Saturday, January 31, 2009

Saturday Night: UAA 3 - DU 2 (OT)

We never win in overtime.

I wrote that at the beginning of overtime. Thanks to a clear never say die effort the Seawolves made me look stupid for typing it (even though they had no idea). Good on all of the guys for hanging in there and finding a way to tie the game. And good on you for not giving up when DU was matching you chance for chance in OT and you'd hit a bleeping post. You could have given up right then and just played not to lose. But nobody did, the quality chances all weekend for the Seawolves were nicked just wide all too often; so its good to see that persistent attempts really do pay off. Pats on the back to Curtis Leinweber for finishing it but everybody on the bench at the end of that game deserves praise as well.

The Seawolves tried to hand the game to the Pios in the third period with a series of undisciplined penalties that gave the Pios almost 6 minutes of power play time in the last 7 minutes of the game. But a Paul Crowder led shorthanded rush with a perfect cross ice pass to a streaking Mat Robinson at the far post tied the game. The Seawolves were shorthanded going into the OT and DU had their share of chances. Bryce Christianson came up big when he was needed.

That's 6 points in the last 6 games. It isn't great, but it isn't bad either. For the future, there is work to be done, for the day, hurrah. There are more wins in the boys I'm sure. I know nobody is happy with the loss on Friday but a well-earned win on Saturday at least makes the plane ride home better.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday Night: DU 6 - UAA 2

Mistake-fest: I really have a desire to boil things down when I'm writing. You know ... the perfect summation. Quit making so many mistakes. Where'd the case of communicable fumble-itis come from? I'd imagine if I replayed that game and counted mistakes with the puck that UAA would have about 3 times as many as DU. I guess that's why DU's scored 3 times the number of goals.

Being shorthanded = "mistake"; turning the puck over = "mistake"; not catching an easy pass = "mistake"; not going down to block a shot = "mistake"; falling down for no apparent reason = "mistake"; trying to force the puck through 2 defenders = "mistake" ... and so on.

Credit goes to DU for essentially beating UAA at its own game. It was the DU forwards that were able to maintain possession deep in UAA's zone and that was the difference in the game. They cycled, pressured and worked the puck for long shifts and dominated exactly the way I'd like to see the team I cheer for dominate. Why couldn't UAA do that? Because DU didn't make many mistakes with the puck in their own end; they moved it out effectively. The Seawolves spread their mistakes all over the ice including in their own end; including not moving the puck out effectively.

We are left to but hope they can somehow regroup and pull off a big upset tomorrow night.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

How To Beat The Pioneers

What will UAA fans see on TV this weekend from the DU team? On Friday, there is one thing we won't see; George Gwozdecky behind the bench. George got booted from DU's game versus UND on Saturday in the 2nd period. He took a little stroll across the ice which enraged the normally enraged fans in Susiedom and for which they unsuccessfully called for his head. Late on Tuesday though DU handed George a one-game suspension because he admitted to using a headset to communicate to his team after getting booted.

It was all perhaps one of George's finest strategic moves to motivate his team. The Pios have straight up been playing like shit. Denver hasn't played worth a crap since losing Tyler Bozak to injury. As the head coach, George knows shit hockey when he sees it. And after getting pummelled 8-3 the night before, Saturday wasn't going to pass without George teaching his team a lesson. UAA fans might remember when George once pulled his goalie against the Seawolves at the Sully with like 8 minutes to go in the 3rd period when he was down by 4 goals ... he sent a message to his team. What George did this past weekend was exactly the same thing. I'm not sure exactly how the Pios will play this weekend while their coach sits for "taking one for the team" ... but I'll bet it won't be like shit. Gwoz did what he did to set a tone for his team's stretch run.

Conventional thinking would say that this weekend is a near perfect setup for DU to start that stretch run. They have the 9th place team coming to their rink. The sodbusters will be properly motivated to put out 100 percent effort. DU's stats are telling. They have 9 guys that have scored 5 or more goals. That means every line has been scoring. For comparisons sake, UAA has 5 guys with 5 or more goals.

As I see it, there is one primary advantage that UAA has going into this series. The Seawolves are bigger and DU plays on a rink that is 15ft narrower than the Sully. On the whole the Seawolves are about 7lbs heavier than DU. That may not sound like much but from heaviest to lightest NCAA team the difference is about 12lbs. UAA is 2nd heaviest and DU is 39th. UAA's cycle game is made for this situation. A smaller rink with a smaller opponent? This just screams for UAA's physical game to be dialed up a notch. In Palinese that would be "Hit baby Hit". A good ol' clean hard-hitting western-Canadian butt-whooping style is called for here.

I don't mean to overlook the other important things this weekend. Fewer penalties must be taken. Amping up the physical game and taking fewer penalties aren't mutually exclusive as long as you play that physical game smartly. A more physical tone should mean more oppotunities and of course the Seawolves need to turn those chances into goals. The one thing I do think very strongly for this weekend is that the Seawolves absolutely have to dictate the play.

UAA's top two lines MUST produce this weekend for the Seawolves to come home with points. Grant, Crowder, Bales, Lunden and Clark's names will need to appear in goals and assist columns of the boxscores. MUST ... see how I made that all caps to emphasize it? In order to begin it's own stretch run the Seawolf leaders MUST lead. The one game (so far) success of the "WHiP Line" (Wiles, Haddad, Parkison) MUST be repeated this weekend as well. They MUST be the engine that makes the amped up physical game plan work. They need to gain the DU zone and focus on possession ... which they can accomplish with their size. I'm assuming here that Coach Shyiak is going to go with the same lineup as Saturday night versus MTU.

Yes. Goaltending has to be sharp.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

To Edify Pie-n-Ear Nation

With some WCHA opponent fanbases it is necessary to adopt a certain tone and/or meter in order to write a series preview. Before a UND series, I've got to work myself into a rabid froth to make what I write intelligible to folks in Grand Forks. When SCSU is on the docket, it's necessary to ingest large volumes of lead in order to dumb-down the proper amount. For MTU, I should have piled on obviously unneeded words in my blueprint like some crazed engineer who has an uncle with a warehouse of adjectives and participles that he needs to empty so that anyone taking it apart would be clueless as to why it was built that way.

In DU's case, I'm not quite sure how to proceed. DU is apparently the most expensive WCHA school to attend. It's one of the two only non-state schools in the league. I suppose in a way, it might be described as a Harvard-like priced education for kids that otherwise couldn't get into a Harvard-like school. So does that mean I have to dumb-it-down for the DU crowd too? Nah .. they're smarter than a third-rate statey school in the middle of nowhere and they're smack dab in the middle of the most sophisticated WCHA city. Folks in Denver (and therefore kids that go to DU) can walk and chew gum at the same time. They are so overly-sensitive to criticism of the above picture official logo that they all want to return to a poorly drawn micro-offensively sexist cartoon character but I've got no truck for that whole queer issue; meaning I'll pass on it from a thematic perspective. So after all this pedantic rambling, I'm left with the option of writing pretty much the same way I always do.

This weekend the more observant DU fans will see a quite different UAA team than they've seen in the past. This years team has two primary identities. They are big. They can skate. The forward lines heights and weights read like an NHL roster ... 6'4" 210 -- 6'3" 200 -- 6'3" 203 -- 6'2" 190 -- 6'2" 198 -- 6'2" 202 -- and three other 6 footers.

For the last two years under Coach Shyiak the cycle game has been the strategy of choice. They Seawolves will continue to look to get the puck in deep and possess it while trying to work it to the front. But that isn't the lone offensive strategy. The Seawolves have become a better threat when countering than they have in the past. The number of goals in transition this year is up.

Players like #20 Paul Crowder, #9 Kevin Clark and #40 Brian Bales are using their smarts, quickness and skills to break out scorers like #16 Tommy Grant and #21 Josh Lunden. This past Saturday saw a renewed effort to put together a grinder/energy line made up of #27 Sean Wiles, #18 Nick Haddad and #36 Jade Portwood ... the three biggest forwards on the team and what I'm calling the "WHiP" line. Against MTU on UAA's Olympic-sized ice these guys were monsters beating MTU players to the puck and physically dominating whoever they were skating against. I'm thinking the smaller ice-sheet at Magness should help them to continue that effectiveness.

Paul Crowder is first and foremost a smart hockey player. I like to think he has one of the best backhand shots in the league. He is perhaps the most likely player to bust a teammate free with a brilliant pass. He can also play with a bit of an edge around the net. Mostly, he makes anyone playing with him better. That can be seen by looking at his linemate Tommy Grants production this season. Grant was a reasonable scorer in the BCHL with 36 in his final year of juniors. In his first season at UAA Tommy popped in 5. This year he ends up with Paul Crowder and at this point in the season he is the 2nd leading goal scorer in the WHCA with 14. It isn't all Paul per se that accounts for Tommy's improvement. He has learned to utilize his speed and strength on the rush to get into a good position for one of Paul's excellent passes. They are dangerous killing penalties too and have both setup the other for a shorthanded tally.

Kevin Clark and Josh Lunden are both juniors. They've been linemates at UAA for their whole careers. They've both flourished playing together (Lunden has 35 career goals) and know each other well. Brian Bales rejoined them this past weekend after skating together with them for a good part of the first half of the season. Coach Shyiak moved Bales to another line for his playmaking skills but that attempt has ended. Brian and Kevin are both natural playmakers but Kevin has also shown a talent for putting the puck into the net. These three guys will be a threat to DU everytime they're on the ice this weekend.

On the blueline I'd first note that #13 Nils Backstrom is having his best year in a UAA sweater. With a renewed committment to the defensive side of the game Nils has become a shut down defender. But as his sweet tip-in goal this weekend showed he can be dangerous in front of the net. UAA's captain this season is #33 Mat Robinson. Mat is 5'10" 181lbs. He is the quintessential small college hockey defenseman. He moves the puck up the ice deftly. He sees the ice well. He's got jets. He owns the hip check. #4 Kane Lafranchise is a smooth skating sophomore defenseman that is an up and coming WCHA all-league player at some point. He's got a heavy shot. He plays a smart physcial game. And he is also very strong going forward. Veteran junior #24 Trevor Hunt has matured tremendously this season. He has the confidence (and deftness) to burn a defender deep inside the offensive zone and I don't ever see anyone out-hustle him. In his freshman and sophomore seasons he grew into a strong presence in the defensive end. To see him add this new offensive element to his repetoire has been a nice surprise.

Now I'll talk about the most talented player on the blueline. #11 freshman Curtis Leinweber has had an up and down introduction to college hockey. From virtually his first shift I could see that Curtis had mad skills. With every game that passed I could see him becoming more effective and his early season stats point to it (7 assists in 5 games) before he was injured. After sitting for 6 games Curtis came back with an almost palpable manic-eagerness. I could tell he was excited to make something happen and he still looks that way everytime he hits the ice. He will. I think once he syncs his eagerness with his skills we'll see some great things from him.

Goaltending is a focus of a lot of fans. I'm not one of them. Bryce and Jonny O have given their team opportunities to win. Either the goal support wasn't there or a TEAM breakdown led to a soft goal at a crucial time. As with any goaltender they've each let pucks get past them that they'd like to have back. But combine that with the previously mentioned defensive lapses and you've got ugly statistics. UAA's goaltending stats are bad. It isn't a true reflection of either goalies abilities. They're better than their numbers. If the team in front of them plays up to their potential this weekend then Pio fans will see that as well.

I'll have something about DU for UAA readers sometime tomorrow.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday Potpourri II: Guest Statistical Analysis

This post is from the comments section of my "Change Edition" post earlier today. I hope our friend Whitebeard feels free to supply this blog with this sort of information more often. His handle on USCHO is wetsubarcticanine for anyone familiar with the good observations he makes there. I knew as soon as I started reading it that it deserved it's own post.
I’ve been playing with some numbers to see how well they stack-up against my perceptions. While you can make claims that agree with what you want by picking cherries, I think they back my observations.

UAA is actually outscoring their opponents at even strength. In goals per game, with an equal numbers of skaters, the top 5 WCHA teams are: DU (2.67), NoDak and SCSU (2.44), Wisco (2.28), Minny (2.13) followed by UAA (2.06). In giving-up goals at even ice, the order of the 5 stingiest is: Duluth (1.33), UAA (1.67), Denver (1.83), NoDak (1.89), and Kato (1.90).

Things really go craptistic with people in the box. The four teams weaker on the PP than the conference average (its a small smidgeon more than a goal per game), in order of mounting futility are: DU (0.94), SCSU (0.83), Tech (0.65), and UAA (0.44). If that weren’t enough to salt my beer, the four teams that are below the conference average at denial on the PK are: Duluth (1.11), Tech (1.30), Kato (1.50) and, lugging the red lantern, UAA (1.72).

Those following dutifully, and ready for the quiz at the end, may have spotted a really odd thing. UAA has surrendered more goals short handed than at even strength (31-30). Though I’ve not looked for such a thing, I’d expect that stat to be approaching hen’s teeth uniqueness. The 4 teams with fewer PP goals than PP goals allowed are: SCSU (-3), Kato (-5), Tech (-13), and really out there UAA (-23).

UAA still has the fewest PP’s per game in the conference (.90 less than the average) but up a lot from where they were after the ridiculous officiating in the games aginst CC here in Anchorage and I started keeping track. Also they have given-up the 3rd most opportunities (.71 more than the average), but continuing to come down. Who they have and haven’t played is a factor, and some teams are more prone to spending time contemplating the error of their ways on the other side of the ice from the team benches.

There’s stats and reality. For a while I’ve seen a complete reversal of what was happening when UAA regularly killed 2 to 3 minutes of 5 on 3 in nearly every game earlier in the season. The team was defeating their opponent at the ’Wolves blue line, almost always at one of the points. They denied entry to their zone for well more than half of the clock ticks the other team was up 2 men. (The 5 or 4 kill wasn’t as spectacular, but it was much better than things have been of late). I haven’t put hash marks on my palm to get any kind of accuracy, but it seems that other teams are in the zone and set-up with more than disturbing regularity when they come up the ice on the PP now.

Conversely, we have very little time on the PP with possession in the attacking zone, because we are being denied it, or trying to gain possession along the boards after a dump. (This weekend against the technophiles, I some improvement.)

I’d think an effective drill for gaining the zone with possession is hard to devise and work at practice. It’s also likely that the narrower sheet on campus would make any reps somewhat pointless.

What to do, what to do?


Sunday Potpourri: The Change Edition

With the federal government looking to stimulate the depressed economy through huge tax breaks and the infusion of almost obscene amount of stimulus money what does Sarah 416 Palin come up with to deal with this state's fiscal issues? A government hiring freeze. That's some quality thinking there pose-queen. It would be silly to move some of the 28 billion dollars that is invested in the U.S. stock market and real estate and instead invest it in the people and/or infrastructure of Alaska. That wouldn't be a shrewd investment would it ... I mean ... not as shrewd leaving as leaving the current investments (which suffered an 11 billion dollar decline in total value) in the U.S. stock market. Malls in Virginia > People of Alaska. Don't change a thing Sarah 416. The absurd entertains me.

There were big changes in UAA's line combinations last night. Did ya notice? Brian Bales moved up to skate with Josh Lunden and Kevin Clark reuniting a line that was productive earlier in the season. Ken Selby got out of jail and skated with Grant and Crowder on the 2nd line. Nick Haddad and Sean Wiles teamed up with Jade "Wings" Portwood on a checking/energy line while Parkinson centered Tyler Moir and August Aiken. Here's what I said last week ...
Recreate a pure energy line. As I see the lines right now there simply isn't an energy line. Talented players are spread through lineup. There is much good that can come from such a strategy. But the team seems to be missing an element. My example here is a line like Tuton, Tassone and Corrin was in the past. Here's my lines:
Lunden, Clark, Bales
Grant, Crowder, Aiken/Selby
Moir, Parkinson, Portwood
Wiles, Haddad, Selby/Tuton
It's definitely a change when I pretty much nail something like that hence my reason for pointing that out.

The biggest success from the line changes was exactly what I wanted to see. The 4th line, the energy line, the checking line or what I want to call the "WHiP Line" was highly effective last night. On Friday night I thought the 3rd line of Moir, Parkinson and Portwood was UAA's best line ... On Saturday it was clearly Wiles, Haddad and Portwood making good things happen. They didn't have as many scoring chances as the other three lines but they made it all go with their solid physical play. They didn't have to backcheck much ... they were pretty much always deep in the MTU zone. That's a lotta beef coming atcha if you're an opponent. Wiles is 6" 4" and 207lbs ... Portwood is 6' 3" and 200lbs ... Haddad is just 6' 2" and 198lbs at center. And they can all get up and done the ice well. I like it. I hope Coach Shyiak liked it. I want more of it. A line that can put that much pressure and damage on the opponent doesn't have to even contribute to the score line to be important to the overall effort. Give those three guys the honor of being starters next week I say.

I think Brian Bales with Kevin Clark and Josh Lunden accomplished exactly what I thought it would. It relieves Kevin a bit from all the playmaking duties. He was definitely more of a presence in front of the MTU net on Saturday night. He had more than a few scoring chances and shots from the slot. These three showed some chemistry earlier in the season when they skated together. I hope we see it next weekend versus DU. Brian looked good both nights in terms of his effort. I think he picked his play up a bit. On more than one occassion he and Kevin combined by having one or the other's back which led to chances. His desire was evident.

Tommy Grant, Paul Crowder and Ken Selby is perhaps a work in progress. Ken hasn't seen a lot of ice time this year and skating with UAA's top two scorers it may take another game or two for him to find his stride. He looked good. I'd say there were at least 2 times where I saw him in a particular place on the ice and wished he was somewhere else. But that's nothing more than rink rust and getting used to linemates. He played well enough to warrant an ongoing opportunity to prove himself ... and that is something I don't think he's really ever had. Grant and Crowder have a natural chemistry which is due in large part to Paul I think. He has an uncanny knack for finding his linemates. Give him some time to gel with Ken and maybe Selby could blow up the same way that Grant has done.

August Aiken has some good potential. He played his best game last night. He is quick and can handle the puck and again had more than a few solid shots last night that challenged Nolan. Craig Parkinson is a playing well at center. He obviously is the teams best faceoff guy and his goal on Friday night should convince him that he is more than just a greasy goal scorer. Tyler Moir is really coming into his stride at this point in the season and perhaps putting the "rookie" label behind him. I thought he was good around the net this weekend and strong on the puck when cycling. Give these three guys time enough together and I can imagine them becoming a productive 3rd line.

Nils Backstrom is having his best season. His defensive play is dead-solid. Mistakes from him are few and far between. He scored a sweet tip-in goal last night when he saw an opportunity to rush in and took it. Beautiful. He was responsible, committed and led by example. He was arguably the best player on the ice overall on the weekend. He looks more focused. I thought Mat Robinson didn't have the best series. Robbie is so damned solid regularly and awesome often enough that if he has a couple of hiccups they are really noticeable. He had a couple of hiccups this weekend. He'll put that behind him no problem. Curtis Leinweber was a scratch on Saturday night. I'm really high on him (as I believe the coaching staff is also) so I'm not enthusiastic about him sitting. On the flip side I like Luka Vidmar playing versus sitting. But it looks like someone has to sit as I think Jared Tuton is likely to take up permanent residence on the blueline. Jared is a coaches dream. He plays anywhere a coach asks him to. He plays exactly the way a coach wants him to in whatever role. And he does any/all of that as good as anybody else would. His goal on Friday likely cemented him in that position. Kane Lafranchise is/has been/and will remain solid, dependable and potentially dangerous offensively. Trevor Hunt continues to surprise me with some deft puck handling in the offensive zone. Keep it up Trevor. You're definitely having the best year of your UAA career.

On the weekend, the Seawolves got 3 of 6 goals and a total of 6 of 15 total points from the blueline (3 goals and 3 assists). That is something that has been missing on a consistent basis since earlier in the season. Hopefully, this past weekend is the first sign of some future consistency in that area.

The Seawolves are 2 points away from 8th place thanks to Mankato's ineptitude versus Duluth this weekend. St. Cloud however got three points on the road at CC and are 3 points clear of UAA in 7th. Duluth's sweep of Mankato puts them 2 points ahead of CC and 2 points behind CC and Minnesota who are tied for 4th (the Gophs have games in hand after a bye weekend). A home ice playoff for the Seawolves as a possibility is still valid. If the parity in the league continues as it has then it's likely that the number of points for a home ice spot could go as low as 26 or 27 (down from the usual average of about 29). So to get a sniff of a home ice spot the Seawolves would have to find a way to get 12 points in it's last 10 league games. Six of those 10 games are on the road at DU, Minnesota and Duluth. The only remaining home league series are St. Cloud in two weeks and North Dakota a month from now.

12 points huh? 6 wins in 10 games is perhaps a tall order based on the existing record. And let's be honest here. The next 4 weekends of WCHA hockey contains the toughest part of the 08-09 schedule. But perhaps ... just perhaps, the Seawolves can find that high level of play on a consistent basis that we've seen from time to time this year. The success that North Dakota is having recently should be a good example for the Seawolves to look at. I go up and down that roster and compare it to UAA's and quite honestly there isn't some huge gap in talent. That team believes. They are playing with vast amounts of confidence and never seem to give less than 110% effort. In the old "will vs. skill" equation they are getting it done with lots of "will".

Coach Shyiak gets some credit here from me for being more emotionally involved on Saturday night. He worked the referees moreso than he usually does. He's never cheap with the pats on the back to players coming off the ice and I noticed lots of that on Saturday as well. The zebras as a whole weren't horrible with the one notable exception of not applying the new icing rules correctly most of the time. This season we were supposed to see more wave-offs whenever a pass is attempted and doesn't connect. It has been sporadically applied in games I've seen on TV and the regular UAA linemen appear completely clueless.

And I'm not going to talk about goaltenders. I said last week I thought Bryce should get the nod for #1. There was nothing wrong with the way he played Friday night. Neither of the MTU power play goals nor the short-hander that tied the game were his fault. And so Jonny O gets the start on Saturday and there was nothing wrong with the way he played. I wouldn't fault any of MTU's goals against him. That was a lot of not talking about them eh?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Seawolves 3 - MTU 3

I'm a bit weary so I'm not going to give a long recap. And by weary I just mean I'm honest to goodness tired and don't feel like writing: tonight's result not being a factor, even if it was "teh suck". The most positive way to spin this weekend is to say that the team didn't hurt themselves standings-wise ... they didn't help themselves standings-wise though either. I'll have more extensive thoughts after a good nights sleep so come back tomorrow if you're interested and I'll talk about individual players a bit and how I thought they did.

Let me finish by talking about lessons learned. This team has been through more than a few situations/games so far this season that were abject lessons. There shouldn't have been any barrier to imprinting those lessons on the players minds. They've all been demi-traumatic enough in some way to ensure that. Same thing this weekend. At some point these lessons learned must be applied. Right? That's how the world works. Right? We trip and fall, then trip and fall, then do it again before we learn to pick up our feet when walking. Right?

And oh yeah ... Tech isn't as bad as their record.

Friday, January 23, 2009

UAA Loses 3-3

Incomprehensible. That is all.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

AJHL All-Star Brett Cameron to UAA in 2010

Spruce Grove Saints 18 year old Alberta Junior Hockey League South Division All-Star forward Brett Cameron has committed to the UAA Seawolves according to Chris Heisenberg.

The 6' 2" 195lb forward is currently #16 on the league scoring chart in his 2nd year of Junior A hockey with the Saints having scored 22 goals with 27 assists in 43 games.

Brett turns 19 this coming May. In his rookie season (2007-2008) he scored 18 goals with 23 assists in 58 games and was an All-Rookie selection.

If it wasn't obvious to you Brett is another big forward. If UAA opponents aren't tired of being battered in their own zone yet, they are sure to be so 4 or 5 years from now. Welcome to the Seawolves Brett. We look forward to seeing you in a Seawolf sweater.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

MTU/UAA Series: Back To Basics

*image stolen from College Hockey News (Tale of the Tape)

Like many years the WCHA has bunched itself into three tiers of points. The top tier contains 5 teams with only 3 points separation between the top and bottom ... DU (23pts), Wisconsin (22pts), Minnesota (21pts), North Dakota (20pts) and Colorado College (20pts). The second tier has 4 teams separated by only 4 points with Mankato (16pts), UMD (15pts), SCSU (14pts) and UAA (12pts). The third tier is comprised of only Michigan Tech (5pts). UAA is among 6 teams that have played 16 games. The other 4 teams have played 18 games. Michigan Tech has played 18 games.

This weekend's series is once again the most important games of the season for UAA. A failure to gain the maximum number of points and UAA could find itself in the third tier along with MTU. Get the 4 available points and (depending on results in other games) UAA could move to the top of the 2nd tier just a bit more than a sniff away from the 1st tier. I'll be experiencing a high degree of fan anxiety this weekend. It'll be a couple of more weekends before everyone has played the same number of games which will clarify things quite a bit. But for now the Seawolves have to go into this weekend knowing they have an opportunity to do themselves a fair bit of good.

Though MTU has struggled this season to get wins they are far from being a walkover for anyone in the league. The Seawolves will need to play their best two games of the season to accomplish the necessary points gain. As always, this Jamie Russell coached team starts with defense and solid goaltending. Rob Nolan is perhaps as talented as any goaltender in the WCHA. He is a kid that is capable of standing on his head in any game. MTU is the least penalized team in the WCHA. Their GAA is better than UAA's though they are the lowest scoring team in the NCAA.
When you match up the teams on paper UAA is scoring 2.8 goals per game and MTU is giving up 3.12 goals per game. MTU scores just 1.38 goals per game while UAA has given up 3.3 goals per game.

It must therefore be a return to basics weekend for the Seawolves. They must give up as few power play chances as they can. They have to be committed in their own end to deny the Huskies shots. They have to possess the puck in the MTU zone and go strong to the net. If the Seawolves can execute the basic facets of sound hockey they should come out on top in both games. Of course the Seawolves will have to get good goaltending from whomever is between the pipes. MTU obviously isn't a scoring machine but what scoring they have accomplished is reasonably spread throughout their lineup. It isn't time for fancy power play changes. Nor is it time to open the game up to play run and gun pond hockey. Back to basics baby. Back to basics. Play hard-nosed physical hockey. Own the ice surface in front of your home fans. Fancy shit isn't needed or wanted here.

The all-time record between UAA and MTU is 24-23-8 in favor of MTU. Wouldn't it be nice if this coming Sunday the all-time record is 25-24-8 in favor of UAA?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Scoop From The Booster Club

Got a nice update from Blueliner Booster Club member (and my nominee for next Club President) Suze on some upcoming Club happenings. Thought I'd pass them along. Make sure you mark them down because I'm the suck when it comes to reminding folks about events like these.

Coaches Luncheon Schedule:
Two luncheons remain on the schedule. The first is February 6th with St. Cloud State Coach Bob Motzko. It doesn't say they'll be handing out the classic Duncan Imperial Yo-Yo's to all attendees but if I were Blueliner Booster Prez I can guarantee everyone showing up would get one and be encouraged to fiddle with it throughout the luncheon.

The only other luncheon scheduled will be on February 20 when North Dakota comes to town. If you can't get by without a dose of North Dakota Coach Dave Hakstol and/or really enjoy being stared down by red-faced guy gritting his teeth then don't miss out. I'm tellin ya ... that cat has way more personality than a guppy. Seriously.

Both luncheons are at the Lucy Cuddy Center at 11:30am and hey Dr. Cobb says the food is always great.

Skate With The Seawolves:
Grab your skates and get your fan ass on down to Westchester Lagoon on Sunday February 8th at 3pm to skate with the team. There'll be hot dogs, hot chocolate and prizes. I'd imagine they'll have a warming barrel. The note doesn't say anything about bringing sticks or pucks but if you show up with those I'm pretty sure they aren't going to chase you off.

Parent's Weekend:
The North Dakota series is also the weekend for the annual Parent's Weekend. There'll be a jersey auction following the Saturday night game. Hopefully, this year the parents will be introduced before one of the games. Last year they did it between periods and I thought it was disruptive. In any case, make sure you're in your seats to show these fine folks our appreciation for raising such a fine group of young men to entertain us.

Seawolves Add Chris Crowell For 09

Chris Heisenberg has added another recruit to his list for the UAA Seawolves. Chris Crowell from the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL will join the team next season (09-10). At 6' 2" and 205lbs Chris certainly fits the pattern of large framed power forwards for which the Seawolves are becoming known. Chris turns 21 on February 5th and is the Captain for the team.

In 45 games this season he has 11 goals and 23 assists with 86 penalty minutes. He is a 4th year Junior A player with Vernon. In 07-08 he had 9 goals and 17 assists in 55 games with 134 penalty minutes. In 06-07 he tallied 12 goals with 6 assists and 205 penalty minutes in 58 games. As the profile video above from Vipers TV and the video below show ... he's definitely tough. There are several other youtube videos documenting his toughness. Welcome to the Seawolves Chris.

Monday, January 19, 2009

If I Were The Coach

If I were the coach about the last thing I'd want to see is some loudmouth fan second guessing me on the Internet. So apologies first to Coach Shyiak for doing this. I suppose in a lot of ways this whole exercise of blogging can turn into an exercise of second guessing. I mostly try to avoid anything along those lines that is obvious to me; but I've no doubt that plenty of that sort of thing ends up here. Today though, I'm going to try to specifically be a second guesser.

Before I get into it all though let's look at some truth's about the season so far. The Seawolves have greatly improved since last season. Scoring is up. Scoring against is down. The team has individuals placed amongst the league leaders stastistically. There are 14 games remaining to play and the guys have exceeded last years win total both overall and in conference play. Most of all, we can ALL see that the product on the ice is improved. Nothing is ruled out mathematically at this point probably other than getting an at-large invitation to the NCAA's.

Yet with all that; there are things that we can ALL see that could or should be improved. A series of comments over the weekend spurred me to write this presumptuous post.

If I were the coach I'd:
Name a starting goaltender for the rest of the season. The rotation of Jonny O and Bryce hasn't produced a clear #1. Coach Shyiak has given both of these fine kids a chance to step up and claim the spot. Neither has owned it though and one could point to any number of reasons why. Some inconsistent play by the team in front has left both guys in tough spots at one time or another. I think it is important though at this point in the season for the team (and more importantly the goaltender himself) to know in advance who is the final line of defense for the rest of the way. And for the guy with the glove and blocker there isn't anything better than knowing your coach has the confidence in you.

Jonny and Bryce play the game differently enough to effect the way the team in front of them plays. So with all that said ... I think Bryce should get the nod. He is clearly more athletic than Jon. That's no put down to Olthuis. There is much to be said for his consistency and ability to never be rattled. But I believe that Jonny's low level of excitability (if that's a good description) also makes him the netminder less likely to stand on his head. Bryce's athleticism and his clear superiority in handling the puck are the difference in my mind. Bryce will be here after Jonny is gone. Giving him the nod should make him more confident.

If I were the coach I'd:
Sit the team down in the film room and show them examples of power plays that work. Right now I believe that the biggest problem with the power play isn't puck movement. It is foot movement. Forget about any issues with gaining the zone (those are relatively simple to correct) but once in the zone I don't think the Seawolves aren't showing much (if any) positional flexability. It is true in this sport that a pass advances play more than skating. But on the power play, passing has to be combined with smart player movement to create scoring chances.

One good example is a play that UAA already tries to utilize on the power play. The point men move the puck horizontally and switch sides. This sort of thing is useful in creating a open seam for the puck to get through. But there is little (if any) rotation of players vertically. In the simplest sense five guys circling the 4 penalty killers. Thinking in terms of who is on the left and who is on the right can be limiting. Moving the puck and players around (and through) the defenders would be the best way to find that crucial back door. Props to working on and finding better ways to get shots through from the point. That's an important aspect for the power play to be successful as well. But player movement seems to be lacking.

If I were the coach I'd:
Recreate a pure energy line. As I see the lines right now there simply isn't an energy line. Talented players are spread through lineup. There is much good that can come from such a strategy. But the team seems to be missing an element. My example here is a line like Tuton, Tassone and Corrin was in the past. Here's my lines:
Lunden, Clark, Bales
Grant, Crowder, Aiken/Selby
Moir, Parkinson, Portwood
Wiles, Haddad, Selby/Tuton
It isn't that I don't like Shane Lovdahl at forward. I do. He's got great hands. It isn't that I don't like Tuton on D. He's responsible wherever he plays. But I think Wiles, Haddad and Selby/Tuton all have the size and speed to make a pretty scary line going forward and the strength to backcheck effectively. Both Bales and Clark are playmakers. But Kevin is a goal scorer as well and I think he is a natural centerman; he and Lunden also have chemistry. Free him from having to make plays and he'll bury more pucks. Aiken showed me enough this past weekend to see that he has stick skills and that he knows where the net is. Crowder makes anyone he plays with better and he and Grant have shown a lot of chemistry. Moir and Portwood are both strong along the walls and strong on the puck and in my mind the third line would be great in terms of the cycle/possession game. Parkinson is excellent on face-offs and we already know he knows where the front of the net is and how to score from there.

If I were the coach I'd:
Designate the puck carrying defensemen. In other words, I'd turn off the green light on some blueliners. It isn't that every single one of them isn't capable of doing something positive going forward. The problem is that they ALL are. I don't know that even a team with 8 Bobby Orrs on the blueline would be successful. Don't get me wrong. I love offense generated from the backline. I don't think the team has been burned by our blueliners carrying the puck. So why stop some guys from going forward? To solidify the defensive effort. To make sure there is always somebody in position.

Keep Backstrom at home. He's already filling that role this year and it should continue. Put Lovdahl back on the blueline and get his buy-in to how important the defensive effort is to the overall gameplan. I like seeing Trevor Hunt go forward; he has really shown smarts in doing so. But unfortunately, I haven't seen anything come from it. Add Luka Vidmar to the stay at home list. That leaves you with Robbie, Lafranchise and Leinweber as puck movers. I don't know why Carlson never plays but will assume there is some reason. If he does crack the lineup then I'd look at him as being another stay at home guy. None of this says that if there's a clear opening that a defenseman shouldn't take it. It is just that at least one blueliner on every shift ought to have the primary responsibility of staying at home. My suggestion as to which players fill which role are essentially meaningless but I'm throwing them out there anyway.

If I were the coach I'd:
Show more emotion. Dave Shyiak is not the most animated coach behind the bench. Every coach has their own style which is a product of their personality. Dave is a steady steady guy. I believe though that at the college level a team looks to their coach to set the tone. I think the team has been a reflection of that with Dave behind the bench. They play emotionally in some situations but I don't see those situations as having come from the boss. It's really my only criticism. I guess I just think that sometimes a little bit of Bobby Knight can be a useful thing. It's important to note here that my impressions here with regard to Dave's style are completely and totally from afar. Maybe he's Knute Rockne in locker room?

If I were the coach I'd:
Tell loudmouth bloggers to shut the fuck up and focus on decent recaps for his readers and on disrespecting opponents in previews.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday Potpourri: Embarrassment Edition

Yes. Losing to MSU-M by six goals is an embarrassment to Alaska. But to be fair let's put it into perspective. Here are some Alaska things that are exponentially more embarrassing. So fear not UAA Seawolves ... you guys definitely laid an egg on Saturday but that minor shame doesn't begin to compare to the grandeur of shame that all the following morons have spewed onto this otherwise fine state.
1. Sarah Palin
I know it's an easy target but let's review a few things:

Cheated on her hubby with his business partner

Son forced into the Army by judge following his foray into the drunken vandalizing of 44 school buses

Daughter pregnant at 17 ... her baby-daddy's mum sells "hillbilly heroin"

On a clear day you can see Russia (Big Diomede island) from Alaska (Little Diomede island); 11 people live on Little Diomede Island ... that isn't foreign policy experience you dumb bitch
425 on verbal SAT; 416 on Math SAT -- 36th and 31st percentile
Reverend "Witchdoctor" Muthe

Rape kits paid for by Wasilla rape victims (hooray for fiscal conservatism)
in a state with the highest rape rate in the U.S.
DUI-convicted hubby running rampant in the state capitol as if he were the Gov causing the whole Troopgate embarrassment

**Hey Sarah ... don't come to the Sully for the Governor's Cup thing this year ok? Really ... don't.

2. Aerial Wolf Hunting

In order to artificially increase Moose populations for hunters the State of Alaska instituted a program where a select group of assassins are paid a bounty and allowed to cull the wolf population from airplanes. The program includes the killing of pups inside their dens. Palin didn't initiate but wholeheartedly supports this effort. Former Alaska Governor and Nixon's Interior Secretary Wally Hickel once said, "We cant just let nature run wild."

3. Ted Stevens

Renaming an airport after someone is usually reserved for dead guys. But to honor the 40 year carpetbagging career of this vile miscreant (and now convicted FELON), the Anchorage International Airport now bears his name. Little did the folks who perpetrated this monstrous foible on the people of this fine state know that at the time they did so, Uncle Ted was getting 200K+ worth of remodeling on his home done gratis by the most corrupt businessman in the state. A man who has only avoided jail by ratting out all the politicians he bribed.

4. Charlie Sokaitis

Yes. The lowly junior sports reporter on KTUU-TV is the 4th most embarrassing thing in Alaska. The kid is illiterate ... remember "Merceyherst" from earlier this year; he also yells at the camera ala Billy Mays. And he is from Fairbanks. He misprounces two names per broadcast at a minimum. He is more embarrassing than Dan Fagan, Meg Stapleton and Bill McAllister combined. All of whom are carpetbagging imports doing whatever they can to cash in via their media positions (all of whom coincidentally started their Alaska media careers at KTUU).

5. Pork Pork Pork Pork Pork

This state for decades has led all U.S. states in federal spending per capita (a whopping 71% more than the average). 1 in 3 jobs in Alaska is indirectly tied to federal spending. I'm all for finacial support of bush Alaska and the difficulties associated with living in the remote places. Many bush people were still shitting in buckets until recently. The U.S. knew of these challenges when it adopted Alaska as a state so some extra spending here is understandable. But a disproportionate amount of that funding has historically gone to support the latest and greatest (and most expensive) military toys. The Cold War ended 20+ years ago. Russia isn't going to invade through Alaska anymore ... actually they never were. Do I have to mention 450 million dollar bridge to Gravina Island? All this while a 40 billion dollar investment account exists that pays every individual in the state an average of 1000 dollars a year. Yes ... the Palins will get 7 of those checks. Those folks on TV with 18 freaking kids are dumbasses if they don't move here (they would have gotten over 36,000 dollars this past year).

That's my top five. There are quite a few other embarrassing tidbits about Alaska. But I'm not really here to edify everyone about all that. Do a little research and you can learn some amazingly embarrassing shit about Alaska on your own (hint: Google "jesuit and catholic priests in Alaska" for a start). Don't get me wrong. I call myself an Alaskan and am proud of so much of what this state has to offer. But I'm not about to close my eyes to the crap that exists here.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Kato 7 - Seawolves 1: FUGLY

This should be short and sweet. Ok well not exactly sweet. That game was one of the ugliest losses I've ever witnessed. How many Seawolves could possibly fall down on their asses at crucial moments? Did the Maverick's trainer sharpen UAA's skates? I realize here that if a player's skates weren't sharp, he'd know it and take some action. But I can't remember seeing that many different players lose an edge and go down ... in ... um ... let's see ... what's the word I'm looking for ... oh yeah ... EVER.

The game was essentially over when Olthuis fell down in the corner while trying to make a long pass to generate a chance. My daughter commented at that point that the way the team was playing she didn't think they'd be able to come back. She pegged it.

I'm not saying here that UAA players weren't trying at times. They were but on the whole whatever they did try was really ineffecitve. I liked what I saw from August Aiken for the most part (the late slashing penalty wasn't real cool). I think he could move up the line chart over the course of the rest of the season. I liked Kevin Clark's fire for the most part (except the retaliatory slash he got called for). I could go down the player list here and mention a positive and a negative for nearly every player. But I won't since you get the point. Let me just end this section with one little tidbit of advice ... um ... try backchecking a little bit eh?

The DRAMATIC change in the way the referees called the game could have had some effect I suppose but they aren't really to blame. I will say that the manhandling that the homer-boy linesman gave Nick Haddad should honestly be addressed by Coach Shyiak to the WCHA Director of Officiating. Pushing a kid into the box who wasn't trying to resist in any visible manner is way over the line.

I wasn't impressed at all with the repetitive, uncreative power play. It was simply the same thing over and over. Move the puck back and forth twice and shoot from the point. It's good that they improved somewhat from past games in trying to get those shots through but seriously, how hard is it to defend against the same thing over and over?

I could go on and on here with regard to the ugliness that the Seawolves foisted on college hockey fans tonight. But I won't. It goes down as one loss. The WCHA mantra is win at home and split on the road. The Seawolves got the split. They might have only marginally outplayed Mankato on Friday but they did get the W. This is definitely one the guys need to forget as quickly as possible. It was embarrassing and frankly impossible to defend ... I'm just happy that time is linear and the game is already in the past. At least HBO is rerunning a "Rome" episode tonight ... Titus Pullo is always sure to provide positive entertainment.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Seawolves 4 - MSU-M 2

A relatively strong 3rd period tonight keyed an important win for the Seawolves. A late goal from Josh Lunden with about three and a half minutes left put UAA up 3-2 after the teams had traded even strength and power play goals in the first two periods. Tommy Grant sealed the deal with an empty netter but was cheap-shotted with a hard slash for the effort. Hopefully, it didn't do any permanent damage.

The game was a bit hard to follow as someone along the transmission path had a bad setting which crunched up the image and left probably 20 percent of the left and right sides missing. In any case, much of the game was played between the faceoff circles. I thought overall the Seawolves outplayed the Mavericks but honestly it wasn't by much; so the score is a pretty fair reflection of the play. Jonny O was solid between the pipes not having much of a chance on either goal.

Josh Lunden had the most chances to finish on the evening and his two goals are very nice to see after he had been in a bit of a slump prior to breaking it last weekend. There weren't enough power play chances to see if any of the work the boys have been putting in was effective. The 1st power play chance of the night was a bit frenetic at first as the Mavs were ultra-aggressive but once UAA gained solid control they did manage to get two solid shots through from the point.

In combination with last weekend and what I've seen in other the limited number of other league games I've seen, I have to say that WCHA referees have dramatically backed off the crazy strict rules enforcement we saw in the first half. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing quite honestly. I want to see the games played without all the whistles we had been seeing but it's tough to watch your guys get hauled down, held and interfered without getting a call. At minimum I counted 4 clear infractions on the Mavs that would have been penalized previously.

I would add more here but to be honest with you ... I'm trying to quit smoking and even though it is just day one I'm finding it hard to concentrate. I don't plan on mentioning it again but if my posting seems "off" over the next week or so that'll be why. When the gray matter is so used to nicotine it just doesn't want to crank along like normal.

Congrats to the boys. This was an important win. Tomorrow night it is just as crucial to get a win in order to have a reasonable position points-wise in the standings going down the stretch.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

On Adding Bemidji State to the WCHA

There will be a vote today amongst WCHA officials to decide whether or not to lift the current moratorium on league expansion. Unless you've been in a cave you probably know that this vote is a result of the Bemidji State Beaver's application to join the WCHA since their league (the CHA) is due to end it's existence at the end of this season. Two events have led to the downfall of the CHA. Wayne State quit playing hockey and the Air Force Academy moved to the AHA. This left the CHA with only 4 teams and the NCAA will not continue to give a conference an autobid to the tournament to a conference with less than 6 teams. The CHA will still get an autobid this year as the NCAA instituted a grace period.

Today's vote by WCHA members is a simple majority vote. If it passes (and it's almost certain to do so) then another vote will be held (most likely during the summer) to evaluate Bemidji's application to join. Eight WCHA teams will have to vote yes at that time for Bemidji's entrance. Overall the WCHA could be considered a bit snooty. The league has it good. It has built a reputation for quality over the years and national championships aplenty. So Bemidji has it's hands full to show that it can carry it's load. They've pretty much done everything right. They've gotten funding for a new arena and plans are in place to make that happen relatively quickly. The team already competes reasonably well in non-conference games with the WCHA. And their geographic advantage is appealing to a number of current WCHA teams.

I've spoken with someone in the know and I've come to the conclusion that Bemidji's application is all but doomed in it's current form (probably only has 4 or 5 yes votes at the maximum). But I believe it can be successful with one big if. IF Bemidji can convince another geographically advantageous team to also apply then they're probably a shoe-in. Nobody wants an 11 team league. It makes for an unbalanced schedule that is worse than the already ugly schedule the WCHA uses. There are two schools which would ensure Bemidji's bid and both of them currently play in the CCHA; UNO and NMU. Either one of these schools joins Bemidji and the WCHA will probably become a 12 team league. If neither does then Bemidji will almost certainly still be on the outside looking in.

Having been a fan of a team in a similar position to Bemidji, I have a certain affinity for their problem. As an independent in the early 90's both UAA and UAF faced an uncertain future. Nobody wants to play a whole season of hockey when there is little or no possibility of contesting for a championship of some kind. Recruiting kids to play in that sort of situation would be all but impossible. UAA and UAF were essentially saved by the WCHA and CCHA adding them to their conferences. Even with all that history in mind and an understanding of what Bemidji is going through, I have to admit to some indifference to their plight. After all, like I said above; the WCHA has got it good.

A big part of me says that Bemidji ought to go back to Division III. After all there are tons of DIII teams in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Bemidji has a long history of performing well at that level. I also was not thrilled with Bemidji Prez Jon Quistagard's histrionic-laden semi-ultimatum last season. It displayed an unwillingness to pursue any other option outside of joining the WCHA. Such ultimatums generate negativity in me.

All that said, there is one primary reason only that I support Bemidji's entry to the WCHA. The loss of Division I teams is likely to jeopardize the current 16 team NCAA tournament at some point. None of the 4 teams in the CHA have certain futures and losing all four would very likely result in contraction to 12 teams for the postseason. Even if Bemidji can't bring another geographically reasonable team with them they should be added to the WCHA.

There are measures that can be taken to make an 11 team conference work reasonably well. The first of which would be to reduce the number of league games from 28. Extra non-conference games could be very useful and profitable for UAA. The NCAA's "Alaska/Hawaii Exemption" is a valuable thing. Less mandatory league games would very likely mean more home games for UAA as teams from around the country would be happy to travel here when it means they get extra home gates in return; especially considering that UAA has a history of supporting the travel costs for teams to come up here and play. As things exist now every WCHA team ends up with more home games than UAA because of the exemption. Dropping the number of mandatory league games provides UAA with the strong possibility of more home games than road games each year. That should translate to more wins. Lastly, such a situation would make those UAA fans who want to play UAF four times a year happy.

Lastly, there are two events on some distant horizon that will likely have a huge effect on the WCHA. The first is that at some point another Big 10 conference member will add hockey. There are 5 Big 10 schools currently playing hockey; Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. If just one of the other Big 10 schools adds hockey then the chances of all those schools forming their own conference are going to be very high (meaning Minnesota and Wisconsin will bail from the WCHA). Additionally, there are Canadian schools looking to join the NCAA and play Division 1. The most likely of those are both located in western Canada making the possibility of a TRUE western league higher at some point (especially if the Big Ten Hockey Conference happens).

UAA @ MSU-M: Bad Attitude

Once again there are no big secrets about what the Seawolves will have to do for a successful weekend. Everyone knows that UAA's power play has been anemic. If the team were a patient in the hospital, the Docs would be transfusing red blood cells at the highest drip rate possible. The coaching staff knows it and consequently the team has been focusing (again) on it in practice. Specifically, they've been working on ways for the blueliners to increase the number of shots that get through from the point. That means lots of first timers off the pass. It means anticipating a defender's intentions (is he going down to block the shot or ???). It means forwards in good places to screen the opposition goalie as well as pounce on rebounds for that good old greasy goal. It means passing needs to be sharp. It means that every player on the power play should be focused and determined.

I believe that the Seawolf backline is as talented overall as any set in the WCHA. But that belief hasn't translated into statistics. I saw a spot on KTUU where they pointed out that only Nils Backstrom has more than a single goal so far this year. I think it's a bit misleading to state it that way but nevertheless it does reflect the problem.

I know that UAA's gameplan includes the green light for each and every blueliner to join the offense when there is an opening. And at one time or another every blueliner has done exactly that this season. Why then don't the defensemen have more points? I'm lost for an explanation. Certainly some measure of the failure is due to good penalty killing on the part of the opponents. Last weekend Eaves praised his penalty killers as the difference for Wisconsin. As I reviewed those games the credit should go to their ability to keep UAA from gaining the zone clearly. They interrupted, trapped and disrupted the Seawolves in the neutral zone. What else though? Again, I don't know.

It isn't desire. I doubt there is a team in Division 1 that wants success any more than the Seawolves. But there are probably many teams that want it equally. The Mavericks are historically one of those teams that comes at their opponent from every possible angle and are known to never quit. I imagine they'll look a lot like Bucky to the Seawolf players. All we can do is hope that the team is well-prepared and that they work hard.

There is one word that has been pervasively in my thoughts this weekend: attitude. We've seen sporadic displays from individuals throughout the season that reflected some attitude. I'm not just talking about the so-called "extra-curriculars" (although such things are a positive reflection of attitude). I'm talking about displaying attitude and desire through their play. Yes ... it means getting in your opponents face when challenged, but it also means displaying confidence (and even cockyness) in every situation. It's all about not being denied.

I'll single out one player here as an example. Kevin Clark. Kevin is almost always full of attitude and more than a few times this season I've known that he just wasn't going to be denied; you could just see it ... ya know? So ... I think every Seawolf should play like Kevin Clark this weekend. Run your mouths, be a pain in the opponents side and when you see a opening ... don't be denied. All of this is easy to type. But when you're going to a boring town against an opponent that isn't naturally inspiring then manufacturing this thing I'm calling attitude doesn't necessarily come easy. But if there ever was a time for a team to pull together and display some attitude then it is after 5 losses in a row.

In my book, it's time for the players to feel some pressure to win. Four points are needed badly.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Jokey Baker Award

The leading goal scorer in the WCHA Tommy Grant was rudely snubbed this week by the Hobey Baker selection committee. Paul Crowder currently sits at #15 nationally in total points ... he is nowhere to be found on the initial list either. Each year the committee lists 50 players from which a final 10 are selected before narrowing it down to what they call the Hobey Hat Trick. Among the list of 50 players are the following ridiculously ignorant choices and their current stats:
Dain Prewitt - Bentley - #100 nationwide in points with 9g/7a
Cody Campbell - UAH - #85 nationwide in total points with 4g/10a
Everet Sheen - Holy Cross - Unlisted nationally - 8g/4a - 4th on team in points
Jeff Gumaer - Bentley - Unlisted nationally - 7g/5a - 4th on team in points
Patrick Galivan - Western Michigan - #100 nationwide in points with 6g/10a
And oh so many many more amongst the group of 50 from which the winner will be chosen. Most of them from shit teams in the AHA, CHA and EZAC. Is there some sort of artificial limit on the number of players nominated from one conference? The WCHA has 12 players represented on the list. Of course North Dakota didn't get snubbed ... defenseman Chay Genoway made the list with his 2 goals.

The list of 50 is prepared so that fans can get their 1% voice for the final 10. Every year though fans from one school or another stuff the electronic ballot box which essentially invalidates that 1% of the process. What a fucking joke. Apparently, all 58 coaches receive a ballot to narrow the list to top ten. They each select three players from their league and 3 players nationally. I suppose that means a player not on the initial list could end up in the top ten ... but I doubt that will happen.

Coach Shyiak should return his ballot unfilled as a political statement. The Hobey website ... which I won't link to because it is distasteful to me to do so ... says that print and electronic media, NHL scouts and American Hockey Coaches Association are represented on the selection committee along with one representative from USA Hockey. I'd like to see the geographic spread of these folks. Exactly what percentage of them are located west of the Mississippi River? I doubt it's many.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sunday Potpourri: All The Nudes That's Fit ...

Let's start today with a look around the league which I've been consciously trying to avoid because frankly it's all been so freakingly topsy-turvy. Courtesy of less than stellar play from UAA, the Badgers (who were the first WCHA team "written off" by many) have vaulted to 2nd place 3 points behind DU.

The Pios have probably been the most consistent team in the league so far. Luck may have a bit to do with that as they seemed to be lined up against more than a few of their opponents when that opponent was in the middle of a slump. The only real bump they've hit was a pair of losses to the St. Cloud Yo-Yoskies. They did stink up thier own tournament with a tie against Holy Cross and a loss to BU. They're far from being invulnerable though as Tech showed this weekend. The Pios have been suffering on the power play too so at least UAA shouldn't feel like the Lone Ranger but this weekend they did manage 2 goals on 9 attempts.

CC sits in 3rd 2 points behind Becky; they've had a weird season as well. They opened the season with 4 straight wins then had three ties in a row before starting a trend of winning on Saturday after a Friday loss. They seem now to be toying with the idea of winning on Friday and losing on Saturday. They're Team Schizophrenia.

As goofy as this year has been it really shouldn't be a huge surprise that UND is tied for 4th with the Gophs. The rest of the WCHA can thank John Hill for that. The Gophers were far and away the worst team on any ice surface in the WCHA this weekend and UND jumped all over them. Hillers has the reins while tLucia has some sort of undiagnosed creeping crud fouling up his system. I didn't see all of either game but enough to see how flat the Gophers were and how opportunistic the UNDers were. It also sounds like John Hill initiated some sort of "bounty" when he told the UM players on the bench to go out and shut Hextall's big fat gob. Ryan Stoa promptly mugged Hextall as per his orders; I didn't see that incident. I did see UND's Zack Jones (a defenseman) line up as a winger on a faceoff and toss his helmet and gloves thinking that he'd fight Lucia Jr and after being properly restrained, Jones basically assaulted a linesman. The Sioux were ahead 6-1 at the time and one of their roadcone Dman's panties are twisted so much that it causes that kind of hissy fit? Methinks someone needed a nap. Was Jonesy a wittle cwabby? He actually grabbed a bunch of sticks and threw them against the wall while going to the locker room. He now leads the WCHA Putz of the Year contest. I think he should be suspended for an extra game ... the shit he pulled while the linesman had him isn't acceptable. I wouldn't argue with a game suspension for John Hill either. Frankly, I'm surprised that Hill would do that but not for the reasons you might think. I just didn't know that he actually had his own pair of balls.

Duluth sits alone in 6th place (2 pts behind UM and UND and 1pt ahead of Yo-Yo State). They have one more win in WCHA play than the Seawolves. They're also on pace for 9 or 10 ties over the season with 5 already. No ties for them this weekend though as the Yo-Yoskies swept them at the NHC.

With Motzko dubbing his team the Yo-Yoskies you'd think they'd be a shoe-in for the mid-season Team Schizophrenia label. Let's see ... 2 wins then 3 losses ... a win and a loss ... 5 wins then 2 losses ... 2 wins then 3 losses and a tie ... then 2 wins. Nah ... I still think CC's win one lose one trend is more Schizophrenic. They have zero ties in WCHA play. They are 4 pts ahead of UAA.

The Purple Cows with their "Sexist Logo" (not all Mavericks have horns ... female bovines are Mavericks too ...) are next for UAA and sit exactly 4 points ahead of the Seawolves. That of course makes UAA's next series .... drum roll here please ... THE most important series of the year so far. Maybe it gets old to keep hearing me say that all season? By my estimation UAA needs (at LEAST) 7 more wins to even sniff home ice and I'll go out on a (not so big) limb and predict there'll be a tie for 5th between um ... uh .... who knows?

Next years recruits are progressing a bit so let's talk about that eh? Gustav Bengtson's unfortunate tour of NAHL franchises continues. While Topeka was in Alaska they traded Bengtson to Kenai. In 7 games he has 4 assists. That's nice ... let's hope he settles in a bit and then finds his stride.

Mickey Spencer's been on a bit of a goal scoring mini-streak and has risen to be tied for the 10th most goals in the league with 23 so far and sits 30th in overall points. The league leader has 34 goals. I never found a useful report of the CJAHL Prospects game that Wes McLeod played in. Blame Canada. He's improved his stats and currently has 4 goals and 22 assists. He got tossed from a game this past weekend with instigator, fighting and misconduct infractions.

Lee Baldwin continues to lead Victoria's defenseman in scoring with 10 goals and 28 assists. Those numbers are good enough for #3 in the league among blueliners. Victoria is hosting the RBC Tournament this year.

Lastly, there's been some sort of apparent kerfuffle with Matt Bailey in Tri-City. Pointstreak briefly listed him as released according to an email I received from Ryan at the USHL Hockey Blog. Apparently, they were planning to bring in a kid named Rybakov from the OHL. With only two import players per roster it seems that Matt drew the short straw. Here's some things that are ridiculous about this situation ... Matt is the 4th leading scorer on the team. He has 5 goals and 10 assists. The top 2 leading scorers on the team have 10 goals each. And the topper ... Tri-City is in big time last place. They are 6-25 with 12 points ... 8 teams in the league have MORE than 30 points ... 2 others have 21 and 26 and the other shit team in the league has 15. There is NO WAY that team improves itself enough to move up the standings by bringing in ONE player. The whole shebang never happened thankfully. It would have been a shitty thing to do to Matt. I'm glad he isn't forced to find another team but I hope he does so anyway. At this point that organization doesn't deserve his loyalty. Hopefully, his parents are on the phone with BCHL and AJHL teams.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Badgers 6 - Seawolves 3 ... Sigh

Key thoughts for the weekend.
Shots on goal - Bucky 62 ... UAA 49
Power Play - Bucky 3 for 12 ... UAA 0 for 12
Emotion - Bucky Enough ... UAA Not Enough
The Seawolves gave up their highest number of shots of the season tonight. The drought continued on the power play. And I saw so little emotional play from the team as a whole that it left me wondering how much these games matter to the guys. It certainly wouldn't have bothered me to see a couple of guys "foil up" but, other than Jade Portwood's love tap I was left wholly unsatisfied in a Neanderthal sense. That he got five minutes for a cross-check is ridiculous when the guy he cross-checked took 2 minutes for diving on the play. If the little cheating bitch dives on a cross-check then how can it be considered a major?

It was interesting and surprising to see August Aiken in the lineup. He acquitted himself well I thought. He showed good foot movement and good sense. He managed a coupla/three shots of which one was a legitimate scoring chance. I can see him becoming a threat in time ... hopefully sooner than later.

It was good to see Josh Lunden, Craig Parkinson and Kevin Clark get back on the scoreboard. I thought Bryce played well in both games. He wasn't perfect but he certainly kept goals out that might have otherwise gotten in. It is interesting to me that he got both starts. I'm not sure what to make of it. Perhaps he was just sharper in practices this week? Or is it that Shyiak is leaning toward a #1 goalie? I guess we'll see next weekend if the platooning returns.

I thought the refereeing was typical. The two referee system was meant to cure all sorts of ills but the WCHA "even it up" policy sure seems to be in force. I saw lots of Badger sticks horizontally on Seawolf puck carriers ... so I guess the whole "call it NHL style" crap is a thing of the past.

I'm wondering if another WCHA goalie will get POTW honors after a series with UAA. I haven't looked around at other performances but I'd put 5 bucks on Connelly getting it.

Highlight of the night might have been Kevin Clark checking Dolan at Becky's bench and knocking down Cody Gobofsnuff who was picking his nose on the bench. A two-fer-one! Woohoo. Pretty bad night when that seems like the highlight eh? I don't mean to disrespect the effort to get the game back to 4-3 after they'd been down 4-1. That's worth something ... hopefully they can focus on that one positive. Congrats to Tommy Grant for both of his goals this weekend. He is now the leading goal scorer in the WCHA with .72/game compared to Ryan Stoa's .68/game.

I honestly don't know what else to say. Um ... work hard this coming week guys; tighten it up and go down to Mankato with some attitude.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Friday: Bucky 3 - Seawolves 2

I wasn't feeling particularly well before game time so I stayed home and watched the game on the web.

1st Period:
The boys have a 2-0 lead to show for a quality effort after a 34 day rest. There was really no apparent rink rust. Bryce Christianson got the unusual Friday start. I was impressed with Tyler Moir's effort in that period. He showed some strength on the puck. He had multiple shot attempts and really looked good to me. Kevin Clark had a great moment showing his leadership early in the period. Carrying the puck with speed he dished it deep at the blueline and then beat the Badger D to the puck. Then with determination (with a Badger D man catching a ride on his back) he brought it out from behind and fed Josh Lunden on the back door for an clean goal. Exactly the sort of leadership and effort the team needs. Then the same sort of effort led to the 2nd goal. A bucky D man fell while defending against Crowder behind the net. As Paul was disentangling himself from the fallen player he got tripped, got up, took a step forward and shoved the puck across the front of the net. A deflection or two later it end up on Grant's stick and he lifted a strong backhand shot past Connelly (while the ref had the arm up for the trip on Crowder). Good to see Nils Backstrom deep in the zone looking for a rebound but he didn't get the goal as announced. Great start.

2nd Period:
Saying the 2nd period wasn't a great one for UAA would be an understatement. It isn't that the Badgers got two goals although of course that isn't ever what you want to see. I thought the Seawolves were running around for much of that period. I thought Shane Lovdahl was one player who was sharp and focused but not many other guys really looked on top of their game. He made an intensely tight little trick pass through backhanded through his own legs as he stood near the corner of the Wisconsin net. Kurt and David had been commenting on how good Shane's hands are just previous to the play. The highlight of the period though was a 2-on-0 rush by Crowder and Grant that Connelly saved. Maybe one less or one more pass and they would have finished but saying that isn't meant impugn the attempt. I thought the penalty on Backstrom was bullshit but you certainly had to expect it after UAA had a 5-on-3 PP chance ... WCHA refs seem to ALWAYS even that sort of thing out. Should be a barn barner of a 3rd period. I only hope the Seawolves come out refocused and redouble their effort.

3rd Period:
The Badgers tonight scored all three of their goals either in the first minute or last minute of periods. No power play goals for the Seawolves. 2 power play goals for Bucky. Shyiak says, "disheartening". I say, "shit on a shingle". When you're up 2-0 and end up losing 3-2 I think it's a lot worse than disheartening. It's an opportunity that was essentially pissed away. Bryce played well enough for the team to win but got no goal support. Connelly didn't so much save Wisconsin as much as UAA simply wasn't able to finish.

Other thoughts:
As much as I love Shane Lovdahl and Jeremy Smith they just aren't forwards. Personally, I'd like to see that experiment end. Don't get me wrong. I think both guys contributed here and there to the offensive effort. Shane is playing the point on the power play and I like that. But as big as Jeremy's heart is the fact of the matter is that he doesn't have the wheels or the stick skills of Ken Selby. I'm always disappointed when Selby doesn't play. I'll never figure out why. Admittedly, one player probably isn't going to make a huge difference but Ken can skate, puck handle and shoot the puck MUCH better than Jeremy. Sorry Jeremy bud ... I love ya but it's just not working bud. I'm sure Nick Haddad is skating with Josh Lunden and Kevin Clark to add a physical presence to that line. But the reality is that Josh and Kevin spend more time along the boards working for a chance than Nick does. Nick doesn't have scorers hands either as evidenced by more than a couple of chances tonight that perhaps another forward would have finished.

I don't envy any head coach ... I think making the lines is probably the hardest part of the job. But it is a very very important part of the job. Right now Shyiak is trying to spread the skill around the top three lines. Perhaps it's time to put together 2 scoring lines instead of hoping for 3 that can score. I'd opt to move Brian Bales off the 3rd line to skate with Clark and Lunden. And then I'd leave Wiles with Crowder and Grant. My third line would be Moir, Parkinson and Portwood. My checking line would be Jared Tuton, Nick Haddad and Selby. The power play tonight had real problems with the initial setup. When the Seawolves did gain solid control in the Wisconsin end they moved the puck fairly well. But their inability (rink rust?) to gain the zone consistently was a negative factor.

It was a frustrating loss to watch. I'm sure it was a frustrating game to play in. Let's hope for a different outcome tomorrow night. It is crucial to get two points. CRUCIAL.

Motivational Speaking

A number of people over time have assigned variable monikers to me as a result of what I say here. But I have to dodge most of all those labels in favor of the way I see myself; Seawolf Cheerleader. So here's what I'd say to the guys before the game if given the chance (the Full Metal Jacket video is there so you can imagine me sounding like a D.I. ... and because it's funny as hell):
There's more than a couple of folks watching you guys play tonight that would love to see you win. They'll be furtively sitting in the stands and watching back home on TV hoping their hardest that you do win. Most of them have followed this program for years and years. And those folks have seen it all, almost twenty years ago they saw a young program rise from it's Division II start to reach the NCAA playoffs and get a couple of big wins there. Just a few years ago they saw an unlikely run deep into the WCHA Final Five which affirmed their long support.

But you know what guys? Mostly they've seen promise turn into disappointment. They've endured taunts and missives from other fanbases saying their program doesn't belong. This weekend can be the start of something new for all those faithful fans. Deferrring success to some later time and date isn't acceptable anymore. It's time to take it upon yourselves to put all that lamentable history behind this program. If each and everyone of you commit yourselves to that effort it will happen. If you play with unbridled passion you'll get it done. Be there for your teammates, make them successful by supporting their effort.

Superior effort and a willingness to sacrifice is half of the battle. The skills and talent in this lockeroom will take care of the rest. Be a part of something special guys. Be a part of performances that will be the talk of the league. Sweep these Badger's out of town and then move onto those weak-ass Mavericks next weekend eh? It's just about believing in yourself and believing in each other. Just win guys ... for the fans, for your teammates and most of all for yourselves.
So that's my Knute Rockne moment for whatever its worth. Add your own inspiration in the comments section! I'm wondering if we'll see the return of the UAA Band tonight?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Seawolves Add Two Players (Aiken/Gorham)

Doyle Woody is reporting on his blog that the Seawolves have added BCHL recruit August Aiken and OSU transfer Brad Gorham to their roster. Gorham will have to sit out his transfer season and will be eligible to begin playing this time next year. Aiken is eligible immediately after sitting out the first half to take college courses online and improve his test scores. It would be a rare thing for an athelete to show up on Day 1 with the necessary fitness to begin playing right away so I'm just guessing we won't see Aiken this weekend.

Word was out that some non-specific NCAA Clearinghouse things kept Aiken from enrolling and joining the team at the beginning of the season. It's nice to see those hurdles successfully negotiated. I know I had some hopes for August as a player so we'll see if he can use the 2nd half to step up to this level and contribute. Doyle says that Shyiak describe Gorham as a versatile player who can play forward or defense. Jared Tuton is a senior next year so Brad sounds like a nice pickup to replace what Jared brings every night.

No Shit Sherlock

The game most certainly is afoot but there seems to be no mystery about this upcoming series so don't expect any extemporaneous deduced earth-shattering conclusions. Indeed ... on the contrary what follows is simple extemporaneous spew i.e... devoid of astute analysis. The most obvious storyline is that it's a chance for UAA to recover some points that they gave away. It's a back to back (even if the back's weren't close) series from the Seawolves perspective while the Badgers have been relatively busy. The Badgers haven't really capitalized on the momentum that sweeping UAA might have given them. They've went 1-2-1 losing twice to Northern Michigan after beating Alabama-Huntsville and tying Lake State. Had they not had players at the World Jr. Tournament then I'd imagine they'd have went 4-0 during that stretch.

There's no mystery with regard to what the Seawolves have to do in order to get 4 points this weekend. It's the same story as every other weekend. Minimize penalties, get power play production, establish 5-on-5 dominance, win the physical battles, be opportunistic, use your speed in transition, blueliner involvment offensively, show commitment in your own zone (that means go down and block shots), solid goaltending and finally bury your chances. The Seawolves have the rare combination of speed and size. They learned over the last season and a half exactly how to inflict a strong physcial game on an opponent.

The Badgers have got to be a little bit ragged by my estimation. They had only a short break; they played two days after Xmas and then the day after New Years. They've had teammates out both injured (Johnson, Smith, Street) and at World Jrs (McDonagh, Goloubef). Quality practices must have been few and far between. They have the World Jr players back but those guys have played a lot of hockey games in the last couple of weeks. And I sense that the Wisconsin coaching staff may not have the highest confidence in their goaltending. Connelly hasn't been sharp by most observers accounts and their backup has only 3 games under his belt. On the maybe not so ragged side though is the fact that this roadtrip is their first since November 21/22 at St. Cloud. The Badger team is probably in the air to Anchorage as I type this which will give them two full days here before game time. Wherever the reality lies in between those two possibilities I'd still have to give the freshness factor to the Seawolves which should translate to a more crisp physical effort on UAA's part.

There's no doubt that the Seawolves have to get one thing done moreso than any other thing. They have to get the puck in the net more. Close misses and pipes have to turn into twine stretching goals. However that needs to happen, it needs to happen this weekend.

I'm struggling here to not let this post turn into some big cheerleading rah rah "I know the boys can do it" kinda thing. I honestly look at the talent and effort from this year's Seawolf team and believe they have a legitimate shot at winning every time they hit the ice. It does still take a combination of the available talent and the effort on any given night to come up with those dubyas. I guess this is the part of the season where we'll see ... by the end of January we'll know how much contender or pretender exists in Seawolfland. I used the "their fate is in their own hands" line at least a couple of times in the last couple of posts. And that's just how it is at this point.

Make us more proud of you than we are already Seawolves. Sweep Bucky outta town, enjoy it and then get ready for the next opportunity. That's all I've got today.