MADISON, Wis. — This one was for all those former Alaska-Anchorage players who had to live with the team’s 0-for in the WCHA playoffs.
So said Seawolves coach John Hill after a landmark 3-2 victory over Wisconsin in Game 1 of a best-of-three first-round playoff series at the Kohl Center.
Justin Johnson broke a 2-2 tie with Alaska-Anchorage’s third power play-goal of the game in the third period and Chris King made 45 saves for the Seawolves, who won for the first time in 12 seasons in the WCHA playoffs. They were 0-22 in their first 11 seasons of tournament play and had been outscored 113-33.
“For everyone who’s ever worn a Seawolf uniform and played in the WCHA, I’m glad this is over and they’ll never have to hear that their program has never won a game,” said Hill, an Anchorage native who is a former UAA captain and assistant coach. “It means a lot to us. But don’t get me wrong — we’re not satisfied just winning a game.”
Game 2, when the Seawolves have the opportunity to erase their name from the list of league teams never to have made the Final Five, is scheduled for Saturday. That list currently consists of one team.
Johnson redirected a Chris Fournier shot from the middle of the ice, just inside the blue line, past Wisconsin goaltender Bernd Brckler for the game-winner. It came with 14:04 remaining in the third period.
It was the first time all season the Seawolves, who are the eighth seed in the playoffs, have scored three power-play goals in a game. They were 3-for-6 with the man advantage. Wisconsin, the third seed, was 2-for-7.
Hill went into the series saying Alaska-Anchorage (12-20-3) needed to score three goals a game to have a chance against the Badgers (20-11-8). His words were prophetic, although he said Friday his statement meant more that he was confident King would hold the Badgers to two or fewer goals.
King did his share, stopping 15 shots in the first period, 18 in the second and 14 in the third.
Wisconsin, which outshot the Seawolves 47-24, had a power-play chance in the last four minutes of the third period but couldn’t capitalize.
“Ten games with a lead in the third we’ve either lost or tied,” Hill said. “It was our night.”
Hill then let out a sigh of relief.
“I don’t get real emotional, but I almost broke down in the dressing room,” he said. “I played here and I was an assistant here when we joined the WCHA. And it’s painful being an alum knowing your program’s never won a game in the playoffs. And I just feel like now that abyss is over.
“The sigh of relief is that, regardless what happens, these guys will know that I guess they made history, to a degree. But we’ve got to win another game. Because I’ll tell you what, if we’re leaving on a plane Monday going back to Anchorage, this is not going to feel real good.”
The Badgers lost their second straight game, but coach Mike Eaves said his team can’t panic.
“They were disappointed, but we just talked about it for a second. We said, ‘Let’s hold on. This is a series,’” Eaves said. “Let’s save our emotional energy, our physical energy and let’s look at the game, talk about the good things we did, things maybe we can change and come back and play tomorrow night.”
Jake Dowell gave the Badgers a 1-0 lead in the first period, and Ross Carlson tied the game at 2 in the second after UAA’s Dallas Steward and Charlie Kronschnabel scored.
Badgers goaltender Brckler made 21 saves.
The Seawolves managed a brief celebration on the ice at the final horn, but then it was back to reality.
“We’re not done yet,” senior forward Dallas Steward said. “It’s an accomplishment, but it’s an even keel because we know it’s still a long ways from over.”