Amid the ruin that was the 2002-03 season for Alaska-Anchorage, John Hill offered a bit of perspective.
The second-year coach mentioned last year that he thinks the 2004-05 season is when the Seawolves finally will be able to pull it all together. It might have been hard to see that through the destruction of a 1-28-7 season that included a 35-game winless streak, but Hill is holding onto that thought.
After all, when you go through a season like that, all you can do is look to the future.
“I think we’re headed in that direction,” Hill said, “and I think this year people will see that. I think next year, if we can recruit a couple more good forwards and we can land a goalie — because we’re losing our two, not that I don’t think our two goalies are good — I think that then we have to recognize the fact that we have recruited these guys to play our style of hockey and we think that the results will be better.”
That still leaves this season, however, to be concerned about. The concern isn’t that it will be worse than the last, but that it won’t show enough of an improvement to keep Hill’s plan in place.
But what was so bad about last season, you say? Well, in short and besides that pesky winless streak:
So you really can’t blame them for not wanting to think about last season, can you? Hill has told his players to politely decline to talk about the misery.
“My general feeling is that regardless of how well you did last year, or how poorly you did, you need to move on and look forward,” Hill said. “And in our case, with things being so horrendous and the fact that we’ve got nine new faces who were not involved with the debacle of last season, why have that black cloud hanging over us?”
Hill said he’ll carry the baggage of that season, but if everything turns out the way he hopes, he may not have to do so for long. One of the things that already has set this team apart from the last one took place before a skate was laced up. The players have set off on some group outings — something that was never done last season. One was an overnight camping trip. Another was to see the movie “Seabiscuit,” an appropriate choice for the team that no one is giving much of a chance this season.
And there was quite a roster shakeup over the summer. Besides the seven seniors who left the program — while talking about them, Hill interjects with, “Who, by the way, contributed a grand total of six goals,” showing again the contempt he holds for the lack of senior leadership his team had last season — and some walk-ons who were told they weren’t going to get an opportunity to play, Hill dismissed Carbery and senior-to-be Jace Digel for what he said were “continued off-ice incidents” and conduct detrimental to the team.
It leaves the impression that Hill is focused on the players who have chosen to come to Anchorage to play under his system, perhaps drawing back to the coach’s plan to be at full speed by next season. He talked about his players believing that the coaching staff would bring in players to complement them.
There are some players that certainly need complementing.
Ales Parez never got the kind of support he needed last season, but still ended up as the team’s leading scorer with 28 points. Curtis Glencross had a team-high 11 goals. Defenseman Matt Hanson had 17 points. Those players were the top three in scoring, and all were freshmen.
Parez added 15 pounds of muscle to a 6-foot-2 frame and could be even more of a factor this season.
But the attention up front is directed at Chris Fournier, a transfer from North Dakota who had to sit out last season. The Seawolves think he’ll be a spark plug for their offense. It might take him some time to get back into game shape after a year of only practices and summer-league games, but he should help out a struggling group.
“Chris is the type of player that makes everybody on the ice better because of his vision, his stick skill and his hockey sense,” Hill said. “He makes great plays. He’s very patient and poised with the puck. And if guys get open, he’ll hit them at that right moment where they can get a shot off or when they’re in that so-called Grade-A scoring position.”
The Seawolves expect freshmen Brett Arcand-Kootenay and Nick Lowe to be among the top six forwards, joining Fournier, Hopson, Glencross and Parez. That means some players who had been on the top two lines, like senior assistant captain Dallas Steward, will be moved down or used in special-teams situations.
The blueline corps will be directed by junior captain Lee Green, a defensive defenseman whose specialty is being a physical presence in front of the net, clearing out opponents.
“I think he feels comfortable that this is his team, and he’s very capable,” Hill said. “I think Lee’s going to be an outstanding captain for the next two seasons.”
Green is the elder statesman in a defensive group that also includes four sophomores and three freshmen.
The only position that hasn’t undergone a transformation over the offseason is goaltender, where Kevin Reiter and Chris King each will get a chance to take the No. 1 spot. Each has had that chance in the past, but neither has taken advantage and the team has split them — a scenario that could play out again.
Hill said he hopes the parts of his plan that will be evident this season are improvements in skating and stick skill. It’s also essential, he said, that the Seawolves get positive feedback early.
“I think we’re going to be significantly better, but it’s going to be important to score some goals and win early, because those are the things we did not do last year,” he said. “We’re confident in our goaltending. I believe we’ll do a good job on special teams. Can we score some goals?”
The Seawolves don’t host Minnesota-Duluth or North Dakota, and don’t travel to Michigan Tech or Wisconsin. … UAA still is looking for its 350th victory in program history. No. 349 was a 4-2 victory over Alaska-Fairbanks in last season’s opener.