In one tide-turning shift Friday night, the Seawolves went from hopeful to heartache.
Mere seconds late in the second period produced that monumental momentum swing that discouraged UAA and helped spark visiting Lake Superior State to a 3-1 Western Collegiate Hockey Association victory at Sullivan Arena.
With No. 17-ranked Lake Superior leading 2-1, the Seawolves fourth line centered by Zack Rassell pinned the Lakers inside their own zone for an entire shift, which made an equalizer appear imminent.
The Lakers, though, finally cleared the puck from their zone and all the way into the Seawolves’ end. UAA defenseman Chris Williams retreated to retrieve the puck and tried to make a quick pass up ice as he pivoted. But he fanned on the pass, which delivered the puck to Lakers freshman winger Ian Miller.
After Miller transferred the puck from his backhand to his forehand and snapped a quick shot on UAA goaltender Michael Matyas, Williams dove with his stick outstretched. UAA’s other defenseman, Austin Sevalrud also reached toward the puck with his stick.
“He sort of just pushed it right to me,’’ Miller said. “I just threw it on net and hoped for the best. The goalies are so good at this level, I just wanted to get to puck on net quickly.’’
Miller’s shot ticked off the blade of either Sevalrud or Williams, handcuffed Matyas and dribbled into the net for the rookie’s first college goal and a 3-1 Lakers lead.
In a heartbeat, the Seawolves went from buoyant to buzz-kill.
And after starting the season 6-0-1 on home ice, they’ve lost two straight at Sullivan – UAF racked a come-from-behind 5-4 win last Saturday – and fallen below .500 (7-8-2, 4-7-2 WCHA). They also slipped one spot in the standings, falling to seventh place in the 10-team league.
This series, which wraps Saturday night, is UAA’s last before the holiday break. Friday’s result continued a puzzling trend. The Seawolves have not won a game in their final series before the break since 2003 and are 0-18-1 in such games since they beat Colorado College a decade ago.
Lake Superior (10-6-1, 6-5-0) moved up one spot to fifth in the league.
The Seawolves weren’t exactly killing it before Miller’s dagger of a goal, the final thrust in the Lakers’ three-goal barrage in a span of less than nine minutes of the second period. They didn’t show a lot of jump early and a season-low announced crowd of 2,074 surely didn’t put a bounce in their stride. Plus, coach Matt Thomas harbored a bad feeling all week, when the Seawolves were taking their final exams and practices didn’t seem sharp.
“I didn’t like our focus,’’ Thomas said. “I didn’t think we were sharp tonight. I was scared of it all week.’’
Matyas (20 saves) made his first start in nearly a month and carried UAA for nearly half the game. He stopped Colin Campbell’s point-blank bid four minutes into the second period and got his blocker on Miller’s shot off a Seawolves turnover two minutes later.
“Ultimately, he gave us a chance,’’ Thomas said. “He had a couple ‘how-did-they-not-score saves.’’
UAA sophomore center Blake Tatchell opened the scoring with a power-play strike nearly halfway through the game. Jordan Kwas made a sharp pass from left wing to Matt Bailey in the slot and Bailey found Tatchell all alone low in the right circle.
Tatchell flicked a wrister just under the crossbar for his fifth goal, which extended his point streak to six games, the best stretch by a UAA player this season. Tatchell, the club’s leading scorer as a rookie last season, furnished just six points in UAA’s first 11 games, but has delivered eight points in the last six matches.
“It was a slow start offensively, for sure,’’ Tatchell said. “In the offensive zone, I didn’t think I was playing like I could. I was making plays, just not consistently doing it.’’
UAA’s 1-0 lead lasted just 85 seconds before Lake Superior exploited a Seawolves turnover. Defenseman Zach Sternberg’s pass from the goal line on right wing hit freshman winger Mitchell Nardi, Miller’s linemate on the fourth line, at the top of the crease and he banged the relay home for his first college goal.
Lakers defenseman Kevin Czuczman followed less than four minutes later with a power-play wrister over Matyas’ left shoulder. Miller soon followed with his insurance goal.
Meanwhile, Lakers senior goalie Kevin Kapalka (28 saves) held the Seawolves at bay. He raised his season save percentage to .931, which ranks him 12th in Division I.
Lake Superior, coming off consecutive losses to league-leading Ferris State, got back on track.
“Especially after giving two away at home, we really needed to have a solid weekend and get a sweep,’’ Miller said. “We have 12 days off (after Saturday), so we just need 60 minutes more (Saturday).
UAA has lost four of its last five games. A win on Saturday would give the Seawolves a lift heading into the break and a loss would send them limping into the holidays.
“This could be a turning point in our season,’’ Tatchell said.
Find Doyle Woody’s blog at adn.com/hockeyblog
LSS 0 3 0 3
UAA 0 1 0 1
First Period — None. Penalties — LSS bench minor, served by Nardi (too many men), 1:54; Perfetto, LSS (hooking), 7:27; Hubbs, UAA (clipping), 11:33; Sevalrud, UAA (tripping), 14:32; Coldwell, UAA (tripping), 18:30.
Second Period — 1, UAA, Tatchell 5 (Bailey, Kwas), 7:33 (pp); 2, LSS, Nardi 1 (Sternberg), 8:58; 3, LSS, Czuczman 6, 12:18 (pp); 4, LSS, Miller 1, 17:40. Penalties — Perfetto, LSS (clipping), 7:17; Williams, UAA (holding), 11:40; Campbell, LSS (interference), 19:57.
Third Period — None. Penalties – Perfetto, LSS (charging), 17:27.
Shots on goal — LSS 6-10-7—23. UAA 4-12-13—29.
Power-play Opportunities — LSS 1 of 4. UAA 1 of 5.
Goalies — LSS, Kapalka, 6-4-1 (29 shots-28 saves). UAA, Matyas, (2-1-1) (23 shots-20 saves).
A — 2,074 (6,251). T – 2:30.
Referees — Peter Friesma, Butch Mousseaux. Assistant referees – Carl Saden, Travis Jackson.