Although Alaska-Anchorage remained at the bottom of the league last year, it fought tooth and nail until the end to stay in the mix.
Think of it this way: with the way the league ended up, points-wise, UAA was just six points out of fifth place and a home-ice berth, something the team has never had.
What was the difference between 2007-08 and 2008-09? Getting a conference series sweep as well as finally eking out some of those conference splits and winning some of those one-goal games.
As a result, coach Dave Shyiak just wants to keep on improving.
“We’re excited, we’re enthusiastic and we certainly want to build upon our play from a year ago at the end,” said Shyiak. “We were six or seven points away from gaining home ice and that’s our goal and expectation this year.”
Helping meet those expectations will be seven seniors, the most for the squad since the 2002-03 season.
However, it’s going to be tricky considering the first four conference opponents for the Seawolves — the consensus preseason top-four teams in the league in North Dakota, Minnesota, Denver and Wisconsin.
“We might experience some growing pains, but again, I think they’re going to be good growing pains,” said Shyiak.
Good news: The Seawolves improved offensively from the year before, with two players finally cracking that 30-point barrier.
Bad news: One of those players, Paul Crowder, decided to leave early.
However, the other player, senior Kevin Clark, is returning. If they have good campaigns this season, junior Tommy Grant and senior Josh Lunden might join him.
Besides hoping for some more offensive talent, the Seawolves need to fill a few holes from a positional standpoint.
“With the loss of Paul Crowder, we’re really thin down the middle,” said Shyiak. “We converted [junior] Nick Haddad, we’ve got two young freshmen playing center, and of course we’ve got [junior] Craig Parkinson.”
On the Blue Line
Defensively, Anchorage lost two defensemen who logged quite a bit of ice time to graduation in Mat Robinson and Shane Lovdahl.
However, the team still has quite a bit of depth on the back line in seniors Nils Backstrom, Trevor Hunt and Jared Tuton, junior Kane LaFranchise and sophomore Curtis Leinweber. Leinweber, in particular, has potential to be an even stronger force this season. He was the third-highest scoring defenseman while playing two-thirds the amount of games as everyone else.
In the Crease
If the Seawolves are set anywhere, it’s in net. Shyiak stuck to a fairly steady rotation between senior Jon Olthius and junior Bryce Christianson, both of whom had fairly strong seasons, given where their team was in the standings.
Christianson had the slight edge in stats and in playing time, but Olthius was definitely capable of stealing games of his own.
For this year, Shyiak intends on sticking to the rotation, though it sounds as if he wants one guy to step up for the starting role.
“They’ve played enough minutes last year, enough games that at times they’ve proved that they can be a No. 1 goaltender in this league,” he said. “I think they’re both certainly capable of doing that. Somebody has to take the ball and kind of solidify that and get consistency. Once we get that, then maybe one guy can roll with it. If not, we’ll probably start out a rotation … and see who we can go with.”