With his power play stagnant through five underwhelming opportunities Saturday night and his team’s offense similarly unthreatening at even strength, UAA coach Matt Thomas late in the second period retooled a forward line in the hope the resulting top-loaded unit would ignite the Seawolves.
Turned out it sparked a remarkable and almost literal last-second comeback that, combined with flawless penalty-killing and Michael Matyas’ 25 saves in his college debut, allowed the Seawolves to seize their third straight Kendall Hockey Classic.
Buoyed by the new line of sophomore Blake Tatchell centering seniors Jordan Kwas and Matt Bailey, UAA scored four goals in the final 21 minutes — and three in the final 1:51, including Bailey’s game-winning strike with 3.4 seconds remaining at Sullivan Arena — to capture a 4-2 win over Air Force.
Kwas’ power-play one-timer, off Bailey’s feed into his wheelhouse in the left circle, delivered a 2-2 tie with 1:52 to play. Kwas returned the favor with just 3.4 ticks left when he set up Bailey’s one-timer from almost the exact location Kwas scored from.
“Kwas made a helluva saucer pass right to me, and fortunately I shot it off the (left) post and in,’’ Bailey said.
Kwas’ first career short-handed goal, with one second left and Air Force’s net empty, sealed something to savor.
Kwas figured in every goal by bagging his first career hat trick and an assist to give him a career-high four-point match. He was voted the tourament’s Most Outstanding Player, an honor Bailey earned a year ago. Bailey racked a goal and two helpers to match his career high for points in a game. And Tatchell furnished two assists.
And now a program that slinked through a 4-25-7 campaign last season is 2-0-0 after the first weekend under their new bench boss. UAA beat defending national runner-up Quinnipiac, 3-1, in Thomas’ debut Friday night.
“Fresh start,’’ Kwas said. “A change needed to happen, and you just ride the momentum of that change.’’
Through nearly two periods Saturday, UAA went fruitless on five power plays. The Seawolves struggled against Air Force’s persistent penalty-killing crew, rarely entering the offensive zone — and when they did, they were sent almost immediately on retreat. At even strength, the Falcons denied the Seawolves from getting to their net and goaltender Jason Torf (16 saves).
All that from an Air Force team that could not play its scheduled exhibition game Monday and missed some practices because of the government shutdown.
Air Force’s 1-0 lead, which came courtesy of a late first-period rebound goal from the awesomely named Cole Gunner, held until late in the second period. With 65 seconds left in that period, Falcons defenseman Mike McDonald was busted for his third minor penalty of the evening. He was whistled for interference on Tatchell.
On the ensuing UAA power play, Thomas put out the combination of Tatchell, Bailey and Kwas, which moments before had logged its first shift of the evening, when the Seawolves were at even strength.
“I shortened the bench, not because other guys weren’t playing well, but (because) we needed to develop something,’’ Thomas said. “We needed to find some chemistry.’’
Tatchell’s centering pass from the right circle on the power play was intended for Bailey, stationed between the face-off circles. The puck bounced in traffic and Bailey nudged it to his left, where Kwas quickly swept it inside the left post to forge a 1-1 tie.
After Air Force’s Jason Fabian regained the lead with his rebound goal at 13:45 of the third period — a sloppy rebound Matyas no doubt wants back — the Seawolves went on a power play with 2:18 to go.
That they were even in position to generate another tie was testament to superior penalty killing. UAA burned off Air Force’s three power plays that covered six of the first 10 minutes of the period.
On the late power play, Bailey set up Kwas. The roles were reversed on the third game-winning strike of Bailey’s career.
That it was Kwas who electrified a previously unplugged power play did not come as a shock. Twelve of his 20 career goals have come with the man advantage and he is the team’s active leader in power play goals.
And the combination of Tatchell, Kwas and Bailey made sense — they ranked first, second and tied for third, respectively, among UAA scorers last season.
“I can’t imagine from a coaching standpoint what it’s like to find chemistry for a line,’’ Kwas said. “Things needed to click for us. Putting it delicately, we’re three offensive players. Desperate times, right?’’
Thomas believes winning is a “learned skill.’’ The same can be said of persistence, which the Seawolves showed on a night when things weren’t going their way for the majority of it.
“What was impressive,’’ Thomas said, “is we stuck with it.’’
Find Doyle Woody’s blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Air Force 1 0 1 — 2
UAA 0 1 3 — 4
First Period — 1, Air Force, Gunner 1 (Hartner, Demers), 18:50. Penalties — Tatchell, UAA (interference), 12:34; Holm, Air Force (tripping), 13:18; McDonald, Air Force (interference), 15:58.
Second Period — 2, UAA, Kwas 1 (Bailey, Tatchell), 19:05 (pp). Penalties — McDonald, Air Force (tripping), 2:08; Timar, Air Force (holding), 6:24; Weissenhofer, Air Force (interference), 11:34; Allen, UAA (interference), 13:18; McDonald, Air Force (interference), 18:55.
Third Period — 3, Air Force, Fabian 1 (Hartner), 13:45; 4, UAA, Kwas 2 (Bailey, Allen), 18:08 (pp); 5, UAA, Bailey 1 (Kwas), 19:56; 6, UAA, Kwas 3 (en) (Tatchell), 19:59. Penalties — Leask, UAA (boarding), 2:24; Bailey, UAA (holding), 4:44; Kwas, UAA (tripping), 8:11; Hubbs, UAA (cross-checking), 14:57; Gunner, Air Force (cross-checking), 14:57; Demers, Air Force (tripping), 17:42; Tatchell, UAA (slashing), 20:00.
Shots on goal — Air Force 5-12-10--27. UAA 5-11-4--20.
Power-play Opportunities — Air Force 0 of 5. UAA 2 of 7.
Goalies — Air Force, Torf, 0-2-0 (19 shots-16 saves). UAA, Matyas, 1-0-0 (27 shots-25 saves).
A — 3,592 (6,251). T — 2:40.
Referees — Dan Kovarik, Chris Perrault. Assistant referees — Rick Nelson, Nick Waters.
Kendall Hockey Classic
Champion -- UAA.
Most Valuable Player -- UAA senior winger Jordan Kwas
Brett Cameron, C, UAA
Rob Gunderson, G, UAA
Colton Parayko, D, UAF
Cody Kunyk, C, UAF
San Anas, RW, Quinnipiac
Cole Gunner, RW, Air Force
2014 Kendall field