The UAA Seawolves treated fans to the school’s first Kendall Hockey Classic title since 2006 on Oct. 8 as well as the emotional rollercoaster they took to actually lift the championship gold pan when all was said and done.
The ‘Wolves used a pair of comebacks to play to a 4-4 tie against Clarkson on Oct. 7 and then a 4-3 overtime win over WCHA-foe St. Cloud State the next night. Both nights would see their share of highs and lows for the green and gold.
None, however, was more profound than the moment in which the Seawolves were all pinned up against the glass in overtime to celebrate junior forward Mickey Spencer’s title and hat trick clincher with 1:54 remaining in overtime.
“It’s been five years since we won the Kendall so it’s nice to finally bring her home,” Spencer said, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. “It was a good moment for sure and special for our seniors who hadn’t won this yet so it’s great.”
UAA (1-0-1 Overall) found themselves down 2-0 for the second straight night after a pair of Husky power-play strikes. Despite outshooting the Huskies, the Seawolves had clanged three pipes in the game and St. Cloud goalie Mike Lee was stonewalling everything UAA threw at him.
It would take a bit of puck luck to finally get the breakthrough. 5:04 into the third period, sophomore Brett Cameron threw a puck on net that Lee deflected up. Fellow sophomore Jordan Kwas skated through the slot and batted in the airborne rebound into the twine and cut the Seawolves deficit in half.
Then, it was Spencer’s time to shine.
With UAA on the power play, Spencer was able to benefit from some extended time in the Huskies’ zone due to a strong cycle and forecheck from the Seawolves. Junior Daniel Naslund and Spencer found a loose rebound and jammed away at it at the side of the cage. Spencer finally got it to cross the line and would deadlock the game at 2-2 at the 12:28 mark of the third.
Apparently in the mood now and with UAA on the power play, Spencer came over the St. Cloud blueline on his next shift and saw a bit of daylight.
“I was coming across on a two on two. I tried to pull their defenseman over and use him as a screen and I just fired it,” Spencer said.
The wrister would beat Lee low blocker side and give the green and gold their first lead at 3-2 with just 5:33 to play.
UAA was looking like they would be able to stave off the desperate St. Cloud onslaught to end the game but a defensive breakdown allowed Husky forward Jared Festler skate in on a breakaway and beat UAA sophomore netminder Chris Kamal with just 53 seconds left in the game.
The possible dagger-piercing goal took the air out of the arena and now gave the Huskies the advantage in the tournament. They would be able to skate to a tie in the game and still win the tournament while UAA needed to win in overtime to keep the crown in Anchorage.
Just before overtime, UAA Head Coach Dave Shyiak told his boys their was no need hit the panic button.
“Just stick to the game plan,” Shyiak said. “We’re going for the win and we’re not going to be passive. Just get one shot on net and we’re going to win this thing.”
Kamal said that the mood on the bench was not one with players dwelling on what could’ve been, but rather one which saw a young team focused on what they had to do.
“No one was bitter or blaming one another,” Kamal said. “Everyone was in the mindset that we just needed to get the win in overtime.”
After a close call at both ends in overtime, the stage was set for late game heroics. With 1:54 left in the extra frame, opportunity presented itself to Spencer once again.
“I saw their guy going back and thought I had a jump on him,” Spencer said. ”I just tried to lift his stick and grab the puck. When I was in on the goalie, I just picked up my head and saw low blocker was open and fired it in there.”
Spencer was able to pick the Husky defender’s pocket and walk in alone on Lee. His shot, which was low blocker side once again, found the net and set the Seawolves bench and crowd of 3,707 in attendance to a frenzy.
The weekend comebacks gave the young Seawolves team confidence and may prove to be more valuable than what it seems at first glance.
“That’s a big thing for us. There’s going to be times for us when were getting off a plane or maybe we don’t have our legs,” Kamal said. “But to know we can fight back in a game gives us a bit of confidence and know we have the ability to do it.”
The win also gives UAA confidence that it can play with the big names in the WCHA and college hockey world.
“Anytime you can start the year off at undefeated and get a big win over a ranked team like St. Cloud, it’s huge,” said senior forward Jade Portwood. “It’s a pretty good feeling and any win like that is going to help us out a bunch going forward.”