Team of the Week: Alaska-Anchorage
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
In a season full of surprises in the WCHA, perhaps the biggest has been the recent play of Alaska-Anchorage.
With Colorado College, Minnesota and Wisconsin all tied for fifth place, the race for home ice is on. Those teams' inability to put any distance between themselves and those behind them has kept the door open for scrappy insurgents like the Seawolves.
Last weekend in Anchorage, UAA kicked down that door.
The Seawolves sweep of CC moved UAA within two points of those three teams, vaulting the typically bottom-feeding Seawolves into contention in an ever-tightening WCHA home ice race.
The Seawolves did everything you're supposed to in order to compete down the stretch. In winning 4-1 Friday and 2-1 Saturday, UAA allowed just two goals over the weekend — its stingiest effort of the season. The Seawolves also went 3-for-3 with the man advantage Friday and added another power-play goal Saturday.
"Our puck movement throughout the year on the power play has been pretty good," said Seawolves head coach Dave Shyiak. "Unfortunately, early in the season, we weren't finishing our chances off. Now, the guys are certainly being rewarded for their efforts by finding ways to finish these chances off."
Entering the season, UAA lacked experience. With only five seniors and three juniors currently on the roster, much of the Seawolves damage has been done by underclassmen.
"It starts with our seniors and upperclassmen ... our leaders," Shyiak said. "A lot of your success is based on your upperclassmen and veterans who have been through the trials and tribulations of the game. They have led our young guys the right way."
In goal, freshman Rob Gunderson has provided UAA with its first consistent goaltending in years. While his .902 save percentage is just 11th-best among WCHA netminders, his 2.39 goals against average is sixth best, just behind UMD's Kenny Reiter at 2.38, and better than guys like Minnesota's Kent Patterson, CC's Joe Howe and St. Cloud State's Mike Lee. He did his best work of his young career against a Tigers team that entered the weekend winners of seven of their previous nine contests.
All of this has been done quietly of course.
"We started with a rotation early in the year, but when we went with Rob on a back-to-back nights, he took that opportunity and has performed quite well," Shyiak said. "He's become more aggressive getting out of the paint, he's a lot more confident making reads on the rush and anticipating plays. I think it's just been time and experience.
"He's making a good transition to the college game and has learned what it takes to have success at this level."
Perusing the scoring leaders, you might scroll for a bit before you find a Seawolf. Tommy Grant's team-leading 20 points is just 26th best in the league. Shyiak says it's been a team effort.
"Guys are working hard, just playing the system and paying attention to detail," he said.
The Seawolves will be tested, however over the next month. Six of UAA's next eight games will be played away from Sullivan Arena — where UAA is 5-4-3 this season. Among the road games are back-to-back trips to Denver (this weekend) and Minneapolis (next weekend). The Seawolves return home in two weeks for a crucial series against Michigan Tech before returning to the lower-48 for a series Feb. 11 and 12 at North Dakota's Ralph Engelstad Arena.
If the Seawolves are destined for home ice this season, they must find a way to get points against the teams ahead of them.
"We're trying not to get too far ahead of ourselves," Shyiak said. "We need to take things one game at a time, get some points and let everything else fall where it may. If we get points, that other stuff will take care of itself."