This Week in WCHA Hockey: Alaska Anchorage has playoff fate in own hands as Seawolves prep for Bemidji State

Alaska Anchorage freshman Nick Wicks has posted six goals and 14 points in 29 games this season for the Seawolves (photo: Alaska Anchorage Athletics).

To say that Alaska Anchorage has seen it all would be understatement of nearly epic proportions.

The Seawolves have topped their in-state rival Alaska, have tied No. 3 Minnesota State, and are mired in a nine-game winless streak.

They have had to deal with questions about the health of their program’s future while also trying to celebrate their 40th anniversary as a college hockey program. They have faced transfers, injuries, and other more-normal college hockey issues.

Yet, despite all of this, the Seawolves enter the final two weeks of their season holding to a three-point lead in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the WCHA with just two weeks left in the season.

“Given the last four games, we control our own destiny,” said Seawolves coach Matt Curley. “I think that if you’re asked the guys prior to the season, if you had an opportunity to close out the regular season with a chance to punch a ticket into the postseason, on your own, on your own accord, and your own watch, we take it.

“We’re excited about the chance to play and hopefully have enough in the tank to get it done.”

Curley is very proud of everything the Seawolves have accomplished to this point, but fully admits there is still a lot of work to be done, especially given that their final four games include a pair at home against No. 13 Bemidji State and a pair of games on the road against the Nanooks.

“Certainly given our next four games, it doesn’t make it very easy,” Curley said. “Bemidji State is as hot as any team in the country. They’re rolling right along, doing what they’ve been doing. It’s been very impressive to watch from afar. So that’s going to be a really tough two games for us.

“Then we can conclude with two up at Fairbanks. Obviously. those guys are our biggest rivals. They’re going to be looking at push for a top four spot for home ice, so they have a lot to play for as well. Given what we have, it’s great that we’re in the position that we’re in, but certainly, it’s not without its challenges. We have a tremendous amount of work ahead of us.”

The Seawolves enter this weekend fresh off a sweep at the hands of No. 10 Arizona State. The last six games the Seawolves have played have been against teams who qualified for the NCAA tournament last season.

While the scores against the Sun Devils were less than flattering (the Seawolves fell 5-0 and 5-2), freshman forward Nick Wicks scored his first goal, and his first point, in nine games. The Delta, B.C., native has struggled since Dec. 7, with just two goals over that stretch.

Curley hopes that the goal Saturday signifies a return to form for the youngster.

“He’s been playing good hockey and sometimes playing good hockey doesn’t always show up on the scoresheet in goals and assists,” said Curley. “I think he’s a great example of one of those classic freshmen stories. You come out you have a great first half, and you’re coming out of the Christmas break, feeling good, then January hits. You kind of hit that wall, the grind of the schedule, the toughness of games, school, the weight room, our travel, all those things kind of culminate, and it certainly didn’t slow him down in terms of his effectiveness on the ice.

“He’s been playing some good hockey for us.”

Wicks is one of five freshmen in the Seawolves’ lineup with at least eight points. That much youth among their top scorers shows just how young and inexperienced the Seawolves are as they head into this critical juncture of their season.

One skater has had a tremendous impact on all the young talent the Seawolves have.

Senior forward Luc Brown, who joined the team after sitting out a full calendar year after transferring from Union, has six goals and 15 points in 14 games.

The Napanee, Ont., native serves as an assistant captain, and Curley has been extremely impressed with how hard Brown works in practice. He sees Brown’s younger teammates taking notice of how he prepares for each weekend.

“There’s no way to overemphasize or undervalue what he’s been able to do for us as an older guy,” Curley said. “He’s been around. He came from a fantastic program and culture and Union College. To have a guy like Brownie come in and help our younger guys up front, where some of them may have hit that freshman wall, to pick it up in terms of the production, and then as well as the leadership aspect of it, it’s been great having him.

“I can’t speak more highly of him as a person or as a player. He’s brought a really renewed sense of energy for us, especially up front. He has been a huge part of what we’ve been able to do in terms of our offense production.”

Another senior who has had an impact in how the Seawolves perform night in and night out has been defenseman Tomi Hiekkavirta. The Helsinki native has a team-high 13 points and Curley feels he has been instrumental in helping bail out mistakes made the Seawolves’ young forwards.

While his team dropped both games to the Sun Devils, Curley admits he did a little scoreboard watching in seeing that Michigan Tech swept Ferris State, who are the team sitting just three points back in the standings with two weeks left.

However, he hopes to see his team show that they want what is right in front of them starting with the pair of games at home against a Beavers squad that comes into the weekend riding a five-game winning streak.

Following that series, the Seawolves will have to finish the regular season on the road against the Nanooks, who are 4-3-5 since the start of the New Year, and are in a battle for the fourth and final home playoff spot with the Huskies.

“They’ve been doing some really good things in the league this year, which is really nice to see,” said Curley. “It’s nice to see, (Nanooks coach Eric Largen) Largey and those guys having some success representing the state well. They’ve got a really nice hockey team.

“I think it speaks to what we’ve been able to bring to the table and just kind of pushing forward, working each day and you know, putting ourselves in a position where we want to be. On face value, it would be really nice to see both of us have a chance to play in the postseason.”

Swoyer shines for Huskies

Michigan Tech sophomore defenseman Colin Swoyer was honored by the WCHA on Monday after a strong showing last weekend for the Huskies on the road against Ferris State. In Saturday’s contest, he scored both goals in a 2-0 victory for the Huskies over the Bulldogs.

The weekend as a whole was an important one for the second-year defender from Hinsdale, Ill., as Swoyer needed a strong showing after struggling the weekend before against Lake Superior State in a 7-3 loss on Friday, Feb. 7, where he scored a goal and an assist, but was also on the ice for two of the three first period goals the Lakers scored and was on the ice again for a third Lakers’ goal in the middle frame.

Lakers pick up needed points

Lake Superior State went into last weekend needing points to help solidify their playoff hopes.

They got a big boost from a strong showing against Alabama Huntsville, picking up five of a possible six points on the weekend.

In Friday night’s game, the Lakers and Chargers battled to a 0-0 tie after regulation and two overtimes, setting up a shootout. In the fifth round, Yuki Miura beat Chargers goaltender Mark Sinclair to earn the extra point.

Saturday, Miura factored in the game as the Lakers scored four straight goals to lead 4-0 just 4:11 into the third period. From there, Mareks Mitens shut down the Chargers, who fired nine shots at him in the frame, surrendering just one goal in the win.