Monday, August 27, 2007

God Bless Fairbanks

October 19th and 20th: UAA versus UAF at the Sullivan Arena, be there or be square. And bring your indignance. If your indignance tank is empty then just read on to get all filled up.

There are only a few things in this universe that I'm pretty sure about. One is that any visitors from another world sure as hell don't need a spaceship with lights. Anyone that sees a "UFO" that had lights, sure as hell didn't see a spaceship from another civilization. Do you really think some aliens sharp enough to build an interstellar spaceship to come visit Earth (from how ever many light years away) need flashing lights when they get here? Puhlease ...

The second is that traveling backwards in time isn't possible. If it was, then (either today or at some point in our history) someone from the future would have stopped by. Since they haven't then it's simple to conclude that traveling back in time isn't possible (without even having to mention the paradoxes that arise from the concept).

The third thing I'm sure about is that a University which is 397 miles east of, 371 miles south of and 275 miles north of the nearest ocean certainly shouldn't have an Institute of Marine Sciences department. Don't get me wrong. Alaska has more coastline than the rest of the United States combined and the comprehensive study of all things Ocean is completely and entirely necessary and I support it wholeheartedly. But having the center for that study located in the middle of Alaska is beyond stupid. This came to my attention today because the National Science Foundation approved 2.5 million dollars toward building UAF a 123 million dollar research boat, the Sun Star. What a joke.

We Alaskans all recognize that the state government has to artificially enhance the Fairbanks economy in order keep it... lets see ... um ... "afloat". Fairbanks had some geographic relevance about a hundred years ago as a key location for travel and trade amongst pioneers and gold seekers. It even had a sort of usefulness in the 70's as somewhere for pipeline workers to buy drugs and hookers. Unfortunately, in the modern world there is zero reason for Fairbanks to exist. So in order to keep Alaska something other than just Anchorage and a bunch of villages in the bush; the people of this state through their legislators have created the Fairbanks Welfare District. Fancy museums with ridiculous sound galleries and now a freaking boat to be parked in Seward are the latest in a long line of WELFARE thrown at the Golden Heart City to keep it from arresting.

The Omniscient Orifice (otherwise know as Shelia Toomey of the Alaska Ear) reported this past Sunday,
"Invitations are out for the installation of former UAA president Elaine Maimon as president of Governors State University in Illinois on November 3rd. Rumors persist that she got pushed out because she dared to defend UAA in the eternal Anchorage vs. Fairbanks campus war."
You couldn't make this kind of shit up if you tried. Thank God they have this joint up there.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sunday Potpourri

I'll have a Freshman class preview up pretty soon (a week or so). It isn't that it will take long to write it (since I don't know all that much about the rookies). It's just that I'm trying to spread what little real content (stuff other than posts like this) over a wide timeframe.

So I puttered around here a wee bit today and finally put up a new poll. Scroll down and tell me where in the league you think the Seawolves will finish. Also between now and the beginning of the season I've directed the "Bitty Browser" to the WCHA Blog. It's been showing The College Hockey (&other stuff) Blog for the last couple of months so as you cruise down the page take a look and see what sort of content Ryan has up. Besides his Rink and Road Trip rankings he promises a league-wide preview at some point. A daunting task to say the least. The best part will likely be the comments. I'm not saying he won't do a fine job on the preview but regardless of what his preview says there'll be more than a few folks show up to bash his conclusions.

Over at Runnin With The Dogs, the wonderful Donna says she is both "lazy" and "surly" (alas I thought I had those particular "states of being" copyrighted). I always appreciate her way with words and as a fellow hockey blogger she keeps me on my toes. Read her more often than you do ... k? Damien at LetsGoDU continues with his high quality bashing of all things CC this time picking on a kids sandwich toasting abilities. Man oh man ... UAF fans should be glad they just have to deal with me. Scary picture too.

Lastly, I noticed that Blogger has added the ability to post Video into the blog. I'm not talking about "Embedded" video but instead any personal video that I might have available. I don't have a video camera so don't expect much of that sort of thing here in the future but it is a nice upgrade. Speaking of "Embedded" video. I was cruising around YouTube the other day and thought I'd post a couple of videos (even though you may have seen them before). The first has a mom at a what looks to be a midget or high school game somewhere and she is pretty ... um ... distressed ... upset ... no, she's straight up pissed and letting the whole rink know it. It's both horrifying and hilarious. I'm unsure whether I want to punch the woman or marry her (I'm leaning toward a proposal). Like so much else here this video is definitely NC-17.

This second one doesn't need a lot of explanation but it's cool to look at. It's a "Will It Blend" spot featuring hockey pucks. My favorite part is when he puts his safety glasses on.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Ricky Don't Lose That Number

For a player the number on the back of your sweater can be an important thing. There are two basic lines of thought... the traditional and the nontraditional. I grew up playing soccer and pretty much always wore #10 or #11. It meant something to me. When I'd see a teammate pick something like #26 or #44 I'd just shake my head. I couldn't imagine why anyone would want a number that didn't indicate they were a starter (#2 through #11 are the traditional numbers for starting field players). In those personal circumstances I always preferred tradition.

As a hockey fan I tend to prefer tradition in most things, but I have come to appreciate one particular nontraditional aspect of the game. In recent years several Seawolves used nontraditional numbers and I liked it. Curtis Glencross wore #82. Justin Johnson palyed with #49 on his back in tribute to Alaska's inclusion as the 49th state in the U.S. Lee Green and Nick Lowe both wore #44. Brent McMann wore #94. Shea Hamilton wore #89. Eric Walsky liked #55. Nathan Lawson wore #52. Jay Beagle went with #71 in his sophomore season. This year though there's really none of that. Peter Cartwright wears #37 (and there are a few #37's in the WCHA) and Trevor Hunt with #42 is as exotic as it gets. In the NHL there are plenty of nontraditional numbers; Gretzky #99, Mario #66, Jagr #68, Chistov #54, Krog #40, Berezin #94, Nedved #93, Roenick #97, Cheechoo #45, Foote #52, Zubov #56, Satan #81, Federov and Goring #91, Holmstrom #96, Audette #82, Lindros #88, Esposito and Bourque and Coffey #77, Yashin #79 and Crosby #87 just to name a few. When Scott Gomez signed with the Rangers and lost #23 to Chris Drury in a coin toss I crossed my fingers he'd go with #49 since he is always proud of being from Alaska but he went with #19 ... sigh.

So what does all this mean? Nothing really I suppose. Perhaps all the players on this year's squad are boring traditionalists? Around the league there aren't too many nontraditonal numbers either. At MSU-M goaltender Dan Tormey wears #49 (does that make him an honorary Alaskan?). And that seems to be as weird as it gets this year in the league. But the WCHA isn't any more boring numbers-wise than the rest of college hockey it seems. A quick random check of 15 or so other Division I teams and I got pretty disheartened; not a #64 or #51 or #73 anywhere to be found ... sigh.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The 07-08 Sophomore Class

There is no doubt the most important class for the Seawolves this year is going to be the Sophomores. As they go; so goes UAA. If they shine then UAA is likely to shine. Never before have the disparate terms "super-soph" and "sophomore jinx" had more meaning for the Seawolves. Seven important skaters and the starting goaltender all in this one class. As freshman these guys contributed slightly more than one-third of the goals UAA scored last year. I think they underachieved on the whole even though they provided more than their fair share. There is no doubt that as a class they'll outperform the 06-07 class who only managed 13 goals last year.

Nils Backstrom came to the program just prior to the beginning of school last year. I'd have to say that Nils passing and skating are two of his best attributes. If he had one area to work on perhpas he could keep his head up more often but overall I'd give him good marks for vision. On more than one occasion he caught and dispossessed opposition forwards from behind. His skating has a that "Euro power" feel as he maximizes each and every stride. With the green light always on for Seawolf blueliners we should see more rushes from Nils this season. Though he never looked uncomfortable on D last year the experience he gained should give him more confidence this year. His brother tells me that Nils has been working hard this off-season and agrees that more shots from him would be a nice thing to see and would make folks on that side of "the pond" happy. I can't help but imagine Coach Shyiak will be looking for him to become more of a power play quarterback with both smart passing and timely shooting. Nils bagged one goal and added ten assists last year. Five goals and 20 assists shouldn't be more than he is capable of nabbing in 07-08. If he has a "super-soph" year he is capable of double digits in goals.

Kevin Clark is the first player at UAA in some time to be a true #9. He is fast, shifty, and gritty. He can blow past a defender, he can make some magic with the puck and he will put more than a couple of guys on their ass. I'm not going to say (yet) that he is the second coming of Dean Larson but he has that sort of potential and perhaps more. A perhaps less notable (but not unimportant) talent is his ability to get into the oppositions head. I greatly anticipated Kevin's first appearance on the ice last season. Unfortunately, it lasted all of about 8 seconds before he got tagged with a CFB and was booted. It was an inauspicious beginning (but also an indication of his passion to perform) and not the only penalty Kevin took last year (102 minutes led the team but his minors were 4th overall). As the season progressed though he learned some lessons about WCHA refereeing and managed to do what was most important for the team: stay out of the box and on the ice. His playmaking abilities are vital for his teammates and Kevin seems to have learned he can't bag any assists from the bleachers. If Kevin plays up to his potential as a sophomore he'll likely find himself honored with inclusion on an All-WCHA team. A "super-soph" year would yield around 20 goals and boatloads of assists.

Paul Crowder was more than just a pleasant surprise last season which is evidenced by the fact that I (stupidly) barely mentioned him in last years Freshman preview. With 11 goals and 13 assists he finished second on the team in scoring behind Justin Bourne. Paul has more than a few attributes that are strengths. His size (6ft 3in, 202lbs) makes him a physical presence in the offensive zone and he utilizes it well to control play deep in the zone. His reach and soft hands give him the ability to get to and hold pucks. He has good speed and quickness. He plays smart and utilizes his backhand as well as any college player. He sees his teammates well and can distribute the puck to them from anywhere on the ice. In his recent preseason profile on INCH Coach Shyiak noted that he'll be expecting Paul to use his skating to attack the defense through the neutral zone and take the puck to net more often. If Paul can make that happen he could lead the team in goals. Looking to pass first is always a nice attribute and I think that is Paul's natural style but he shouldn't underestimate his own finishing abilities.

Trevor Hunt was a bit of a platooning defenseman last season and missed 5 or 6 games with an ankle injury in the second half. But in his 15 games he showed a lot of promise and he did play in all three WCHA playoff games vs. Minnesota after returning from the injury. Trevor will certainly play many more games this season and doubtless make more contributions. I'm betting that pound for pound (5ft 10in, 193lbs) he is probably the strongest player on the team. He maintained good position and generally looked very comfortable on the ice. I remember a few rushes Trevor managed to make and they all were smart and effective. He was excellent along the boards and in front of his net. And he had one of the better +/- ratings on the squad. Trevor's excellent defensive work will be an important cog in the machine this year. Any production he adds to the bottom line will be a nice bonus.

Josh Lunden established himself as a force to be dealt with last season. He is the prototypical BCHL power forward and his 11 goals tied him with Crowder for the team lead in that category. He is never shy about banging bodies and has the size and strength (6ft 2in, 192lbs) to make that a very effective style. He breaks off the boards with the puck extremely well and often turns those situations into scoring chances. Josh's skating is not to be underestimated as he can definitely motor down the wing and beat opposition defenders to the puck. He has a nose for the net and some of his play might remind long time UAA fans of Rob Conn who made a living parked in the opposition crease. Josh 6 power play goals led the team and his 3 first goals tied for team lead. Josh will lekely see plenty of time on the power play this season. As a sophomore Josh should increase his production nicely. If he can live up to his potential and manage around 15 goals then he'll have done his job. A "super-soph" year for him would mean 20+ goals.

Jon Olthuis played in 14 games last season behind starter Nathan Lawson. Whether as a starter or coming in as relief I think he performed very well. Jon has a mixed style as he both stands up well squaing himself to shooters but can also be athletic when necessary. He has an excellent glove hand and handles the puck well enough. I saw no indication last season that Jon is prone to giving up big rebounds or that he has any bad habits. He is a big physical presence in the net at 6ft 3in. With a reasonably experienced defense in front of him the most important asset Jon will need to bring every night is consistency. He'll have to make the first save and the occasional second but the defense will need to do it's job this year and limit those extra chances. As with the rest of this sophomore class Jon will have to be successful for the team to have more success. I see no reason that Jonny O won't do well.

Ken Selby is a speed merchant in spades. He can straight up fly and was one of the fastest players in Canada among his age group. With a bit of a deeper roster last season, Ken saw action in only 12 games. When he played though, I made a specific effort to watch him. I liked what I saw. He has good hands and can handle the puck both at speed and in traffic. He didn't shy away from contact. In terms of production anything he can add will be beneficial. With regular play this season I expect Ken to be a breakaway threat. If I was the coach he'd definitely get chances as a penalty killer and in 4 on 4 situations where his speed could prove to be a huge asset. I'm always a big fan of speedsters so I'm definitely looking forward to seeing Ken play regularly this season.

Jared Tuton was on of my favorite players last season. Ya gotta love an underdog and Jared fits that definition. As a walk-on defenseman he was well down on the depth chart. But Coach Shyiak saw something that made him put Jared up on the wing and as a consequence Jared ended up playing in 36 games. Injuries in the lineup promoted Jared up from the 4th line a couple of times and he filled the role of a hard charging, hard checking physical winger very well. Many of the biggest hits in the opponents end last year were delivered by Jared. His punishing forechecking style brought the crowd to it's feet often. The summer before coming to UAA Jared was boating on a BC lake with friends when a plane crashed. Jared jumped into the water and helped the people from the plane to safety. He clearly has a lot of heart and character. Whether he breaks through this season and contributes goals or not I've got to believe he will be an valuable asset.

As I mentioned the performance of the sophomore class will be a very important factor for the Seawolves to have success in 07-08. As a team UAA netted 90 goals last season. If this years sophomore class can be "super-sophs" then they could pot more than half that total. Though still underclassmen these guys will have to provide some leadership. There is some pressure in that. Hopefully, my mention of the term "super-soph" here won't in itself be some sort of bad juju and bring on the "sophomore jinx". If that happens then I guess my loyal readers here will know who to blame. I hate being superstitious and mostly I'm superstitious about mentioning my superstitions. That's pretty messed up eh?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

WCHA 07-08: An Early Look

Last August 2nd I wrote my first early WCHA preview. This will be my second. So ... in alphabetical order:

Colorado College
I characterized CC's chances last year as something that would probably be "less than memorable". I wasn't right. After a rough start in October the Black Bears went 9-3 in November and December and finished the season with a better than .500 record and a 5th place WCHA finish. I wasn't the only one who didn't see that coming. Departures (Sterling, Sertich, Crabb) had seemed to doom CC's 06-07 season. Apparently nobody told the CC players. This year though is a different story entirely. With that 5th place finish last year and only two really significant players graduated, I'd have to say that there should be an expectation in Colorado Springs for the 07-08 team to have a helluva good season. The Black Bears return 4 of their top 5 scorers. Their recruiting class for this season may be small but it's all quality. Freshman goalie Richard Bachman might just provide competition for playing time for Drew O'Connell. Tyler Johnson could prove to be the top rookie in the WCHA. UAA fans know that Eric Walsky has mad skills. And Nick Dineen is apparently no slouch. Look for this team to go deep into the NCAA's. You heard it here first.

University of Denver
Perhaps the most difficult team to predict this year, the Pioneers have a number of challenges to overcome in order to be successful. They've lost significant scoring from last season (Dingle, Paukovich) . They've lost significant defensive players (Seabrook). But they do have 4 of their top 6 scorers back. Their incoming class is pretty promising. Bozak scored shitloads in the BCHL. Jesse Martin's skills are liked by scouts. Kyle Ostrow brings a boatload of BCHL points as well. DU fans are mostly sandbagging their chances but another 4th place finish isn't out of the question. Then again neither is a 7th place finish out of the realm of possibility. There is a a small question of defensive experience and goaltender Peter Mannino will be asked to carry a big load that he has otherwise shared in his first 3 years between the pipes. If Rakhshani, Ruegsegger, Trotter and the new recruits can put big enough numbers up then it should be closer to 4th. If opponents are able to key on and shut down those players then Gwoz will have a hard time getting his team into the NCAA's. My guess is that someone on the squad will have to step up and perform exceptionally well above expectations otherwise it's a rebuilding year just off I-25.

Michigan Tech University
The real Huskies of the WCHA were a pleasant surprise in Houghton last year. I expected they'd be decent but predicted they were probably a year away from making any noise. I was wrong. They made some noise last year. That leaves me to expect one of the most successful years in 07-08 that MTU fans have seen in more than a quarter of a century. A bit of a hiccup with one of their promising recruits (Pierro-Zabotel won't play until the second half) isn't the end of the world with a strong core of returning players. The Huskies should be the best defensive team in the league this year with probably the most experienced blueliners and should have very balanced scoring. Teslak and Nolan are both very capable and experienced netminders. Jamie Russell's most difficult job this year might be to keep a huge grin off his mug. 6 of their top 7 scorers return. Unless there is some sort of ugly meltdown off the ice the real Huskies could do something that Huskies II (St. Cloud) have never done; win an NCAA game.

University of Minnesota
While several underclassmen left the Gopher program since the end of the 06-07 season but only one of them is really significant. Alex Goligoski was the shit. Cool headed and talented he was the heart of the Gopher defense over the last couple of years. Yes, they lost super-stud Erik Johnson but honestly what did he bring to the table other than power play assists? If he'd stuck around he would likely have been a dominating player but as a freshman he was not much more than utilitarian. The recent O'Brien loss wasn't significant in my mind either. The only other event of real interest is Mike Carman won't play the first half of 07-08. But as with every other season, the Gophers don't have to rebuild. They just reload. The bulk of scoring will come from Barriball, Okposo, Wheeler and Stoa. Expecting anything less than another top three WCHA finish would seem to be folly. Lucia should have the fewest problems he's had in years especially if he makes sure John Hill wears the required protective headgear.

University of Minnesota-Duluth
No Matt Niskanen and no Mason Raymond don't spell doom in Duluth but they are both big early losses as they were #1 and #2 in scoring. The #3 scorer Brian McGregor graduated. #4 scorer MacGregor Sharp returns but he only scored 11 goals last year. The next leading goal total came from freshman Drew Akins with 7. The Bulldogs have a couple of nice recruits coming in (Fontaine, Dorr) but I don't see anyone that looks to set the league on fire scoring-wise. Defensively, they should be at least as effective as they were last season. I wouldn't like to characterize goaltending as a problem for UMD. Alex Stalock is talented and a very effective puck handler but he had some unsteadiness in his play that makes him a bit suspect in my mind. If he handles the big workload well and doesn't go all "head case" then UMD could prove to be a difficult opponent in the WCHA playoffs although that will almost certainly be on the road.

Minnesota State, Mankato
I said DU was a difficult team to predict. They share that honor with perennially difficult to predict Mavericks. I'm not sure who likes Troy Jutting other than the admin that renewed his contract (and perhaps some of his players). It's difficult to find any fan on the Internet who has anything good to say about the guy. But every year he manages to pull a few big upsets here and there. There's no Travis Morin to carry the puck all over the ice and not pass it to anyone this season. That's a good thing and a bad thing. Morin popped in 17 goals last season and the Mavericks will miss that production a bit. But I saw little from him in terms of being a team player on the ice and so his departure probably bodes well. 3 forwards with good numbers return (Hanson, Kalinski and Berge) and some of their freshman began to produce late in the year. I'd think attitude will be a big factor for any success the 07-08 squad might have. I don't expect anything spectacular from any of the incoming freshman but one or two may surprise. Goaltending should be at least adequate and defensively the team is reasonably solid even though stud junior Steve Wagner left after the end of the season. Where in the bottom half they'll finish is anyone's guess but with the weirdly tempermental Jutting at the helm they'll almost certainly be on the road come WCHA playoff time.

University of North Dakota
I definitely underestimated UND last season. I guess what I really missed badly was the performance of Hobey Baker winner Ryan Duncan. I didn't even mention the guys name in my preview. I certainly wouldn't have pegged them as a Frozen Four participant. But there's definitely something to be said for their continued excellent 2nd half performances. It was a trait of the team under Dean Blais and it has continued under Dave Hakstol. Goaltending in my mind is a big question in Grand Forks. Lamoureux played 37 games last season and would have played more but for an early season injury. Consider me a Lammy skeptic. There'll be a lot of pressure on him to play a lot of games this coming season and while he had good numbers I'm attributing much of that to team defense and limiting quality shots. Lots of folks would disagree with me about Lammy. They have a bit of a tougher schedule this year as well, though that isn't reason enough to downplay their chances. This squad has the potential to finish in the top half of the league (lots of people expect them to win the league) but I believe last year was exceptional and unlikely repeatable. I'm not sure they'll be an NCAA participant. Sue me.

St. Cloud State
One Bob gone and one Bob still there. The two Bob's combined for a nice season last year and the supporting cast turned out nicely (especially freshman Lasch and Nodl). From the middle of November until the beginning of February SCSU won 15 games and only lost 2. Then came the seemingly inevitable swoon going 5-6-2 in Feb/Mar with their standard first round NCAA playoff face-washing loss. Will the 07-08 fake Huskies fare any better? I'm doubtful. To match their 2nd place finish they'll have to get equivalent goaltending to Goepfert. And that is a crapload of talent to replace. I estimate he was single-handedly responsible for at least 6 of their wins last year. Nodl and Lasch are likely to continue their good production but unlikely to improve it by much. Defensively the team lost a lot of experience to graduation and without Mr. StopEverything how can they be better? Weslosky will likely be adequate in goal and a huge freshman netminder (6'5") could pose a challenge to opponents. A big incoming class with at least 3 elite players should help but none of these incoming "studs" are blueliners. Unless SCSU can outscore everyone they could find themselves on the road for the WCHA playoffs.

I overestimated Bucky last year. I gave too much credit to their always excellent defensive play and (like everyone else) didn't see the scoring deficit coming. I placed a lot of weight on their drafted youngsters and expected them to produce. They didn't. But with a year of experience under their belt I'd have to think this year that they'll make up for last years deficit. The addition of Kyle Turris can't do anything but help. I said in the CC section that Tyler Johnson could turn out to be the best rookie in the league. In order to do so Kyle Turris will have to dramatically underachieve. Whoever plays on a line with Turris will likely have career best numbers. Goaltending is a bit of a small question in Madison but don't expect that to hold them back. A year without NCAA participation is a big deal on State Street in Madison and probably not something they'll have to experience in 07-08. For the rest of the league's sake lets just all hope Turris only stays one year. It might not be enough for the Red menace to get to Denver for the Frozen Four but don't count on it.

Last season saw the highest degree of parity in the WCHA in memory. The difference in points between first and last place was the smallest in more than a decade. It created a situation where only three teams made it to the NCAA's. I think this season will see much the same results. Perhaps 4 teams will get into the show but don't count on it as it will likely take an upset in the Final Five to get 4 teams in. Every year I hope that UAA can manage to earn a home playoff spot. This year is no different and while the talent on the squad is just about as good as it has ever been, getting home ice this year will be an even bigger challenge. Look for the middle of the league (3rd to 8th) to be extremely tight points-wise.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The 07-08 Junior Class

Brian Bales, Shane Lovdahl and Mat Robinson are the sum total of this years Seawolf Junior class. As I mentioned in the Senior class preview, they provided 21 goals to the team scoring total as Juniors. Setting that as a goal for this years Junior class might seem to be overly optimistic, but I have to say I don't think it is out of the range of possibilities.

Brian Bales is the biggest unknown for me. His numbers in the USHL steadily improved over his three years at Sioux City (11g-7a, 10g-14a and 20g-41a). He was Captain during 04-05 season and was named USHL Player of the Week twice. Then frankly something went bust with his BGSU situation (12 games in two seasons). I find nothing on the Internets to give me a clue as to why and I don't want to speculate. He played this summer in the SEHL and was something like 7th or 8th on the league scoring table and played the full schedule of games. I think the best case scenario for the team is if Brian produces somewhere near what Jay Beagle might have if he'd stayed. So why not 6 or 7 goals for him with 10 assists? The worst case scenario is that he plays in 12 games for UAA over the next two years. I'll hope for the first possibility.

Shane Lovdahl has a cannon. It's hidden inside his stick. In limited power play chances as a freshman he used that heavy shot and earned 4 goals with 9 assists. Respectable numbers for a freshman in a tough league. But Shane never got on track as a Sophomore and stuggled in the classroom becoming ineligble for the second half of the season. Assuming his classwork situation is under control I'd expect to see some of the same sort of upperclassman leadership from Shane this year. UAA's power play needs to improve this year in order for the team to have more success. Shane's shot is a quality resource that Coach Shyiak will need to look to in order to help improve the power play. Chad Anderson scored a number of good goals from the blueline last year but you know what? They were pretty much all wristers with eyes. Five goals and 10 assists seem like a reasonable goal to attain.

Mat Robinson meets the definition of the undersized puck rushing gritty defenseman. In his own end Mat is very determined along the boards and usually comes out with the puck. He's got soft hands and excellent wheels. He could play winger and would do so with aplomb. I've liked pretty much everything I've seen from Mat. He knows how to clear the zone with both quality passes and smart skating. He has the prowess to make rink long rushes and the speed to get back and cover. In his first two seasons I've seen Coach Shyiak leave the green light on for defensemen to jump into the offense. With the experience of his first two years I'm hoping that Mat has the confidence needed to insert himself offensively more often. Last year he bagged 2 goals and 7 assists but if he is able to find more chances this season he could easily triple his goals scored and double his assists.

Production from the blueline will be an important facet of UAA's play this year in order to have improvement from last years 10th place finish. Mat Robinson and Shane Lovdahl as upperclassmen should be in a position to contribute their share. So, I hope my assertion that this class is capable of producing as much as last years Junior class isn't completely out of left field. Around 20 goals? Why not? Sue me I'm optimistic. As with their Senior class teammates all three of these guys will have to contribute to team cohesion and attitude with their leadership on and off the ice. There are responsibilities that come with being an upperclassman. Let's all hope these three upperclassmen are up to it.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Roster Updated; Two New Players

The official roster on the Seawolf website was updated today and it has a few surprises. There are two new additions; an Anchorage kid back from the CCHA and a local goalie. Brian Bales skated 7 games for BGSU as a freshman. He played in 5 as a sophomore before leaving the team. I'm unsure why he had so little success there since he had a solid USHL career (6th on the league scoring charts in 04-05) including at least one Player of the Week award. With the exception of his time at Bowling Green it is an all around nice resume. My assumption is that he'll be a Junior but won't be eligible for at least 5 games? The second addition is a third goalie (and another local kid) Aaron Mayo. Aaron played for South High School but I don't see where he played midget or junior hockey so I've got no links. At some point I'd expect the school will have some sort of release making these announcements.

The third surprise is two recruits whose names are absent from the roster. Chris Rengert and Jeff Carlson do not appear on the updated roster. Whether this means they didn't make it through the NCAA clearinghouse or changed their mind or the school changed their mind would all be speculation at this point. Their names don't show up on the LOI list at the GNAC conference website but that really isn't indicative of anything in particular. My assumption here is that not being on the updated roster means that they won't be in school.

I'll probably have the Jr. Class preview up sometime before the weekend is done. Hopefully, between now and then I'll have more information about Brian Bales. Know anything? Email me.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Paul Crowder Profiled on INCH

As part of Inside College Hockey's A-Z series this pre-season, Paul Crowder has been profiled. INCH seems to be doing a relatively good job writing these A-Z player profiles. It has got to be substantially more work than it first appears so I'm not going to be critical in any way. But I can certainly add some information.
Crowder's 24 points last season were the most by a Seawolf rookie since 1992-93 (Alaska Anchorage's first go-round in the WCHA) when the immortal Petri Tuomisto scored 26 points.
Nice information. It's likely that I wouldn't have tracked down that nugget. Potentially more interesting is that two other rookies trailed closely: Josh Lunden at 20pts and Kevin Clark at 17pts. Having three rookies perform well enough to be close to a 15 year old statistical high bodes well for the next three years eh?

Mike Eidelbes (pronounced IDLE-BUS ... and by the way a perfect name for writing about hockey) goes on to characterize the team positively:
Despite a 10th-place finish in the WCHA last year, the Seawolves have plenty on which to build. UAA won the season-opening Nye Frontier Classic, beat rival Alaska thrice to capture the Governor's Cup, swept a series from eventual Frozen Four participant North Dakota, and sat two games above .500 on New Year's Day before losing 13 of its last 17 games.
One team accomplishment he missed was the win on Gopher home-ice during the WCHA playoffs (a first for any WCHA team since they started playing at Mariucci). But a tidbit like that is usually only embraced by folks like us that follow the program closely. The highlight of the article for me is the summary of Shyiak's plan for Crowder this year.
Crowder, naturally, will be crucial to the Seawolves' continued growth. Specifically, Shyiak would like to see the forward, who typically looks to pass first and shoot second, to take the puck to the net and fire away. He'll also encourage Crowder to use his skating ability to gain more speed through the neutral zone on the rush, forcing defensemen to make a hasty decision — either step up and have Crowder run you over or sidestep you, or drop back and give him the time and space to create scoring chances.
And finally Shyiak's direct comments about Paul:
"His greatest attribute is consistency, and he's very, very coachable. He's great on faceoffs, is a good penalty killer, has solid defensive awareness and is an effective fore-checker. He can play the finesse game, but he also likes to hit [and] play a physical brand of hockey."
All in all (as I said before) a very well done profile which exceeds what I'm capable of doing due to my lack of "media" credentials. I'll just continue to hang my hat on my observations of Paul's excellent use of a tool that seems to be missing from many young players; a quality backhand shot. Pretty close to half of Crowder's goals last year came on the backhand.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Sunday Potpourri

No hockey content here today. I'm pretty sure it's the first time. In any case, I've sometimes been desirous to spew about a few things I think or what I find cool. I have been previously hesitant to do so for a number of reasons but finally decided that you don't have to read it if you don't want to. Anyhow, for now I'm just going to point out a few places that I go on the Internet when I'm not surfing hockey sites.

When I grew up I wanted to be an Astronomer. Didn't happen. The next plan was to be the amateur version since Astronomy is the one scientific pursuit where it is possible (and amateurs have made many great discoveries). Then I ended up in Alaska. When the weather here is good enough to stand outside there isn't enough darkness to do any observing. So I'm left to be just a fan. I think we'd live in a better world if the people involved in the activities I'm about to describe (and so many like them in other scientific endeavors) were compensated as well and admired as much as our professional athletes.

There are a number of telescope sites I visit regularly. The Hubble Space Telescope is my first stop for pictures and discoveries about the heavens in general. The picture on the left is from the Hubble's Deep Field collection. They pointed the telescope at a small dark patch of space then pointed it at another small dark area in that patch and snapped the picture. I encourage you to click on the picture for the larger version to appreciate just how many galaxies are beyond the single dark sport they originally focused on. Click on this link to the 1 meg version of the picture. Should be enough to remind us of our true place in the Universe. The bigger fascination I have with regard to Astronomy is the search for extrasolar planets. So far the catalog includes 212 planets orbiting nearby stars (typically they've search stars from just a few to over a hundred light years away). I'm a believer that Mankind is wired for exploration and settlement, so ultimately we'll have colonies of people living on some as yet undiscovered extrasolar planet(s). It may take some sort of generational ship to get there but it will happen. With little or no technology man spread over the face of this planet 5,000 years ago with huge obstacles. 40 or 50 light years distance isn't going to stop us now that we have technology. As yet though the astronomers haven't found any earth-like candidates. To rectify that problem NASA is planning a mission called the Terrestrial Planet Finder Interferometer. It will be a telescope located in space which will be able to cancel the light from the star it is searching and for the first time see the planets orbiting distant stars. It is the tool which will find "Earth 2" or whatever it gets named where some of our descendants will be living someday.

There are several big "space" stories I've followed since before their launches; the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and the series of probes and landers sent to Mars over the last half-decade in particular. In 2004 the Cassini-Huygens craft arrived at Saturn. It's trajectory for orbital insertion included a 25,000 mph dive through a small gap in Saturn's ring. Since arriving in the neighborhood it launched the Huygens probe to the surface of Titan where it found a frozen hydrocarbon wasteland.

Probably my favorite picture from the catalog is Enceladus in the picture to the left. Enlarging the picture you can see some distinct topographical features on the lower right which regularly expel large quantities of water vapor. There is an absolute ton of great pictures in the Cassini-Hugens gallery. Including this great picture of Jupiter when Cassini flew past. Then there is this cool pic of Saturn's southern region and pole. Or there is this great ring picture. I like this picture of Titan and Enceladus together. Here is a set of pictures of Titan taken in different wavelengths. And here is a great picture of some of the terrain on Titan. The Cassini mission is unprecedented in the amount of data and science discoveries it has provided.

I can't imagine a human being that in some sense doesn't share a fascination to some degree with our neighbor Mars. 2 mission with 3 spacecraft have given us more information about Mars in the last 5 years than all previous missions combined. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has the ability to image surface details down to just a few yards in size. It's been in orbit for less than a year and has returned enough data to fill 2000 CDs. It is currently monitoring one of the occassional (every 5 or 6 years) global duststorms that envelope the planet. I have spent more than the ocassional otherwise bored hour or two on the Mars Exploration Rover pages. Originally expected to last about 90 days the twin MER's have been going at it for about 3 years. The images below are two of the many incredible panorama's available in the Rover galleries.

Click either of the images to see each (about 350k) image. The coolest thing about the MER site for me is the availability of 200/300 megabyte images that I've saved to CD. I plan to edit them and then have graphic quality framed images made. The idea of having some cool panoramas of Mars hanging nicely on the walls appeals to me for some reason. I suppose it makes me imagine being there and what an amazing experience that would be. I know it won't be so for me but it will be for someone in my daughter's generation and I'll love watching it happen.

Science is my primary fascination outside of writing this blog. I intended this post to be longer and include discussion about things like Emergence. I would have enjoyed mentioning my head spinning but ultimately inept interest in all things Quantum. But I didn't really find the time this evening (since I was busy saving another bloggers life) to add some of my other fascinations. Maybe another time. I hope I've properly defined these interests of mine as more than just passing and certainly much less than expert. I am just a fan.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The 07-08 Senior Class

Left to right, Luke Beaverson, Peter Cartwright, Chris Tarkir, Blair Tassone and Merit Waldrop are the Seawolves 07-08 Senior Class. As a group these guys will be pretty easy to thank at the end of the season because regardless of the success they help the team reach this year they've each already contributed handsomely during their previous three seasons. First, here's a breakdown of what each guy brings to the table. Following those descriptions will be my assessment of what this group needs to deliver on the ice in 07-08.

Luke Beaverson's career at UAA occurred as a result of North Dakota asking him to play another year in juniors before attending; after 2 years in the USHL Luke said he wasn't interested so UND freed him from their bondage. Then UAA offered and Luke accepted. If I haven't misread things he's said in the past, he couldn't be happier with his choice; "love it here" should be an accurate quote. And speaking for UAA fans we're damn happy to have him. He is a huge presence (6'5" 228lbs) in the defensive zone. His hitting and defensive work have always been a keystone of his play but he's steadily increased his offensive contributions. As a senior I expect Luke to carry the puck confidently when he has a chance. His decisions with the puck have gotten better each year and I expect we'll see very mature play from him this season. Luke has a heavy shot which has been under-utilized and hopefully he'll get more opportunities to unleash it this season. As a fresman Luke tallied 2 assists in 37 games. As a sophomore he netted his 1st collegiate goal and added 3 helpers. Last season Luke put 5 into the twine with 4 assists.

Peter Cartwright is a four year local boy success story. As a freshman and a sophomore Peter competed hard to earn every minute of ice time. During his rookie campaign he played in 28 games and came away with 4 goals with 6 assists in only 20 shot attempts for the season. In his second year he played just 25 games adding 2 goals and 1 assist. Last season was his best to date with 5 goals and 7 assists in 37 games. Peter can be characterized as an energy guy or even (god forbid) a grinder ... someone's gotta be it. At 6' 1" 200lbs he brings good size into the corner and/or in front of the net. He's capable of the more than occasional nifty play to either set up a linemate or finish himself. Last year he led the team in shorthanded points.

Chris Tarkir's career at UAA had a nice start with 6 goals and 5 assists as a freshman. His second year say 8 goals and 6 assists. As a junior though Chris only managed to bury 1 puck with 4 assists. The 76 penalty minutes last year are a small signal of what kind of frustrating season it must have been for him. Chris is clearly capable of burying more pucks. He has a good shot and skates well with both speed and control. Perhaps he was bearing down a bit too much and/or gripping the stick a bit too tightly. His size (6'2" 200lbs) and maturity though should serve him well as a senior if he remembers two words from his freshman year; Martin Stuchlik. Before his senior year Martin was ready to walk away from hockey. He was ready to hang his 4 career goal total on the wall. Coach Hill encouraged him to stay and told him to just go out and have fun. Stoolie promptly did so and banged in 12 goals as a senior contributing to UAA's playoff win versus Wisconsin and first Final Five appearance.

Blair Tassone is nothing less than a spark plug. He hits much bigger than he actually is (5'11" 193lbs). Blair has skated a lot of 3rd and 4th line hockey over his first three years and has often been paired with Peter Cartwright. His energetic play can singlehandedly raise the level of play by the team during a game. In his first two seasons Blair managed to get into just 31 games and contributed 3 goals and 2 assists, all of which came during his freshman year. Last season Blair skated in 23 games and scored 1 goal with 2 assists. Blair is an excellent penalty killer and not shy about standing up for his teammates.

Merit Waldrop has been one of my favorite players since he was a freshman and he's another local boy done good. His speed and skating are a valuable asset. He's a bit gritty. He is a very adept puck handler and more than a few times I've seen him do marvelous things with the puck though, he is probably the all time career leader in posts and crossbars at UAA. If not that, it's some goalie pulling something huge out of his ass to rob Merit. As a freshman he notched 5 goals and 9 assists. His sophomore season he scored 7 goals and added 1 assist. Last season he put 5 away with 14 assists. Merit has the skills to potentially double his output from last year. He would certainly deserve it too.

So what do these 5 guys need to contribute this season to help the team succeed? The first and most obvious is leadership. They need to set a good example to the underclassmen both on and off the ice. They should be fostering a great attitude among the team. This is a pretty good group in terms of that sort of leadership. I mentioned the Martin Stuchlik story earlier and its a lesson that is probably applicable to all 5 of these guys. Play the game this season for the love of the game. If they can each slough off whatever distractions arise (yes yes ... other than homework) and enjoy playing their last year in a Seawolf sweater then it will be a season well spent. I believe that sort of positive attitude will pay big results on the ice for both these guys individually and the team as a whole. Aside from those generalities the team will need more production from all five of these players. As a group last year they managed just 18 goals (only 11 percent of the team total). Bettering that total to 30 is certainly something for which this group has the potential and doesn't seem to be an unrealistic goal to shoot for overall.