Production from freshmen can’t be ignored for UAA hockey team

As the sand in the hourglass trickles away on the WCHA regular season, all teams have questions remaining.

Will we gain the all important home-ice advantage for the postseason? Are we clicking on all cylinders before the playoffs? What puck luck will come our way?

All these questions certainly apply to the UAA Seawolves (10-13-3, 9-11-2 WCHA), who continue to battle week in and week out for every possible point in the standings. The team is seeking its first home playoff series and currently sits in a tie for 8th place in the ever-tightening conference playoff picture.

Only the top six teams will gain the home ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs where teams will play a best-of-three series against their first round opponent.

It will take every player pulling his weight over the next few weeks to assure the team gets the highest seed possible.

So what does that mean for a UAA program that is made up of over two-thirds of underclassmen? Even more eye opening are the 10 freshmen who make up a good portion of the 27 total Seawolves.

Well ask around a bit and you’ll find that these aren’t the freshman that stepped on the ice back at the beginning of the season.

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“The freshman have enough games under their belts to the point we consider them veterans,” said UAA Head Coach Dave Shyiak. “It’s nice to see them find their roles and fit into the puzzle.

“They’re a group that really cares and works hard for one another.”

Coming into the season it was a general consensus that this team, one of the youngest in the league, would have grow up quickly in order to find success this season. With six forwards, two defenseman, and two goalies in the freshman class, contributions were going to be made from all of them.

To say they have delivered in all aspects may be an understatement.

“It’s exciting and nice to see as freshmen we’re having a pretty decent first campaign,” Bailey said, who ranks third on team with 15 points (eight goals and seven assists).

Offensively powered by the forward trio of Bailey, Jordan Kwas, and Brett Cameron, the freshmen have produced points pretty consistently from day one.

In fact, the freshman class actually has combined for 18 goals and 31 assists so far this season. Those 49 points rank them 2nd amongst the classes and only behind the seniors (5 players combining for 22-38—60 point totals on the season).

Kwas, who has played in all 24 games this season, leads the team in assists with 13 helpers and ranks 11th in freshman scoring in the WCHA with 16 points. Cameron has pitched in with 3-4—7 totals so far and has played in all but one game for the ‘Wolves.

The sophomores, nine players in all, have 12-16—28 points together and the junior class, three players total, have 2-11—13 points on the year.

As for defenseman, the duo of Wes McLeod and Quinn Sproule have provided depth on the blueline and the argument that they have been amongst the most consistent d-men to date.

The tandem of goalies Rob Gunderson and Chris Kamal may top them all though.

The two have both earned WCHA Rookie of the Week honors. Gunderson received the honor on Jan. 18 for backstopping a home sweep of Colorado College the week before. Kamal got the nod Feb. 1 in response to his 1-0 shutout of Minnesota on the road on Jan. 29.

Gunderson’s 2.72 goals against average has him amongst the top goalies in the league in the category.

So much for growing pains for these freshmen: apparently, the kids are alright.

“Obviously a lot of freshmen are stepping up for us,” said senior forward Craig Parkinson, an assistant captain for the ‘Wolves whose one of the teams best penalty killers and faceoff winners. “Throughout games and in key situations on the ice, there’s always freshmen out there for us.

“It’s a good sign for our program definitely.”

The group themselves continue to gain confidence with every shift and realizes their performances are one of the keys to the success thus far and could be a deciding factor in the home stretch of the year.

“Now that most of us are playing just about every game, we’re doing as much as we can to help the team,” McLeod, a 6’1” defenseman out of Kamloops, BC, said. “I think we’re doing good with it.”

McLeod has played 16 of the 24 games thus far and missed a significant amount of time with a shoulder injury. He knew that coming to UAA would offer a chance to crack the lineup but not to the extent it has played out to so far.

“There was talk before the year that I may be in a lot of games but I didn’t think it be in this role immediately,” McLeod said, who has 1-2—3 points on the year so far.

Bailey found himself in the same scenario and was more than happy to take the opportunity and run with it.

“I knew coming here with Coach Shyiak you earned what you get,” Bailey said. “I wanted to come in, make an impact and work for my ice time.”

It will take impacts from everyone in order for the Seawolves to steal some road points this week. The team invades Sioux territory when they travel to WCHA frontrunner North Dakota (?-?-?, ?-?-? WCHA) on Feb. 4-5.

It will be the first meeting between the two teams since a 5-5 comeback thriller at Sullivan Arena in the Kendall Hockey Classic back on Oct. 9.

After going down 5-1 to the then 2nd ranked Fighting Sioux, the Seawolves put on a furious rally to take a tie in their first game of the season. Just like in that game, it will take a balanced scoring attack and effort throughout the lineup to get the results UAA is searching for on the road.

“We’re a team that has to do everything by committee from the seniors down to the freshman,” Shyiak said. “We got a resilient bunch in that room with good leadership.”