Thursday, January 29, 2009

The University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves

(above) UAA's Sullivan Arena

Magness Arena, Denver. Colo.
January 30-31, 2009

The Alaska Anchorage Seawolves will travel to Denver, Colorado to face the No. 7 Denver Pioneers in Western Collegiate Hockey Association series on Jan. 30-31 at Magness Arena. Game time is scheduled for 7:37 p.m. (MST) on Friday night and at 7:07 p.m. (MST) on Saturday. Both games will be televised live on FSN Rocky Mountain and webcast live on Radio broadcasts include 560 AM (Friday) and 101.5 FM (Saturday) in Denver.

The Series:
The Pioneers lead the all time series 36-13-5 dating back to 1992-93, and DU leads those games played in Denver 19-6-1 and 11-3 in Magness Arena, with DU going 8-0 in its last eight games against UAA and 9-1 in the last 10. Last season the Pioneers swept UAA in both conference series. DU has held UAA to three goals or less in the last 11 contests. Since joining the WCHA, UAA has only swept two series against DU - both at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage (1996 and 1998).

Seawolves to watch:
Alaska Anchorage is ninth in the WCHA with 14 points. The Seawolves are led by forwards Paul Crowder and Tommy Grant. Crowder leads the team with 9-14--23, while Grant has added 14-7--21. Kevin Clark (6-12--18), Brian Bales (1-14--15) and Josh Lunden (10-4--14) are effective scoring forwards as well. Bryce Christianson (3-4-3, 2.85 GAA, .875 Saves percentage) and Jon Althuis (5-6-1, 3.32 GAA, .866 saves percentage) have shared goaltending duties.

About the University of Alaska-Anchorage
University of Alaska Anchorage is the largest member of the University of Alaska System, with more than 19,000 students, about 14,000 of whom attend classes at the main Anchorage campus. Most of the students at UAA commute, while about 1000 students live on campus.

UAA comprises eight colleges and schools: The College of Education, College of Health and Social Welfare, College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business and Public Policy, the Community and Technical College, School of Engineering, School of Nursing and School of Social Work. There are four community campuses: Matanuska-Susitna College, Kenai Peninsula College, Kodiak College, and Prince William Sound Community College. UAA offers Graduate degrees through the Graduate Division.

The university's history began in 1954, when the Anchorage Community College opened, using the then-Anchorage High School building at night. Anchorage Senior College began providing upper-division classes in 1969, becoming the four-year University of Alaska Anchorage in 1976. UAA, ACC, and ACC's rural extension units merged in 1987 to form the present institution.

Located in the heart of Alaska’s largest city is the University of Alaska Anchorage, the state’s largest post-secondary institution. The campus is nestled in the middle of a greenbelt, surrounded by lakes, ponds and wildlife, and is connected to a city-wide trail system.

Most popular majors at UAA
-Business Administration
-Human Services
-Aviation Technology

About the UAA Hockey Program
UAA is a program that represents the underdog in all of us. They play home games that are at least two time zones and long plane flights removed from most of the rest of college hockey, and since few visiting fans have made the trip to Alaska in winter, we know less about UAA, contributing to their unique mystique.

UAA began playing varsity hockey in 1979, under pioneering coach Kelvin “Brush” Christiansen. As a startup program in the first season, UAA’s team did not leave the state of Alaska, as the team played at 8 games at the NCAA D-II level against fellow Alaskan rival the University of Alaska Fairbanks, beating UAF in all 8 games, and the remaining 23 games against Alaskan Senior League teams, going 17-14 overall. The first four seasons of UAA hockey would be played on campus at the UAA sports center, now known as the Wells Fargo Sports Complex, where UAA won 70% of its games. UAA now uses the rink as a practice facility.

The following season, UAA scheduled a full collegiate slate at the D-II level, and went 14-10. By 1981-82, the Seawolves began scheduling more Division I opponents, and gained their first sweep of a D-I school when they defeated the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks. That season also included a triumphant four game sweep of German opponents in the former West Germany.

In 1982-83, The Seawolves recorded their first 20 win season, going 20-7-1, and were in the process of establishing themselves as a legitimate spectator attraction in Anchorage. For the last game of that season, UAA lost a 4-3 exhibition to US National Team in the newly-constructed 6,000-seat Sullivan Arena in downtown Anchorage, where they have played ever since.

The 1983-1984 hockey season would be the last played at the Division II level, and the Seawolves made it a memorable one, winning 23 games, losing six and tying one and starting the season with a 22-game winning streak (with five of the 22 wins coming against the Korean National Team) and their first win over a WCHA school, a 8-3 whipping of Colorado College.

The next year, UAA elevated the program to play as a full NCAA Division I independent, and went 17-21, including a six-game sweep of Korean Universities in South Korea.

The next big step in the evolution of the program was the formation of the Great West Hockey Conference in 1986, a collection of four former western independent programs (Northern Arizona, U.S. International University, UAF and UAA). While the conference lasted only a couple of seasons, UAA won the inaugural season and finished third in the second season.

By 1989, NAU and USIU has dropped hockey as a varsity sport, and UAA found itself as a D-I independent once again. Fortunately, 1989-90 was the breakthrough season for the program as a legitimate D-I force. The team went 21-11-2, with a lot of magic moments along the way. The first sweep of a Hockey East team came in January, when UAA swept Maine. But the biggest regular season moment of all came when UAA beat Minnesota in Minneapolis, 4-3 in a thrilling overtime contest, announcing to the world of college hockey that the UAA program was for real. The next week, UAA also tied Michigan in Ann Arbor and finished out the regular season of college opponents with a 5-1 drubbing of rival UAF.

In those days, the NCAA tourney was a 12-team tournament, and UAA was selected to represent the lone independents’ slot after beating Notre Dame in the special independents’ tournament in Alabama. While UAA lost to Lake Superior State in the first round of the NCAAs in a two-game total-goals series, it marked another step in the development of the program as the first of three consecutive years of NCAA appearances as an independent. This three-year era represented the high water mark of the UAA program in terms of wins and NCAA appearances.

In 1990-91, behind the superb goaltending of Paul Krake and the scoring talents of Robb Conn and Dean Larson, the Seawolves won 22, lost 17 and tied 4. But the story of the season was not so much in the beginning of the year, when UAA started with only two Division I wins before December, but the finish, when UAA hosted the independents’ tournament in March, and exploded for 15 goals, wiping out Alabama-Huntsville 5-0 and Notre Dame 10-2 to earn another independents’ slot in the NCAA tournament.

The Seawolves would then face powerhouse Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass. on BC’s home ice– a tall order for any college hockey program, let alone an independent with only seven seasons as a D-I program under its belt. But UAA flew to Boston undaunted, and proceeded to shock the Eagles with a 3-2 victory in the first game, and doing it once again, beating BC in game 2 by a 3-1 count, marking the first NCAA victories for UAA, and sending the Seawolves to the NCAA quarterfinals as the victors of one of the bigger NCAA upsets in history.

UAA then advanced to Marquette, Mich. to face the high-scoring Northern Michigan Wildcats, who would be the eventual NCAA Champions that year. UAA put up a good fight, but lost by 8-5 and 5-3 scores to NMU.

The next season (1991-92) would become the most successful UAA season ever in terms of wins and losses, as the Seawolves stormed out a school record 27-8-1 record, and a 14-3 record heading into the New Year. In the second half, UAA went on another serious rampage through its independent schedule, going 13-2 from mid-January to early March, with the only two losses coming to arch-rival UAF in Fairbanks. The Seawolves then travelled back to Fairbanks for the Independents’ tournament, where they defeated Air Force 3-2 in the semifinal, setting up an epic revenge/grudge match with rival UAF for the independent tourney title and the NCAA bid. The game was tied 3-3 heading into overtime, and UAF fans were hopeful that fortune would shine on them at the Carlson Center. But it was not to be, as it was UAA who won the game in overtime, 4-3, sending the Seawolves to face Lake Superior State in a first round NCAA game at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Unfortunately for the Seawolves, a full 20 days had elapsed between the dramatic victory over UAF (March 7) and the game with LSSU (March 27), and LSSU won by a 7-3 count, ending UAA’s season. But all was not lost from a program standpoint, as the WCHA had noticed the advancement and commitment of UAA’s program. The WCHA awarded UAA with WCHA affiliate status for the next season, with an eye toward full WCHA membership in 1994.

The next season (1992-1993) saw UAA play a number of WCHA teams as an affiliate member, but not a full WCHA schedule, and the Seawolves responded with another winning year, going 18-14, and beating schools such as Boston College, and sweeping North Dakota and Northern Michigan. The WCHA also allowed UAA to participate in the WCHA playoffs, where UAA fell to Minnesota-Duluth. Little did most Seawolf fans realize that they would wait at least 15 years for the next winning season…

UAA’s admission to the WCHA would be a mixed blessing for the program – on one hand, the stability and security of playing in the nation’s dominant conference has improved the level of talent, credibility and prestige of the program, but due to the dramatically increased level of opposition that UAA now faces weekly in the WCHA, the Seawolves have not been able to finish higher than 6th in the WCHA since admission, have never hosted a league playoff game and still face some of the most difficult travel in all of college hockey every season. As a result, UAA has yet to make a return visit to the NCAA tournament.

Brush Christiansen retired as coach after 17 years after the 1995 season, and he was followed by Dean Talafous for the next five seasons, followed by ex-UAA player John Hill for four seasons, before he suddenly left the team to be an assistant at Minnesota. Current UAA coach Dave Shyiak has been on the job for for the past 2.5 seasons.. The common denominator with all the Seawolf coaches since joining in the WCHA has been lower division finishes and mostly first round playoff exits.

That’s not to say there haven’t been some thrilling moments in the last 15 years for UAA fans. In the 2003-2004 season, UAA had a dreadful 4-14-1 second half of the season and finished 8th in the league. But in the league playoffs, UAA stunned Wisconsin at the Kohl Center in Madison, winning the best 2 of 3 series and advancing to the WCHA final five in Minneapolis for the first time ever. There, the Seawolves whipped Colorado College in the play-in game, 4-1, gaining a berth in the league semi-final, and coming only two wins away from an automatic NCAA tourney berth. But North Dakota ended the fairly-tale UAA finish with a 4-2 victory in the semis.

Since then, there have also been some glimmers of hope in playoff play. In the 2005, WCHA playoffs, UAA also beat Wisconsin 2-1 again in Madison to even the playoff series at one game each, but UAA fell 2-1 in the deciding game three. And in 2007, UAA also enjoyed its only other WCHA first round playoff victory, over host Minnesota (2-1) in overtime to even the series at one game each, but the Gophers won deciding game 3-1 to advance.

Individually, there have also been some well-known players to wear the Green and Gold, including future NHLers Robb Conn, All WCHA first teamer Greg Naumenko, Mike Peluso, Jeff Batters and Curtis Glencross.

Through all the losing, the Seawolves have retained a loyal core group of fans, and still compete toe to toe with the local minor league hockey team, the Anchorage Aces, for local fans and publicity. A new on-campus arena is the hope for many UAA fans, but it is not yet a reality.

Seawolf Traditions – The Nickname
UAA’s athletics teams were originally known as the Sourdoughs, but the university adopted the Seawolf moniker in 1977 when it elevated its program to the NCAA Division II level.

The name ‘Seawolf’ represents a mythical sea creature that, according to Tlingit Indian legend, brings good luck to anyone fortunate enough to view it. The exact nature or shape of the Seawolf, however, is left to the imagination, thus the creature has been depicted in many forms throughout the years.

The Seawolf logo of today was designed and introduced in 1985 by Clark Mishler & Associates in cooperation with a university committee. It represents an adaptation of a more traditional Alaska totemic-like characterization of the mythical Seawolf.

Notable UAA Alumni (Thanks to Paul Porco of UAA for providing the non-hockey names)
- Alaska Governor and former VP candidate Sarah Palin is “believed to have attended UAA at some point”, but this could be not been officially confirmed by the school
- Mike Doogan, current state representative, current author of mystery novels, former metro columnist for the Anchorage Daily News
- Deborah Bonito, wife of newly-elected Sen. Mark Begich
- Susan Knowles, wife of former Alaska Gov. and former Anchorage mayor Tony Knowles
- Diane Benson, former candidate for Alaska’s only seat in the U.S. House
- Arlitia Jones, poet & playwright; author of “The Bandsaw Riots,” book of poems
- Dana Stabenow, Alaska’s most successful novelist, author of 16 or mystery novels
- NHL Hockey player Robb Conn
- NHL Hockey player Greg Naumenko
- NHL Hockey player Mike Peluso
- NHL Hockey player Jeff Batters
- NHL Hockey player Curtis Glencross

About Anchorage
Anchorage (officially called the Municipality of Anchorage) is Alaska’s largest city. With an estimated 279,671 municipal residents in 2007, and 359,180 residents within the Metropolitan Statistical Area, metro Anchorage constitutes more than 40 percent of the state's total population.

Anchorage was established in 1914 as a railroad construction port for the Alaska Railroad, which was built between 1915 and 1923. Ship Creek Landing, where the railroad headquarters was located, quickly became a tent city; Anchorage was incorporated on November 23, 1920. The city's economy in the 1920s centered around the railroad. Between the 1930s and the 1950s, the city experienced massive growth as air transportation and the military became increasingly important. Merrill Field opened in 1930, and Anchorage International Airport opened in 1951. Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson were constructed in the 1940s.

On March 27, 1964, Anchorage was hit by the major Good Friday Earthquake, which killed 115 Alaskans and caused $1.8 billion in damage (2007 U.S. dollars). The earth-shaking event lasted nearly five minutes; most structures that failed remained intact the first few minutes, then failed with repeated flexing. Rebuilding dominated the city in the mid 1960s.

In 1968, oil was discovered in Prudhoe Bay, and the resulting oil boom spurred further growth in Anchorage. In 1975, Anchorage merged with Eagle River, Girdwood, Glen Alps, and several other communities. The merger expanded the city, known officially as the Municipality of Anchorage. The city continued to grow in the 1980s, and capital projects and an aggressive beautification campaign took place.

Anchorage is located in South Central Alaska. It lies slightly farther north than Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki and St. Petersburg. It is northeast of the Alaska Peninsula, Kodiak Island, and Cook Inlet, due north of the Kenai Peninsula, northwest of Prince William Sound and Alaska Panhandle, and nearly due south of Mount McKinley/Denali. The city is on a strip of coastal lowland and extends up the lower alpine slopes of the Chugach Mountains. To the south is Turnagain Arm, a fjord that has some of the world's highest tides. Knik Arm, another tidal inlet, lies to the west and north. The Chugach Mountains on the east form a boundary to development, but not to the city limits, which encompass part of the wild alpine territory of Chugach State Park.

Anchorage has a subarctic climate due to its short, cool summers. Average daytime summer temperatures range from approximately 55 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit (13 to 26 degrees Celsius); average daytime winter temperatures are about 5 to 30 degrees (-15 to -1 degrees Celsius). Anchorage has a frost-free growing season that averages slightly over 100 days.

A diverse wildlife population exists in urban Anchorage and the surrounding area. Approximately 250 black bears and 60 grizzly bears live in the area. Bears are regularly sighted within the city. Moose are also a common sight. In the Anchorage Bowl, there is a summer population of approximately 250 moose, increasing to as many as 1000 during the winter and over 100 moose are killed by cars each year.

Anchorage's largest economic sectors include transportation, military, local and federal government, tourism, and resource extraction. Large portions of the local economy depend on Anchorage's geographical location and surrounding natural resources. Anchorage's economy traditionally has seen steady growth, while not quite as rapid as the rest of the country; it also does not experience as much pain during economic downturns. Widespread housing foreclosures seen around the country during 2007 and 2008 were generally nowhere near as severe in Anchorage.

The United States Military has two main bases in the area, Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson as well as the Kulis Air National Guard Base in Anchorage. These three bases employ approximately 8500 people and military personal and their families comprise 10 percent of the local population. During the Cold War, Elmendorf became an increasingly important base due to its proximity to the Soviet Union. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, Task Force 1-501 housed at Fort Richardson was upgraded into an airborne brigade to become the primary strategic response force in the Pacific Theater.

While Juneau is the official state capital of Alaska, there are actually more state employees who reside in the Anchorage area including current Governor Sarah Palin. Around 6,800 state employees work in Anchorage, compared to around 3,800 in Juneau. Federal government workers also include around 10,000, many related to federal lands management.

Many tourists are drawn to Alaska every year and Anchorage is commonly the first initial stop for most travelers. From Anchorage people can easily head south to popular fishing locations on the Kenai Peninsula or north to locations such as Denali National Park and Fairbanks. The economic impact of tourism and conventions in Anchorage totals around $150 million annually.

The resource sector, mainly petroleum, is arguably Anchorage's most visible industry, with many high rises bearing the logos of large multinationals such as BP and ConocoPhillips. While field operations are centered on the Alaska North Slope and in more southern areas around Cook Inlet, the majority of offices and administration are found in Anchorage. Around one sixth of jobs state-wide are related to this industry.

Sports-wise, The Sullivan Arena is not only home to UAA, but home to one professional hockey team the Alaska Aces of the ECHL. The city is also home to the Alaska Wild, an arena football team that began playing with the Intense Football League in April 2007. Anchorage's third professional franchise, which is scheduled to compete in the 2009-10 season, is the Alaska Dream, a basketball team in the ABA. UAA sponsors the annual Great Alaska Shootout, an annual NCAA Division I basketball tournament featuring colleges and universities from across the United States along with the UAA team. Anchorage holds the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, and was the U.S. candidate for hosting the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics, but it lost to Albertville, France and Lillehammer, Norway respectively.

The Series
I haven’t seen UAA play this year, as Seawolves and the Pioneers (15-7-3, 11-5-2 WCHA) will meet for the first time of the season this weekend. With Denver currently leading the WCHA with 24 points, ranked (7th/8th) nationally and playing at home and the Seawolves ninth in the WCHA and unranked, the conventional wisdom would say that the Pioneers should be the better of the two teams this weekend.

However, the Pioneers are coming off a huge emotional letdown in Grand Forks, where they played well enough to split but came away with only a point and an embarrassing impression left by the ejection of DU coach George Gwozdecky. Gwozdecky will be under a school-imposed one game suspension for this Friday’s UAA Game after using a headset to communicate with his coaching staff after being ejected from the Staurday UND contest in the second period. “I want to apologize to the University of Denver and our hockey team for not having a thorough understanding of the NCAA game misconduct rule,” Gwozdecky said in a DU statement. “I respect the University’s decision to suspend me based upon the violation that occurred.” How they react to Gwozdecky's absence remains to be seen.

With DU associate coach Steve Miller behind the bench on Friday, The Pioneers come into the series led by sophomores Anthony Maiani (8-23-31) and Junior Rhett Rakhshani (11-13-24), while freshman Patrick Wiercioch leads the conference for rookie blueliners in goals (8) and points (19). In the crease, sophomore Marc Cheverie is tied for first in WCHA winning percentage (.660) and second in saves percentage (.917) and goals-against average (2.40). While the Pioneers will lack their best overall player in Tyler Bozak due to knee injury, the Pioneers should be still be able to beat UAA this weekend twice, but I do expect close margins

According to veteran UAA observer Donald Dunlop at his ‘UAA Fan Blog’, “DU fans will see a quite different UAA team than they've seen in the past. This year’s team has two primary identities. They are big. They can skate. The forward lines heights and weights read like an NHL roster ... 6'4" 210 -- 6'3" 200 -- 6'3" 203 -- 6'2" 190 -- 6'2" 198 -- 6'2" 202 -- and three other 6 footers….For the last two years under Coach Shyiak the cycle game has been the strategy of choice.

The Seawolves will continue to look to get the puck in deep and possess it while trying to work it to the front. But that isn't the lone offensive strategy. The Seawolves have become a better threat when countering than they have in the past. The number of goals in transition this year is up....UAA's goaltending stats are bad. It isn't a true reflection of either goalies abilities. They're better than their numbers. If the team in front of them plays up to their potential this weekend then Pio fans will see that as well.”

If Donald’s observations are correct, DU will likely try to counter UAA by using their team speed to offset UAA’s size advantage. DU likely also has more top end speed and talent than UAA does, so expect Denver to try and stretch the UAA defense in transition, much the way North Dakota did to Denver last Friday. UAA has historically frustrated the Pioneers with strong team defense and a relentless work ethic, and they’ll try to grind the Pioneers with their size. I expect DU will try to balance puck control with the need to shoot more often when they gain the offensive zone to take advantage of the saves percentages of the UAA goalies.

On paper, DU is eighth nationally in team offense, while UAA is 32nd. Defensively, DU is 15th, while UAA ranks 46th. DU’s power-play is 36th nationally, while UAA’s is 46th. On the penalty kill, DU ranks 15th while UAA is second-to-last nationally at 57th.

Prediction: DU 4, UAA 2 on Friday, Denver 2, UAA 1 on Saturday.


MagnessMan said...

I think given AA's dismil kill ranking and the fact the boys will be fired up and ready to go the score Friday will be one-sided.4 or 5-1 DU. I think they'll use their speed and split the D much like they did against Colgate. I think the PP will produce this weekend as it looked pretty good last weekend against the girls from Grand Forks.

dggoddard said...

I too am looking for a DU blowout on Friday and a tight game on Saturday. I think if DU loses it will be on Saturday.

MagnessMan said...

Bingo! We're batting a thousand DG! Real nice puck movement tonight. Glad to hear you're coming up for the Tiger roast! I want to see another spanking tomorrow. I think the boys will be mentally ready. I sense that they are getting their stretch run face on!

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