Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sunday Potpourri: Corrupt Bastards Edition

This past week saw the second conviction of one of our state legislators for illegally taking money from oil industry ne'er do well and general all around scumbag Bill Allen. We're still in the petty crimes version of nailing some self-anointed members of the Corrupt Bastards Club. Of the first two convictions I don't think any single bribe exceeded $7,000. The other non-members of that unofficial Club (yet equally greed ridden) continue to be investigated and can look forward to serving time for their disservice to the public. Some of them include pocket-lining in the multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's all pretty entertaining stuff especially when the bastard convicted this week is named "Kott". I loved the irony this past week when Ben Stevens (Uncle Ted's vile spawn) called into a radio show to proclaim his innocence all while saying he and daddy would never give the federal prosecutors what they wanted. Apparently, this great American isn't too fond of the judicial system; I don't doubt he'd be singing it's virtues had he not been "Kott". I mention all this purely for the fun of pissing and dancing on the beds they themselves made. Sleep in it boys. Now onto some hockey talk.

I've added another in a growing list of firsts for the College Hockey Blogverse. Look on the right hand side and you'll find a widget through which you can send a text message to my cell phone. Just like the comment section here you can maintain your anonymity if you wish. It's simple to use as RunninWithTheDogs blogger Donna can attest. I got up early yesterday to watch the Fulham FC vs. Chelsea game (started at 6AM) because I wanted to see all the moaning about the departure of Jose Mourinho aka "The Special One". I'm not sure what was so special about a guy that knew how to spend his bosses money to get good players and then let them do their job. Perhaps it was the massively special nature of his grandiose ego. In any case, I'd found this text widget a couple of months ago and decided to debut it at the beginning of the season. So, bleary eyed at about 5:30 in the morning, I stuck the thing on the page. To my great surprise I received the first text message (from the aforementioned Donna) about 30 minutes later:
"I'm using this widget merely to be annoying"
My Reply:
"At 6am no less, you sure accomplished that goal nicely"
And then she says:
"It is 9am"
And I say:
"In crazyland"
Some minutes later I'm startled again by the phone beeping:
"Well I don't know that you are in a position to judge who is crazy"
So naturally, instead of trying to watch the game and send another damn text message (and because I didn't have anything to "one-up" that comment), I made an actual phone call to chide this Bulldog loving person. I mean there's no way that I can look at the TV and push the little buttons. To end this harassment and allow me to cringe at Fulham's inability to finish, I had to take action. And somewhere during the 15 minute conversation (after me explaining the whole time-zone concept) with RWD I find out she's texting me from her car while driving. I guess I do know where "crazyland" is. Fulham couldn't beat the evil Chelsea though, but the draw was fun to watch and I got to see a bunch of spoiled rotten fans walk out at halftime in protest. It reminded me of a certain spoiled rotten college hockey group of wanker fans. Anyway, the intent of the texting widget is to give you the reader another venue to express yourself to me. I'm hoping some insider will fill it with valuable data ala "Deep Throat" (the Watergate one not the movie one) but I anticipate most of what I get will be some sort of adolescent crowing from some WCHA or UAF fan that won't be able to resist if their team manages a win against the mighty Seawolves. I'll see how it goes. If it gets out of hand it's easy for me to delete the thing. Send me a text, eh? Now onto some hockey talk.

The new Seawolf Forum at Bornintheak is going great guns. Membership still isn't as high as I'd hoped for but most of the 20 or so registered are participating regularly and contributing great information and useful ideas. Please sign up if you haven't done so. It's painless; nobody is going to crap on anything you have to say; in the short term it's a chance to interact with a great group of fans and in the long term it will be a chance to contribute something useful to the program. In a couple of months, I'll compile the best suggestions for improving attendance and atmosphere at the Sully and the forum membership can decide how best to submit that to those in charge of such things. Got an idea? Sign up and share it. Regular readers will know that I don't spend any blog time covering Alumni of the program. I don't do so because when I started the blog I decided to keep the focus squarely on current players. But there is a thread over at Bornintheak that is doing a great job of updating that information. Did I say sign up? Now onto some hockey talk.

I won't be attending the exhibition game in Wasilla versus SAIT (I ain't typing all that out). So I'm hoping that someone who reads here and does attend the game will email me a report. It's something I'd like to get from anyone attending any road game this season that isn't available on TV. A pair of eyes giving impressions is an important thing. So I'm encouraging that from you fine readers as well. I don't care if you think you can't write ... if you can write I'll publish it unchanged, if you can't, I'll expertly edit it for you and then publish it. I know there are Seawolf fans at virtually every road game. I hear you on the radio and see you on the TV. Gimme some info and I'll share it here. That's what this joint is supposed to be all about. Now onto some hockey talk.

Ok ok, you "Kott" me. I'm not actually posting anything about the team today. I've got to get busy writing a Seawolf preview for the readers over at the BU Hockey Blog in anticipation of the UAA/BU game (they got picked for 3rd by Hockey Least coaches and as you probably know the Seawolves got picked for 10th by WCHA coaches; so the teams should be pretty closely matched). I'm hoping to get mine to him before he gets his to me and then we can simutaneously publish. Naturally, I'll link to it.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

It Is Definitely Palpable

I went to a practice today. Three and three-quarter miles in a straight line from my front door to the main entrance at the UAA Sports Center. It's just a degree or two from being directly east and the mid-afternoon crosstown traffic gave me plenty of chances to anticipate the destination. It was a gorgeous fall afternoon; some puffy white clouds on the north and west horizons with the warm sun still high in the sky but definitely beginning it's southerly transition. The first solid layer of termination dust cap the highest peaks of the Chugach Mountains and was ever-present in my gaze as I stopped at virtually every single red light. It's like that in the afternoon in Anchorage. If you're going North or South the traffic light timing favors you. It wasn't a problem though, instead of being concerned about how long the light would remain red; my senses were filled with the deep blue skies and all the foliage in various states of decline from the green of summer . The air was crisp but not cold and even almost tangy as it flowed into the car windows at 35mph. There is no denying it's fall. But for a late September day a bit above the 60th latitude it was pretty damned nice. The official high was 50 but it sure felt warmer.

The Sports Center is completely awash in fall colors. Good landscaping ya know; a quality mix of shrubs and trees that turn different colors and do so at different rates which nature really cannot match. The grass was freshly cut probably for the last time. I couldn't quite figure out whatever parking rules are in place this time around. As long as I've hit that campus it has seems to be different each year. Now they have a drive through automated parking attendant for visitors to pay. You can't operate the thing from a sitting position and of course when I got out of the seat I found "Robopark" completely dead. Woohoo! Free parking, I didn't need the quarters I'd brought! It had taken almost 25 minutes to negotiate the 10 or so red lights I hit along the way and when I made my way up the stairs the Zamboni was making the final couple of laps and about 15 players were waiting on the benches. With the Zam off the ice everyone else came onto the sheet. Coaches Blair and Whitten followed directly after and practice commenced with a few quick warmup laps. It was just enough to create that "rink wind" and waft the slightly pungent smell from the collective stank of the equipment. Yeah man. Hockey season is definitely palpable. There's no debating it. It isn't just the weather and the rink sounds and smells. It's palpable on Uncle Ted's big series of tubes as well. Fan forums are becoming busier and the newbies and trolls are making thier first dutiful appearances. All the leagues have released their yearly coaches polls. I got a hit today from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia from a Google search for "neutral zone trap". The three main websites for our beloved sport are updating regularly and bloggers like me (as well as fans like you) are feeling the fever. Sadly the main news of the day is that one of the four teams we UAA fans will be watching in the Nye tourney in a couple of weeks is beginning it's final season. No wonder I didn't get an answer from Wayne States blogger when I inquired about exchanging team previews last month.

There isn't much I can say about any indivdual player with my three year old vision prescription which clearly needs updated. Little yellow numbers on the backs of speeding green helmets were really just too difficult to pick up on a consistent basis. I liked what I saw of enthusiasm and effort overall. New goalie Matthew Gordon looked solid and I mentally noted how quickly he went from standing to butterfly and back to standing. He has a nice compact stance as well; he also collected and handled the puck well behind the net. Aaron Mayo definitely has the sharpest helmet of all three goalies. Jonny O has the same paint job as last year which is something I meant to ask him about when I spoke with him at the picnic and Matthew has the plain white. All the drills had both clearly defined offensive and defensive purposes. Nobody seemed to be dogging it and certainly there were some rookies giving it their all in hopes of impressing and earning ice time. Passing was crisp and more often than not, it was tape to tape.

My eyes were able to discern that all the defensemen were in white shirts with the forwards split into groups of three wearing black, grey, green, gold, and dark blue (thank god there was no orange since I failed that color in 1st grade). Kevin Clark, Josh Lunden and Paul Crowder were linemates but as I've said I couldn't be definitive about any other combo. I spent most of my visual energy focused on skates. I like to see how a player uses his edges and turns his feet over; I like compact powerful efficient strides; I don't like choppy skaters whose ankles look to turn over at any particular moment. I like to watch for guys that get to speed with the most efficiency. An easy way to summarize my skating fascination would be to say; I like to watch Mat Robinson skate. Laura Stamm would love Mat. None of that reflects on other skaters of course. And sometimes guys that can't skate worth a damn have a knack for scoring goals (former Nanook Aaron Voros and former Badger Jake Dowell come to mind; both of whom I saw score more than just a couple of goals off their thighs). I saw some good smarts from guys during the drills that allowed them the freedom to be creative. I saw a couple of players that perhaps need to be reminded to keep moving their feet and forget about relying on their stick trying to gain position on an opponent. Pretty much every drill had rink long implications which was also good to see. Coach Shyiak has talked about continuing the effort toward that sort up and down game. He's got a group of blueliners this year that will contribute to that philosophy. Of course it all contributes to my already optimistic outlook. Not long now to see how it all begins and follow the progress. Are we there yet?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Heading Into the Season

There's been nothing new in the past week or so; and there'll be nothing new in this post. Instead, I'm simply going to link to and summarize the preseason items I've talked about over the last couple of months for those who actually did take the summer off.

To begin getting ready for the season I wrote a letter to incoming recruits called (of all things) "Dear Incoming Recruits". Besides having that inventive and dare I say catchy title it contained a couple of important bits of such as this paragraph,
We hate Fairbanks ergo you hate Fairbanks. OK? Seriously, we never want to lose to them again. You don't either. On board with that? The "Governors Cup" is a big deal to UAF fans and denying them it, is why you're here. Following the the general trend now? Seawolf > Nanook. It's just that simple. Ingrain it on your psyche. Burn it in your memory. Never forget. They hate freedom. We love freedom. Fairbanks bad. UAA good. The ticket is free to get on the "Hate-FBX" bus, so jump on it and stay on it. Comprende? Ok then ... the less said about Fairbanks the better.
Those weren't my only words of imagined wisdom in the post. I warned about some of the queer things they might see on the road and let them know we care. Apparently Goon from the UND blog didn't think I was as anti-Sioux as I could have been. I'll keep trying but he needs to remember that nobody is perfect and of course I have to spread the "anti" around the league to ensure nobody feels left out.

Following that exercise I spent August writing fairly extensive profiles on each returning class of players; the Seniors then the Juniors and then the Sophomores. These were all pretty easy posts to write since I'm pretty familiar with the squad. Hopefully, they all contained observations about each player that were somehow insightful; but in the least I hope they were accurate. These 15 guys (one of the 16 I wrote about isn't technically a returning player though he did return from the nether regions of northwestern Ohio to his hometown to continue his hockey career) form a pretty solid core and at one time or another are likely to be called upon for leadership.

In between those posts I took an early look at the WCHA in 07-08. I didn't make any formal predictions but I tend to think that a reading will produce some sort of idea of where I think teams will finish. Here was my summary;
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.
I suppose none of that is a particularly big stretch for a WCHA follower to make. But go read the thing if you haven't (and read it again if you have) and you'll see that I did stick my neck out in commenting about a couple of the teams (some of which have got to encourage Goon that I'm not falling down on the "anti" UND stuff).

Earlier in the summer I took my shot at ranking the incoming recruiting classes. It'll be interesting when the season is over to go back and take a look at how I did. Hopefully, someone whose recruits perform better than everyone else's comes back and reminds me where I was wrong. Who knows though ... perhaps I'll be exceedingly right for once. It could happen. Already though there are some inaccuracies in the post with guess who? UND. Tch tch ... Hey there's a lot of players to follow and not every "source" is accurate. Here's my summary;
So that is that. Placing 5 thru 8 was difficult and my biggest fear is that I placed CC too low amongst that middle group. I found UMD and Mankato to be uninspiring and hence their 9th and 10th placement. Of course, arguments could be made for putting UofM ahead of UW but to me Turris, McDonagh, Gudmandson > White, Fairchild, Hoeffel, Kangas. I guess I'm hyping Turris as being something more than just "one" player. Of all my placements I'm most confident in DU #4. I wanted to put UAA ahead of UND (after all Chris Rengert and Craig Parkinson both had point-per-game averages in the BCHL identical to Trupp) but placing them 2 spots behind Minnesota was probably enough to generate some hatred from the GF crowd! God only knows what sort of shitstorm would happen if I said UAA had a better incoming class than the Sioux.
At the beginning of the summer I became inspired with my grand idea of the season. That idea was to beg that my readers Send Me to Hell. And while I'm aware that a certain subset of readers here would like nothing than to literally see me get that wish, I was being facetious. Yep ... I'm standing on the corner with cardboard sign and in the first three and a half months I've raised a little over $100. Maybe I'll have to ride my bicycle to the Final Five?

Finally, September rolled in and with it came my 07-08 Rookie Class preview; lots of guessing and speculation coupled with whatever tidbits I was able to glean about these guys over Uncle Ted's big series of tubes.

Thats the end of that. Regular readers got nothing out of all that. But fear not my faithful. There is new stuff coming. I'll be exchanging team previews with the Terrier Hockey Fan Blog so that neither of us will have to guess about the others teams before UAA and BU meet. I plan to go to a couple of practices and I'll share my impressions. Fairbanks comes to town the weekend after the Nye Tournament and I'll most likely have a friendly greeting to welcome them. I have a couple of other "irons in the fire", one of which if I'm lucky enough to secure (or actually if I eloquently sucked up enough) should be a fairly impressive post. If I don't get it then you'll never know my shame.

Now go over to the UAA Fan Forum and participate! I know it's simple to post a comment here. It's easy to be anonymous. You can still be anonymous over there if thats what you want. Don't let anything hold you back. Really, go over and sign up. There's almost a dozen sign-ups so far, but hey I get about 1000 reads a week here; so some of you folks are UAA fans ... please sign up and post.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sunday Potpourri: A UAA Fan Forum

Often when doing a Sunday Potpourri post I'll just spew some general interest stuff but today I've got something I think is a big deal. One of my fine readers and recently active commenters approached me about exchanging links. I get such requests relatively infrequently but of course if it is a reasonable way to spread the religion that is UAA "fandom" then I'm all about it. Jesse Jack the owner and administrator of the site BornInTheAk was initially just hoping that I'd link to his Forums. However when I replied with a query about starting a new Forum on his board dedicated to the discussion of UAA Hockey it started a whirlwind of back and forth emails that has resulted in exactly that.

I'm always gratified with everyone who comments here but have also always been aware that continuing a discussion is difficult. A new post always seems to kill whatever thread of thoughts had developed in the previous post. Unfortunately, the nature of what a blog is doesn't really lend itself to an ongoing discussion. Whatever subject I post about is generally the topic of discussion. This new forum though is the perfect place for discussions to have a continuous full life. So there ya have it. It is in place and waiting for YOU to participate. I'm there and will check the place regularly and comment often.

There is a subgroup of my readers here that regularly read and post on USCHO's fan forums. I suspect that some of the readers there would post on those boards if there weren't so many trolls and bullies hovering there. In general, there are two threads that pertain to UAA at any particular time during a season. There is the "UAA thread" and whatever "Game Thread" exists at the time. Because of the ofttimes competitive nature of that joint, certain kinds of discussions never really seem to happen. I want to encourage (cajole, entreat, beg, and stimulate) everyone who reads and/or posts here and/or at USCHO to sign up at BornInTheAk and participate in the discussion of all things relevant to the program we all love.

I've got a nasty little cold at the moment (hopefully at the tail end of it) so I'm not sure my enthusiasm for this effort is coming through. Have no doubt though, I'm all about it. It is my most fervent hope that everyone who reads this goes over to the New UAA Hockey Fan Forum and registers immediately. I don't think I could be more hopeful that YOU will. There are two threads for discussions currently, the first started by Jesse Jack to track former UAA players and one started by me to discuss potential ways to improve attendance at the Sully. USCHO's fan forums can be intimidating. BornInTheAk will be welcoming and free of intimidation. Please participate. Click on any of the linked text above to get there. I've added a link on the right hand side of this page as well. Finding the place shouldn't be a problem. Get on board! Registration is straightforward. You just need to choose an alias and have an email address. It's that simple. Please participate.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Home Ice as a Goal: Realistic?

There hasn't been a preseason in my memory where I wasn't hopeful that come mid-March I'd be sitting in the Sullivan Arena watching the Seawolves play in the WCHA playoffs. Hoping for 6th place has never been in my psyche. Why would it be so? It isn't that finishing below 5th in the WCHA is somehow shameful. It isn't. Consistently, the WCHA has put 8 teams in the top 25 in computer rankings such as KRACH. Last year all 10 WCHA teams ranked in the top 25 at the end of the regular season. My point here is that even a bottom half WCHA finish can be viewed with some measure of respect. But believe me, it ain't anything I ever hope for.

So it's definitely a good thing to hear when Coach Shyiak says that a WCHA home-ice series is a primary goal for the team. I thought I'd try to take a realistic look at what it will take to accomplish this goal. Here are the 5th place results for the last 10 WCHA seasons:

97-98 30pts
98-99 26pts
99-00 31pts

00-01 32pts
01-02 27pts

02-03 32pts
03-04 31pts
04-05 29pts

05-06 32pts
06-07 29pts

So over the last decade the 5th place WCHA team finished with an average of 30 points (yeah ... the math works out to 29.9 but we'll just call it 30 eh?). With 2 points for a win and 1 point for a tie there's any number of combinations that will get the trick done but realistically finishing with less than 13 wins probably ain't gonna cut it. 13-11-4 = 30 is the realistic minimum. It would be facetious to suggest a 2-0-28 could get 5th place.

Last year offers some excellent examples and lessons for this years opportunity. After the first 14 games last season UAA had 6 wins and 8 losses in the league. I think both fans and staff were pretty satisfied with the first half. Sure there were a couple of games that the team gave away (9-0 loss at MTU and a 7-4 loss at home to UMD) and a couple of heartbreakers (3-2 OT loss at home to Wisconsin and the 4-3 OT loss at CC) but a sweep at home of UND and 3 out of 4 non-conference wins against UAF made it feel pretty good overall. But realistically, I'm here to say that as good as it felt during the first half to be 6-8 in conference and 10-8-2 overall that such a first half is just a red "you know what" hair under what was needed. Nevertheless, it's useful to review that half and remember what sort of effort it took. It is that exact effort (and a wee bit more) that will be absolutely necessary from October 26th 2007 until March 1st, 2008. 14 Friday nights and 14 Saturday nights. There's always the WCHA coaches mantra of win at home and split on the road. It certainly applies.

The first half of the season this year the Seawolves play only two opponents that finished in the lower half last year. We get Mankato at home to open conference play and are on the road at Duluth the first week in December. Those are 8 points that need to be looked at as "must" have. On paper neither of those teams looks to improve much this year but then again neither of them are walkovers either. The two other home series in the first half are CC and DU. Both of these series will be tough tests. The two other away series are at St. Cloud and Minnesota and CC. The NHC remains as the only building in the WCHA where UAA hasn't won a game. It might have been different but for a certain referee (gag cough ... the notorious Todd Anderson) in the first game of that series last year so that is something that will have to change. Unlike last year St. Cloud will be here in Anchorage for a return series in the middle of February but lets put the haven't won at the NHC behind us in the first half eh? I think we're all on board with that. They'll need to get some league points at the Mariucci in the first half and they can look back to the playoffs last year to know what sort of effort that will take. The team will need some road points at UND and Mankato and DU in the second half. They'll need home wins against Wisconsin, MTU, and St. Cloud before finishing the the season in the Sully against the Gophers.

My natural optimism tells me to proclaim that 5th place is realistic. I've looked up and down the schedule since it's been announced. I've counted wins and losses with various scenarios running through my mind. Of course, the main problem with such an exercise is that it is completely contained with my cranium. Lots of things are likely to happen (positive and negative) that I can't possibly imagine no matter how much I call upon Edgar Cayce and/or Nostradamus. The games will have to be played but I find it nothing short of realistic to think that I'll finally be sitting in the Sullivan Arena on a weekend in the middle of March watching a WCHA playoff series for the first time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Picnic

A couple of interesting "news" items from this evening's "Meet The Seawolves" picnic. Recruit Jeff Carlson has made it through the NCAA clearinghouse and it is anticipated he'll be joining the team sometime in December. Additionally, BGSU transfer Brian Bales will be eligible to play sometime in December. Both of these bits of news are great; it opens more options to the coaching staff and creates the kind of depth that guarantees everyone will be competing for playing time each and every week. With the extra depth the coaching staff can make little adjustments based on what they anticipate or see from an opponent. Nobody can take shifts off, there'll be no dogging it in practice; whoever works the hardest and matches that effort with good game performance will be the guy skating in the games the next weekend.

There was a good turnout. More than just a few players were unable to attend because of conflicting class schedules but there were still about 15 players there. Brush Christiansen attended and was duly recognized by Coach Shyiak. It's always good to see the man who built the program at the rink or an event like this. Shyiak expressed some of the same optimism about an improved season as he did in the Blueliner Newsletter which I reprinted here last week but he also indicated that his primary goal was to post a best record since UAA joined the WCHA. The two previous high marks were 15-19-2 in 93-94 (the first year in the WCHA) and 15-18-3 in 99-00. With 13 wins last year it sure seems to be a reasonable mark to attain. He also spoke about how important it is to the fanbase and city to earn home-ice this season and of course retaining the Governors Cup.

It was certainly nice to see familiar faces and meet some new folks as well. The food was good and if I have a regret it would be that I didn't make enough of an effort to partake. As a group the players seemed confident about the season; even if they all weren't so confident holding the wireless mic. One of the big laughs was the question that Mr. Suze asked when he wondered (already knowing the answer), "Who talks most on the ice?" Every veteran player immediately pointed to Kevin Clark (who was probably pointing at himself as well). Of course on the darker side of humor was the story about Chris Tarkir's couch (at the house already referred to as "The Morgue" in honor of a murder that occurred in the kitchen) and the old neighborhood guy who wandered over then fell asleep on it ... only to never wake up. And yet the five guys living there apparently like the place. I guess that sort of history makes for cheaper rent.

Thanks have to go to the fine Blueliner Boosters for putting on the event and to all their volunteers as well. My personal thanks to everyone for the complimentary comments about this place and what I say here. That sort of feedback makes the effort worthwhile. There's about two weeks until the first official practice, three weeks before the preseason game against Southern Alberta Institute of Technology and a bit more than 4 weeks until the regular season.

'Bout time.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

UAA Roster Update: Jeremy Smith Added

A new name popped up on the Seawolves roster Friday. Defenseman Jeremy Smith from Anchorage was added and is listed as a Junior. Jeremy turns 23 on December 21st and is listed at 5ft 9in and 200 pounds. He spent three years in the USHL (two with Sioux Falls and one with Omaha) where he racked up 8 goals, 29 assists and 426 penalty minutes in 164 total games.

In 04-05 he played with the Youngstown/Mahoning Valley Phantoms in the NAHL and finished the season (51 games) with 8 goals, 27 assists and 198 penalty minutes. That was good enough for 4th on the team in scoring but 3rd overall in the league for penalties. On Hockey's Future fan forum during a discussion of the NAHL playoffs a Phantoms fan had this to say;
" far I think my favorite player has to be Jeremy Smith. Always seems to have his head in the game, making things happen, and is a tough, scrappy kid."
It looks like he has had a year off from competitive hockey. His addition gives the roster a full complement of 8 defensemen.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Tidbits & Trivia: By The Numbers

Playing Halo on "Heroic" level is ridiculously tough, so to pass a bit of time not getting blown to smithereens I came up with some various unrelated (and not necessarily significant of anything in particular) tidbits and trivia. First, I put up a new poll a couple of weeks ago asking everyone where they thought the Seawolves would finish in the league this season. Here's the results:

If I had some sort of statistical education or otherwise useful math skills then I guess I could come up with a meaningful way to summarize and/or give an "average". So I'll just eyeball it and say it looks like collectively everyone thinks the Seawolves will finish somewhere around 6th place? I'll make a new poll sometime soon (i.e. as soon as I think of something).

Last year the Seawolf team was the 6th "tallest" team in Division I at 6ft 0.70in. This years team is slightly shorter at 6ft 0.69in. In 2006 the Seawolves averaged 195.0 pounds per player for the 7th "heaviest" team in Division I and this year it is down slightly at 194.6 pounds.

Where is everyone from? 7 from British Columbia, 6 from Alaska, 4 from Alberta, 2 from Manitoba, 2 from Europe, and 1 each from the Yukon, California, Oregon, Wisconsin and Minnesota. There are 3 surnames each beginning with B, C, L and T. 2 surnames each beginning with G, H, M and W. There's 10 freshman, 8 sophomores, 3 juniors, and 5 seniors. Some possible line-combo nicknames are:
CLS line - (Close or Clothes) - Clark, Lunden, Selby
DMC line (as in Run) - DayChief, McCabe, Clark/Crowder/Cartwright
MPG line - McCabe, Parkinson, Grant
TPS line (Lumbergh from Office Space) - Tarkir/Tuton/Tassone, Parkinson, Selby
MSG line (as in Chinese cooking additive) - McCabe, Selby, Grant
DTP line (as in my former alias) - DayChief, Tarkir/Tuton/Tassone, Parkinson
SWiM line - Selby, Waldrop/Wiles, McCabe
T3 line (as in Terminator) - Tuton, Tassone, Tarkir
C-cubed - (as in Algebra) - Crowder, Clark, Cartwright
I could have missed better ones. If you thought of one post it in the comments section. And the potentially coolest sounding scoring line that ever passed Sully Arena announcer Lyle Woods' lips ... "Goal scored by DayChief with assists to Lafranchise and Mayo".

Lastly, I'll be mentioning the following regularly during the upcoming season. I'm trying to raise funds through the kind donations of my readers so that I can attend and report on this season's WCHA Final Five in St. Paul. I'm not likely to have the disposable personal income that would allow me to spend $800 of my own money to attend. I'm of course hopeful that the Seawolves will be there but it's impossible to predict. As you can see in the right hand column, the total for the effort so far is $101.26 (the goal being $800). The initial donations were spurred by an effort on USCHO from LetsGoDU blogger Damien Goddard. Please read my initial post (and the comment section) for the further details about my intentions and the personal pledges I'm making to those kind enough to contribute. So if you like what you get here and think it has value ... well you know what I'm sayin.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Kurt Haider: Q & A With A Radio Stud

Prior to spewing on the Internet about the Seawolves, I never considered myself anything other than an average fan. There are lots of great UAA fans at every level from the occasional attendee to the season ticket holder to Blueliners who back up their support with fundage and tons of volunteering. I started spewing a number of years ago and jumped on the College Hockey Blog bandwagon shortly after it began. There have been more than a few memorable results of all my bloviating; great emails, handshakes and compliments from readers, parents and other fans. Those moments make me feel both pride and humility. Pride because I said something that connected with a reader and humility because my natural tendency is toward yapping and we all know if you put a hundred monkeys on a hundred typewriters eventually you'll get some Shakespearian breakthrough. Today is one of those moments for me. I get to post an email question and answer exchange with Kurt Haider. It's a big deal for me. As a casual fan I might have met Kurt once and spent 2 minutes yapping with him. But since I do this blog now, I get the honor of posting this exchange. I met Kurt not too long (a coupla three years) ago and every time I've spoken with him since then, I've come away impressed and delighted. So enough of how cool I think this is and on with what the best radio man in the WCHA has to say:

Can you give my readers a brief history of Kurt? When did you first come to Alaska?
I came to Alaska in work choices at the time were to work at the canneries sliming fish, or try to catch on at the radio station in Soldotna (I had just finished one year at broadcasting school in Minneapolis). Luckily, the radio station hired me... In 1988-89, I worked in Minneapolis/St.Paul at KSTP-AM. Then, back to Alaska...and back to KSRM, back to school and raising a family. I did HS football, basketball, hockey, Peninsula Oilers baseball and much more.

While driving from Anchorage back home to Kenai in the spring of 1996, I was listening to the UAA hockey game, and heard Tom Miller signing off and saying goodbye. The next day I called KBYR (the UAA station at the time) and inquired about the position. After a summer of pestering management to hire me, they did, and I came to Anchorage and KBYR to do the morning show and UAA basketball and hockey. Needless to say it was a busy, busy year, but lots of fun. About six years ago, KBYR surrendered the rights to UAA hockey, KENI picked them up, and then I moved over to Clear Channel to do news and hockey. I do news because I know how, but it sure isn't the best part of my job (although it is quite humorous to watch the Alaska politicians squirm and dance and hang themselves and such after they get caught doing something naughty! Is this the most politically corrupt state in the union, or what?!) Anyway, I miss basketball (though I do a Shootout game or two when I can) but I love doing UAA hockey as I get set to begin my 11th year!
You log more miles than any other broadcaster in the WCHA. What is the travel like? What is your favorite road trip? Why?
I really do enjoy the travel that comes with the job. It's nice to get away for three or four days, but it's always great to get back home. The toughest part, for me, is Sunday. That's generally the travel day back home. I'd love to have a machine to zap me home right after the post-game show Saturday night. Having to wait until Sunday (usually a short sleep at the hotel Saturday night followed by a long flight Sunday) is kind of a drag.

The other tough part is missing my kid's games when I'm on the road. My oldest son plays hockey for South HS, and I've missed the state tournament the past three years. My youngest also plays hockey, and my daughter is also involved in sports. In the first nine years, I never questioned being on the road. This past season was the first time any thoughts of not doing it crept into my mind...but the kids are actually the ones who keep encouraging me to stay as the UAA hockey guy, so here I am, and here I'll stay as long as the university and radio station will have me.

I always enjoy the trip to Minneapolis and the Mariucci Arena. Having grown up in Minnesota, I was like any other kid in believing that the "U" was THE best college in the nation. I loved the Rouser and the marching band and the big M on the sweater. I had a chance to play baseball there for legendary coach Dick Siebert, but stupidly passed it up. I still love Minnesota, but now I'm a UAA guy. Other good roadies include Madison, Wisconsin (the band there is awesome and the fan interaction with it is unbelievable! What a great college atmosphere!) Mankato is a good trip (driving southern Minnesota highways at night is an unbelievable experience in AM radio...stations from all over the nation come in...very cool) Colorado Springs is also a great roadie... beautiful area, and the weather is usually pretty good.
Your between the period player profiles are awesome and give listeners insight into the players as individuals.
I've done many, many player interviews over the years. One of the interesting ones happened in the lobby of the hotel in the Springs (Doubletree). That's where I really learned the difference between goaltenders Chris King (great athleticism ... style matters!) and Kevin Reiter (a thinking man's the angles!). Did you know Kinger became a goaltender because he thought the equipment was cool-looking? Both were very good goalies, with very different views from between the pipes!

No real favorites, though I always looked forward to interviews with the captains... most all were very well spoken. Lee Green was a family friend from back in my Soldotna days, so it was awesome to watch his four years as a Seawolf... and so very cool to have the truth come out after the Arcand-Kootenay incident and Lee's captain "C" returned to his sweater by Coach Hill. Oh, and the interview progress of Vladimir Novak was cool...year one, unableto answer many questions in English... year four, a real conversationalist!
Is St. Cloud a great place to be FROM? (Here's your chance to bust my chops about busting St. Clouds chops all the time). Is there really as many snowmachines there as I think? Have any familiarity with Stearns County Syndrome? Would you say it's more like the Appalachia of Minnesota or it is the armpit to Minneapolis/St. Paul's navel?
Growing up in St. Cloud in the late 60's, 70's and early 80's was a wonderful experience. Lots of baseball, football basketball and hockey...we played whatever was in season. Kids today by and large miss out on that all-around stuff because they specialize in one sport very early. Anyway, I love St. Cloud, but can't really picture myself ever moving back there (unless I was offered a million dollars a year to do Huskies hockey...with St. John's football thrown in!)
(My daughter supplied this one...) On the air you're the least biased announcer in the WCHA. How do you (is it hard to) maintain being unbiased considering you are a Seawolf fan?
Thank you for saying so. Blatant homerism drives me crazy, so I promised myself never to be that type of broadcaster. I think it sounds bad. I'll root for the Seawolves, I'll get excited about a Seawolf goal or great save, but I also appreciate a great play by the opposition. Even when UAA gets blown out (it's happened a time or two, yes?) I appreciate how good the other team's offense is playing or a great individual effort by an opposing player. Remember that goal Thomas Vanek of the Gophers scored at the Sullivan a few years back?...yeah, me too.

I'm not employed by UAA... I'm a fan... I love the Seawolves, but I won't be a blatant homer. (and I won't rip referees either) I won't say "there's a goal by YOUR Seawolves" because they might not be a listeners favorite team...and I don't want to alienate them. The other guy in town is an employee of that pro team... paid to be their broadcaster... he CAN skirt that "homer line"... he doesn't, but it would be understandable if he did. What I'm saying is, I hope the UAA fans enjoy the broadcasts and feel they're getting a fair and balanced account of the game.
You've interacted with your fair share of UAA coaching staffs. What do you like about interviewing and interacting with Dave Shyiak, Campbell Blair and Damon Whitten?
I've enjoyed a good working relationship with all the UAA coaches over the years. The Talafous years were interesting... Dean and I actually became pretty good friends, though you could tell by listening to the interviews that he was guarded a lot of the time with his responses to questions. His assistants Chris and Karl, I believe, were coached by Dean on how to answer to the were the players. That's just the way it was.

The Hill years breathed fresh air into media responses. I felt John was as honest with me as he could be; Martin, Jack and Keith rarely, if ever, pulled punches. You could certainly tell that by listening to the post-game interviews...they were fun to work with.

Coach Shyiak has been open and forthcoming since day one. He's a joy to work with, as are Campbell and Damon. All three give me the time and responses I need to do my job well. Good guys and great hockey people with a drive to improve the program here. Most every player has been very cooperative and gracious with interview time...very much appreciated!
What are some of your personal favorite moments in your more than a decade broadcasting Seawolf games?
Many... game-winning goals... unbelievable saves... lots more. But I'll tell you, beating Wisconsin for the trip to the Final Five that year was such a cool experience... so out of the blue... so unexpected by the casual fan (but in talking to the coaching staff the week before that series, they conveyed a belief that this was the best possible match-up, and that UAA COULD win!). Kinger was in control of his end of the ice, and Glencross and the gang scored the timely goals. Crowds at the Excel Center "adopting" the Seawolves... beating CC in the play-in game, assuring two more games...the feeling of really belonging there! It was awesome. (Let's do it again soon, OK?)
Which road arena is your personal or professional favorite to broadcast from? Get along with opposition radio guys?
Well, in terms of comfort during the game, Michigan Tech has some of the best chairs and working space (and they supply the press with candy bowls!) Denver and Wisconsin have the best pre-game food service... catered buffet. Best sight lines and closest to the action: Denver You might expect the multi-million dollar Englestad Arena to have a plush media area. Actually, the visiting radio spot is adequate, but what sucks is that their ventilation system has cold air blowing on you all game long, so it becomes miserable very quickly, and you pay the price if you didn't bring a sport coat AND jacket. I get along well with my fellow radio guys around the league. I think we all realize how lucky we are to broadcasting in the best college hockey league in the nation. They all do a good job for their teams, and are a pleasure to be around (at least for a couple games!)
Kurt also provided me with some additional parting thoughts.
Thanks for listening! I appreciate the kind words from folks who have heard our broadcasts and liked them, and I appreciate those who have been critical of my broadcasting. One thing you learn early on in this business, is that you can't please everyone... you're not everyone's cup of tea. I try to give a fair and balanced account of the game...calling it as I see it, as positive as I can be. These players aren't pros... they are college kids playing because they love the game and are good enough at it to earn a scholarship. They're having fun... I'm having fun, and as long as the latter continues, so will I.
As a fan of both the Seawolves and Kurt's broadcasts I'll just end by saying I hope he continues to have fun as well and that the relationship continues for a very long time. Thank you Kurt, you're definitely a class guy. Your agreement to do this has added something substantial and meaningful to this blog and I'm in your debt.

Lastly, since I didn't find a picture of Kurt anywhere on the Internet to post along with this interview; I'll take the opportunity to use a picture I'd been saving for the right moment. So in honor (an homage of sorts) of Chris King becoming a goalie because he thought the gear looked cool.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A Letter and a Picnic

I don't get the Blueliner Newsletter. That's the disadvantage of being a broke ass loudmouth blogger without season tickets. But thankfully, blueliner extraordinaire Suze is none of those adjectives. She posted this in the comments section of my little rant about landlocked Welfarebanks getting a new boat. And both items are definitely worthy of their own fully fledged blog post:
We will start our season off September 11th at Kincaid Park Chalet with the meet the Seawolves Hockey Team BBQ Potluck. Bring a side dish or dessert and join us for an evening of fun starting at 6:00PM until 9:00PM.
I attended the picnic last season and would definitely encourage other fans to go. It was a fun event and hopefully it won't rain continously as it did last year. The second part that Suze posted was a note from Coach Shyiak called "Season Preview". Here it is ...

I think our team and program made some progress last year . We learned how to win in some tough arenas on the road and regained a winning record at home. However, we still have a lot of work to do in order to reach the success we want to achieve in the WCHA. We want to be a team that is in every game and build on some of the achievements we had last year.Our players are starting to understand what kind of commitment and dedication is needed to win on a consistent basis.

Our team will be one of the youngest if not the youngest in the league this year. In saying that I think we will have the most depth we've had in years and it puts a more competitive environment in our practice sessions.

The coaching staff is very excited about this upcoming season and fully expects the team to improve on our finish from a year ago. In order to do that we must be better defensively and score more goals. A big part of that is special team play and I think we need to be much more productive on the power play as well as the penalty kill.

The biggest loss from last year's graduating seniors was their leadership on and off the ice. We have a group a guys in that locker room who we feel can fill that void. Leadership, teamwork , work ethic and consistency will be the foundation of our success this year and we will need everybody to contribute on a daily basis.

On paper, our speed, size and talent is solid and it will be a matter of time where everybody fits into their roles. The make up of our team is one that likes to be aggressive and gets after the puck. We want to be physical puck possession team that is difficult to play against night in and night out.

Forwards: We were able to generate more shots and scoring chances last year. I think with our current roster we should be able to convert more of those chances leading to an increase in goal production. I would like to see 6-8 forwards that can be effective producing offensive numbers. Players like Clark, Crowder, Lunden, Tarkir, Waldrop and some newcomers will be looked upon to lead us in that category.

Defense: Defensively, we can continue to improve on our experience from a year ago. This year's group of defensemen is very solid and brings size, speed and scoring ability. I think Robinson and Beaverson were a very good shut pair against opponents best lines . Both Backstrom and Hunt gained valuable experience in the minutes they played last year. Lovdahl is eligible and is capable of producing as well. Freshmen recruits Lafranchise and Vidmar will get opportunity to play on a regular basis and provide us with puck moving and skating skills.

Goaltender: Goaltending will be a key to any success we have this year as it is with any other team. We need to bring our goal against down and save percentage up and we feel we have capable goalies that can do the job.

Jon O. will get the opportunity to be the number one guy. He played in some tough venues last year and came out of it with a passing grade.

Matt Gordon is an athletic goalie that will push Jon and get some games as the season progresses. Aaron Mayo is a walk on local player that will challenge for ice time as well.

Overall: Our Goals; Win Nye Classic, Defend Governor's Cup, Host Home Ice WCHA Play-offs AND play for a championship in St.Paul (WCHA Final Five)

I would like to thank everybody ahead of time for their support of Seawolf Hockey. We look forward to another exciting season in the WCHA and we'll see you at the Sully!
Thanks once again to Suze for providing those excellent submissions. See you all at the picnic.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The 07-08 Rookie Class

Winston DayChief, Matthew Gordon, Tommy Grant, Nick Haddad, Kane Lafranchise, Aaron Mayo, Brad McCabe, Craig Parkinson, Luka Vidmar and Sean Wiles comprise the 07-08 Freshman Seawolf class. Ten guys. Two goalies and eight skaters. It is a big class. It is an important group. I've said it before and I'll say it again; you can't count on freshman to perform at any particularly high level in the WCHA. It takes time to adapt to the game no matter what league you come from. But this year Seawolf fans are definitely going to be looking to (even if not "expecting" <---- a word I should avoid using) some of these rookies to contribute. What can we realistically hope for? It occurs to me that at least we've got some colorful new names added to the roster. So without further rambling ...

Winston DayChief comes to UAA from the Cowichan Capitals in the BCHL. He was voted as the fan favorite there. That single tidbit tells me a boatload about what to expect from Winston this year. Fanbases vote for a favorite on one overwhelming issue; how hard a guy works. I read some comments on a BCHL fan forum which confirms this. Winston is a physical player that is happy in the corners banging bodies and challenging for the puck. At 6ft 1in and 195 pounds he's got enough size to be effective physically. He's a big mature Albertan from the heartland of Canada (think cornfed Nebraska football player). Besides Winston's obvious toughness though it's fairly clear he's got a good set of skills. His 74pts (31g, 43a) in 59 games last season put him at #20 on the BCHL statistics leaderboard. I received an email from a Cowichan fan last year singing Winston's praises (can't find it now though) so I've been looking forward to seeing him wearing a Seawolf sweater.

Mathew Gordon was the #2 goalie on the 05-06 Burnaby Express RBC Championship team behind Bryce Luker and was a teammate of current Seawolf Paul Crowder. On the 06-07 Burnaby squad Matthew played in 51 games leading the league in minutes played with 2946. He had a nice save percentage of .905 while facing the 5th most shots in the league. At 6ft 2in and 190 pounds he covers a good portion of the net. He's from Vancouver and is a good student. Apparently he is also a certified referee (maybe he'll sneak in a suggestion or two to a WCHA referee or two). Matthew can probably expect the same sort of playing time as Jon Olthuis got last season. If he perfoms well he'll likely earn additional chances to play. The best case scenario for UAA is if Matthew can become capable of challenging Olthuis for playing time and perhaps end up in some sort of regular rotation with him in the future. This season though is likely to be one primarily of development and learning.

Tommy Grant led the BCHL's Westside Warriors in all scoring categories last season. His 75 points (36g-39a) put him 2 spots above Winston DayChief on the BCHL points leaderboard but his 36 markers was enough to land him at 13th goalwise. Tommy turned 21 just last week and at 6ft 2in 190 pounds he is another big mature kid that should be physically ready to compete in the always tough WCHA. Last season he had a helluva nice scoring streak in January where he put up 27pts (15g, 12a) in a 14 game stretch. He obviously had the Tommy "Gun" working full-time during those games. If he can fire it accurately this season he could become a valuable asset in his first year.

Nick Haddad makes the big move this year coming from his hometown of Welfarebanks to Los Anchorage to begin his college playing career. Nick played for the hometown NAHL Fairbanks Ice Dogs for the last three years. He is 20 years old and is 6ft 2in 191 pounds. Another big mature forward, he scored 57pts (25g, 32a) in 50 games last season which tied him at the #20 spot on the league leaderboard (15th in goals). If Nick doesn't become all google-eyed at being in the "big city" then he should be physically ready to contribute in his first season.

Kane Lafranchise comes to UAA from the AJHL's Spruce Grove Saints. Kane was the first player to commit to this Seawolf class and so it's been a long time waiting for him to . Besides having one of the coolest names ever for an athlete Kane is reputed to be a excellent skating defenseman. He finished the 06-07 season 8th on the scoring table amongst defensemen with 35pts (12g, 23a) in 58 games. Kane was a league All-Star in both of his seasons at Spruce Grove. Ultimately, Seawolf fans can hope that Kane is one of the blueliners that grows into a power play quarterback. The UAA website uses a capital "F" in his name but since Spruce Grove and the AJHL both use the lowercase I'm going with precedent until someone authoritatively straightens me out.

Aaron Mayo comes to UAA straight from perennial state champion South Anchorage High School. He played just five games last season recording a .920 save percentage in his backup role to Nathan Corey who played well enough in his career at South to have his jersey retired. Anchorage produces more than it's share of excellent goalies as another South product Adam Murray moved onto the USNDT last season. What does all this mean? It means that Aaron is probably a decent goalie but in order to see any playing time he will really have to impress in practice. With Jonny O and Matthew Gordon ahead of him on the depth charts Aaron's likely role will be to fill in during injury and to be one of those very valuable guys that fills the net in practice in order to make his teammates better.

Brad McCabe finished last season with the Texas Tornado of the NAHL. He spent the first part of the season with the Alaska Avalanche in Wasilla where he played well enough to get the offer to play for UAA. In a combined 42 games Brad scored 36pts (21g, 15a). Brad missed a chunk of playing time in the middle of the season with a knee surgery. Prior to the 2007 NHL draft he was listed at #208 on the CSB midseason rankings as a "Player to watch". When I contacted Keith Morris about Brad he had this to say,
Brad McCabe is a tremendous young man. Played very hard for us when he was in Wasilla. Very strong on the puck and excellent balance. Has a big time shot and can get to the battle areas to score goals. Coming from junior b the year before there is going to be a learning curve to his play away from the puck ( Defensive zone coverage) at the WCHA level. He was liked by his teamates and comes from a good military family ( Navy officer dad) He is a player who should get better as his career grows.
Brad is one of the players I've been eagerly anticipating seeing in a Seawolf sweater. He is 6ft and 200 pounds and is originally from Oregon. My thanks to Keith for the comments as he was one of only two responders to emails that I sent to all of these recruit's former coaches.

Craig Parkinson was a late addition to this class and joins Winston DayChief at UAA from Cowichan Valley. In 55 games this past season he had 79pts (42g, 37a) to put him 14th on the BCHL leaderboard in points but 6th in the league in goals. Craig is 21 and at 6ft 190 pounds I'd classify him as another one of the big mature forwards that dominate this freshman class. In 05-06 he had 63 points in 60 games for the Capitals.

Luka Vidmar was another summer addition to the Seawolf freshman class and comes from the USHL's Chicago Steel. Luka is originally from Ljubljana, Slovenia but spent the past two years playing for Chicago. At 6ft 1in and 192 pounds, he converted to defense after his first year in juniors. Assistant coach (former Gopher) Jon Waibel responded to my query with these comments:
Luka has a lot of upside as a player. He came a long way last year maturing into a defenseman. Luka has high expectations that hopefully at UAA he will reach his goals. He is a smart kid that I think will contribute to the college game even more than juniors. Playing on an olympic sheet will benefit him even more because of his skating ability.
Luka tied for 3rd on the Steel in points as the #1 blueliner with 6 goals and 22 assists in 57 games. He turned 21 back in May adding to the maturity of this years incoming class.

Sean Wiles was the last addition to this years class and is another big mature forward. This 20 year old is 6ft 3in and 203 pounds. As I noted back in early July, Sean was among the 15 finalist for Wisconsin's 2005 Mr. Hockey award. The NHL's CSB had him on thier 06 "players to watch" list as a "B" player. His old high school coach described him as having "lots of talent". Chris from the Western College Hockey Blog said that Sean stood out during his Tri-Cities camp last season. With 19pts (12g, 7a) in 55 games Sean will have to impress if he wants to see the kind of ice time he talked about to his local paper when it was announced he'd signed with UAA. Hopefully, he can use his size to it's best advantage and become the kid from this years class that I underestimated. Last year's kid I underestimated? Paul Crowder.

Summary: With 10 guys coming in I'd be foolish if I didn't think at least one or two of these guys won't be quality contributors this season. My sense of these things (wherever that comes from) tells me that Brad McCabe, Craig Parkinson, Kane Lafranchise and Luka Vidmar have the best chances to become this years version of Clark, Crowder or Lunden. I'm excited about Winston DayChief, Nick Haddad, Tommy Grant and Sean Wiles as well but in terms of past numbers etcetera there just isn't enough evidence for me to get all fired up. I hope all four prove me wrong. I hope none of the four I listed as best chances turn out to be less than I'm expecting. And so there it is, the word I'd hoped to avoid using; expectations. I'm responsible for mine and of course it's important to remember that I haven't seen any of these kids skate much less play a game.