The odd week off in the WCHA came at a bit of a strange time for the UAA Seawolves, but it may be just what the doctor ordered.
No, really, this one seems like it came with a doctor’s note. With all the injuries the Seawolves have, this week couldn’t have come at a better time.
Against the Minnesota State Mavericks, the ‘Wolves (1-5-2 Overall, 0-3-1 WCHA) used guys like sophomore forwards Alex Gellert and Tyler Currier to step in on the blueline. The team is quite thin at the defenseman position right now and required Head Coach Dave Shyiak to call upon the sophomore duo to forego their normal forward roles and fill in with the defensive corps.
“We had holes to fill there and I think they stepped up, played well, and ate up some good minutes back there which is all we can ask of them,” Shyiak said.
They filled in due to injuries for junior defenseman Brad Gorham (concussion) and freshman Wes McLeod (shoulder sprain). According to Shyiak, both players are still about 2-3 weeks away from game action.
Despite playing a pair of strong games, the ‘Wolves found themselves getting the short end of the stick and only managing a point in the series with the Mavericks.
UAA lost the first game 3-2 on Oct. 29 and then had to settle for a 2-2 tie in the rematch on Oct. 30.
“I thought we actually played very well both games; we outshot and out chanced them both nights,” Shyiak said. “We can be happy with the effort but not
However, the Seawolves saw two players suit up for the first time this season.
Sophomore Mickey Spencer returned to play with the green and gold after his frosh year where he had 4-7—11 point totals.
Freshman Justin Kirchhevel made his presence known right away as he scored two goals in his first collegiate game and introduced himself quite well in his first appearance in a Seawolves jersey Oct. 29.
“Definitely was good outing and feeling but it comes bittersweet as we wanted to come out of there with the win,” Kirchhevel said, after missing the first six games battling a reagrivtated ankle injury.
Kirchhevel also added an assist for good measure in the Oct. 30 rematch with MSU.
The addition of Spencer and Kirchhevel can only bode well for more firepower up front for the Seawolves.
“Both of them have to catch up conditioning wise but once they get there I think they can come in and help create more offense for us.”
The bye week also give the Seawolves a chance to work on a couple areas that have been struggling.
Despite getting good puck movement on the power play, the Seawolves are just not finding the twine on the man advantage. So far in WCHA play, the Seawolves have only converted two of their 22 opportunities, 9.1 percent conversion rate for those of you keeping track at home.
Look for UAA to look to keep shooting and crash the net and cash in on some “ugly” goals to kick-start their power play woes.
“We just got to shoot more. We tend to get to pretty with it out there so we just need to keep it simple and look to get some greasy (goals),” said freshman Jordan Kwas, who is second on the team with seven points and leads the team with six assists.
The penalty kill looked sharp at times against MSU, many shots came from the outside were of the routine sort of saves for freshman netminder Rob Gunderson. However, with a 74.2 kill rate, there is always room for improvement.
“Having a week off is important because it lets us get back to work on the little things and work the kinks out in those areas,” said senior Tommy Grant, who owns 3-5—8 totals.
Hey, this unusual week off from WCHA play is starting to sound more and more useful.
It has to be noted that Gunderson got the nod in net for both games in the MSU series and made some big stops when needed and gave his team a chance. This is the first time that Shyiak has given either Gunderson or fellow freshman goalie Chris Kamal two consecutive starts in a row.
The Seawolves have made a couple drastic changes though already in the young season. The most noticeable has to be the drop in penalty minutes from last year and has the suddenly “clean-nosed” Seawolves enjoying more time even-strength.
Through the first eight games of the season, the Seawolves take an average of 10.1 minutes in penalties per contest. Compare that to last years average of 21.7 minutes per game when UAA was the most penalized team in the nation.
Perhaps this discipline has helped keep the ‘Wolves in more games right down to the wire. In fact, seven of the eight games the ‘Wolves have played this year have been decided by one goal or ended in a tie.
However, the Seawolves can’t seem to buck the trend of coming up a goal short in these games as they have only won one of those seven games, against Air Force back on Oct. 9.
“I think we just have to keep working and getting our shots,” Grant said. “We do that and we’ll find those bounces and get on track.”
With a week to rest numerous injuries and heal the typical bumps and bruises that come guaranteed in WCHA play, the Seawolves turn their focus to the Bemidji State Beavers (0-3-1 Overall, 0-3-1 WCHA).
They will get their first look at the Beavers, newcomers to the WCHA this season, when they travel to the brand new barn of BSU, the 4,500 seat Bemidji Regional Event Center, in search of road points against a struggling Beaver squad.
Due to the fact that the Seawolves don’t know much about the Beavers, the Seawolves will tell you that it’s more of what they do as opposed to what they know the Beavers can do.
“If we start worrying about what they do then we’ll start to change our game, “ Kwas said. “We just need to go in there and be ready to work.”