Resurrected women’s hockey club feels growing pains

With a Division I hockey program, UAA has been known to attract it’s fair share of out-of-state skaters to school. It’s not a surprise when a Minnesota high school senior commits to come to Alaska because of the lure of hockey.

Hockey is one of the reasons Erin Reis came to Anchorage to go to school. But Reis doesn’t lace up skates for the Seawolf men.

The freshman anthropology major grew up in hockey crazy Northfield, Minn., in a family that was big into the game. She chose UAA in part because of the women’s hockey team, which is run through the Seawolf Intramural and Club Sports program.

“That was a big factor,” she said.

The women’s club team got going again this year after failing to field a team last fall. Some of the credit for getting the team going again goes to coaches Lucas Dargis and Patrick Cwiak, who recruited as many girls as possible for the team.

The UAA team, which plays in the Anchorage Women’s Hockey League, had 19 players turn out in the fall. UAA is one of six teams playing in the AWHL’s Tier I, which is for more competitive skaters. Five teams play in the beginner-friendly Tier II. Overall, nearly 170 women play in the 30-year old league.

The squad started just in time for Reis’ arrival.

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The freshman anthropology major came to Anchorage with no friends here but has now met many new ones through the team.

“Everyone really gets along off the ice, even if we have tension on the ice,” said Reis, who started playing hockey in fourth grade.

Any new team faces some growing pains and the Seawolves are no exception. The group recently finished their season with a 7-22-2 record, which placed them last in the league.

But you wouldn’t know they were cellar dwellers if you watched them on the ice. The bench is filled with chatter as the team makes line changes smoothly.

The team lets out an “Oooohhhh!” in approval of a hit by defenseman Emmy Jurkowska.

Between periods they talk strategy with the coaches. If things get too serious, the coaches will break the ice.

“Take the puck with you,” Dargis yells to a player and the bench laughs as a whole.

During the league’s round robin playoff tournament last week, both Dargis and Cwiak dressed up in tweed sports coats to mimic legendary hockey coach Herb Brooks. Brooks coached the 1980 Olympic team that pulled off the ‘Miracle on Ice’ when they beat the Soviets for the gold.

With three losses to open the tourney, they didn’t get the results that Brooks did. But the Seawolves took home a win and nearly had another before falling 5-4 in the final game of their season.

Earlier in the season the duo dressed like lumberjacks to get a laugh and build team spirit.

“They have been really great,” Jurkowska said. “For a while the school wasn’t even paying them but they just kept showing up.”

Jurkowska is one the team’s more experienced skaters. The Eagle River native started skating when she was 4 years old and began playing hockey a year later. That’s a lot of experience on a team that has first-year players, converted figure skaters and a new mom.

She is also the teams biggest hitter, which is probably because she grew up playing against boys while being coached by her father.

“I just act on instinct out there,” said Jurkowska, an undeclared sophomore. “I guess grew up playing rough but I never thought I was. I am aggressive and I really like defense. I take a lot of things personally in the defensive zone.”

The defenseman, who sports glasses under her helmet, relishes laying a hit on opponent especially if it gets a reaction.

“There’s a lot of trash talk in girl’s hockey. They’ll curse at me but I don’t mind,” Jurkowska said. “I think it’s fun. I like to hit, get a response and laugh and skate away.”

With no team last season, Jurkowska was forced to do her dirty work in Eagle River’s Mustang Hockey Association. When she found out UAA was fielding a team, she jumped at the chance to represent her school. But it wasn’t just school spirit that was on the line. It was her wallet.

It normally costs between $300 to $400 to play in a recreational hockey league but UAA offers the chance for students to join up for just $25.

“I was pretty excited just to save some money,” Jurkowska said. “It’s really cheap.”

Those interested in playing should stop by the Intramural and Club Sports office in the Wells Fargo Sports Complex Room 209 or call them at 786-4812. The team hopes to have tryouts before next season if enough players come out for the team.