Team of the Week: Alaska-Anchorage
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Alaska-Anchorage's sweep last weekend of North Dakota earned it CHN's Team of the Week Award for the first time, and pushed the Seawolves two games over the .500 level.
"I'm real happy about the weekend," said UAA coach Dave Shyiak. "It's four points in the WCHA and moves us up the ladder. But there's still a lot of games.
"I'm real happy with 11 of the 12 games this season."
Shutting down North Dakota is the main concern any time you play the Sioux, and with a team comprised with few blue chippers, it becomes a different kind of challenge.
"The biggest key for our team is executing our system and being sound on special teams," said Shyiak, in his second season with the Seawolves. "We had a gameplan and executed it. We were good on the forecheck, we didn't give them a whole lot of speed, our penalty killing did an outstanding job.
"It wasn't just 3-4-5 players or the goaltender standing on his head. It was everyone."
Last season, UAA won just six games. So it has already matched that this season. Now, that isn't a very lofty goal to aspire to, but it's something. How far it can go remains to be seen.
"We don't really know right now because there's a lot of teams ahead of us," Shyiak said. "But we've set goals for ourselves early in the year. We wanted to win our Nye Invitational tournament, and we did. We want to get the Governor's Cup back from our archrival Fairbanks. And we want to put ourselves in position for home ice (in the WCHA postseason)."
Of course, the team's chances rest in goal, by and large, with Nathan Lawson. Last season, he was also a lot of the reason why the team struggled — though obviously it wasn't all on him, since he was facing over 40 shots a game.
"When's he's at his best, he's a top three goalie in the league," Shyiak said. "This year, with the exception of the Michigan Tech game, he's facing 26 or 27 shots a game. And he's just getting back in his groove.
"He's a very passionate, intense player and he anticipates the play very well. We were working with him to challenge the shooter a little more."
A nice addition has been freshman defenseman Nils Backstrom, a ninth-round pick of Detroit in 2004. He stayed in Sweden after that, however, until thinking this past offseason he might want to go to college in the states. UAA had a late opening, and Shyiak tapped into his contacts and found him.
"He's playing in all situations," Shyiak said. "He has his ups and downs, like any other freshman. He has to adapt to both the North American style of play and being a freshman in the WCHA."
One thing that cannot be underestimated is the ability of seniors to carry a team far. And although UAA has just five of them, they are invaluable to the season and a chance to be an equalizer against more talented, but younger teams.
"(Defenseman) Chad Anderson has really leaped up," Shyiak said of the Minnesota native who has 10 points. "Mark Smith is a warrior, Justin Bourne and Nick Lowe have played great, and (captain) Charlie Kronschnabel has been outstanding. He's a big guy, great on faceoffs and he plays a great game physically. He's a tremendous leader, and is as important in the locker room.
"Any team that has success in this league is built upon the success of senior leadership."