It was the ugliest opening weekend for the Seawolf hockey program in nearly 30 years. After being dismantled 6-0 by Minnesota on Friday, UAA took another punch to the chin, this time by Alaska Fairbanks in a 4-1 loss. The Seawolves were outscored by nine goals over the weekend, the largest differential after the first two games of the season since 1988.
“We are not playing hockey the way we need to play hockey.” the disgruntled head coach said after the game. “We do not understand hard work, so I am going to show them what hard work is.”
Many UAA students gathered in the parking lot prior to the game to tailgate, make signs to support their classmates, and paint their bodies green and gold. These fanatics were part of the 3,223 people in the crowd that attended the in-state rivalry, but all the cheering in the world could not uplift the crumbling Seawolves.
“We definitely need to look ourselves in the mirror individually.” winger Jeremiah Luedtke said after the loss.
The Nanooks set the tone of the game early when defenseman Justin Woods rifled a shot near the blue line during a power play to get on the board first. Shortly after, UAA was blessed with a 5 on 3 situation for 1:14, but the Nanooks did not break a sweat killing the penalty minutes. In fact, just 17 seconds after returning to full strength, UAF forward Tayler Munson buried a rebound to push their advantage to 2-0 early in the contest. Searching for their rhythm, UAA continued to be backed into their defensive zone. The constant pressure on the goaltender ultimately led to the Nanooks’ third goal of the first period when sophomore Ryker Leer punched the puck in with 16 seconds left from close range.
The Seawolves’ plan was to be patient early and let the game come to them. Head coach Matt Thomas said nerves were apparent in Friday night’s game, so UAA wanted to come into Saturday under control and poised. However, this may have suppressed some aggression and sense of urgency from the Seawolves, as they were outshot, outhustled, and outmanned from the drop of the puck until the final horn.
“We lost, I’d say, 80 percent of the 1 on 1 battles,” Thomas said. “You cannot score goals or win hockey games when you do that.”
UAA had five penalties, 10 minutes in the penalty box, were outshot 13 to 3, and losing 3-0 after 20 minutes. This was not the way UAA wanted to come out of the gates against their biggest rival. It was not a matter of not being able to catch a break either. After pace slowed down in the second period, the Seawolves found themselves in another 5 on 3 situation but came away empty yet again. For over two minutes throughout the game, UAA had five players on the ice while the Nooks were battling with just three, and the Seawolves still could not find the back of the net. After two periods of play, UAA had played cumulatively played 100 minutes of the season without scoring a single goal.
Thomas acknowledged that the team is out of shape, and Luedtke mentioned the size of the rink may play a factor. The Seawolves practice at the Wells Fargo Sports Complex on the University’s campus, but play their games on the bigger, Olympic-sized rink at the Sullivan Arena. There is much more space for teams to operate, which has led to an abundance of open looks at the net for the opponents, ten of which looks resulting in them celebrating.
The Nanooks continued their domination into the third period, notching another goal within just two minutes. Despite a sloppy, distasteful first 55 minutes of the game, the Seawolves did not want to send the fans home without having them see at least one goal the entire weekend. Junior Jarrett Brown stuffed in a garbage time goal with just under five minutes left to play to sound the horn for the first time this season.
Other than Brown breaking their scoreless streak, it takes some reaching to find some positives for the Seawolves after the first weekend of the season. Luckily, neither of these match-ups were conference games, and there is still plenty of time to address key issues. Next weekend the UAA hockey team heads up north to Fairbanks to contend in the Brice Alaska Gold Rush tournament where they will square off against Nebraska Omaha and Canisius.