Anchorage — The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League is not a recruiting hotbed for American college teams, and certainly not for those in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. Just eight of the more than 300 players in the WCHA this season came to the circuit directly from the SJHL.
Little wonder, then, that Blake Tatchell more than once considered leaving his hometown Battlefords North Stars of the SJHL and heading elsewhere to gain more exposure.
Once, when Tatchell thought of moving on, though, he received advice from North Stars assistant coach Blair Atcheynum, the former NHL winger, that he heeded in staying home: "If you're good enough, they'll find you.''
Evidently. Tatchell is a freshman at UAA, which recruited him last season after receiving a tip that the center in a league the Seawolves only lightly scout was worth checking out.
UAA assistant coach T.J. Jindra traveled to watch Tatchell play and delivered a favorable report to head coach Dave Shyiak.
Tatchell, who said he was also talking to recruiters from UAF, Minnesota-Duluth and UMass, accepted the Seawolves' scholarship offer. He leads UAA rookies in scoring with two goals and two assists in six games, and ranks fourth overall among Seawolves scorers entering this weekend's WCHA home series against No. 2-ranked Minnesota.
"It was about finding the best spot and position I could put myself in,'' said Tatchell, 21. "The opportunity to play right away was a big thing. Coach said he would give me an opportunity, and that was big.
"I knew they had a tough year last season, and they had lost some guys, so it seemed like a great chance. It worked out the best it could. No regrets at all.''
Nearly 300 players have earned letters in UAA hockey history dating back to 1979. Tatchell is just the seventh UAA player from Saskatchewan, and the first since the late 1990s. By comparison, more than half of UAA's players this season prepped in either the Alberta Junior Hockey League or British Columbia Hockey League.
Of course, Shyiak knows something about the SJHL -- he's from Manitoba, but he played his junior hockey in Humbolt, Saskatchewan.
"That league is not as deep as some of the other leagues,'' Shyiak said. "But there are good kids that come out of it. T.J. saw (Tatchell) and liked him. We checked out his character and got good reports.''
What Tatchell did on the ice spoke for itself. He finished second in the SJHL in scoring last season with 42-44--86 totals in 57 games and was voted the league's Most Valuable Player. He added 5-9--14 totals in 13 playoff games.
At UAA, Tatchell has centered senior right wing Alex Gellert in every game and Gellert's 3-2--5 totals tie him for the team lead in points. Tatchell began the season with fellow freshman Hayden Trupp on his left wing, but sophomore Scott Allen -- he is the team's leading goal scorer with four -- mans that spot now.
Tatchell, who also works on the one of the Seawolves' power-play units, said he's had to adjust to the increased speed of Division I hockey and to opponents who are deep throughout the lineup.
"It hasn't been easy,'' he said. "I've had a lot of help from (Gellert). He's helped me adjust and given me confidence.''
Shyiak said he likes to give a freshman a full season before judging his transition to the college game. So far, though, he likes what he sees in Tatchell.
"He's got a high hockey IQ,'' Shyiak said. "He really passes the puck well, makes plays, and he can be crafty with the puck.
"He's come in and, I think, made the transition to the speed of the game. When you've got great hockey IQ, it makes the transition easier.''
The Seawolves, who are coming off an idle weekend, will likely be without junior defenseman Quinn Sproule, who suffered a separated shoulder Oct. 26 at North Dakota and sat out the following game.
Sproule, who skated in Thursday's practice at Sullivan Arena in a red jersey that indicates he shouldn't be hit, could be back as soon as the Seawolves' next series. That's a Nov. 23-24 WCHA set at Bemidji State because the Seawolves are again idle next week.
Two idle weekends before Christmas is unusual. On the other hand, UAA's holiday break between games will only be 20 days this season. The holiday break has been longer than a month in each of the previous four seasons.
After this week's series, the Seawolves will have played five of their last six games against teams ranked in the top four. North Dakota was No. 2 when UAA lost to it in Fairbanks, then No. 4 when UAA lost a series opener at North Dakota and rebounded for a 3-3 tie the following night. Minnesota is ranked No. 2.
Eleven of Minnesota's top 12 scorers are NHL draft picks.
Minnesota coach Don Lucia, the former UAF head coach and UAA assistant coach, earlier this season won his 600th game as a head coach. He's 602-330-83 in 25-plus seasons as a head coach, and has won two national titles guiding the Gophers. His first six seasons as a head coach -- before he was bench boss at Colorado College and Minnesota -- came at UAF, where he went 113-87-11.
The Seawolf Athletic Association Blueliner booster club is hosting a coaches luncheon Friday, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Lucy Cuddy Dining Center on campus. Cost is $20.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.