But unless and until this program consistently makes the NCAA's (2 out of 3 years or better) then I'm not going to be jumping up and down calling it the best thing since sliced bread. Perhaps that's a bit too high of an expectation at this point. I'm both hopeful and optimistic though that we're seeing the beginnings of that.

For the remainder of the season the team has to look back to the early part of the season when their goal was to improve steadily through the year and try to make noise at the end. They have to look to Saturday's game against the Gophers and remember that is the sort of effort they'll need every remaining game. With that sort of consistent high level effort the rest of the way they could get to the Final Five in St. Paul; without it they'll be watching on TV with the rest of us.

See ... I really didn't have anything worthwhile.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Ice Is Slippery

(Minneapolis - Monday Feb. 5, 2007)
The Universe of Minnesota's human resources director Edna Gunderson today announced a new insurance policy that impacts all athletic department employees at the Twin Cities campus only. Ms. Gunderson's statement reads,
Due to the ongoing challenges of maintaining the highest quality health insurance options for our members at the best possible price for the tax payers of the state, the Twin Cities campus will switch providers on March 1st. An individuals coverage will migrate seamlessly with no change for one year. Athletic department assistant coaches in order to qualify for this policy (due to recent events in the pathetically empty Sullivan Arena in Fairbanks, Alaska) will have to visit the HR office before March 1st to be fitted with special protective headgear and sign a contract to wear the devices at all practices.
When contacted for further information by Untied Press Inc, spokeswoman Gunderson read from an Athletic department accident report which indicated that assistant coach John Hill fell during a Friday team skate-around. Athletic Director Maturi explained,
"It was a normal game day early skate. The team and staff were simply warming up for that evenings scheduled game and BAM ... down went Hillers like a sack of potatos. His noodle took a pretty hard lick and he might have had a minor concussion."
Gunderson explained further that the new insurance carrier (10K Lakes Accounting Fund & Fidelity) determined that the risk of injury for Minnesota assistant coaches vs. the need for them to be on the platform of competition was too high. Initially a proposal for all assistants to remain permanently on the sidelines or stands was called for but lengthy negotiations arrived at the helmet wearing alternative plan. Many UofM assistant coaches weren't happy when contacted. Assistant soccer coach Seth Gunderson expressed a unique concern,
"I've got to wear a helmet on the pitch now? I was hired specifically to improve our teams ability to head the ball effectively. It's a really big part of my job to demonstrate techniques using my head. And now I've got to wear a helmet because some dumbass doesn't know ice is slippery?"
Assistant volleyboall coach Donna "Precious" Gunderson appeared quite shaken at the news,
"This is stupid. Headgear again? When my overbite was finally corrected last year and they said all the orthodontics was over I sure didn't think I'd be having to wear headgear again. I guess every day at practice will now be a bad hair day. Because some dumbass slipped on the ice?"
Assistant hockey coach Mike Guentzel had no comment but as he scurried away from the UPI reporter he slipped on the freshly waxed AD department's marble foyer. He appeared unharmed but only glared at the reporter in response to further questions. Former gopher assistant Bob Motzko commented,
"I warned tDon that something like this would happen. We'd both seen the signs that something along these lines was imminnent several years ago. But Johnny always used the argument that they let him wear skates at CC so we should let him here too. I guess whatever is good enough for the Black Bears should be good enough for the Gophers."
Head Coach Don Lucia released a statement that any and all issues related to the matter will be handled internally but indicated that the health and welfare of his staff and his players is always his primary concern.

(proposed Assistant Coach protective headgear)

Sunday, February 04, 2007

As Promised: Recruit Update

Ok so I promised I'd do this last week.

Kane Lafranchise:
Kane played in the AJHL All-Star game last weekend for the North Division. He picked up three assists in a crazy high scoring game (13-12). In 49 games he has 10g and 22 assists from the blueline. His production has dropped slightly since my last update. Spruce Grove is doing well this year with the 4th highest point total league-wide through the first 50 games. Still plenty of games to go.

Winston Daychief:
Since the last update Winston played in the BCHL All-Star Game and earned the 3rd Star with his 2 goal performance. He is currently 13th on the leagues leading scorer table with 30 goals and 38 assists in 52 games. Cowichan is putting together a real nice season with 69 points for 3rd league-wide and second in the Coastal Conference. They are 31-14-2 so far and trail Nanaimo by 6 points. Vicoria is close behind though with 68 points. Hopefully for Cowichan fans the team can continue playing well and maybe make a run in the playoffs. There's lots of games left.

Brad McCabe:
Brad has returned to action for the apparently struggling Alaska Avalanche franchise. The Avalanche squad is 12-28 with 5 overtime losses for 29 points and last place in the league's "South" division. Brad is 4th on the team in scoring even though he missed about 15 games with his knee injury. He has 14 goals and 9 assists in 25 games. The Avalanche don't have a single player who has played in all 45 of their games. League-wide they're 17th out of 17 NAHL teams. It's a already a long season in Wasilla. There's more games to play? Argh.

Jeff Carlson:
Jeff continues to be the 3rd leading scorer on his Southern Minnesota Express team with 14 goals and 19 assists in 47 games. This leaves him at 2nd in the league scoring table for defensemen. The Express are 6-3 in their last nine games and sit in 2nd place in the league's Central division with 54 points which is seventh league-wide.

Tommy Grant:
Tommy has flown up the scorers table since my last update. At that time he was the Westside Warriors leading scorer but was 37th in league scoring. Since then Tommy has played in 14 games and added 15 goals and 12 assists for totals of 30g-33a in 47 games. That's a pretty freaking sweet hot streak. Tommy now sits at 20th on the league scoring chart and has 16 more points than the 2nd leading scorer on his team. Westside is struggling in the standings but have played better than .500 hockey through January and into February. Ya think Tommy's scoring binge helped?

Two other notes worthy of mention. Spruce Grove rookie forward Adam Henderson (who'd visited UAA during the UAF series) committed last week to Michigan State. And an internet rumor popped up that Burnaby's 3rd leading scorer (playing on a line with Kyle Turris and Tyler McNeely tends to be good for your numbers) Chris Rengert is a prospective UAA recruit. Chris is 19th on the league scoring charts with 21 goals and 43 assists. Rengert played his first 27 games of the season with Surrey and scored 8g-17a. In 21 games with Burnaby he has 13g-26a. He scored 26g-45a in 58 games for Surrey during the 05-06 season.

Sunday Potpourri

In my recap last night I missed a mention of Josh Lunden. I completely missed the cause as it happened (so I have no commentary) but Josh may have separated his shoulder in the middle of the first period. He went to the locker room (I didn't even see that) didn't return and had his arm in a sling after the game. Josh is a physical player and it takes time for a shoulder to heal so who knows how long that will keep him out of the lineup. The line changes Coach Shyiak made got me thinking about what sorts of combinations might work:
That would keep the #4 together to continue their excellent play. It puts three creative players together on the #1. Charlie and Jay's physical play with Bourne as the finisher might work. But then I also thought:

Freshman defensemen Ryan Berry and Trevor Hunt have shown they can be trusted to play defense by their steadily improved play this season. In addition they should be getting ice time in at this point in some important games for the sake of experience and next year. Mat Robinson's speedy feet and ice sense could prove valuable on a line with two creative players like Paul and Kevin. We've seen Shyiak move forward Nick Lowe back to D and Jared Tuton is a converted defenseman so maybe he's considering something like this? Who knows? With defensive pairings of Smith-Berry, Anderson-Hunt and Beaverson-Backstrom I'd think the blueline would be well enough represented to allow Robbie to move up front and see if he can add something. Just thinking out loud ya know.

Around the rest of the league Wisconsin didn't do itself any favors this weekend with two losses in Colorado Springs. They now sit in 8th place 2 points ahead of UAA though they STILL have two games in hand. Even if UAA sweeps them this weekend they'll have their own fate in their hands. Mankato picked up three points at Michigan Tech putting them in a tie for 6th one point ahead of Wisconsin (the guys with two games in hand). And Duluth continues to look like they really don't want to finish in 10th place. They split at DU and are one point behind UAA. North Dakato has their fate directly in their own hands. That might not be a good thing if their players behavior last week is any indication. Toews and Oshie were cited for underage drinking and Robbie Bina has been charged with some sort of obstructing justice offense when he opened a police car door from 180ft away. Expect some sort of discipline though Hakstol is keeping the matter "internal". Mankato goes up to UND for a pair this coming weekend. Any bets on a penalty-fest? The University of Denver (they call themselves DU?) goes up to Houghton to face MTU. The Gophers and Duluth are resting while Coach Ron Jeremy takes his CC squad to St. Bobville for a pair.

And so after subjecting everyone to that gross picture on the Friday night game recap I figured this joint could use some air freshening.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Close But No Cigar

The team showed up and played tonight. They put their hearts into it and got a 2-1 loss for the efforts. On paper it's no different than the 8-2 whalloping from Friday night but at least they gave themselves a reminder that effort is a big part of the picture to success in this league. Unfortunately, another big part of success in the WCHA is execution. And during the critical offensive chances the Seawolves weren't able to finish. Frazee came up with a couple of very critical saves.

Jonnie O was also good in the net for UAA. He came up with a few good stops of his own and intelligently used his pipes at least three times to stop Gopher shots. The Seawolves picked it up a step in their own end tonight and played the way it's necessary to play against a talented team. They kept their feet moving and didn't give away territory. Everyone played much better in their own end tonight. There were many fewer 1-1 challenges in the UAA defensive end that resulted in scoring chances for Minnesota. There was much more commitment in that end with good effort in the shot blocking department.

UAA's best period on Friday night was the 1st. On Saturday night I thought their best period was the second. But they played better in the 1st tonight than they did on Friday. Friday at the end of one period it was UAA 1-0. Saturday, a better 1st period results in 1-0 for Minnesota. I thought it was the same story in the 2nd. I guess thats sort of ironic. I thought there were a lot of fat rebounds to be had tonight; but they were picked up pretty well by the Gopher D. If the Seawolves had taken a few more outside shot chances they might have been able to hook up with one of those.

The third period tonight started with all the right effort. The good penalty killing continued. But as time went on the amount of time 5x5 that Minnesota was pressuring deep in the UAA zone really increased steadily until late in the period UAA was hardly able to clear the zone. Credit to the Gophers for playing smart with the lead. They made few mistakes with the puck and consequently the Seawolves had few real chances. With Olthuis pulled the Seawolves were finally able to gain some territorial advantage for the last 90 seconds or so but never came close to generating any sort of scoring chance.

If I was giving three stars (and if that meant anything) I'd have given 3rd star to Kevin Clark, 2nd star to Jon Olthuis and 1st star to Dave Shyiak. Getting the team to play the game correctly after the ugliness we saw on Friday night deserves it. Plus my daughter pointed out that Shyaik was smiling and waving back to little kids that were waving as he came back on the ice for the 3rd period.

I could list every player on the ice and say something positive about the way they played. Adam Corrin was the energizer bunny and in my opinion probably earned himself another start next week. Blair Tassone's shorthander was set up beautifully by Paul Crowder who was helped along by a Gopher D's miscue. Blair made no mistake in burying the puck. Merit Waldrop was all over the ice. His forechecking game in the neutral zone was excellent as he intercepted more than his share of passes there. Jared Tuton's punishing checks and energy would have helped earn that line the "best line of the weekend" award if there was any such thing; both for effort and results. Chad Anderson put out a great effort tonight with many rushes and offensive chances as a result. Mat Robinson and Nils Backstrom and Mark Smith and Luke Beaverson and Ryan Berry all played well. Getting to see more of Ryan is a good thing. I noticed he moves his feet well and I think he showed this weekend that he's pretty well adapted to the speed of the college game. And yes ... Charlie played well. Jay Beagle played a very nice game and shined on a couple of penalty kills. And Chris Tarkir had a good game. And Justin Bourne was effective. And Peter Cartwright was good. Did I forget anyone?

Shyiak shuffled the lines a bit tonight and I'd expect some more of that since lines that seemed to have chemistry earlier in the season aren't producing like they were. Maybe some fresh chemistry can be found. Lets hope so. Another tough weekend awaits in Madison.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Blogging With Reciprocity

1st Period:
The Seawolves came out tonight and played a decent first period. They managed to keep the Gophers on the periphery when the puck was in the UAA zone. They got in close on chances of their own. They transitioned pretty well and maintained their composure. I really had nothing in my mind at the break than to think that they could have played better. But being up 1-0 wasn't horrible. The Seawolves though failed to show up in the 2nd and 3rd periods.

2nd Period:
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3rd Period:
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Garbage begets garbage. If the team shows up to play tomorrow instead of picking their noses for two periods then I'll post something that isn't garbage. I'm going to go brush my teeth now.

Preview For Gopher "Rubes"

With a fanbase that is as broad and diverse as any in college hockey there are few characterizations that one can make which actually stick. Generalizations are never really fair to make but would anyone debate that UND fans are the most sensitive fans to criticism? Or that UAF fans suffer from a little brother complex? No generalization is perfect just by their nature. University of Minnesota fans in my experience are (on the whole) the least knowledgable fans about other teams. Let me be clear, I'm not saying they don't know anything about hockey. Hell, it's not a complicated sport and if I'm capable of spewing hockey cliche's with some amount of accurracy then so are they. It's ignorance though I'm talking about. A failure by the fans of "America's Team" to bother to learn anything about any other team. This post is intended to rectify that. At least for any Gopher fans reading my blog.

I'll start with the offensive potential that UAA brings to the ice. Coach Dave Shyiak throws two solid scoring lines onto the ice each weekend along with two role playing lines. I wouldn't classify either of the scoring lines as #1 or #2.

First is Lunden, Beagle and Clark. Josh Lunden is a freshman winger who spent last year as a member of the highest scoring line in the BCHL. Josh is a power winger who uses his body well and can skate with the puck. He's 6'2" 195. Sophomore center Jay Beagle (6'3" 210) can definitely motor and is probably the best penalty killing forward on the team. He likes it in front of the crease. Expect to see him there. On the other wing is freshman Kevin Clark (5'8" 160). Kevin is a real nice playmaking pest in the tradition of guys like Ken Linseman. He exceptionally quick and is always a threat to turn just about any situation into a scoring chance. This line is capable of good counter-attacking and creativity as well as being effective along the boards cycling the puck. They've tallied 23 goals this season and added 21 assists.

The next scoring line is Bourne, Crowder and Waldrop. Senior Justin Bourne (6'2" 190) sets a pace on this line with his leadership both statistically and on the ice. His efforts this season have been dramatically better having already surpassed his point total from last season. Justin can get off a wicked wrister from any spot. He uses his experience to his advantage. Freshman Paul Crowder (6'3" 202) is very strong on the puck. His play all around the opposition crease both in terms of playmaking and finishing is always excellent. He's got great vision and a great backhand shot. Paul was member of last season RBC winning Burnaby team. Junior Merit Waldrop (5'10" 186) rounds out this line. Merit is an excellent skating winger who shoots the puck well. Throughout his career I'd say he's been more familiar with the posts and crossbars than any other Seawolf. He can be creative with the puck as well as plaster someone on the boards. His 13 assists this season show how he's growing as an effective playmaker. They've tallied 20 goals and 42 assists so far this season.

The first of the two role playing lines is Tarkir, Kronschnabel, and Lowe. Refer to yesterday's post for other information about Charlie K (6'4" 201); after all how much else can I say about the "Best Walk-on Player" in all of college hockey? Charlie is "The Shit" for his efforts and as Merit Waldrop said in today's ADN,
"His presence is so big -- he's our captian. You remember how he broke his leg, what he went through and stayed out there. We all respect him for that. He's a great guy and a great player. He'll be a difference in our games."
Nick Lowe (5'11" 200) is a wheels guy. He skates, he hits and is another excellent penalty killer. Nick has spent a fair amount of time last season playing defense which speaks to his adapability as an important role player. He's often a threat to get a breakaway but lacks finishing flair. Chris Tarkir is a kid I often compared to Curtis Glencross over the last couple of years. While his play is reminiscent (all out with no fear) his numbers haven't made the Glencross comparison valid. I'd call this line a possession line who's job is to keep the puck on the positive end of the ice. They've contributed 5 goals and 13 assists so far this season.

The "4th" line is Jared Tuton, Peter Cartwright and Corrin/Tassone. Freshman Jared Tuton's (6'1" 191) speed was a pleasant surprise to this blogger. He's a Lunden-style power forward who hits with seemingly more weight than he carries. I expect a lot more production from Jared as his career progresses with UAA but the role he's filling is no less valuable to the team. Peter Cartwright (6'1" 200) returns to the 4th line after trying to fill Charlie's role while he was out injured. Peter can skate and shoot. As part of this "energy" line he is excellent on the forecheck and a valuable asset as a backchecker. Adam Corrin (6'1" 203) and Blair Tassone (5'11" 193) round out this line and both contribute exactly what they're asked. They bring "energy" in every way they can. They forecheck their hearts out. Good defense starts by keeping the puck in the opponents end while matched up with their best line. These guys have been getting that part of their job done well so far this season. Over the last few weeks Corrin and Tassone's efforts in particular have impressed me. Their hard work might frustrate a couple of gopher goal scorers this weekend. Look for these guys anytime Okposo and Stoa are on the ice this weekend.

The Seawolves can bring offense from the blueline this year. Combined they've contributed 17 goals and 30 assists. Seniors Mark Smith (6' 191) and Chad Anderson (6'4" 218) have each notched 5 goals. Both can rush the puck effectively. Anderson has 10 assists and has shown intelligence in his shot choices favoring smart wristers over the slap shot. Junior Luke Beaverson (6'5" 228) could be considered a defensive anchor for the Seawolves. He is a strong physical player in his own end. This year he's increased his worth to the team with some strong offensive rushes and has 4g and 4a to show for it. Sophomore Mat Robinson (5'10" 174) is this squads "Brian Rafalski". He has a great ability to come away from the boards in his end with the puck. He isn't a punishing hitter but if a forward looks down Robbie will put him on his butt. His hipchecking abilities are appreciate by Seawolf fans. Mat can be a playmaker but I'd say his passing from his own zone is his biggest strength. He made a pass in a game last year that I called the best pass I'd ever seen made by a Seawolf defenseman so I know he sees the ice well. Freshman Nils Backstrom (6'1" 200) joined the team just days before school began this season. Nils showed his potential early in the season with his excellent skating and playmaking abilities (1g-7a). He's talented in his own end and capable of dispossessing oppenents in surprising ways. He isn't shy about the physical part of the game and has real good vision.

What should Gopher fans glean from all that information? They should know the Seawolves are not only big up front but that they can skate too. They should see that UAA's transition game has potential to be dangerous. They should be aware that creativity not only exists but will likely make it's presence felt. They should know I wish I had this up earlier today.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

How To Beat a Gopher

Past editions of the "How To Beat .." series were focused on effective methods and means to beat Canids (Huskies and Bulldogs). Primarily those efforts required tools. A good sized stick cut from a Willow tree is my favorite. After all who doesn't get some satisfaction from beating a misbehaving dog? This week though it isn't Canid's that need a beating. It's the family Colubridae or perhaps Geomyidae or even Sciuridae; yikes ... which one is it? The Gopher's logo is actually a "Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel" which is in reality nothing like a gopher. In any case pretty much all of these sort of varmits are referred to as pests and/or vermin. Out on the prairies they're unmercilessly slaughtered by us Homo Sapiens with high powered rifles for "fun" and or poisoned en masse in their burrows. Not particularly sporting in either case. Actually none of the usual methods are a good metaphor in terms of getting some points this weekend. So ... What exactly can the Seawolves do to beat the Gophers?

Hit them. Hit them early. Hit them often. Hit them non-stop. Hit them from the first drop of the puck until just before shaking hands at the end of Saturday's game. Coming off a brutal weekend it is to be assumed that the Gophers will be looking for any opportunity to rebuild their confidence and get back to their nearly indomitable ways. No doubt they're glad to be playing the Seawolves this weekend. Series history is sqarely in their favor. The Gophers lead the series all-time substantially at 39-13-5. In Anchorage they're 18-8-3. Neither are numbers that are going to give any pride to Seawolves fans. In reality though past performance has little or no bearing on the current situation. The Gophers aren't 39-13-5 against this group of UAA players. In fact, they're 0-0-0 since this is the first time this season the two current teams have met.

Back to the hitting theme now. The Seawolves have made the physical game a big part of their strategy this year. They're counting the number of hits statistically and use 50 per game as a benchmark. Exceeding that benchmark will be necessary this weekend. If the Gophers sniff an opening they'll take it. Hitting them from the drop of the first puck and non-stop thereafter will eliminate any psychological openings. The 'Wolves have had any number of good physical efforts this season. But this weekend they'll have to put out even more in that sense for success. UAA will have to hit, bash, clobber, lambaste, pelt, smack, thump, pound, wallop, smash, and crunch. Speaking of crunching.

Getting Charlie Kronschnabel back from his broken leg will be a nice boost to that effort. Cap'n Kronsch had become the heart and soul of this squad before getting hurt. His warrior-like attempts to continue playing after he broke his leg against UMD was evidence of that. An initial hit in the corner broke his leg yet he got up. He was pounded again into the boards at that point yet rose a second time and got himself into a lane to attempt to block a UMD shot. It was singularly the most selfless act by a UAA player this season. When he's shown the sort of leadership on the ice it's made everyone else around him play harder. I'm certainly not clairvoyant but I do know this beforehand; Charlie will hit and hit often this weekend. With his leadership in that area this weekend the Seawolves will have a reasonable opportunity for success.

Of course all the regular cliche's apply this weekend. Stay out of the box and when you can't make sure you bust your ass on the PK. Find a way to make your power play opportunities pay off. Blocking shots and clogging lanes defensively is always important. Lawson and/or Olthuis will need to be sharp. Coach Shyiak will have a tactical advantage on home ice that may also be important. Getting the right lines out to counter the top two Gopher lines will be necessary. The play of Tuton, Corrin and Tassone will be key. If they can shut down Stoa, Okposo and whoever Lucia adds to that line this week then who knows. 4 points? I guess that's why they play the games.