Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Summa Dis and Summa Dat

Dave Shyiak signed a new 4 year contract last week. The school announced the transaction in this release. Dr. Cobb said something important in the release that I want to talk about. His mention of getting the contract in place for the sake of "stability and recruiting" caught my eye. These are the two most important reasons for re-upping Dave. Let's face a couple of things here straight on. On the face of it, finishing in 10th for the last three seasons is nothing which would engender any pride.

Since UAA joined the WCHA they've gone through three head coaches with Dave being the fourth. Conventional thought in Anchorage was that Brush didn't have what it took to take the team he founded to the next level. He was forced out and the school hired the best D3 coach. Talafous stayed the best D3 coach in D1 by installing his rigid "system" (neutral zone trap) while telling the players that they didn't have any talent. The guys didn't dig all that and essentially revolted ... bye bye Tally. Then an alumnus with a solid winning resume told us that being UAA Head Coach was his dream job. We got a nightmare 1 win season out of that hiring before Johnny went marching home and tried to take at least one player with him. Both Talafous and Hill were given new contracts during their tenures. Now here is the important part. It takes at least 5 years to build a team from the ground up; with "at least" being the important phrase in that sentence.

Dave is beginning his 4th year. The players in the program now are his players. There are only two players on the squad that Dave didn't recruit. Dave now understands the geographic challenges in recruiting and how to overcome them. I've said over and over this preseason that next year has the potential to be the best year the Seawolves have ever had in the WCHA. There is a chance that this year could turn out that way but that will take some good bounces. The thing is ... maturing young athletes prefer consistency. Keeping the same coach in place is an absolute necessity in order to acheive that consistency for the players. Everything that Dave has done with this team has been purposeful. His philosophy of building a fast-skating, hard-hitting team is beginning to pay off and we should see some of the fruits of that effort this season. We all know last years team was better than it's record so when fans throughout the league express surprise about the successes that the Seawolves have this year make sure you tell them that you knew it was coming. I'm satisfied so far with the job Dave has done. I reserve the right to a more complete judgement of Dave's performance following the 11-12 season. Until then he should have EVERY Seawolf fan's full support.

I don't normally discuss rumors but I'm going to here. I've had a couple of lindications that Campbell Blair would be leaving the program. I'm obviously not the only person that has heard this rumor since I keep getting hits from Google searches like "blair leaving UAA". It's been at least a week since the first time I heard this and in that time I have found no indication that it's true. Today I got the confirmation I needed to call this rumor bogus. Like every rumor there were details included which seemed to give it weight. But a rumor doesn't survive if it doesn't sound plausible. I'm not going to include the details I've heard since I'm trying to dispel the rumor. End of story as far as I'm concerned.

I'd intended to wait until this weekend or next to talk about incoming UAA recruits and how they're all doing early in their junior seasons. But an astute commenter noticed that Mickey Spencer was named BCHL player of the week after a 7 point weekend. Congrats to Mickey, he seemed to have a bit of slow start; so putting up those kinds of numbers over two games is certainly sweet to see. Mickey had 27 goals and 12 assists in his rookie season in the "B" which would lead me to believe that he is a goal scorer first. In some earlier commentary I noted that Mickey's scoring was a bit streaky. As the season goes along let's all hope that he continues to bag goals but develops more consistency in doing so. Gustav Bengtson has 2 assists in Topeka's first 5 games. I think I'm seeing a bit of a preference for the older players from the Topeka coaching staff so I think Gustav is going to have to step up his production to gain some confidence from his coach and move up to the 1st or 2nd line. Topeka looks to be a very competitive team with their 6-0 start. In Tri-City's first three USHL games Matt Bailey has a goal and 2 assists and seems to be on track to a productive season there.

I'll have a reasonably extensive look tomorrow at what we can expect from the University of British Columbia this coming Saturday.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday Potpourri: Don't Bother Reading

I write these Sunday entries differently than posts on other days of the week. I open the editing window and write this or that as the day passes. I'll do whatever minimal chores and/or errands that have to be completed and sit down when something comes to mind. Usually, that means a little of "this" and a little of "that" gets onto the blog. Not today.

I've got nothing. I could speculate about the team and what we might see. But honestly, if you look back over the last month I've done TONS of that. What else can I say? I think the team will be much improved. They could have their best season since joining the WCHA. I know that's a pretty big leap and virtually any fan from any other WCHA team expects exactly the same thing from this years squad as they've seen the last three years. I could make a more concerted effort to dispel those conventional beliefs but that's a waste of time. So few other college hockey fans take any time at all to consider their opponent's status that nothing I say (if anyone other than fervent UAA fans believed me) would matter.

I could make fun of Sarah Palin but I sense she's becoming enough of a caricature that my efforts aren't required. Not to mention that it is apparently unacceptable to some of my readers that I wander off-topic into the political realm on a random Sunday. Don't think for a second that I'm not aware that my personal political beliefs are probably shared by less than 1% of the American populace.

If there were some major breakthrough in Physics/Astronomy then perhaps I'd fill a day like today with that info. But alas, we're still stuck with the same answers as yesterday regarding the origin of the universe.

The WCHA Coaches Poll will probably be released sometime in the next couple of weeks. Woohoo. They'll pick UAA for 10th. Guaranteed. No point in talking about how meaningless they are. We all know the reason they play the games is to determine such things. Polls are dumb. Discussing them as if there is any relevance is dumber.

I could talk a little bit about UAA Alumni and how they're all progressing in their pursuit of playing in the NHL. But you know what? Doyle Woody does an EXCELLENT job covering all those connections. I read him to find out what's up with ex-UAAers and you should too if you're interested. Don't bother looking here. Following ex-players is just too much interneting for me.

I'll save a brief recruit update for next Sunday or the Sunday after that. It's early in the season, and to get any idea of how each might do requires more time. So for now I'll let the recruits simmer and hopefully they'll provide something tasty later on.

Maybe I just didn't feel much like writing. I hope you didn't spend any time reading all this nothing; but hey ... I warned ya. But if you did then at least let me offer 13 UAA Hockey Fan Blog "points" to whomever correctly identifies the woman pictured at the top of the post. 100 UAA Hockey Fan Blog "points" can be redeemed for a free beer at the Sully.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

USNDT Enough - UAA Not Enough

The first word that came to mind on the ride home regarding the game was nonplussed. I didn't think it would matter to me much if UAA lost and if they'd played a bit better then maybe that would be true. I wasn't impressed with the backchecking. The U-18's got chance after chance to put a stick on the puck in the Seawolves offensive zone that they should have been denied. That inability to put a positive stick on the puck in their own end cost UAA 2 goals. And straight out of last years playbook on the other end ... the Seawolves didn't finish on chances that they should have finished. In one situation it was one pass too many when a shot could have converted. Another Seawolf player was high in the slot with an solid opening but chose to carry it in a couple of strides and then the opening was gone. And later ... Brian Bales gets nothing but crossbar.

The lines were a bit of a mish-mash. Lunden, Bales and Clark looked like a quality combination. Brian layed on a beauty of a pass to a trailing Luka Vidmar for a pretty tic-tac-toe goal. Kevin Clark rolled in on a clean break from the blueline and gave a nice deke before going backhand and finding the top corner. The 2nd line was Grant, Crowder and Moir. As the game progressed these guys seemed to find a little bit of chemistry; at least they started looking good on the cycle. They had more than a few chances but I'm not sure they'll be a permanent combo. The 3rd line was Selby, Parkinson and Jeremy Smith. I'll give props to Jeremy for effort. He created an opportunity or two with his hustle. I don't know when if ever Jeremy has played wing so I hope he enjoyed it. He played like he was enjoying himself. But overall the line was ineffective and all three guys looked like they were "pushing". The last line was Portwood, McCabe and Wiles. I think the third and fourth lines both managed a fair bit of time in the offensive zone (and overall the Seawolves had a pretty big advantage) but the 4th lines chances were few and far between.

The primary disappointment for me though was the last 5 minutes of the game. This was the part of the game where there was no question that the Seawolves were putting out 100 percent effort and generated good chance after good chance with nothing to show for it. Not being able to finish while creating that many chances is a problem. It was THE problem last year so any evidence of it this season isn't welcome. I know it's just preseason game #1.

I couldn't have liked what I saw from Curtis Lienweber any more than I did. I watched him closely. He made a couple of mistakes defensively but overcame them immediately. He contributed hugely on the offensive end. My pick for play of the night would be the sweet little lob pass he layed on for a Josh Lunden breakaway. It was a great pass. Expect to see Curtis play a lot this season. Expect to see him on the PK and the PP. If last year you'd thought the Seawolves were "x" number of players away from being successful then I promise you the number is now "x-1" because Curtis is the real deal.

I really liked what I saw from Tyler Moir going forward. He is a fine skater and brings a load with him into the corners. I think he might have been a wee bit overwhelmed by the speed of the game. I say that because I thought he looked a little lost a couple of times on the backcheck and he just couldn't seem to decide where to be. I'm sure he'll adapt; when he does he'll skate in a lot of games no doubt. In the same sense, I liked what Jade Portwood did tonight ... when I noticed him. The 4th line though was admittedly a bit out of sync so I'll have to watch Jade more closely before I can gauge how much ice time he is likely to see this year. Daychief and Tuton won't be out for long and it would take some hella good performances to keep them out of the lineup. I was glad Sidor got in the game for the last 7 minutes or so. He looked fine but didn't face any intense tests.

The only other player I hadn't seen before tonight was Brian Bales. Everything I've said about him appears to be correct. He can both score and set up. He was in good places for his linemates all night. He backchecked aggressively. He put out a full effort worthy of a spot on the 1st line.

All in all it's good fodder for much thoughtful analysis by the coaching staff. One more preseason game.

Click here to see the pictures I took. They're not what I wanted or was hoping for. But I'm no where near giving up on the effort. I'll get better as the season goes along just the same way the team will.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

UAA vs. USNDT: Locals To Play For USA

Tomorrow night I thought we'd see a semi-boring exhibition game. I would have expected the Seawolf players and staff to not really care about the end result. That may still be the case but an announcement yesterday by the Alaska Avalanche will put a damned interesting spin on what would otherwise be semi-boring. Alex Young, Kyle Pichler and Tyler Currier impressed the USNDT coaching staff enough during the just completed NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Mn to be invited to fill out their somewhat short roster for this Thursday's game versus UAA.

Cool beans eh? What a great opportunity for these three kids! Jeremiah Bartz in the Valley Frontiersman reported on Monday that the USNDT had extended the offer. The only quotes from a player in the story are from Alex Young. He expresses that playing at UAA in the future is a goal for him. He sounds genuinely excited and I'll definitely be pulling for all three of these guys to have a great game. By every measure on paper this Thursday's game is UAA's. Division 1 teams are typically 2-3 years older on average than the USNDT team. That's a lot of maturity for even very talented 18 year olds to overcome. From time to time the USNDT pulls off a nice upset over a D1 team. I'm fairly comfortable saying that mostly happens when the D1 team makes a substantially lackluster effort. Regardless of the effort on UAA's part Thursday night, if any of these three guys (or their play as a line) has an impact on the game result then I'll be thrilled for them. I can't be happier that they're getting the chance. Make the best of it fellas.

Now don't for a second think that I really want the USNDTers to win. I'd also love to see local boys and DU recruits goalie Adam Murray and defenseman William Wrenn "PWND" by the Seawolves all night long. Sorry local guys, but you're going to play at a rival school I'm not digging that, you might not quite be snail slime in my book but I ain't about to cheer for ya either. Last year UAA put a 9 on the USNDT goaltender(s). I'm hoping for a 10 this year.

On Sunday, I wrote a short paragraph espousing the idea that the Seawolves staff look closely at the local talent base. I advocated that when they look at a local kid that wants to play here that they give him more weight. I wish I'd left the whole paragraph in. I didn't because the idea is a bit provincial and I didn't want to come off sounding like a rube. But what the hell? The fact that USNDT decided to include 3 of the 6 best other local kids to the roster makes my idea a bit less than strictly provincial. A local player with aspirations to play for the local university team is never a bad thing to have on a team regardless of the players evaluated potential. A kid like that has a crapload of built-in motivation. The list of local Anchorage (and Alaska) based talent in the past tells the story; Derek Donald, Paul Williams, Todd Bethard, David Vallieres, Jack Kowal, Matt Shasby, Chris Fournier, Lee Green, Justin Johnson and Chris King all make my point. NONE of these guys were scouted to be NHL material; and those scouting reports proved true since none of these guys were able to break into the NHL. But ALL of them made significant contributions to the Seawolf team partly because they were playing for their hometown team.

There's been a ton of other decent players that I loved seeing in Seawolf uniforms. I wouldn't include Jace Digel on my above list but I loved every shift that kid took in a Seawolf sweater. He never failed to NAIL someone during his shift. So I say the time to start grabbing more local guys is upon us. Pichler, Currier and Young aren't the only local guys that are looking to D1 as the next step in their careers. Let's get more than our fair share of the best local kids in the next couple of years eh ... even if they just end up being a role player.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday Potpourri: "Fall" Edition

In case you missed it, the ADN reported yesterday that Jared Tuton will be out for up to 10 weeks with a broken leg he suffered during a "fall" three weeks ago. It seems that he wrenched his knee at the same time but apparently xrays showed no ligament damage. Good news and bad news. Bad news that Jared won't be on the ice; but good news it wasn't season ending. Out of difficulty though may an opportunity arise. In this case, the situation presents a chance for any one of several players to step up. In Jared's first two seasons he's pretty much been a fixture. Not because he puts the puck in the net but because he does everything else so well. Every team in the league deals with some sort of injury to a key player during the year. I'm heartened that Jared's occurred before the first practice because I know he'll be back (sooner rather than later) and when he comes back, I know exactly what sort of positive play he'll bring to the ice. And while he's out I'll be interested to see who steps up and what dynamics they might bring to the team. Silver lining right?

SNL had a little skit last night in which they lampooned Alaska by showing all the reasons that people wouldn't want to come here. It was a bit dumb. The fascination by non-Alaskans with Polar Bears always makes me shake my head. Polar Bears exist over a range that would make it the tenth largest state; but in that large area there are probably less than 25,000 people. So ... way less than .5 percent of the 49th least populous state has ANY chance to come across a polar bear in their day to day life. So uh... jokes about getting eaten by a polar bear are just beyond dumb. As you regular readers here know it's the grizzers that ya gotta worry about. Pretty much every city/town/conglomeration/berg is located in an established grizzly/brown bear habitat. If you know someone that is working on their own Alaska-based lampoon/skit make sure you steer them away for the polar bear references. At least I didn't hear a penguin reference though it wouldn't have surprised me.

The USNDT team is playing in the NAHL showcase this weekend and though they've got a couple of highly touted players I wouldn't say they're likely to present much of a challenge to the Seawolves. Past development teams have surprised a Division 1 opponent or two but this early in the season such a thing is unlikely. I expect Coach Shyiak to use this first game to evaluate his players and practice offensive and defensive systems. I hope all three goalies get to play one period. I've been following the showcase via boxscore and wrap-ups and I noticed the Alaska Avalanche look to be perhaps much improved this season. Of note are the contributions by the Alaska kids on the team. Good luck to the Avs this season; if you prove you can put a highly competitive team on the ice with Alaskan kids then the pain of the last few years will have been worth it. I am seeing a couple of pretty nice talent years for Southcentral Alaska as I look around the various junior leagues and I'm expecting to see lots of committments to D1 teams.

As for UAA's 09-10 class. Gustav Bengtson is off to what I'd call a bit of a slow start. He's played in 3 of Topeka's first 4 games and has tallied 2 assists. The Roadrunners are 4-0 and outscored their opponents 20-5. There is an alleged condition purported to sometimes arise when a younger hockey player commits to a D1 school. It is said that it can actually lead to a stalling of development because the player "relaxes" as he knows the next step in his career is assured. I'd prefer to see Gustav use his last year of Junior hockey to show that he can grow into quality D1 player.

Matthew Bailey's Tri-Cities Storm lost their opening exhibition game to the Omaha Lancers by a score of 6-4. Bailey's name didn't turn up on the boxscore. The only write up was on the Lancers website (get it together Tri-Cities!!). For Bailey this season is one for him to take that first step up from the Manitoba league in terms of competitiveness. Much like the WCHA, only the top players really make any impact in the USHL in their first season. Matt has the benefit of being a junior veteran even if it is just his first year in the league. Hopefully, as the season progresses Matt will become a key player for Tri-Cities.

Down in the "B", Mickey Spencer has one assist in Cowichan's first 4 games. I'd think that Cowichan's coaching staff will be hoping that Mickey develops as a team leader throughout this season. I'd anticipate he'll be among the top scorers on the team by year's end. In terms of future performance for UAA I certainly hope that Mickey finds a sustained scoring touch this season. His scoring last year was streaky. It also seemed dropped off after his committment to the Seawolves so perhaps a snippet of relaxation was involved. If he can score goals consistently throughout the entire season then his final year (before coming to UAA) will have been a success.

It's difficult to say whether one or two more players will be added to next year's incoming roster. I could see rationale for adding 3 for a total of 5 but that's unlikely to happen.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Practice, Practice, Practice

I attended today's practice. There isn't much I can say since it is virtually impossible to identify any particular player. While I was there the focus of the practice was 2-on-1, 3-on-1, 3-on-2 drills and pushups. Pushups? Yep ... bad efforts during the drills were rewarded with pushups by the offender and his linemates. Yesterday evening the TV folks were at practice and in the brief portion of the interview that they aired with Dave Shyiak he mentioned how this years team isn't one of youth but instead one of experience. He intimated that these guys already know the systems and that fewer mistakes ought to be the order of the day.

Besides jonesin to see the guys skate, I went to the practice for some practice of my own. I wanted to get an idea of what I could do with my camera. I've uploaded the pics I took and put them into a Photobucket folder accessible to all. Here it is ...

uaafanblog/UAA Hockey 2008-2009/Practice

Click on the picture above and you'll be taken to the folder. Besides the 50 or so shots I took I also tried out the MPEG feature. Below are the three movies ...

The quality on all this media is variable. I'm just learning so bear with me. I expect as the season progresses that I ought to be able to improve certain aspects. Many of the pictures were taken in what the camera calls "continuous mode". That mode should allow me to catch some good action shots ... I hope. At some point in the next few days I'll add a slideshow feature somewhere on the right column. All of the pictures are downsized from the originals which I have on my home computer. If you desire a full-sized picture that you see during the season just email me and I'll send you the bigger version.

That's the hockey content for today. Now, for some more Sarah Palin bashing ...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sunday Potpourri: 4/5ths of Palin is Pain

Is it over yet? Did Sarah bumble enough yet? I'm crossing my fingers because I'm full to the gills with coverage of her. Governor of Alaska is really just a part time job. In the recent past, everyone up here had been equally fascinated with this chick as the nation now seems to be. But there was never enough real news to keep this poser on the TV that much. Not true anymore.

The most uptight of the uptight broads on the planet is on TV somewhere at virtually any minute of the day. Creepy. She's kinda creepy. Thinking about her kinda makes my skin crawl. She reminds me of this overly prim and proper teacher that once put my chin in a vertical lock between her thumb and forefinger (the vertical part here is important ... if I'd ever imagined someone grabbing my chin it wouldn't have been vertically) then led me to the principal's office (with me still astonished at the effectiveness of her vertical chin-lock on me) after I'd shoved little Skerredy McScaredboy down the slide instead of waiting another 2 minutes for him to finally decide to go. Hey, as a seven year old I was pretty tolerant but I had my limits. I wasn't about to stand up there on the top rung of that slide and wait forever. Christ ... even I knew that recesses were only 10 minutes long. It's not my fault that he rode the rail all the way down; if he hadn't been so freaked out at being 8ft off the ground then it would have been fine. Right? Ok then ... As long as we're straight that I wasn't the bad guy.

Now back to the whole poser angle. Any chick that's ever been in one of those beauty contest things knows that winning is all about posing. They've gotta smile and wave within defined parameters. They've got to walk a certain way. Properly standing in a swimsuit and/or an evening gown comes with big challenges. The best of the best come together in these contests in order to pose better than one another. Posing doesn't have to become a way of life but for Sarah Palin it obviously has become exactly that.

We Alaskans are a bit bemused at some of the obvious mistruths Sarah is repeating at stump speech after stump speech. Of course if she stood up and admitted to being the same category of greedy whore that 90 percent of Alaskans fall into then her VP hopes would fail. So keep up with the whole facade that you weren't trying to grub up every federal dollar you could get your hands on Sarah deary; all of your other posing experience has taught you well. You go girl. And whether they'd admit it or not there are 670,000 people up here that know you'd have taken anything that they were giving AND you'd ask for more.

Did you know that Sarah wears the same sort of shoes as Paris Hilton? Who the hell spent any time figuring that out? Wig sales in Sarah's style have skyrocketed. Broads in Minneapolis/St. Paul are virtually lined up at optical shops to trade in their frames and update to Sarah's style. All this while talking-head Dem chicks are on TV telling the world that women aren't going to vote for Sarah just because she has the same genitalia. BS ... a helluvalotta women are going to do exactly that. They see some glimmer or shadow of themselves in her or even just a glimmer of how they hoped they'd turn out and they "relate". That's enough for them they "connect". And here's what all those women's husbands will find appealing:

I won't complain that she was dogging a Minnesota sports team for how crappy they were. Pretty funny actually. But shitty to see a UAA score where they'd lost to Squarebanks the night before. I didn't bother looking anywhere to figure out what year that was. I remember Julie Hasquet on channel 2 but I don't remember ever seeing that chick do the sports. Anyhow, the fact that Sarah is no where near qualified to be Vice-President (much less President if the old guy croaks) will have little (if any) bearing on the outcome of the election. For the next 6 weeks the women in this country for whom thinking is paramount are likely going to see a huge reason to dislike male America. Because for no reason other than Palin makes it into the "I'd tap that" category they will turn out in droves to vote for her. And by the way ... I wouldn't.

Friday, September 12, 2008

08-09 The Bigger Picture

Previewing some of the strengths of each individual class is just the first step in generating a picture of what I think the team will look like this year. I'm most happy about the burgeoning maturity on this team. 12 upperclassmen equals a solid amount of experience. Don't underestimate the power of maturity. Teams with larger productive upperclassmen succeed in the WCHA more often than not. Add in 8 veteran sophomores with 224 games under their belts to the experience/maturity column. The surest path to knowledge is down the road of failure. We all learn the best lessons from our mistakes. It matures us. I see this years team as one that is dramatically less prone to mistakes. As the season progresses that factor should be more and more strongly in UAA's favor. What I think that translates to is bye bye to the ugly second half of the season that plagued the Seawolves the last two years.

In 2006-2007 the Seawolves opened the season with a 10-8-3 record through December. After December they went 3-16-1. In 2007-2008 the Seawolves opened the season with a 6-7-5 record through December. After December they went 1-14-3. It's been easy to point to the second half both of the last two years as the barrier to success. What to do about it has got to be the biggest question in the coaches mind. I don't think they have to do much. I think maturity will rule the day. I think upperclassmen will tell underclassmen how damned hard they have to work day in and day out for the whole season. I think they'll foster unity and a team attitude that shows they know you can't take a night off in the WCHA. I think they'll help younger guys fully understand that 100% effort is the minimum. Of course that all starts with the coaching staff emphasizing this most important factor. The better teams in the WCHA get better during the second half. This years Seawolf team will have to do some of the same.

There are five very key players on the Seawolves roster with whom this maturity must fully be in evidence all season long. Mat Robinson, Shane Lovdahl, Kevin Clark, Paul Crowder, and Josh Lunden. Expect these five guys to be top scorers on both offense and defense. That is almost a given. These guys on-ice committment and leadership is going to serve as the primary example for everybody else. I hope that Brian Bales can grow into being the same sort of example as the season progresses. I don't mean to sell short the contribution that I believe will come from the other upperclassmen on the squad. They might not pop in as many goals as those six guys but Backstrom, Hunt, Selby and Tuton are all going to fill very important roles. Their experience and maturity will make the PK improve from last season for example.

With a large sophomore class all the upperclassmen will have plenty of opportunities to support their second year teammates. Without leadership this important class won't fully succeed. I see three guys in the sophomore class as key players. Kane Lafranchise, Brad McCabe and Craig Parkinson need to continue their progression and up their production this year. I see Daychief, Grant and Vidmar as important players of course and perhaps they can each double their point totals. I see Jeff Carlson essentially as a freshman though he is physically mature at 22. He should develop as the season progresses and perhaps turn into a threat at some point. We'll have to see. I see Wiles and Haddad as two guys who will need to carve a role out for themselves.

There are three not so pretty numbers from last season that must be addressed. The penalty kill wasn't horrible but it wasn't top notch either. There isn't a reason it should be anything less than top notch this season. Campbell Blair knows how to get that done as he proved at Maine. With a large group of veteran players I know he can find 8 guys with the skill sets necessary to fulfill his plan to make the PK as good as anyone's in the league. I'm serious. Both of the last two years we've had freshman on the PK as often as not. This season that isn't the case. Many of the guys Campbell needs to get this done are experienced with his penalty killing philosophy already. Like I said, 82.2% last year wasn't ugly. Wouldn't between 88 and 90 percent be pretty?

Speaking of pretty ... that's something last years power play wasn't. 13.4% is getting down to a low enough number where you'd have to classify it as inept. There are bulls to be taken by the horn on the power play. Quite frankly and ironically it's the favorite refrain of the ignorant hockey fan. We've all sat behind the boob who yells, "shoot ... shooooot" the whole game. If those boobs were yelling that last year when we had the power play they would have been right. The Seawolves have absolutely got to find a way to get more rubber to the net when they've got an extra man. It's a stat that needs to open in the 20 percent range and stay there all year. At minimum.

The final not so pretty number from last season is the GF/GA ratio. We scored 81 while "they" scored 112. I've seen uglier numbers. In 05-06 the team finished the season with just six wins and scored 68 while giving up 138. I think that helps cement my assertion that last years team wasn't as bad as their record. Which of course means that this season the team will be better than most people expect. Overall last year the Seawolves outshot their opponents. And while that's heartening it wasn't by much 959-927 (just for comparison UAA was outshot in 05-06 1344-827). A big part of the Seawolves offensive game plan could be classified one where players are using their size and strength in the offensive zone. That sort of effort is made so you can be in position to snatch up a rebound. For there to be a rebound someone has to shoot the puck intelligently. Maturity is a factor here as well. Smart shots come from experienced players right? The Seawolves will score more than 81 goals this coming season. I have little doubt of that. How many more is the biggest question. I'm assuming of course that we'll see a marginal drop in the number of goals the Seawolves give up. Under 100 certainly sounds quite do-able.

I think the Seawolves are due for an honest to god winning season. That's right. I think the overall record at the end of the season will be above .500. For a couple of years now I've thought that next season would be one that all us fans could call a "breakout season". I still believe that's the case. This year is a building block to next year. It's not a rebuilding year but a building year for the Seawolves. There is every reason to believe that this years team can get to the WCHA Final Five. An outside shot at getting into the NCAA's is even a possibility with that sort of record in the WCHA. In 09-10 this team will have a massive upperclass with a real nice talent base. Watch out for a helluva season then and a chance at making noise in the NCAA's. But that's not likely this year.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The 08-09 Freshman Class

A freshman's job in the WCHA is too adapt. A new player has to first adapt to the hectic routine that is common for all 1st year college students. Then the player has to learn how best to integrate playing hockey into that routine. Then the player can hit the ice and learn how to adapt to the faster game. Anyone expecting really big things out of a freshman in the WCHA is going to be disappointed 99 percent of the time. So we fans have to be patient. That said, there is still much to like in the three skaters and one goalie described below.

Curtis was the leading scorer amongst defensemen in the AJHL last season. Yes. I know he is listed @ #25 and as a forward. According to the UAA web bio on Curtis he played "the majority of the season" on defense. My fan forum perusing enlightened me to Okotoks defensive style last year and I'd read that at some point Curtis was playing forward. It's difficult to say exactly how many additional points came when he was playing forward instead of defense without going to a boxscore of everygame (and I ain't going to do that). So since he is coming here to play defense and played the majority of last seasons games at defense, then I'm proclaiming him the highest/leading scoring defensemen for the 07-08 AJHL season. Does that get your attention? A kid doesn't accomplish that without a great set of wheels, a heads up style and a great sense of the "game" around him. Interesting to note here that one-time recruit prospect Adam Henderson (who picked Michigan State over UAA) finished 8 points lower than Curtis on the leading scorers table. And he played forward all year. Curtis could be a real real real nice find. The last kid called Curtis we had from Alberta turned out that way. Here's hoping that lightning strikes twice eh?

Tyler Moir was much more than just a top ten scorer in the AJHL last season (8th on the overall scoring table), he was a top ten penalty minute leader as well! That's a good thing. It shows me that along with having good size (6'1" 205lbs) he plays with some attitude. The coaching staff will be emphasizing ways to utilize that attitude positively while eliminating the penalty minutes. Tyler won't be the first kid to come to UAA with lots of penalty minutes on his resume'. He won't be the last. Tyler's last coach told me in an email that he was a prototypical power forward. I think when we look through the UAA lineup that we see more than just a couple of those sorts of guys in a Seawolf jersey. You have to have an effective cycling game as part of the repetoire in the WCHA and guys like Tyler turn that crank. If Tyler can manage as nice a freshman season as several of last years then he'll have been effective. If he excels then it's a bonus.

In the recent tradition (it's beyond a trend now) of large framed good skating forwards Jade comes to UAA from the AJHL as well. He played for Curtis Glencross's old team, the Brook Bandits. Jade scored a moderate amount last season (14g-26a in 60 games) finishing wth the 4th highest point total on his team. He's 6'3" 200lbs. He was named the team's MVP for the playoffs; which only lasted for the 3 games it took for Tyler Moir's team to sweep them. Jade doesn't have big stats preceding him. I don't find any written talent analysis of his play on the internet. Regardless of any hype or lack of hype, Jade will have the same set of challenges to meet in as the other freshmen. And as with them we'll have to patiently sit back and watch their development.

Dusan Sidor
Recruiting skaters and recruiting goaltenders are two different things in terms of timing. A school needs a new defenseman or two and a forward or two every year. But a team doesn't need a goalie every year. Because of that timing is everything. Both for the school and the player the timing needs to match. Dusan Sidor thought he'd made a good step verbally committing to a D-III school last season until a few days later when UAA called. He quickly rescinded even though he was probably going from solid playing time to what must only be a "no promises" situation. Good for him. That tells me he's confident enough to believe that he can impress the staff with his practice play and earn playing time. In a rotation with two guys in front of you that's a gutsy move to make. I don't see Sidor as a kid with no ambition happy to sit on a WCHA D-1 bench for 2 years. His dad is a former goalie and goalie coach. He came to the U.S. to develop as a player and by all accounts was capable of some outstanding play from time to time up in Wasilla. Hard to know if he'll get any ice time that isn't a result of filling in for an injury his first year. But who knows ... maybe NOBODY will score on him in the first two weeks of practice. I'd bet he'd get a start that way though.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The 08-09 Sophomore Class

The largest class in the Seawolf program this season is the sophomores. 10 players; a combined 224 games amongst 8 regular skaters last season. These guys are mostly all not rookies anymore. They've earned their stripes. And as sophomores they'll each need to step up their individual play and production for the team's success.

Jeff's eligibility didn't begin until the beginning of the 2nd semester. He played just one game. I remember liking what I saw. As an All-NAHL 1st team defenseman he comes with a nice resume of junior accomplishments (15g-24a in 59 games). He was 4th in the league scoring among that league's defenders. Jeff's freshman year certainly didn't provide much in terms of on-ice experience. No doubt he isn't a freshman off the ice but there'll be a period of games for him this season when still is a freshman on the ice. How long that is likely to last is difficult to guess. I hope that Jeff can "come up to speed" relatively quickly. It looks and seems like he will grow into a contributor with time.

Bryce showed more than a couple of flashes of excellence during his limited play over the 2nd half last season. He is definitely more athletic than most 6'2" goalies. I was surprised by the quickness of both his upper and lower body. Bryce will provide a needed element of competition for the starting goaltender spot. I wouldn't be surprised to see that competition go deep into the season. It is a situation that has the potential to make both guys play better when it's their chance.

I'm not quite sure what I should expect from Winston this season. Well at least in terms of scoring that's accurate. But in terms of effort and commitment on the ice I know exactly what to expect. One-hundred percent effort. That was Winston last year. He bagged a couple of important goals along the way. He finishes his checks. He turns well from the boards toward the net. He's strong on his feet. He's got good hands and vision. He plays with intensity. Winston had outgrown the rookie label before he was injured late in the season. I hope he can find more ways as a sophomore to get himself on the board. His contribution is needed.

When I think about Tommy I think about a quick release i.e... a Brett Hull shot. Ok. That might be a bit of an exaggeration but at least the concept is there. Whether Tommy can pull the trigger quickly isn't the question. He can. Like every other forward in the sophomore class he is going to have to find a way to do that more. More shots = more goals. And more goals are needed. Tommy has the size and wheels that Coach Shyiak likes up front. He should be able to use that size to gain the space he needs to throw the puck on the net.

Nick is a big solid kid with a good pair of wheels. He looks strong and hits hard. He played in 26 games last year. Of forwards that played in more than 50% of the games he was the only one though that didn't find the back of the net. He averaged less than one shot per game. If Nick is to find similar ice time this coming season I'd think he needs to find the net or become a strong role player for a checking line and/or a penalty killer. Another big body (6'2" 200lbs) charging hard into the other teams zone is always a useful asset.

Kane is an important part of an improved transition game for this years team. He has an outstanding ability to find the crease for a pinpoint pass. When the pass isn't available or he simply sees an opportunity, Kane is very adept at carrying the puck himself. Toward the end of his freshman season I could see that he was no longer a rookie. He showed he could assert himself during a game and make potentially game changing plays. He is a valuable part of the power play and logs time on the penalty kill as well. His vision from the back is a critical component to building and executing an effective attack. Improving the puck movement from the back to the front has been an ongoing project since Campbell Blair came on board. And each year we have seen improvement. This season it may be Mat Robinson's defense to lead but next year Kane will be the big dog. I feel better (even inspired) with both Mat and Kane in the lineup.

As with the aforementioned Grant and Daychief, Brad McCabe's production this year will be a direct link to whatever success the team has. Brad is goal scorer first. While he is going to have more than a few occasions where he contributes an assist, the majority of his impact is going to be Brad putting the puck on and in the net. Another player with that "Brett Hull-style" quick release Brad should become more of a threat as the season goes along and he finds his areas. Can he double his goal total from last year? I hope so. I don't think it's unreasonable to hope for 12 or 13 goals from Brad. Anything more will be icing on the cake. Brad was 2nd on the team last year in penalties.

Inside College Hockey was right. Craig is definitely a player to watch in the Seawolves lineup this year. Craig had 7 goals on 45 shots. He remarked in his INCH profile that all of his goals come from the doorstep. Stay on the damn doorstep then Craig ... eh? Stay there all season and bang the biscuit in. Just as with Brad McCabe, the number of times Craig lights the lamp is going to be a key factor in UAA's success.

Luka is a convert. In his last year of juniors Luka started skating on the blueline. Last season I could see steady growth in his effectiveness. Luka brings a more good skating to the blueline. He played in 30 games last season and was another freshman who lost his rookie label earlier rather than later during the season. Luka took an occasional bad penalty in his own end last season. It certainly wasn't any sort of trend but he'll need to stay focused in his own end first this season to eliminate that.

My book on Sean would be themed with surprise. As I mentioned I had doubts when I saw him skate in preseason as to whether he could crack the lineup. But as he got his chances, Sean showed enough intensity and effort to earn additional chances. When those next chances came he doubled-down and got the job done; picking up 4 assists along the way. One of his assets is his long reach. With the new depth in the Seawolf forward lineup Sean is likely to find himself battling for a spot. It'll be a crucial year for him in terms of development. If he can earn enough playing time and find a way to add to the bottom line then I think he'll gain confidence and we'll see a solid 4 year player who contributes something important along the way.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sunday Potpourri: That Time of Year

In my morning reading an article in the ADN confirmed that Anchorage suffered through an unusally cold summer. While making a quick run up to the store I noticed the rain drops were just that little bit colder. Then as skies cleared to the east I looked out my front window and saw the view above. No doubt about it. Those leaves are changing. I've fooled myself for probably a week now. But we've gone a couple of shades from green to yellow already. We haven't reached that point where brisk would qualify as an accurate adjective but it really isn't too far off. Likewise I can't quite say I can taste the beginning of the season; that really isn't too far off either.

There's been an unprecedented virtual orgy of attention lavished on Alaska in the last week or so. I can't say that's horrible I suppose. It should at least serve the purpose of educating a numb nuts or two. I heard one suggest that anyone growing up in Alaska does not have that quintessential "Americana" cultural experience and I suppose therefore isn't an American (yes ... it was some idiot on Fox News). I wondered what part of American culture my daughter is missing? And it came to me when I reviewed a conversation I'd had with her a few months back. It's Red Lobster. There has never been one here. I know my daughter would have liked to see an Olive Garden here but I don't think she's lacking because we don't have pasta choices. It isn't that Red Lobster has some seafood variety that you can't get better prepared at any number of restaurants in Alaska. But instead, it's got to be their reasonable prices. Never getting the chance to pay 12.99 for all-you-can-eat crablegs makes her bereft of American culture. If you ask me, it's akin to state-sponsored child abuse. Now let me say this before some local brainiac reminds me that we don't need Red Lobster because we've got Sea Galley and we can still have access to crablegs-a-plenty; I know Red Lobster (I worked at one for one shift) and Sea Galley is no Red Lobster and no catchy jingle is going to change my thinking.

It's also good to see the discussion of Alaska's potential secession from the U.S. come up in the mainstream media. It's been a plank of the Alaskan Independent Party for a long time. It gets jobbed with the whacko label but it makes a lot of sense. There are differences in the depth to which Alaska has acted as a defacto "colony" when compared with classic "colonial" practice. But it has essentially the same characteristics. I think we should make them an offer they can't refuse. I'd think an offer of 80 billion dollars to the U.S. Government for our freedom from their oppression might do the trick (if they refuse ... then just secede by proclamation). Now I know that's a couple of bucks more than Alaska has in its pocket but we can get Fannie Mae to finance the deal over time.

Here's why it makes sense: only Alaskans really know how to make a go of it here. I mean that in the big sense. Any boob can move up here and survive well enough. But in the sense of getting things done there is a palpable but difficult to define characteristic that makes people who've been here their whole life understand the "place" in a way that few in the lower 48 would grasp easily. So if Alaskans really want growth and prosperity then the best path to that would be to secede. We'll gladly host the American Armed Services personnel at the same rates that other third world countries get. We'll gladly throw up some well placed import taxes and the like. And what makes every true Alaskan's mouth water ... we'll develop the hell out of our resources and in no time everyone's permanent fund dividend payment will be worth 5 or 6 thousand dollars a year. Why was Kuwait considered the richest country in the world? Because every citizen (in one way or another) shared hugely in the development of their resources. There are only 670,000 people up here and I think it's reasonable to think that there's a solid 10-12 billion dollars of potential revenue to the state annually if we would secede. At most it's gonna cost 4-5 billion a year to maintain independence. Keep putting the extra 5 billion or so back into the Permanent Fund program and this place would have a massive savings account in a relatively short time. You lower 48 readers might think that all sounds a bit loony. But my Alaskan readers know what I mean and my discussion here isn't the first time the subject has crossed their mind. This place is unique and I have to admit something ... the reasons for that are beyond just the fact that there's no Red Lobster here.

Don't forget to take a look at the scroll bar above when you visit. I've been putting "things" up there without mentioning them down here. The picnic is this Tuesday evening at Kincaid Park from 6-9. And of course don't think I'd forget to mention my season long effort to gain signatures on the "Preserving the Integrity of College Hockey" petition decrying the inclusion of shootouts. Where is that bad boy you ask? How can you add your name to the list of people that don't want to witness that abortion of a circus act in our game? Wait for it on the scroll and then move your mouse onto the scroll area and click the highlighted text.

Lastly, I beg you to always remember that time itself is nothing more than a quantum artifact of the physical laws which govern our universe (it is not a force or a property). Don't ever think that there is really any way that you can "have" time. But remember that it always "has" you.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The 08-09 Junior Class

Eight 3rd year players and one transfer comprise this years junior class in Seawolf jerseys. The junior season is one where the player is expected to be more mature. This large group will need to exert that leadership on and off the ice this season. It's time for mature, smart hockey and all 9 of these guys have paid their dues. They should be ready to contribute in accordance with the various skills they bring. All of those skills will be needed for success.

Nils had a disappointing sophomore season. He was injured and struggled to regain his regular place in the lineup. A new more mature Nils Backstrom should be a more responsible player this season. A couple of things here and there got away from Nils last season in the defensive end. He'll have to correct those deficiencies to ensure himself regular time this season. With 9 total defensemen that is the reality. Nils brings strengths aplenty though. He skates smoothly and has good top speed. He sees the ice well and makes good tape to tape passes. He is big and strong enough to challenge anyone physically in the defensive end and I've seen evidence of a rough side. Nils is valuable on the power play manning the blueline. He sees both the pass and the shot with the puck on his stick. I think he needs to choose shot more often. If he does then the Seawolves bottom line will improve.

Brian was expected to play last season beginning in the second half. My understanding is that someone didn't put something in the mail soon enough to make that happen. As a result Brian was notified in December that he'd have to continue to sit. I can't think of a player that is probably more ready to hit the ice in a game than Brian must be. His experience at Bowling Green wasn't a good one. Frankly, Brian didn't make the best of it. He allowed distractions to rule the day. It cost him on the ice. I'm assured that Brian has put all of that behind him. I've heard the words anxious to play and something to prove with regard to Brian. He was the top forward on Sioux City's roster in his last year and a leader. As a junior playing in his first year as a Seawolf I don't expect Brian to lead the team in scoring. But I'm guessing he shouldn't be too far behind at the end of the season. Brian will need to become a lynchpin in the UAA offense. I look to him to make whoever he plays with better. He could easily be a mature forward assigned to a couple of rookies on the third line (which would make the 3rd line a threat) or he can be a dependable contributor on the 1st/2nd lines. I'm really looking forward to seeing exactly what he can accomplish with a focused effort.

Kevin isn't the only player on the Seawolf team that can make a great pass or a pretty play. But he sure is likely to do it more often than anyone else. Kevin plays with passion every shift. He always has a physical component to his game. He is an excellent stickhandler and a sneaky passer. And this year Kevin will add maturity to that resume'. His 17 points as a freshman and 23 points as a sophomore are pittances compared to the potential scoring that a mature Kevin Clark can bring to UAA this season. I believe Kevin's name can be amongst the leaders in the WCHA. I think he can double his sophomore output. Lots of things have to happen for that to happen but he does have the skills to get it done. We UAA fans are always going to compare a player like Kevin to the magic-man Dean Larson. Ok then ... Lars had 43 points as a junior. Theres a good mark for you to shoot at Kevin. His committment, passion and scoring should be second to none on this years team. It's time for him to pick up this team and carry it on his back if need be. I believe the saying "as Kevin goes so go the Seawolves" wouldn't be that much of an exaggeration for this year. Kevin's play will be very important this year. Very.

Paul Crowder suffered from the same syndrome last year as so many other UAA forwards. Whatever it was that kept the Seawolves off the scoreboard kept sophomore Paul off the scoreboard as often as he'd managed during his freshman season. For 08-09 Paul will need to double last years goals contribution. It's clear that with two seasons under his belt that he should be ready to do exactly that. Paul has good anticipation. He knows where to be on the ice. Those smarts should allow him to be in position more often to generate chances. Paul is a good team player but perhaps is one kid that I'd tell to be greedier. I'd hope he shoots more often when the chance presents itself; even if there is a sweet pass to be made. Advice to put the puck on the net of course applies to the whole team this season. But in Paul's case I think it has more potential to be fruitful. Paul should view himself as a goal scorer. He is one. I'm always thrilled when he gets a chance on his backhand and buries it. Paul provided leadership on the ice as a sophomore. We're likely to see more of that this season. He'll make younger players better when he skates with them. And he'll be a legitimate goal scoring threat no matter who skates with him.

Playing in about half the games as a freshman and three-quarters as a sophomore Trevor could be poised for much more ice time this season. Trevor is strong and steady on the back end. He doesn't rush the puck much. He is a stay at home defensive guy. I bet he actually "likes" goalies. Pound for pound I'd bet Trevor is as strong as anyone in the WCHA. He plays smart positionally. He took a bad penalty or two over the last couple of years but more often than not he could be depended on to help keep the puck out of the net. He sported the best +/- on the team with +4 last season. Trevor should certainly be motivated to prove himself in order to earn a regular spot in the lineup. As one of the few "stay-at-home" guys on the blueline I can't see much keeping him off the ice. That sort of defensive presence is a valuable commodity. If you're interested in what interests Trevor off the ice then click on this youtube link for his Bill Dance impersonation. Nice hat Trevor.

From a nice 20 points as a freshman Josh Lunden improved the stat books slightly as a sophmore with 27 points. In a year where scoring was down overall on the team a modest increase was nice to see somewhere in the lineup. Josh can be "the" go to guy this season. He's got two years on him which have shown him exactly where he needs to be to put the puck on the twine. That place is in close and I think Josh likes it there too. He works as hard around the net as any forward in the league. He takes his lumps and dishes out a few as well. Josh has enough wheels to fly up the wing with the puck. He has the strength to dominate on the boards behind the net and in the corners. And he'll take any abuse in order to get the puck behind the opposition goalie. I guess Curtis Glencross was the last kid UAA had score 20 goals. If I had to pick the next Seawolf to hit that mark it would be Josh Lunden. How about this year? I hope so. As with every other junior on this squad Josh will need to be cognizant of the example he sets for younger players. Maturity from all these guys will translate to confidence for younger players.

I might not say it if I didn't think that Jon Olthuis already knew, but .886 just ain't gonna get it done this year. The reduction in the GAA from his freshman to sophomore year was nice to see but I have to give equal credit for that to the better defensive game the Seawolves played. So why didn't the save percentage improve? One reason in my mind; it might seem simple but I don't think Jonny O was ready to go from the git go in some games. How many early goals did UAA give up last season. Within the first minute or two? 5. And 3 others within the first 4 minutes. 8 goals that shouldn't have been. Whether Jonny O has to bear that load all on his shoulders is debatable. The team should be ready to go from the drop of the puck as well as the goalie. I know there are other pucks that Jon would like to have back as well throughout the season. The simple fact of the matter is this. This is a year where Jon will have to prove that he deserves to be between the pipes. Bryce Christianson is going to challenge for playing time. I have to believe that will make Jon a better netminder. .900 is the minimum save percentage that a goaltender of a successful WCHA team will have.

Ken Selby is underutilized im my opinion. Part of the reason is probably due to the next player in this post to be described. Ken is the fastest player on the team. At least he was when he got here. Hell, he was probably the fastest player in Canada in his age group when he won the speed competition at the CJAHL prospects game. Unfortunately, Ken has never found a regular place or role in the lineup. Ken's highlight moment was a beauty of a goal he scored last season versus Minnesota. He picked up a deflected puck near center ice, skated to the middle of the slot with the puck and buried a high shot past Kangas. It was a goal scorers goal. He made it look easy when it was anything but easy. I could go on all day about Ken's skating. He flies. But everytime I've watched him play I liked what he did with the puck on his stick. I hope this season is a breakout for him and that Coach Shyiak can find a role suited for his skill set. Another speedy hitter for the energy line?

Jared is a coaches player. In his previous two years Jared has skated on the #1 line to give it a more physical presence and he was successful. He skated mostly on the 4th "energy" line and was one of only 4 forwards with a positve plus/minus rating. Jared has played at defense when needed. He shifts from one line to another or position to position and never seems to miss a beat. The other thing that he never seems to miss is an opposition player in their own zone. Jared's physical game has been tremendous over the past two years. He has snagged, tagged and bagged more WCHA players than any other Seawolf. Jared uses his speed to develop the power for his hitting game. He simply gets there earlier than the opposition thinks and that translates to disruption. It's such a valuable role and Jared has filled it so well that I fully expect him to reprise it this season.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The 08-09 Senior Class

This years UAA senior class has only 3 representatives on the hockey team. Seniors Shane Lovdahl, Mat Robinson and Jeremy Smith. These three represent a diverse set of skills and their contributions will be important for a successful season.

Shane's career at UAA included a promising freshman season followed by a season that saw him absent from the ice in the 2nd half due to an eligibility problem which was technical in nature. His third season showed me a lot of growth (particularly in the 2nd half) in his overall game. Shane had the label of not having the quickest feet on the team but I didn't see anything during the second half last season that causes me any concern. He is strong on his skates and can lay on the big hits both along the boards and on open ice. He played smart defensive hockey, good passes in transition and even showed a flair for stickhandling on the offensive end. I expect Shane to be an important part of UAA's power play. It will be critical to get more goals on the power play as compared to last season and in order to do that you need experience on the blueline. And lets never forget that Shane has a very heavy shot. I think he has some pretty clear motivations to help him make this season a career best for him. He's had a few games in every season where he's watched in street clothes and nobody wants to do that their senior year. There is every reason to think that won't be a problem.

When writing about Mat the first area to focus on is his wheels. He's got a helluva set. But it doesn't stop there. His vision on the ice is second to none. He always has his head up and his sense of anticipation is as good as anyone. Robbie should be a supremely confident senior player. My biggest question is how much can he contribute offensively this season. I can imagine Coach Shyiak would like to increase Mat's focus on the offensive side of things and help him find more ways to contribute. With a solid defensive minded partner Robbie could be free to wheel at times. When those opportunities arise he will need to take full advantage this season. If he does that then leading the team in goals by a defensemen will be a reasonable expectation. The last two years have been all about bringing along a set of defensemen who make a difference in transition to offense. Mat is the oldest and most experienced defensemen on this team with exactly the set of skills needed to make an impact at important times in a game. Who among us doesn't appreciate the perfectly executed hip check now and again from Robbie too ... eh? To summarize ... Robbie's play is very important this season.

Local boy Jeremy Smith walked onto the Seawolf team last year. Jeremy ended his 4 year junior career in the 04-05 season. In the intervening time he didn't play any organized competitive hockey. When Jeremy was added to the roster last year I remember doing a little research and discovering what a popular guy he was with Youngstown/Mahoning Valley fans. He was the enforcer and racked up a solid 198 minutes fulfilling that role. Jeremy looks like a rugged guy too. His potential contribution though to this teams success is measurable. Jeremy will almost certainly be in street clothes pretty much every night. His maturity and leadership in practice and in the stands will be important to the freshman joining him in the stands. A positive example will contribute to those freshman joining and staying in the lineup when their time comes. My hope is that Jeremy gets to play a solid set of minutes against UAF in the second game of that series here in Anchorage. That'd be fun to see.