The UAA Hockey team got a cruel reminder of just how unfair the game of hockey can be this past weekend. A pair of fluke goals turned out to be the game winners for Minnesota State as they took a 3-2 win on Feb. 10, followed by a 2-1 victory on Feb. 11 at the Sullivan Arena.
Those two sets of scores sent both teams in two very divergent ways.
For the Mavericks (8-15-1 WCHA, 12-19-1 overall), the four points over the weekend catapulted them past the Wisconsin Badgers and into tenth place in the WCHA standings—just four points out of the eighth spot.
On the other hand, the Seawolves (4-17-1 WCHA, 7-18-2 overall), who had just snapped their prior eight-game losing streak with a 3-2 win over the top ranked Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs on Feb. 4, are left to scratch their heads over how in two games they were done in by bad bounces and their own effort level.
“We got to find our groove and find that level of desperation and come out hungry, and even arrogant, and be a team that wants to win,” said sophomore goaltender Rob Gunderson, who was in net for both losses. “It seems like we’re just going out there to go out there. Kind of like ‘oh, we got a game tonight, let’s go play’
“It’s salt in the wounds.”
The series opener started off promising enough for the ‘Wolves when the red-hot Matt Bailey got a late power play goal in the first period of the Feb. 10 game. Bailey, a sophomore winger, scored with just 25 seconds remaining in the opening stanza off assists from freshman defenseman Austin Coldwell and junior defenseman Scott Warner.
However, the lead would evaporate in the second period after a careless giveaway in the Seawolves end led to a 2-on-0 for MSU. Maverick senior forward Mike Louwerse would make no mistake off a feed from freshman forward J.P. Lafontaine as he ripped a shot past a sprawling Gunderson to knot the game up at one apiece.
Then the wave of bad luck came crashing.
It started when a shot by MSU sophomore winger Johnny McInnis fired a low shot that redirected off of Warner’s foot at 11:36 of the second period and just inside the left post. Warner was busy tying up a MSU forward in front of the net when the puck hit him and it left the Seawolves suddenly down by a goal.
UAA, who seemed to coast through the first two periods in comparison to their win over UMD the weekend before, came out firing in the third period.
It would be Warner himself getting a bit of redemption after his unlucky redirect. His power play strike at 5:36 of the second period set the game to 2-2.
Less than four minutes after tying it though, UAA sophomore defenseman Quinn Sproule and his blueline partner, freshman Austin Coldwell would be the next ones to be dealt the bad luck.
During a scrum in front of the net, Sproule attempted to clear the puck but, instead, had his attempt go off of Coldwell and into the net. Louwerse would receive credit for what would turn out to be the eventual game-winner of the night.
MSU junior forward and Anchorage native, Eli Zuck, said the Mavericks more than welcomed the goal.
“This whole season, usually, we’ve been that other team who aren’t getting the bounces,” Zuck said, who played in front of a large contingent of hometown supporters. “Tonight, we got the bounce and we’ll be happy to take it and more like it.”
The 5’10” Anchorage native said the win was especially sweet for him.
“I have memories of playing knee-hockey up in the rafter here when watching UAA games as a kid,” Zuck said. “It’s great to come back and play, but even better to get the win.”
Though the bad bounces were one of the main culprits in the loss, UAA Head Coach Dave Shyiak was more focused on the effort level that he believes doomed his team.
“I didn’t like our compete level in the first or second periods, and we waited too long to play to our capabilities and with desperation like we did in the third period,” Shyiak said. “If we don’t play that way for 60 minutes, we’re going to lose hockey games, plain and simple.
The following night, the team seemed to respond and had the desperation and much better chances.
Early in the first peiord, MSU got an early goal from junior forward Eriah Hayes that was countered by a response from Bailey under a minute later.
The game would remain tied all the way until just over six minutes left of the third period, when MSU captain Michael Dorr came in on a partial breakaway on Gunderson.
“I tried to poke check the guy and we hit the puck at the same time. I had no idea where it went and I had hoped it had gone into one of the corners, but then I felt it hit my back and found the net,” Gunderson said.
More salt for those already open wounds.
“That’s how sports go and you have to create your own luck,” Bailey said, who now is second for UAA with 13 points on the season. “You don’t win too many games with one goal though.”
Now less than a month away from the WCHA Postseason, the Seawolves have to find answers in a hurry to salvage their season. According to Gunderson, the answer may lie in the team’s own locker room.
“We got to battle it out because there are seniors in there who are playing the last games of their lives,” Gunderson said. “We need look at each other and play for those boys and for the guy sitting next to you and for ourselves.”