The Seawolf hockey team is showing signs of improvement, not just physically, but mentally, according to UAA second-year head coach Matt Curley.
“The biggest improvement we have made is the belief we can win hockey games,” Curley said.
Though “just believing” sounds like a small adjustment, it is an important one in order to compete with some of the top hockey programs in the country. If you don’t truly believe you can compete, you can’t, Curley said.
With that large improvement off the ice, the Seawolves have reaped the benefits on the ice as well, with more goals scored already this season as of Jan. 23 (44) than all of last season combined.
Along with the improvements on offense, the team has made improvements in net as well.
“You want your goaltending to be strong and give yourself a chance to win. [Kris Carlson] has done a really nice job for us this year and has put himself in discussion for the starting goalie position,” Curley said.
Curley emphasized how important it is for the team to be strong in the net.
“Kristian Stead and Brandon Perrone have also played well this year, and when there’s a good competition in the net, it means we should be pretty good with the other five guys [on the ice],” he said.
The freshmen class has come up large as well, not just changing the play on the ice, but also changing the team’s mindset.
“They have been changing the mentality and changing how things have been,” Curley said. “Many freshmen on the team are older players, and former captains on their respective junior teams.”
Some of these freshmen leaders include Nick Wicks, Alex Frye, Brayden Camrud and Troy Robillard. Leadership in the younger classmen gives hope to the future and establishing a winning culture for Seawolves hockey, Curley said, and it shows in the team standings. UAA currently sits at eighth out of 10 in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, or WCHA.
It’s not just the freshmen leadership, however, it is the leadership of the upperclassmen, including senior captain defenseman Nolan Nicholas, that has helped the team improve.
“[Nicholas] sets the stage on how to handle your business here, how to be a Seawolf in terms of his classroom performance, work in the weight room, his compete level on the ice and how he handles himself off the ice,” Curley said.
Though he may not score all of the goals for the team, Nicholas, from Thunder Bay, Ontario, is a valuable part of the program. Being one of the most solid defensive-defensemen in the WCHA, Curley puts him out on the ice when he wants to shut down the top scorers on the other team. Nicholas prides himself on blocking shots, playing the body and protecting the net.
Despite the team’s growth, however, Curley is still striving for a better offensive output.
“We still aren’t getting [the offense] that we want, and that’s a work in progress, but the fact that we are in positions to win games late is one of the biggest changes,” he said.
Curley knew coming into the position of head coach would come with challenges, with UAA hockey’s recent history of not making the playoffs the last five seasons.
Even with Seawolf hockey’s past struggles, Curley wouldn’t want it any other way, he said.
“It’s everything I wanted it to be, everything I didn’t anticipate, harder than I thought it would be and more fun as well… I am extremely blessed and fortunate. I’ve won the lottery being here,” Curley said.
Curley is already looking forward to next season, he says.
“[The recruitment process has] been going really well… we have players coming in that follow suit in the freshmen class in terms of their work ethic, compete level, talent and most importantly, guys that want to be here,” Curley said. “[I am looking for students] who want to be Seawolves, and didn’t worry about travel, or moving up to Anchorage or the school, those are red flags for us.”
Next season, Curley is most looking forward to still having a team in the coming years, along with watching the team progress. With improvements in all facets of the game, they’re making strides in the right path.
“We’ve made a nice step from year one. I believe we are trending in the right direction, and I believe in the guys currently with us and joining us,” Curley said.
Curley and the Seawolves are determined to make the NCAA tournament this season for the first time since 1992.
“I think the pieces are in place to be successful and be a product and a program people can be proud of,” Curley said.
For a full Seawolf hockey season schedule, visit goseawolves.com.