In a game where both teams knew that desperation would be the key, the UAA Seawolves (11-16-3, 8-14-2 WCHA) clawed their way back to a crucial 5-2 victory on home ice. The Seawolves rallied behind their backbone, sophomore goalie Olivier Mantha, who had 21 saves in a Saturday night thriller until a late third period onslaught. A third period when something ignited a fire underneath the Seawolves that sparked 3 unanswered goals to finish off a tough two game home series with the Lake Superior State Lakers (11-19-4, 8-12-4 WCHA).
Assistant coach Louis Mass of UAA said the team found a way to win a game where they once again battled from behind. Having scored first in only 12 of their 30 total games so far this season.
“Offense in general has been tough for us, to get five tonight was great,” Mass said.
The first of which came at 15:07 of the first period, tying the game at one a piece.
“It was a back and forth battle all weekend, tough on both teams,” Lake Superior’s head coach and former UAA assistant coach Damon Whitten said.
In the second period, Lake Superior struck first again, tallying a go ahead goal at 5:27 during a net front frenzy that was reviewed by officials, and later credited to Lakers Freshman Gage Torrel. Not to be outdone, the Seawolves answered back yet again by a cannon of a slap shot from the point by sophomore defenseman Jarrett Brown.
The third period induced even more excitement to a crowd of over 1,400 fans at the Sullivan Arena.
UAA buried back-to-back goals to take their first lead of the weekend early in third period on freshman Nils Rygaard’s first goal as a Seawolf. From there, sophomore Matt Anholt added another highlight reel goal to make it a 4-2 game at the 13:44 mark of the third.
Anholt’s night wasn’t over – he added an empty net finisher after Rygaard’s rebound assist that bounced off the post, adding a multi point game to the Swede’s Seawolf resume.
This capped a 5-2 win for the Seawolves, giving them a 1-1 home series split against seventh seeded Lake Superior State.
Fortunate bounces have been hard to come by according to Seawolves head coach Matt Thomas with only two wins in their last five games.
“The power play will be huge for us next weekend, they’ll be opportunities we can’t waste,” said Thomas.
The Seawolves lackluster power play this season (13 for 118) wasn’t all that important against an opponent like Lake Superior. However, against this week’s opponent Minnesota State Mankato (15-10-7 13-4-7 WCHA), it could be a crucial deciding factor in gaining four more conference points in the race towards a WCHA playoff berth.
Conferences like the WCHA with 10 teams in their division only advance the top eight teams to the postseason. UAA currently sits in the eighth place slot, right above in-state rival UAF who are two points behind them in the standings and equally as eager to gain a playoff berth. Last season, the Nanooks were forced to give up their WCHA playoff seed after NCAA sanction violations, and haven’t competed in a playoff game in the past three seasons.
Other notable players in Saturday’s game were junior Chase Van Allen, with 3 assists and 4 shots, while Anthony Conti, tallied an assist and 3 penalties.
In a knock down, drag out battle between two desperate teams, UAA was able to walk away with a glass half full. Looking at a schedule where the last home series of their season against UAF could determine the outcome of each playoff hopeful, in these situations veteran players like Van Allen know how important the points will be.
“It’s make or break time,” Van Allen said.
As the Seawolves cling to the hopes of keeping their WCHA playoff chances alive, it’ll take more desperation play and support from fans next weekend on Friday Feb. 26 and 27 at 7:07pm at the Sullivan Arena.