March 17, 2004
King of the Hill

By Jess Myers


Alaska Anchorage goaltender Chris King leads the Seawolves into Thursday's WCHA Final Five play-in game against Colorado College.

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To say that Alaska Anchorage goaltender Chris King has been through ups and downs throughout his college career would be a bit of a stretch. He's surely seen plenty of downs in his first three years, but the ups were few and far between, until last weekend anyway.

Last Friday King made 45 saves, and made history at the same time, leading the Seawolves to the first WCHA playoff win in school history, a 3-2 triumph over Wisconsin. There was more magic at the Kohl Center on Sunday, when the visitors controlled the play from start to finish, beating the Badgers 4-1 to advance to the WCHA Final Five for the first time in school

The milestone came 365 days after the conclusion of one of the worst seasons in college hockey history, as the Seawolves went 1-28-7 when King was a junior.

INCH talked to King during a quiet moment between practices in Minneapolis this week, as he prepared to lead his team into a place the program has never been before.

INCH: You wear a plain white helmet. Why no paint job?

Chris King: I've had paint jobs before, but we couldn't really find anybody to do a good job on it this year, so I decided to try it without paint and I started out well, so I kept going along with it.

Final Five Capsules
No. 1 North Dakota
28-6-3 (20-5-3 WCHA)

Fighting Sioux Fact: This is the fifth time North Dakota has entered the WCHA Final Five as the top seed since the league adopted the format for its playoffs in 1993, but the Sioux have only won the playoff title once (in 1997) as the No. 1. They won the 2000 playoff title as the No. 2 seed and have lost in the title game three times (’98 to Wisconsin, ’99 to Denver and ’01 to St. Cloud State).

How North Dakota wins: Keep on keepin’ on. The Fighting Sioux have left little doubt in recent weeks about the identity of the best team in the conference (and possibly in the nation) and come to St. Paul having won their last eight in a row. In fact, their last loss was on Valentine’s Day versus Colorado College. A few Sioux fans will surely root for the Tigers to advance Thursday and give North Dakota a shot at revenge Friday.
No. 2 Minnesota Duluth
Record: 25-11-4 (19-7-2 WCHA)

Bulldog Fact: If you’re coming to see UMD’s deep corps of goal-scorers, don’t be late. The Bulldogs scored a league-best 61 first period goals en route to their second place finish this season. Of course, that number got a nice boost last Sunday, when the Bulldogs sprinted to a 5-0 opening period lead over Minnesota State, Mankato, then held on for a 6-5 win.

How Minnesota Duluth wins: Get hot again. After seeing their school-record 14-game unbeaten run come to an end a few weeks ago, the Bulldogs are 3-3-1 and have been frustrated a few times by hot goalies lately. UMD had never beaten arch-rival Minnesota four times in a season before this year. They’ll have to make it five to earn their first Final Five title game appearance.

No. 5 Minnesota
24-13-3 (15-12-1 WCHA)

Golden Gopher Fact: Minnesota, which beat Colorado College for the WCHA playoff title last season, has a chance to equal its own mark as the only repeat champion since the league went to a Final Five format in 1993. The Gophers won the title in ’93 in St. Paul (beating Northern Michigan) and again in ’94 in Milwaukee (beating St. Cloud State).

How Minnesota wins: Get comfortable. Minnesota is technically the road team in Friday’s semifinal with UMD, but the identity of the true home team this weekend is no secret. The Xcel Energy Center audience will be 75% (or better) Gopher fans and Minnesota has won their last five in a row (including the 2002 NCAA title game and the 2003 WCHA title game) in the building.

No. 7 Colorado College
20-15-3 (11-15-2 WCHA)

Tiger Fact: CC fans would be wise to temper their excitement when the other team takes a penalty. Of the five WCHA teams still playing, the Tigers had the least-effective power play this season, scoring 34 man-advantage goals in 198 chances (a 17.2% clip).

How Colorado College wins: Exorcise the demons. Last season, the Tigers lost the WCHA playoff title and fell a game short of the Frozen Four. A week ago, it looked like they’d never get a chance at redemption, but one playoff upset later, there’s new life. A good showing in St. Paul (at least two wins) and CC can play its way off then bubble and into the NCAA’s field of 16. With the West Regional set to be played on the Tigers’ home rink, no further incentive should be necessary.

No. 8 Alaska Anchorage
13-21-3 (7-18-3 WCHA)

Seawolf Fact: While last weekend’s pair of victories in Madison were the first WCHA playoff wins in program history, they are far from the first-ever playoff wins for the Seawolves. One of the more memorable playoff upsets in college hockey history came in 1991 when then-independent UAA traveled to Boston College for the opening round of the NCAAs and beat the Eagles twice before falling to eventual NCAA champ Northern Michigan the next weekend.

How Alaska Anchorage wins: Block out the butterflies. It’s been more than a decade since the Seawolves played on a stage this big, and while there will be plenty of good seats sitting empty for Thursday night’s play-in game, the tournament atmosphere can still be intimidating. UAA deals with more off-ice stuff (daunting travel distances, weeks away from school, strange playing times, etc.) than any other team in the conference. If they can put all that aside and focus on the on-ice stuff, the Seawolves should be fine.

INCH: So helmet paint was one of the things you got rid of to forget about last year?

CK: Yes. I got new pads and everything.

INCH: What was it like to endure a 35-game winless streak?

CK: It was a lot like my freshman year, when we set a record for consecutive games without a win (20 games). That was pretty humbling, but last year hurt even more because I was a junior. We were supposed to be the leaders on the team and we were leading the guys to failure.

INCH: What did you do to reverse the losing trend?

CK: We took it to heart this season, doing a lot of work over the summer. The four seniors (King, forward Dallas Steward, forward Vladimir Novak and goalie Kevin Reiter) all came back to school in shape and set the tone with the rest of the team.

INCH: You've lived in Anchorage all your life. Have you always followed the Seawolves?

CK: When I was eight years old I was watching UAA games. I have great memories of going down to the Blueline Room at the rink and talking to the guys. For me that was even more special than seeing them on the rink.

INCH: Who was your favorite Seawolf?

CK: I liked Lee Schill, the goalie, who wore number 30. He was the best player they had about the time that I was first really starting to understand hockey.

INCH: After nearly a full season without a win, you opened this season in Fairbanks and won the game. How did that feel?

CK: We hadn't won there since my freshman year, so that was a huge accomplishment. And the way we won it was even better - going to Fairbanks for the first game of the year. Their fans were crazy, so to win there was a big tone-setter for the season.

INCH: In the middle of the hockey season, you became a father.

CK: The experience really makes hockey seem like nothing. I knew this summer that I was going to be a father and told Coach Hill and my teammates, but it really didn't hit me until I had my daughter in my arms.

INCH: Does she have her own hockey sweater yet?

CK: She's got a little Seawolves jumpsuit, little Seawolf socks and all kinds of stuff already.

INCH: You go to Wisconsin for the playoffs having never won a playoff game. What was bigger, getting that first win, or winning the series?

CK: Really, the bigger thing was getting the first win. It seemed more dramatic. In the third period we scored a goal with about 14 minutes left, and it dawned on me that we could hold on and win this. We're going where no team's ever gone before. Sunday we played so well right from the start that all game I had a feeling that we'd done it.

INCH: You were supposed to be on a plane back to Alaska on Monday and instead you're in a hotel in Minnesota for an extra week. How are you adjusting to the abrupt change in plans?

CK: I packed plenty of shirts and other clothes, but I'm getting a little concerned because I'm running out of socks and underwear.

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