COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — If not for Peter Sejna, Alaska-Anchorage may have pulled off the biggest upset of the year. The Hobey Baker candidate notched the game-winning goal and added two assists for his 25th multiple-point game of the season as top-ranked Colorado College struggled past the Seawolves, 5-3, in the opening game of their WCHA first-round series.
The Tigers, who matched their win total from each of the last two seasons in improving to 27-5-5, can advance to the WCHA Final Five with a victory tomorrow night. Anchorage, which has not won in more than five months, falls to 1-27-7.
“I don’t think we were as sharp as I was expecting us to be,” said Tigers’ coach Scott Owens. “I’m a little disappointed we didn’t play better.” After dominating play for the first 13 minutes, Colorado College opened the scoring with an odd-man rush. Sejna skated across the blue line and waited for senior Joe Cullen to join the attack, then slid a cross-ice pass to Cullen, who redirected the puck past Seawolves’ netminder Chris King.
Anchorage, however, refused to roll over, and tied the contest three minutes later with the man advantage. After going 16 minutes without a shot on goal, freshman Matt Hanson picked off an errant Tigers’ pass. The defenseman rifled a shot from the right face-off circle over the outstretched glove of Colorado College goaltender Curtis McElhinney for his seventh goal of the season and sixth power-play tally.
The Tigers regained momentum early in the second period, going ahead to stay at 2:44. Defenseman James Laux forced a turnover and fired a low shot off the right blocker of King for his fifth goal of the season and fourth in the last two weeks.
“I thought we actually played pretty good defensively,” said Anchorage coach John Hill. “We turned the puck over a couple times, and they capitalized. You can’t have mental lapses against a team that’s as good as any in the country.”
Over the next 10 minutes, Colorado College had several chances to double its lead, including four minutes of power-play time. However, King kept the Seawolves close with several acrobatic saves, keeping the top offense in the nation in check.
“[King] has been playing well since the semester break, but his numbers don’t reflect that because we’ve played so poor [as a team],” said Hill. “He’ll go tomorrow unless he’s fatigued.”
Just 30 seconds after an Anchorage attempt to tie the contest hit the post, the Tigers took a two-goal lead. Scott Polaski won a battle for the puck with defenseman Matt Shasby along the boards, raced in alone, and got King to overplay the puck before roofing a wrister.
Colorado College pushed its lead to 5-1 in the third period thanks to Sejna. The nation’s leading scorer took advantage of a friendly bounce off the endboards six minutes into the final stanza for his 32nd goal of the season. Seven minutes later, Sejna recorded an assist on Noah Clarke’s shorthanded goal, as Sejna began the breakaway by intercepting an errant pass.
Anchorage, however, shocked the 5,869 fans in attendance at the Colorado Springs World Arena by scoring two goals in the next 38 seconds. Vladimir Novak scored first with a power-play goal, and senior Dan Gilkerson converted 17 seconds later for his first tally of the season.
“We had a lapse there in the third period,” said Clarke. “It was good that we called a timeout and relaxed a bit.”
Following the timeout, the Tigers clamped down defensively, but also failed to convert on their sixth power-play opportunity of the evening.
“We did a great job on the penalty kill,” said Hill. “We had one of our forwards extremely high on the forecheck, and most of their shots were from the perimeter.”
McElhinney stopped just 16 shots for his 22nd win of the season. King, meanwhile, turned aside 44 shots, two off his career high.
“We did win after all,” said Tigers’ captain Tom Preissing. “They have nothing to lose.”