Just weeks away from their debut, the UAA hockey team is heading into the 2019-2020 season not knowing if it will be their last.
Earlier this summer, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association announced their expectation of beginning a new league starting in 2021-2022, voting both UAA and UAF out of the league. Despite no final decisions, the Seawolves still have an uncertain future, especially in light of the current university budget crisis.
UAA head coach Matt Curley offered little clarity or reassurance for the team during a WCHA annual media teleconference on Sept. 18.
“We’re being very open and honest with the reality we’re faced with, and the reality is we’re not sure what the future holds. We can’t guarantee anything other than, ‘hey, we’re planning on moving forward,’” Curley said.
During the original vote, seven of the 10 current WCHA schools voted in favor of continuing without the Seawolves.
“We’re making sure we know those kids, we know the player pools [that] we’re building these relationships and building that trust. We hope when we do get some more definitive answers where we can say in confidence that we’re here to stay, league-wise, school-wise or other, that we’ll be able to move forward these kids, having been open, having been honest and having built that relationship. It certainly makes for an already-difficult place to get kids to come to that much harder,” Curley said.
Despite the uncertainty, the Seawolves are heading into the current season confidently. Junior defensemen Aaron McPheters explained that the vote against them just provided the team more motivation.
“With the WCHA news, it just gave us a reason to go out and compete and prove to them that we deserve and belong to be in the league,” McPheters said.
The team is already making some changes to help improve and make a difference. Included in the changes are an additional nine new freshmen and a new primary game location. In contrast to the previous years, the Seawolves announced all their home games will be played at the Seawolf Sports Complex, previously the Wells Fargo Sports Complex, instead of the Sullivan Arena.
As for the freshmen, Brandon Perrone (goaltender, Hauppauge, NY), Troy Robillard (defensemen, Coquitlam, B.C.), Dante Fantauzzi (defensemen, Woodbridge, ON), Nick Wicks (forward, Delta, B.C.), Alex Frye (forward, Clarkston, MI), Taylor Lantz (forward, Colerain, MN), Marcus Mitchell (forward, Kelowna, B.C.), Rylee St. Onge (forward, St. Catharines, ON, and Brayden Camrud (forward, Saskatoon, SK) will be joining the team for the upcoming season.
McPheters explained that these additions will help improve the team significantly.
“The new players joining the team have helped push the team to get better because everyone is competing for playing time and the coaching staff has added some good players that can come in and have an immediate impact for the program,” McPheters said.
Senior defensemen Tomi Hiekkavirta added that the freshmen will help them reach their goals for the season.
“As a team, our number one goal is winning the Governor’s Cup. That is our top priority. With the current coaching staff, moving back to campus and having some new guys coming in, I think our second goal is to be playing in the WCHA playoffs in March,” Hiekkavirta said. “I feel the team dynamic has been very good. The freshmen class is looking good and everybody is excited to start the season.”
For the season, the roster now includes nine freshmen, five sophomores, eight juniors and five seniors, all of whom Curley is extremely grateful for.
“The kids willing to stick with us are here for a reason,” Curley said.
The Seawolves will kick off their 2019-2020 season with the annual Green & Gold scrimmage game on Oct. 5 at the Seawolf Sports Complex.
For a full UAA hockey schedule, visit www.goseawolves.com.