For the first time in the 14-year history of the Nye Frontier Classic, the University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves are back-to-back champions of their own tournament.
And they did it on the shoulders of their freshman, with six players out due to injuries or suspension. They did it against the third-ranked team in the country in one of the bigger upsets in tournament history.
Freshmen Shea Hamilton, Merit Waldrop and Chris Tarkir combined for five of the six regulation goals scored by the Seawolves in their two wins over Canisius College and the Minnesota Golden Gophers Oct. 15 and 16. In his first career start, freshman goalie Nathan Lawson backstopped UAA with 36 saves in 38 attempts earning him Player of the Game honors for the title tilt.
The Seawolves secured the 3-2 win over the Gophers in the championship game Saturday night with a third-period goal by freshman winger and most outstanding player Hamilton, his second of the game and team-leading third of the season.
Hamilton’s goal came on a 5-on-3 power play as UAA grabbed the lead for the third and final time of the game. Junior center Matt Hanson blasted a slap-shot from the point that broke a Minnesota defenseman’s stick and left the puck sitting in front of the net for Hamilton to tip home.
“For some programs it’s probably not a big deal, but for us, we want to win our tournament, we want to get the Governor’s Cup from Fairbanks, and we want to go to the (WCHA) Final Five,” said head coach John Hill.
Hamilton also had a first-period goal on the power play; a one-timer on a pass from junior co-captain Ales Parez, as he was cutting toward the net.
“Fish were flying on the ice and the crowd was going nuts. It just felt great,” said Hamilton.
Fish ended up almost costing the Seawolves the game. After littering the playing surface on Hamilton’s goal, the crowd was warned that the next infraction would lead to a penalty on the home team. When Seawolf Matt Hanson tallied to make the score 2-1, one fish was thrown on the ice and UAA was assessed a penalty.
The Gophers scored on the ensuing power play and tied the game at 2-2.
“Who’s to say it wasn’t a Minnesota fan that threw stuff on the ice, because they had heard the announcement that the next thing thrown on the ice would result in a penalty?” Seawolves head coach John Hill said.
Hanson’s goal was a spectacular one set up by goalie Lawson. He caught the Gophers on a line change and flipped a down-ice backhanded pass to get an assist on the breakaway.
“I couldn’t believe it actually got through,” Hanson said. “It made it all the way down-ice. I thought I’d go five-hole because I don’t make very good moves,”
Seawolves cleaned up in awards for the tournament with Waldrop also getting the “Player of the Game” award the previous night against Canisius. Big-hitting winger Justin Johnson also made the All-Tournament team.
Friday night, the Seawolves had to battle the Golden Griffins to a 3-3 tie, through an overtime session and ultimately to a shootout win. Freshman goalie John DeCaro stonewalled four of the five Canisius shooters, as Waldrop and sophomore winger Justin Bourne both faked out Griffin goalie Bryan Worosz.
John DeCaro kept the Seawolves within the realm of a win with 16 saves but all three goals he allowed found their way through the five-hole.
Waldrop had two earlier goals on the night, as well as an assist on a tally from Tarkir off of a rebound in front of the net—the result of excellent play by the second scoring line of Waldrop Tarkir and Johnson all night long.
Waldrop’s first goal on the night came as he skated over the right faceoff circle between two Canisius defenders, and placed the puck short-side top-shelf past Worosz.
“I was so pumped after getting my first goal in front of the hometown fans,” said Waldrop.
The Seawolves next play the University of Alaska Fairbanks at Sullivan Arena, on Oct. 22nd and 23rd, in the first two games of the Governor’s Cup.