Sitting at the end of a string of seniors in the Arthur Buswell Pioneer Room, Tyler Morley’s sweat-soaked jersey hung off his wiry frame. Addressing questions from the media, he looked exhausted and emotionally drained, and who could blame him?
After missing a month to injury, Morley returned to the Nanooks’ line-up for senior weekend and the final two home games of his collegiate career. The team struggled without him — going 1-5 in its last three series. It was a must-win series to keep UAF’s season alive, the Governor’s Cup riding on it, and family was in town.
So Morley kept things as simple as possible.
“One was winning, one was losing. One was going home, one wasn’t,” he said of the two teams vying for the playoffs. “I just tried to do everything I could to lead this team, to carry on.”
That’s exactly what the 5’8’’ senior did, tallying three points — 2 goals and an assist — lifting the Nanooks (10-20-4, 8-16-4 WCHA) to a 3-2 win over the Seawolves (11-20-3, 8-18-2 WCHA) before a packed Carlson Center Saturday night.
“I’m extremely proud of this group,” UAF head coach Dallas Ferguson said. “We talked about it for the last few weeks here about pushing, and pushing, and sticking together and finding ways [to win], and then it came down to the last weekend.”
The Nanooks play Michigan Tech in the first round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs this week.
The loss meant not only an end to UAA’s season, but also the collegiate careers of its four seniors: Blake Tatchell, Blake Leask, Chris Williams, and Austin Sevalrud. Each of the four has dressed in 124 or more games as Seawolves.
“It’s difficult to swallow because we’ve got some really good seniors in that room,” UAA head coach Matt Thomas said. “The fact that was their last college hockey game – that’s tough – because those guys deserve better than that.”
UAA’s Olivier Mantha deserved praise for his efforts in the first period. The Nanooks saw a handful clean looks at the sophomore, but Mantha’s glove and leg pads were working early, and the game remained scoreless for the first 18 minutes.
Morley began his three point night on a redirection off Nick Hinz’s shot from the point at 18:43.
UAA came out with a bang in the second period, scoring at 1:17 to tie the game 1-1. Connor Wright centered a puck intended for Blake Tatchell at the bottom of the right face off circle. Tatchell never located it, but it didn’t matter as the puck deflected off a skate and through the wickets of goalie Davis Jones. Wyatt Ege and Nils Rygaard were given the assists.
The goal didn’t slow the Nanooks down for long. Dylan Hubbs went off for slashing at 13:42, and Nolan Huysmans and Morley teamed up on the power play to provide a pretty goal. Huysmans found a streaking Morley on a 2-on-1 break that Mantha didn’t have a chance of saving.
The third period contained of the same plot-turns from the night before. Down one goal and the clock ticking down, the Seawolves scored their second goal and tied the game at 2-2. Tatchell forced a turnover in UAF’s end. Tatchell put a puck on net that was eventually picked up and scored by Alex Jackstadt.
The Nanooks responded again though with a Justin Woods slap shot that beat Mantha glove-side at 5:58.
UAA pulled its goalie in the final minute, but the UAF kept the puck away from Jones to seal the win.
“I’m very proud of the effort that the guys gave both nights, and especially towards the end of the season,” UAA captain Austin Sevalrud said. “We faced a lot of adversity this year and guys never let that get in the way.”