It was a rough off-season for the UAA hockey team. Coming off a successful, history-making postseason run, the Seawolves had a turbulent break.
Off-ice conduct, including an assault charge and academic problems, cast the program in a negative light. Now, head coach John Hill will rely on youth and defense to build off last year’s success in the ever-tough Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
One thing has remained constant for the Seawolves over the past two seasons: Ales Parez. Due to a number of departures in the off-season, the junior wing has become UAA’s top offensive threat.
Leading goal scorer Curtis Glencross signed with the NHL’s Anaheim Mighty Ducks in March. Third leading scorer, Dallas Steward, graduated in May after four years in Anchorage. Then top assist man Chris Fournier departed due to academic ineligibility in August.
The trio took nearly 60 percent of the Seawolves’ offensive with them.
Parez is the obvious pick to take up the slack.
“He is our most explosive player and best offensive player given the numbers he has put up over the last two years,” UAA assistant coach Jack Kowal said.
Parez dished out 17 assists last season but tallied just four goals. He will have to alter his unselfish game to help UAA plaster digits on the scoreboard this year.
“We’re putting pressure on him to shoot the puck more and not be so unselfish because he can score goals,” Kowal said.
Like Parez, sophomores Justin Bourne and Charlie Kronschnabel will also need to produce more points.
“Those are two kids we will be counting on to boost their numbers from last year,” Kowal said.
Kowal said the Seawolves need freshmen Shea Hamilton and Chris Tarkir, both left wings, to pick up where they left off in juniors. Hamilton put up solid scoring numbers in Canada and Tarkir may have the best shot on UAA’s squad. But the Seawolves can’t afford to break them in slowly due to injuries.
Kronschnabel is currently out with a broken foot. Sophomore center Brett Arcand-Kootenay is still out with a broken jaw. Senior center Martin Stuchlik has a concussion after an off-season bike crash. Add to that the dislocated shoulder of defenseman Spence Gilchrist and UAA is hurting.
The Seawolf offense may struggle at times this season to put the puck in the net. But their opponents will realize that’s going to be a problem for them, too.
The Seawolves blue line returns every player and has made some strong additions in the off-season, making it the team’s strongest area.
“We have a good young corps, everybody seems to be solid,” junior defenseman Daron Underwood said.
To start the season UAA will have to play through the four-game suspension of senior Lee Green.
“It’s going to affect us and it’s going to be tough,” Underwood said. “The way we look at it, he’s still our captain.”
Green is the lone senior on the defense and brings a strong work ethic, aggressiveness and toughness to the rink. UAA will get a boost when he returns against Michigan Tech for the WCHA conference opener Oct. 29.
“In games he gets forwards looking over their back,” Underwood said.
Last year’s UAA rookie of the year Mark Smith is back. So are Brandon Segal, who came alive in last year’s magical run through the WCHA playoffs, and Chad Anderson, who tallied six assists as a rookie. Matt Hanson, who has one of the team’s heaviest shots, returns after sitting the second half of last season due to academic ineligibility.
Throw in freshmen Luke Beaverson, a monster at 6-5, 211 pounds, and Tyler Cherwinski, who tallied 43 assists in juniors last season, and add Green back into the mix and UAA’s defense is deep. Underwood feels the Seawolves will be tough to score on.
“We did lose a bit of offense,” Underwood said. “We just have to keep the puck from getting to our goalie and into the net.”
On a team filled with unproven elements, it may be the most critical position on the ice that has the least experience.
For the past four years, the Seawolves’ goalies have been the most consistent performers. But now Chris King and Kevin Reiter have graduated. They leave the crease to redshirt junior John DeCaro and freshman Nathan Lawson.
Neither has logged a minute of ice time at UAA but DeCaro did practice last season.
The one positive trait the duo share is size.
DeCaro, at 6-3, and Lawson, at 6-2, fill up the crease. DeCaro has experience after transferring from Ferris State, where he played two seasons for the Bulldogs. Lawson posted gaudy numbers last year in juniors.
But neither will get the job handed to them.
“We both play similar styles and we’re both bigger guys so it’s going to be dogfight and that’s the best way to have it,” Lawson said.
Lawson and the rest of the UAA roster put the green in green and gold. The youthful Seawolves include 17 freshman and sophomores among a roster of 28. The fact they play in college hockey’s most brutal conference doesn’t help either. The Seawolves are picked to finish last in the WCHA.
Nonetheless, Kowal has a lot of hope for the new Seawolves due to their work ethic.
“This is the best conditioned team we’ve had by far,” Kowal said. “It doesn’t mean there are going to be more goals scored. It means that the overall attitude of the team in the off-season was taken seriously to improve themselves.”
UAA still remembers the magical and unexpected romp they had through the WCHA playoffs last year. If that attitude carries over into the new season, Kowal expects a finish near the middle of the pack in the 10-team WCHA.
“It’s definitely a fast-skating, physical, high-intensity team to watch,” he said. “We are not going out there hoping to win 1-0 games.”