Anchorage chasing best WCHA finishSince joining the Western Collegiate Hockey Association 17 years ago, Alaska Anchorage has never finished in the top half of the standings. The Seawolves have occupied the basement six times and have finished next-to-last five times. But despite a roster of 19 underclassmen, three juniors and five seniors, Anchorage is hitting the stretch run with a legitimate shot at getting home ice for the WCHA playoffs — a chase that the Seawolves haven’t experienced in nine years.
By: By Brad Schlossman, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
Since joining the Western Collegiate Hockey Association 17 years ago, Alaska Anchorage has never finished in the top half of the standings.
The Seawolves have occupied the basement six times and have finished next-to-last five times.
But despite a roster of 19 underclassmen, three juniors and five seniors, Anchorage is hitting the stretch run with a legitimate shot at getting home ice for the WCHA playoffs — a chase that the Seawolves haven’t experienced in nine years.
Entering this weekend’s series against UND (7:37 tonight, 7:07 p.m. Saturday), the Seawolves are tied with Colorado College for the sixth and final home-ice playoff spot.
Anchorage has 20 points with a 9-11-2 in league play. The nine league victories tie the most since 2001-02, when Anchorage won 10 WCHA games. The Seawolves have two sweeps for the first time in nine years and consecutive sweeps home sweeps for the first time in 11 years.
“Obviously, points are important in this league and we’re finding ways to get some wins,” Anchorage coach Dave Shyiak said. “I think home ice is a goal for any team. Any coach will tell you that you can’t look too far ahead, though. Our focus is (tonight) against one of the frontrunners in the league and nationally.”
The Seawolves are doing it with their tight defensive system, designed to limit offensive opportunities.
Anchorage ranks sixth nationally (second in the WCHA) in shots allowed per game with 25.5. But the Seawolves are only putting up an average of 25.3 shots per game, which ranks 54th nationally and 11th in the league.
If Anchorage gets its way, the games will be low scoring this weekend.
“I think they give everybody a hard time,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “They are a hard team to play against. They give up an average of 25 shots per game, they don’t take a lot of penalties and they are a big, strong physical team.
While the Seawolves chase home ice, UND will be chasing the MacNaughton Cup.
The Sioux (19-8-2 overall, 14-6 WCHA) are one point back of both Denver and Minnesota-Duluth for the stretch run. Denver plays at Minnesota this weekend, while Duluth hosts St. Cloud State.
“It’s always tight, it’s always fun,” Gregoire said. “If it was a blowout, it wouldn’t be as much fun coming down the stretch. It certainly makes every game interesting.”
Kristo released from hospital
UND sophomore forward Danny Kristo was released from Regions Hospital in St. Paul on Thursday and returned to his parents’ home in Eden Prairie, where he will continue treatment for frostbite that he sustained on the toes of his right foot almost two weeks ago.
Kristo spent 11 days in the Regions Hospital Burn Center.
The timing of Kristo’s return to Grand Forks depends on how he responds to ongoing treatment.
The frostbite occurred on the evening of Jan. 30 while Kristo was walking near campus, the school said. Temperatures dipped to -11 and -33 windchill that evening. Frostbite can occur in just over 10 minutes at those temperatures.
Neither the school nor Kristo have released any more details, but Hakstol said this week that the incident has been a distraction.
“I will say this,” Hakstol said, “I want to make it real clear. I’m unhappy with the distraction that has been created for our team at this time of the season. This is a very critical time of the year, but quite honestly, until Danny’s status becomes more clear, our team needs to turn our focus back to the business at hand.”
Genoway a finalist
UND captain Chay Genoway, who will miss the next three to four weeks with a leg injury, is one of 10 finalists for the Lowe’s Senior Class Award.
Other finalists include Grand Forks native Jacques Lamoureux, a forward for the Air Force Academy, and Alaska Fairbanks defenseman Bryant Molle, who is the brother of Sioux women’s defenseman Candace Molle.
On Thursday, Genoway was named a WCHA scholar athlete for the fourth time. He joined Scott McCulloch, who played for Colorado College, as the only four-time men’s scholar athletes in WCHA history.
The team’s other scholar athletes are Brad Eidsness, Derrick LaPoint, Brett Bruneteau and Tate Maris.
Dickin may see ice
Freshman forward Taylor Dickin, who joined the team at semester break, will likely see his first action tonight.
Dickin, a 21-year-old Winnipeg product, was the most valuable player of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League last season and earned an invite to the Toronto Maple Leafs summer camp.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound forward racked up 92 points (40 goals) in 62 games for the Selkirk Steelers last season.
UND will host the Ice Breaker at Ralph Engelstad Arena to open next season. The three visiting teams are still being finalized. . . Hakstol said a couple of players have been dinged with injuries and probably wouldn’t have been able to play if the team had games last weekend. . . According to the KRACH rankings, UND has played the most difficult schedule in the country. Anchorage has played the second-most difficult schedule in the country.
Schlossman is a sports writer at the Grand Forks Herald which is owned by Forum Communications Co.