Next stop on the tour of WCHA opponents we’ll take a peek at the Nanooks’ in-state rivals, the University of Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves. A 6-16-6 WCHA (7-21-6 overall) record last year was the worst in the league and saw UAA miss out on the post season. Can Matt Thomas bring back the spark from his inagural season and pull the Seawolves up from the bottom? After going 18-16-4 his first year, UAA has seen three straight season with 20 losses. Not the direction those in Anchorage want to see.
The Seawolves lost five players to graduation this year. Only one defenseman—Chase van Allen—is gone, leaving the blueline with an experienced group for this year. His leadership will be missed for sure though. As far as the forwards go, none of the three departing seniors were points leaders so the loss there shouldn’t have a large impact on the score sheet. Brad Duwe’s impact was cut short due to knee surgery to start the season and will probably be the most missed of the group. The scoring of sophomore Mason Mitchell will be missed as the only player to have over ten goals and three other left early. Aleski Ainali, Sean MacTavish, and Eric Roberts round out the early departures.
Senior goalie Oliver Mantha will lend a large amount of experience to the Seawolves’ defense. He’s been in net for the majority of the games since arriving at UAA and certainly knows the college game. Look for him to continue to give the Seawolves opportunities to steal games. On top of the points charts are seniors Matt Anholt and Ted Kozan; both of them will be looked to to get the offense going. Nineteen games with one goal or less last season from the struggling offense needs to change this year if the Seawolves are to improve their position. The Seawolves also bring in twelve freshmen this year, so even with a small graduating class, there will be a large element of inexperience for Matt Thomas to deal with.
The Seawolves are only on the schedule once this year and, based on last year’s performance, that may be a good thing. The Huskies went 1-0-3 versus UAA in 2016-17 with the only win coming in Alaska. The two OT ties added unneeded uncertainty to the end-of-the-year run last year and allowed BSU to run away with first place in the regular season. The only trip to Anchorage will be the first weekend of the Thanksgiving double road trip and in previous years has proved to be the more challenging weekend of the two. The long flight from Minneapolis and the time change is not your every-weekend trip for teams (unless of course you’re one of the Alaska teams) and the adjustment seems to take a bit from visiting teams.
Just like their northern neighbors, UAA was also 1-5 in games with non-WCHA opponents withe the only win coming over Canisius. Losses included a sweep to Penn State in College station, losses to Minnesota and Alaska at their hosted tournament, and a loss to UNO in Fairbanks. The year mirrors UA with all non-conference games coming in October:
Oct. 06/07 North Dakota
Oct. 13/14 at Colorado College
Oct. 20 Alaska
Oct. 21 at Alaska
The first series is a steep challenge: playing UND is never an easy task. Hopefully the early-season road trip proves tough for the Fighting Hawks and UAA can pull off an upset. The next weekend brings a more interesting matchup with the NCHC bottom-dwellers in Colorado Springs. The Tigers have yet to have a 10-win season in the NCHC and are an opportunity for the WCHA to pick up vital PWR comparison wins versus an NCHC team. Finally, just like UA, they wrap up the month with a non-conference series with their northern neighbors.
There is no where to go but up for the Seawolves after last year’s struggles. Can Matt Thomas bring the team back to above .500 for the first time in 4 years. Will the experienced blueline and Matha allow to Seawolves to get steal some games this year or will the twelve freshmen struggle to acclimate to the college level? One thing is certain: the Sullivan faithful will be looking for a better season than last year.