Alaska-Anchorage coach Dave Shyiak points to an influx of speed at forward and defense as good reason Seawolves fans should be hopeful their team can climb out of the WCHA basement.
“Our team will have more speed than in years past,” he said. “This should help us in both our attack on the rush and in transition play.”
UAA lost some point producers to graduation and attrition, but leading scorer Matt Bailey (10 goals, seven assists for 17 points) returns for his junior campaign. Seniors Jordan Kwas (4-10–14) and Chris Crowell, the team captain, are also back. In all, 60 percent of the scoring and seven of the top 10 point-producers return, including senior Derek Naslund (5-8–13) and junior Brett Cameron (5-8–13).
“We will need everyone to contribute offensively,” Shyiak said. “Those guys will need to lead us in that category. We cannot rely on any three guys.”
Senior defenseman Scott Warner (2-13–15), junior Quinn Sproule (3-7–10) and sophomores Austin Caldwell (2-12–14) and Derek Docken (1-10–11) provide valuable experience.
“The sophomores had a great season last year,” Shyiak said. “They will need to anchor us back there.”
Improved play in the UAA defensive zone could help junior goalies Rob Gunderson (5-10-2, 3.61 goals against average, .869 save percentage) and Chris Kamal (4-13-0, 3.46, .877) find the form that propelled UAA to the WCHA Final Five in March 2011 after upsetting Minnesota.
“We need more consistency at that position,” Shyiak said. “In order to do that, we will have to get back to being a tougher team to play against.”
Gunderson and Kamal will rotate until one of them seizes the No. 1 job. If either should falter, Shyiak is confident freshman Michael Matyas could step in.
Kamal won five games in a row late in the 2010-11 season thanks to good defense and the Seawolves’ ability to score in transition was too much for the Gophers. It is a mix UAA hopes to duplicate in 2012-13.
“Our defensemen look to be more mobile and active than last year’s,” Shyiak said. “We want a more balanced team with size and speed. We have to catch up in that category.”
About the Seawolves
2011-12 overall record: 9-25-2
2011-12 WCHA record: 5-22-1 (12th)
2012-13 predicted finish (coaches poll): 12th
Key losses: F Mitch Bruijsten, F/D Brad Gorham, F/D Curtis Leinweber, F Eric Scheid, F Mickey Spencer
Players to watch: F Chris Crowell, F Matt Bailey, F Jordan Kwas, F Daniel Naslund, F Brett Cameron, D Scott Warner, D Quinn Sproule, D Austin Caldwell, D Derek Docken, G Rob Gunderson, G Chris Kamal
Impact rookie: F Hayden Trupp
Why the Seawolves will finish higher than the coaches poll: With seven of the team’s top 10 scorers (60 percent) back, there is potential. If the goalie situation stabilizes, UAA could be the tough defensive team it was when it reached the WCHA Final Five recently.
Why the Seawolves will finish as expected in the coaches poll: Travel remains a wearying constant for UAA. The defense must be better and the better speed up front must lead to more offensive opportunities, which need to be cashed in.