Thursday, October 06, 2005

WCHA Preview - 8. Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves

Last year: 12-19-6, 9-15-4 WCHA (7th). Lost to Wisconsin in WCHA first round.
Coach: Dave Shyiak, first season
Top returnees
Forwards: Justin Bourne, jr (12-11-23); Charlie Kronschnabel, jr (9-12-21); Ales Parez, sr (5-10-15); Shea Hamilton, soph (7-4-11)
Defensemen: Chad Anderson, jr (4-11-15); Brandon Segal, jr (2-9-11)
Goalies: Nathan Lawson, soph (7-15-3, 3.32, .914); John DeCaro, sr (5-4-3, 3.56, .906)
Top newcomers: Adam Corrin, F; Jay Beagle, F; Billy Smith, F; Shane Lovdahl, D
Biggest losses: Martin Stuchlik, F (12-13-25); Brandon Segal, D (2-9-11); Lee Green, D (2-4-6)

Assess the 2004-2005 season. What went right and what went wrong?:
The Seawolves continued to play well at times, and perplex fans with poor play at times. They upset Minnesota at home to win the Nye Frontier Classic. They followed that up by going to Mariucci in January and taking three points, even though starting goalie Lawson was hurt. They played well in Duluth, as Lawson led the way to a three-point weekend against the Bulldogs. But the team was hurt by a lack of experience up front. They never found a go-to guy on offense. And, in the end, the result was familiar for UAA fans a year ago, as they watched their team post a 12th straight losing season.

What are the overall strengths of the team?:
Lawson and DeCaro form a strong tandem in goal. Ignore those goals against averages. Both posted solid save percentages, suggesting that the defense was simply allowing too many shots to get through. Bourne improved as the season wore on, finishing as the team's leading returning scorer. Parez is back from a broken leg, and he is being looked at for some leadership on a team that has lacked some of that over the last couple years. Anderson is a good blueliner, and sophomore Luke Beaverson, the only UAA player to appear in every game a year ago, is only going to get stronger.

What are the overall weaknesses of the team?:
The Seawolves allowed a league-high 1,432 shots on goal last year. Even with Lawson and DeCaro in goal, that number has to come down for UAA to be successful. Shyiak needs to be patient, as the defensemen will come around, but he needs some immediate results from them to keep the pressure off his goaltenders. Bourne and Kronschnabel are going to have to increase their production up front for UAA. The Seawolves were seventh in the league in goal-scoring, and offense has not been a strength of this team in recent years. For UAA to contend, that has to change.

Best-case scenario:
Lawson stays healthy and gets better. The defense tightens up a little bit. Bourne and company start to score more goals. If the young players come together under Shyiak's leadership, things will start to look up in a hurry. With a few breaks, it's not inconceivable that this team could crack the top half of the league.

Realistic projection:
Despite the solid goaltending, the Seawolves will still struggle at times. They won't score enough goals to put away opponents, and the defense will still allow too many shots, which will eventually mean that the goalies will let a few in. While I think UAA has a shot at a better finish, there is too much talent ahead of them, and the Seawolves will settle into eighth place. However, it should be noted that this team will absolutely not be a pushover in the WCHA, and improvement will be obvious, especially in the second half of the season.

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