This week’s series at Alaska was part of the frustrating experience fans are feeling this year with the Huskies. The split against the Nanooks was painful and joyful to watch, all at the same time.
Anyone who’s raised children to adulthood knows the routine. Once the infant stage is over, your child is usually either an angel or a lovable scamp who causes mild trouble. But, as some point between the ages of 10 and 13, they become, horrors! an adolescent. From that point forward they aggravate you in ways you never imagined, but also offset that by developing into functioning, and often a very admirable adults.
Watching Them Dogs this year is kind of like that. As Joe Shawhan reminds us at almost every turn, this is a young team. There aren’t many juniors or seniors, and the sophomores and, increasingly, the freshmen, are being asked to carry a substantial part of the load. Tech has scored 36 goals through 15 games, and only five have been potted by juniors or seniors. Six more come from freshmen, and the remaining 20 have all been scored by the sophomore class.
The ”adolescent” model for Team 99 was on full display in Fairbanks. For those of you who couldn’t stay awake to watch the games, Friday was one of those nights that can make you crazy. After a scoreless first period, Tech opened the second stanza with two goals in the first 1:05. At the 7:44 mark, the Nanooks struck back, scoring a power play goal after an ill-advised high sticking penalty.
When UAF tied the score early in the third period, Tech roared back with a marker from Keegan Ford (one of the seniors), but then seemed to fall into a defensive funk. They just tried to hold on, but less than two minutes after Ford’s goal, Alaska tied the score again. As the game seemed to be headed for overtime, Alaska had an amazing shift, keeping the puck in Tech’s end for four full minutes (making two full line changes in the process), and put the game winner home with three and half minutes left. It seemed like the Huskies were trying to kill a five-minute major, but there wasn’t anyone in the box. They couldn’t ice it, couldn’t freeze it, and rarely even touched the puck.
Tech later pulled goalie Matt Jurusik, but as this team has done consistently with a sixth attacker, they didn’t get any real pressure on the Nanooks. At least they avoided an empty net goal.
At that moment, I blasted on the Discord chat site with “Blown Game.” I felt the way that I did when my son Red Dog did something foolish during his teen years. I wanted to yell, but I know that doesn’t work very well. It doesn’t even make me feel better after the initial explosion—just full of regret that I couldn’t control my anger.
Saturday night was very different. Them Dogs grabbed the lead in the first period, but UAF tied it early in the second. This time, though, the Huskies continued to play like they wanted to score goals, and later in the period, Ray Brice put his second of the year behind Nanook goalie Anton Martinsson to give Tech another one goal lead.
As the third period was starting, the Old Dog (and many of the other fans who’d stayed up to either listen to Dirk Hembroff’s broadcast or were watching on FloHockey) had that “here we go again” feeling. But no—Them Dogs came out and applied constant pressure in the UAF end. The Nanooks only managed three shots on goal for the first seventeen minutes of the period, and only had two other shots toward the goal—one was blocked, one was wide.
Finally, with 2:40 left, UAF pulled Martinsson and generated some pressure. But the Huskies stood tall, yielding just two more shots on goal and Tech left Alaska with a split. Tech’s play with the lead was so much better in the third period on Saturday than on Friday. How this team can be completely different on two nights against the same team is what makes them so hard to enjoy. The Discord Dogs all went to bed feeling something between relief and joy, and the handful of Tech fans in the Carlson Center had something to celebrate, too.
The split was huge for Tech, both in terms of where they sit in the WCHA as well as the national picture. The Huskies now have 18 points, three behind the Nanooks and Minnesota State and tied with Northern (who had a disappointing split at Alabama-Huntsville—the Chargers’ first win of the season). Bemidji State has one more point than Alaska or the Mavericks—and all of these teams (except UAF) have games in hand. But Tech is in the mix and will get a chance to gain ground this weekend when they host Alaska-Anchorage.
Even more surprising, the sea parted and many of the games that would help the Huskies in the Pairwise and RPI lists fell in Tech’s favor. Despite an 8-7 record, Them Dogs are now in the 11th spot in both of these ratings. The split with UAF was critical in that outcome. So, once again, like a proud parent, it’s fun to be a Husky fan.
Although the UAA Seawolves aren’t the best team around, with an adolescent team you never know. It seems like it’s always an adventure with Team 99.