UAA's victory in Matt Thomas' debut as bench boss Friday night stemmed from stingy defense, veteran contributions, rookie infusions, sound goaltending, special teams superiority and, at game's end, a touch of sly coaching.
The Seawolves' 3-1 win over defending national runner-up Quinnipiac in their Kendall Hockey Classic came courtesy of 24 saves from senior Rob Gunderson, one goal and one assist from both junior Brett Cameron and freshman Hudson Friesen, perfect penalty-killing and a power-play goal that furnished a third-period cushion.
After a 4-25-7 spiral last season cost Dave Shyiak his job after eight seasons, UAA turned to Thomas, formerly the coach of the ECHL's Stockton Thunder, as the fifth head coach in the school's 35-season hockey history. He's charged with the reconstruction of a Division I program that has endured 20 straight losing seasons and most recently has suffered rapidly declining attendance.
Thomas lauded his team's effort. The Seawolves never trailed, and they never faltered.
"You know what?'' Thomas said. "They battled, and that was the best thing.''
Leading 2-1 entering the third period, Cameron delivered some breathing room on a power play early in the third period. That advantage came when Quinnipiac's Travis St. Denis took a cross-checking penalty 180 feet from his net and compounded that indiscretion by taking an additional roughing penalty.
On UAA's ensuing power play, sophomore defenseman Blake Leask unleashed a shot of sorts from atop the right circle. Cameron, a winger since he hit his teenage years but converted to center by Thomas, deflected the puck, which fluttered over the right shoulder of Bobcats masked man Michael Garteig (17 saves) for a 3-1 lead.
"It was a shot-pass (by Leask) and I got a tip on it,'' Cameron said. "I just saw it slow-motion go over the goalie. It was awesome.''
UAA sustained its lead with team defense that didn't afford Quinnipiac many quality chances throughout a match that took 2 hours, 29 minutes, and was played before an announced crowd of 3,474.
Perhaps Gunderson's finest, and most critical, save came with less than five minutes to go. Just as the Seawolves finished dismissing a Bobcats power play -- Quinnipiac went 0 for 4 with the man advantage -- a turnover landed on the blade of Bobcats defenseman Zach Tolkinen. He got off a quick shot and Gunderson flashed his right skate to steer the puck into the corner.
Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold pulled Garteig for an extra attacker in the final 1:55, which was followed by a series of face-offs in UAA's zone. With 45.1 seconds left, Thomas sent out three centers -- Cameron, Matt Bailey and Blake Tatchell -- so he would always have a pivot available if a center got tossed from the draw.
On another defensive-zone face-off with 20.8 seconds left, with those three centermen still on the ice along with defenseman Derek Docken and Chris Williams, Thomas sent senior assistant captain Jordan Kwas onto the ice. Kwas was dispatched onto the rink to complain about some roughness after the previous whistle. Never mind that Bailey and Cameron, both captains, were on the ice and could have registered the complaint. Kwas' trip gave the Seawolves on the ice another 15 seconds of rest, at least.
The Seawolves, who last season could not deliver the dagger on the rare occasions they had an opponent compromised, on this night completed what they started.
"It's one thing to start well, but you want to finish well, and we did,'' Thomas said.
Following a laser show and pregame introductions, Friesen and Tatchell helped give UAA a 2-0 first-period lead with goals less than four minutes apart.
Cameron's forecheck behind the net forced a turnover that led to Friesen's goal. Cameron kicked the puck to freshman Dylan Hubbs, who relayed a quick centering pass to Friesen. Tatchell's goal came when he streaked down the low slot and redirected Friesen's short centering pass.
The Bobcats slashed that two-goal Seawolves advantage to one goal in short order when Bryce Van Brabant struck 86 seconds after Tatchell's goal.
The 2-1 UAA lead held until Cameron scored the game's only power-play goal.
The Bobcats didn't do themselves any favors. Five of UAA's six power-play chances stemmed from penalties Quinnipiac took in the offensive zone.
College lineups usually consist of 12 forwards and six defensemen, but Thomas opted to break his 18 skaters down to 11 forwards and seven defensemen. That meant centers Cameron, Tatchell and Bailey logged heavy minutes. Even so, Cameron called UAA's win a team victory.
"We're not going to be a team with one guy that does it all,'' he said. "It's going to take 20 guys.''
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
First Period -- 1, UAA, Friesen 1 (Hubbs, Cameron), 9:10; 2, UAA, Tatchell 1 (Friesen), 12:33; 3, Quinnipiac, Van Brabant 1 (Samuels-Thomas), 13:59. Penalties -- Samuels-Thomas, Quinnipiac (slashing), :50; Williams, UAA (holding), 15:18.
Second Period -- None. Penalties -- Hibbeler, Quinnipiac (interference), 8:35; Cameron, UAA (tripping), 11:42.
Third Period -- 4, UAA, Cameron 1 (Leask, Dusyk), 2:56 (pp). Penalties -- St. Denis, Quinnipiac, double-minor (cross-checking, roughing), 2:44; Cameron, UAA (slashing), 7:16; Van Brabant, Quinnipiac (elbowing), 8:08; C. Clifton, Quinnipiac (boarding), 9:26; Bailey, UAA (charging), 13:21; Williams, UAA (roughing), 20:00; Tatchell, UAA (roughing), 20:00; Fiala, Quinnipiac, double-minor (roughing, high-sticking), 20:00.
Shots on goal -- Quinnipiac 6-8-11--25. UAA 8-7-5--20.
Power-play Opportunities -- Quinnipiac 0 of 4. UAA 1 of 6.
Goalies -- Quinnipiac, Garteig, 0-1-0 (20 shots-17 saves). UAA, Gunderson, 1-0-0 (25 shots-24 saves).
A -- 3,474 (6,251). T -- 2:29.
Referees -- Marco Hunt, Michael Elam. Assistant referees -- Carl Saden, Travis Jackson.