February 23, 2006
Change on the Horizon for UAA

By Jess Myers

WCHA Notebook

Alaska Anchorage's top goalie, Nathan Lawson, has been sidelined since last month with a knee injury.

National TV Schedule

As he heads into his team’s final regular season games, Alaska Anchorage rookie coach Dave Shyiak is thinking he might have to prepare his club for what may look like the longest distance home-and-home series in WCHA history.

If the Seawolves finish in last place in the league, which is likely, and Minnesota wins the league title, which is also likely, Alaska Anchorage will have a week off after this weekend’s home series with the Gohpers to prepare for a playoff series at Minnesota.

“If the playoffs started today, obviously we’d be playing them, so we’re going into this series with the mentality that we might have to play them again in two weeks,” Shyiak said. “Either way, we just need to get a win, to get rewarded for some of our hard work and get some belief in what we’re doing.”

Things were looking up in Anchorage on Jan. 6 when the Seawolves upset North Dakota. Since then it’s been all downhill, as the team has struggled offensively and dealt with key injuries in a 0-9-2 streak. If the first-year coach is overwhelmed by the troubles, you don’t hear it in his voice as he already talks about areas the team needs to improve on for next season.

“You’re always looking for areas of improvement,” Shyiak said. “The special teams have got to be better, and we clearly haven’t gotten enough goal production out of our forwards or our defensemen. Goaltending has been the strength of this team.”

Who will or won’t be seen between the pipes for the Seawolves this season has been an adventure, too. Top netminder Nathan Lawson has been out of the lineup since a knee injury in late January put him on the shelf. And normal backup John DeCaro, who has struggled, had to fly from Houghton, Mich., to Anchorage on short notice a few weeks ago when his girlfriend went into labor with the couple’s first child. Those developments have put the bulk of the goaltending duties in the hands of freshman walk-on Mike Rosett, who is 0-3-0 so far but has put up decent numbers – including a 41-save night in the Seawolves 3-1 loss at Colorado College last Saturday.

“Lawson was just getting into a groove when he got hurt, but we expect him to come back strong,” said Shyiak. “And the way Rosett has played, that’s definitely a bright spot for our future.”

When he looks to the immediate future, namely the prospect of playing as many as five games against top-ranked Minnesota in the next two weeks, Shyiak looks back a few months to his team's 4-3 loss at Minnesota on Nov. 12 – a game the Seawolves led 3-1 with less than 10 minutes to play.

“College hockey is a one-game deal and on that particular night, I thought we were the better team,” Shyiak said.

In his first winter in Alaska, where the locals endure plenty of cold and darkness knowing warmer, brighter days are ahead, the first-year coach sounds like he’s adopted some of the natives' optimism already. Despite all of the struggles and the losses of this year, Shyiak is clearly still a man with a belief in a bright future.


Comparing CC’s latest centurions: Minnesota coach Don Lucia knows the last two members of the Century Club at Colorado College quite well. He coached Jay McNeill for three seasons as the right wing scored exactly 100 goals for the Tigers and became the school’s first-ever Hobey Baker Award finalist in 1995. And he’s seen plenty of Brett Sterling in the past four years, as the winger has scored 102 goals (and counting). Lucia said there’s definitely some similarities between the two.

“They’re both left-hand shots and they’re about the same size, although Jay is maybe a little bit taller,” Lucia said. “What made both of them such good goal scorers is their great release. The biggest difference is that Jay scored more of his goals from the top of the circles off one-timers, while Brett is so good around the front of the net.”

The one place Sterling hasn’t been good this season is against Lucia’s team. He was held scoreless during the Tigers’ January series in Minneapolis. After the Gophers shut down another probable Hobey finalist – Denver defenseman Matt Carle – last weekend, Lucia credited his goaltender and talked of the importance of shutting down the marquee players when you’re in a race for points.

“At the end of the year, you certainly want to be able to force someone besides the other team’s top-end guy to have to beat you,” Lucia said.

Great Weekend Getaway
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Wisconsin at Minnesota State Mankato (Fri.-Sat.)
The Badgers, once all but anointed as league champs, enter the final four games of the regular season two points behind Minnesota and desperately needing a pair of wins to keep pace. The Mavericks played spoiler last weekend at the Midwest Wireless Civic Center, beating St. Cloud State twice to deny the Huskies the DQ Cup and possibly cost them home ice too. Fans in Mankato would love to see their team play spoiler again.

While You’re There: Some will tell you downtown Mankato is the post-game place to be. But for the real feel of nightlife near southern Minnesota’s farms and ranches, head just up the hill to Mully’s (1040 E. Madison Ave.), an apology-free country bar with no cover and live music all weekend. An inexpensive cab ride from the rink will get you there, where Friday and Saturday nights the Canyon Cowboys take to the stage at 9 p.m. and play until they kick you out at 2 a.m.

Stick Salute

While some pros have spent the Olympic break lounging on a beach somewhere, two ex-Gophers proved that you can go home again. Jeff Norblom hosted Coyotes defenseman Keith Ballard and Sabres forward Thomas Vanek in his Mariucci Arena suite last Saturday, as the pair opted to spend their time off enjoying the nightlife in Dinkytown instead of in the tropics.

Bench Minor

It helped a little to see the Canadians bow out just a few hours later, but Team USA’s performance in Torino still leaves a bad taste in the mouths of American hockey fans. Maybe we’re overly nostalgic for an earlier era, but I recall an American team made up of Gophers, Terriers, Bulldogs, Badgers and Sioux doing a little better 26 years ago than this collection of Red Wings, Islanders, Flyers, Devils and Stars. Bring the college kids back!

Denver’s two Georges: Reporters covering both games of Denver’s series at Minnesota last weekend got to see two very different sides of Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky after the games. The coach displayed what can be best described as “controlled disgust” after Friday’s 3-2 loss in which the Pioneers had two five-minute power plays and got no goals (and almost no shots) from either.

“I’m not disappointed at the loss,” Gwozdecky said, after the Gophers killed an extended power play with the score tied 2-2, then scored late for the winner. “I’m more disappointed with the way we performed. We worked hard to create opportunities, and then when we had opportunities, we quit working.”

By contrast, Gwozdecky was much calmer after Sautrday’s game in which the Gophers scored twice in the first 97 seconds and handed Denver one of its worst losses of the season.

“I’m really proud of our team,” he said after the 5-1 loss. “The way that first period shook out we could’ve gotten frustrated and taken out some of those frustrations, but we didn’t. I felt we could do better than we did this weekend, but Minnesota is playing very well right now and we’ll live to fight another day.”


• Michigan Tech’s senior class found a nice way to say goodbye to MacInnes Student Ice arena in their final home game last Saturday. Upperclassmen combined for three goals and three assists in the Huskies’ 4-4 tie with Wisconsin. Trailing 4-2 at the second intermission, the Huskies got a pair of goals with less than three minutes left in regulation, including the equalizer from senior John Scott.

• With Colorado College battling for home ice and Minnesota Duluth battling to stay out of the league cellar, one might look at the series this weekend at the DECC as four easy points for the Tigers. But the Bulldogs are 6-1-1 in their last eight games with CC, including a split in Colorado Springs earlier this season. That could make for an interesting final home series in Duluth.

• Someone might have to show the Fighting Sioux how to get to Magness Arena this weekend when they visit Denver. North Dakota hasn’t played in the Mile High City in 27 months, last visiting Denver in November 2003 when they swept the Pioneers. Since then the teams have played a total of nine games in Colorado Springs, Grand Forks, St. Paul and Columbus, with the Pioneers holding a 6-2-1 advantage.

• Prior to last weekend’s two overtime losses in Manakto, St. Cloud State had only lost one game at the Midwest Wireless Civic Center since the building opened in 1996. A wild 7-6 setback against the Mavericks on Nov. 15, 2002, was the Huskies' only prior loss in the building.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report.