of the Hill
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.
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
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.
You wear a plain white helmet. Why no paint job?
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.
1 North Dakota
Record: 28-6-3 (20-5-3 WCHA)
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
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.
2 Minnesota Duluth
Record: 25-11-4 (19-7-2 WCHA)
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.
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.
Record: 24-13-3 (15-12-1 WCHA)
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.
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.
7 Colorado College
Record: 20-15-3 (11-15-2 WCHA)
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).
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.
8 Alaska Anchorage
Record: 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.
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
So helmet paint was one of the things you got rid of to forget
about last year?
Yes. I got new pads and everything.
What was it like to endure a 35-game winless streak?
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.
What did you do to reverse the losing trend?
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.
You've lived in Anchorage all your life. Have you always followed
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.
Who was your favorite Seawolf?
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
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.
In the middle of the hockey season, you became a father.
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.
Does she have her own hockey sweater yet?
She's got a little Seawolves jumpsuit, little Seawolf socks and
all kinds of stuff already.
You go to Wisconsin for the playoffs having never won a playoff
game. What was bigger, getting that first win, or winning the
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.
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?
I packed plenty of shirts and other clothes, but I'm getting a
little concerned because I'm running out of socks and underwear.