Following the last meeting between the UAA Seawolves and University of Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks at the beginning of spring semester, the clubs’ respective seasons have gone in opposite directions.
After sweeping the Nanooks both nights in Fairbanks Jan. 16 and 17, the Seawolves’ wheels fell off — losing their next nine Western Collegiate Hockey Association games.
The Nanooks, on the other hand, rebounded from those two losses against UAA and went on to win five of their next eight games, including taking down then-No. 1 Minnesota State on home ice last month.
So naturally, when the Nanooks paid a visit to the Sullivan Arena March 6-7 to take on the Seawolves for games three and four of the Governor’s Cup, some assumed it wouldn’t be much of hockey series.
To put it simply, they were wrong. Although UAF looked like the more skilled team, the Seawolves found a way to make both games close.
The Seawolves fell 1-0 March 6 and 3-2, 1-0 in the shootout March 7, saying goodbye to five seniors in the process and their hopes of dreams of bringing the Governor’s Cup back to southcentral Alaska.
“This one definitely stinks,” said senior captain Scott Allen after Saturday’s game. “That’s not how anyone wants to go out — and I think everyone realizes that, but it’s something that you have to live with now.”
Head coach Matt Thomas didn’t mince words after the UAF sweep.
“I don’t care if you are losing in the national championship game or not making the playoffs like we are,” Thomas said. “It’s always a tough night.”
After a hard-fought and physical game the first night, in which UAF recorded nine penalties to UAA’s six, Saturday night was the all-important game to decide the victor of the Governor’s Cup. A UAA win or tie was all the Seawolves needed to bring the cup back to Anchorage after being in Fairbanks for the last five years.
The Nanooks, who looked poised to jump out to an early lead, dominated the first period. UAA’s freshman goaltender Olivier Mantha had other plans in mind though, and stopped all 20 shots that were sent his way in the opening frame.
The Seawolves began the second period on the man-advantage, giving fans the first inclination the Seawolves might score a goal. However, forward Tayler Munsen scored a short-handed goal off a Seawolf turnover to give UAF a 1-0 lead less than two minutes into the second period. It gave the Fairbanks native his second goal of the weekend, having scored the lone-goal Friday night.
Two minutes later, the Nanooks doubled their lead, this time with an even-strength goal from senior Trevor Campbell. It was an odd goal, coming seconds after Mantha made an impressive diving glove save on a UAF breakaway. The Nanooks scored one more goal before UAA was able to find the twine for the first time all weekend.
With less than five minutes to play in the period, forward Austin Azurdia skated the puck counter-clockwise around the faceoff circle before snapping a puck on goal. Nanook goalie Sean Cahill made the initial save, but freshman Tad Kozun shot the rebound into the net for the Seawolf goal, making the score 3-1 in the Nanooks’ favor.
It appeared the score wouldn’t change before the next intermission — that is, if it weren’t for a heady move from Azurdia with only 5 seconds left in the period. The freshman from Wenatchee, Washington, scored his eighth goal of the season when he chipped a puck behind Cahill from an improbable angle on the goal line to the senior goalie’s right.
UAA mustered six more shots on goal in the third period, but Cahill stopped each and every one, sending the game to a best-of-three shootout.
Nanook Tyler Morley was first up for his team. The preseason all-WCHA forward sent a wrist shot under the blocker pad of UAA goaltender Mantha to give his team an early 1-0 advantage. Nanook Cahill stopped following two UAA shootout attempts before being mauled by his teammates in celebration of their 6-straight Governor’s Cup victory.
For the Seawolves, it was a bitter ending to the season to say the least.
When asked when preparation begins for next season, head coach Thomas didn’t miss a beat: “It’s already started.”