Seawolves split two with rival Nanooks

Call it ironic. Call it karma. Fans can call it what they want, but Seawolf defenseman Mark Smith redeemed himself in front of the green and gold faithful Oct. 23.

The in-state rivalry between the Seawolves and the 19th-ranked Nanooks dates back to Nov. 16, 1979, when UAA beat UAF 13-3 in their first-ever meeting. The two teams play each other four times a season, twice in Anchorage and twice in Fairbanks. The series winner is rewarded with possession of the Governor’s Cup, which was first obtained by the Nanooks in 1993.

UAA was 71-45-9 against UAF prior to Oct. 22. The Nanooks took the Governor’s Cup the last four seasons, winning seven-of-12 times. For Seawolf seniors like goaltender John DeCaro, this is the last season to beat their nemesis and take home the prized Cup.

“I was a transfer student to UAA, so I didn’t know a lot of the history about the Governor’s Cup before I got here,” DeCaro said. “I’ve really come to hate UAF. We’re going to give them hell when we go up there for games three and four.”

The Nanooks beat the Seawolves 2-1, Oct. 22 in a penalty-laden game to start the 2005-06 Governor’s Cup series. Both teams combined for a total of 17 penalties and 45 minutes in the sin bin, including a costly five-minute major and game misconduct for checking from behind, committed by Smith of UAA. That call led to the game-winning goal, scored by UAF’s Kyle Greentree midway through the second period.

“I did come in from behind and it was a stupid play. I let my team down tonight and we paid for it because they got the win on that call,” Smith said.

When asked about the high number of penalties called in the contest Oct. 22, UAA coach Dave Shyiak said UAA played outstanding defensive. UAF had eight power plays and only had 18 total shots on goal.

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UAF’s first goal came on the power play in the first period. The Nanooks came over the blue line into UAA’s zone with a 3-on-2 advantage. Curtis Fraser sent a cross-ice pass to Aaron Lee who buried a one-timer, top shelf on DeCaro. That gave UAF an early 1-0 lead.

Nanook’s goaltender Wylie Rogers played solid in net, stopping 23-of-24 Seawolf shots-on-goal, including a fantastic glove-hand snag on a Merit Waldrop attempt. Waldrop whistled a wrist shot from the right face-off circle, but was denied by Rogers.

That save would prove vital for the Nanooks in taking game one, as Rogers only allowed a third period goal by UAA’s Justin Bourne, assisted by Charlie Kronschnabel.

“I got the pass from Charlie and it was a little bit in my feet so I had to crack it from my skates to my stick,” Bourne said. “As soon as I got it, I saw a guy coming so I shot it as quick as I could.”

Bourne’s goal got the Seawolves all fired up. A couple minutes later UAA crashed the net after Rogers made a save, leading to a scuffle in front of the net. Both teams sent two players to the penalty box as a result.

“Emotions are high all the time between the two schools, and when emotions get high you’re going to see a lot of penalties and scuffles in front of the net,” Shyiak said.

Those emotions wouldn’t push the Seawolves to a win though. Shyiak pulled DeCaro late in the third period giving UAA a 6-on-5 advantage, but in a last gasp effort to tie the game, UAA came up short. With the game one victory by the Nanooks, they took a 21-19 all-time advantage in games against the Seawolves, separated by only one goal.

Sunday night’s first period seemed a mirror image of game one’s. UAA was called for four penalties, which kept most of the offensive play in their defensive zone. DeCaro was sharp though, stopping all 14 of UAF’s first-period shots on goal. The rivals retired to the dressing room scoreless.

The tie was broken early in the second period when Fraser received a pass that split UAA’s defense. Nathan Fornataro connected with Fraser from all the way back at the Nanook red line.

“By the time I got set, he (Fraser) was already coming in on me,” DeCaro said. “I’ll give him a breakaway goal.”

UAA got on the board at 5:42 of the second period when Waldrop scored a power play goal. He found the back of the net off of a rebound that Rogers left sitting to his right. Waldrop’s goal, his first on the season, gave the Seawolves a spark they needed.

“(Shea) Hamilton and I had just switched positions,” Waldrop said. “He shot it and I was crashing the net. The rebound came straight to me and I put it upstairs.”

They headed to the locker room still tied, but this time at 1-1, after surviving almost seven straight minutes on the penalty kill, after Hamilton was called for checking from behind in front of the UAA bench. Hamilton received a five-minute major and a game misconduct.

Smith redeemed himself in the final period. He scored the game-winning goal midway through the period to give UAA a 2-1 win, and send the series back to Fairbanks, tied at a game apiece. Smith shot it from the left face-off circle and the puck ricocheted of the blade of a Nanook and rolled between Rogers’ legs and through his five-hole.

“I was pretty choked last night after getting kicked out. This feels like a total 180,” Smith said.

“It felt so good that we won tonight’s game,” Hamilton said.

After two games of the 2005-06 Governor’s Cup series between UAA and UAF, it’s all knotted. The Seawolves fought through a mass of penalties, and showed what it takes to send the Nanooks home with a bad feeling in their stomachs.

The Seawolves next play Wisconsin Oct. 28 and 29 in Madison. All the action can be caught on AM650, KENI radio.