When it was over Saturday night, after the Seawolves underwhelmed for most of two periods inside Sullivan Arena and then staged a four-goal, third-period resurrection in what was only their most critical game of the season, Rob Gunderson couldn’t help but laugh.
On Senior Night, one evening after UAA came back from two goals down in the third period to forge a tie with Bowling Green, the senior goaltender early Saturday night kept his team from being buried.
Then he enjoyed a great view of the overwhelming comeback that triggered a 5-2 victory over the Falcons before a raucous announced crowd of 2,881.
“Just come to the rink,’’ Gunderson said. “We’ll give you a show.’’
Yeah, the entertainment in the Seawolves’ regular-season home finale started slow — UAA mustered three shots on goal in the first period Saturday and a mere 10 through two periods. But it ended with a bang — UAA scored three goals in a third-period span of just 2 minutes, 26 seconds, and four in 5:31.
“We keep it interesting,’’ said deadpan senior winger Jordan Kwas. “We’ve got to start charging more for the third period.’’
The Seawolves’ celebration in their dressing room was sweet, but short. While Saturday’s win elevated them into sole possession of third place in the 10-team Western Collegiate Hockey Association and kept alive their dream of securing home ice for the first round of the league playoffs, they know the standings are squeezed so tight that any lapse now can prove lethal.
UAA (15-11-4, 11-9-4 WCHA) is one point ahead of the three-way way for fourth place between Bowling Green, Michigan Tech and rival UAF, currently the hottest team on the circuit. Only six points separate UAA from ninth place and their two remaining regular-season series are on the road, first at league co-leader Ferris State this week and then next month at UAF.
“Right now we’re in third,’’ Kwas said, “but (mathematically) we could still be out of the playoffs.’’
For now, UAA’s five seniors helped their dream alive.
Gunderson stopped 24 shots. His point-blank, first-period saves on Kevin Dufour and Bryce Williamson kept UAA’s deficit manageable at 1-0.
Senior center and leading scorer Matt Bailey scored one third-period goal and set up another by Scott Allen (two goals), and his drive to the net that occupied a defender helped set up Allen’s second-period goal and a 1-1 tie. Bailey went plus-3.
Senior defenseman Quinn Sproule went plus-2.
Hockey types like to say a two-goal lead is the most dangerous one in hockey. Kwas’ goal midway through the third period put that out of mind — he delivered a three-goal lead at 5-2.
And although senior goalie Chris Kamal was on the bench as Gunderson’s back-up, UAA’s opportunity to be in third place at this late date would not have been possible without his hot mid-season run.
“Those guys are making this program look good right now,’’ said UAA coach Matt Thomas.
Through two periods, Bowling Green (13-13-6, 10-10-4 WCHA) owned a 2-1 lead courtesy of goals from defensemen Marcus Perrier and Mike Sullivan, who scored on the power play when Gunderson was preoccupied with Dan DeSalvo’s presence at the top of his crease. Perrier and Sullivan, who evenly split their collective eight goals in 221 career games, sandwiched their strikes around Allen’s first goal, which came off Brett Cameron’s cross-ice feed.
Cameron had a glorious chance to furnish the equalizer on a penalty shot late in the second period after he was hauled down by Cam Wojtala on a breakaway. He had Tommy Burke (17 saves) beaten with his glove-side wrister, but it rang off the right post.
Thomas said he had been upset when he addressed his team in the first intermission. Come second intermission, he challenged his players.
“I told them, whenever they’re done playing, ‘You’re going to regret those times you didn’t take advantage of your opportunities.’ ’’
What followed was UAA’s second four-goal third period of the season, albeit one far more impressive than the one against last-place Alabama-Huntsville (1-30-1, 1-20-1 WCHA).
On a power play, Andrew Pettitt held the puck in at the line, made a spin move in tight quarters and passed to Cameron, whose slap-pass was redirected by freshman center Zack Rassell for a 2-2 tie.
Just 64 seconds later, with the teams skating 4 on 4, Bailey banged home an Allen rebound to give UAA its first lead at 3-2. Just 82 seconds after that, Allen scored off Bailey’s feed from behind the net. And three minutes after that, Kwas delivered.
“I guess we play better when we’re desperate, when coach shortens the bench and guys take it upon themselves to make a difference,’’ Kwas said.
Bailey’s goal was his sixth game-winning goal of the season, which ties him for the Division I lead with UAF senior Cody Kunyk.
Bailey and Allen are tied for the team lead in goals with 15 each. Allen’s 15 goals have come on 50 shots for a remarkable shooting percentage of 30 percent.
Bailey is a team-leading plus-15. The next best mark is junior defenseman Derek Docken’s plus-8.
The Seawolves finished the regular season 9-3-2 in WCHA home games.
First Period — 1, BG, Perrier 1 (Williamson), 15:06. Penalties — Hubbs, UAA (interference), 5:49; Wojtala, BG (hooking), 19:58.
Second Period — 2, UAA, Allen 14 (Cameron, Sevalrud), 5:17; 3, BG, Sullivan 2 (Williamson, Murphy), 13:11 (pp). Penalties — UAA bench minor, served by Pettitt (too many men), 12:40.
Third Period — 4, UAA, Rassell 2 (Cameron, Pettitt), 4:49 (pp); 5, UAA, Bailey 15 (Allen, Van Allen), 5:53; 6, UAA, Allen 15 (Bailey, Leask), 7:15; 7, UAA, Kwas 11 (Sevalrud, Tatchell), 10:20. Penalties — Perrier, BG (interference), 3:00; Hubbs, UAA (holding), 5:34; Walker, BG (roughing), 5:34; Walker, BG (interference), 15:17; Leask, UAA (slashing), 17:35.
Shots on goal – BG 10-8-8—26. UAA 3-7-12—22.
Power-play Opportunities — BG 1 of 4. UAA 1 of 3.
Goalies — BG, Burke, 9-5-6 (22 shots-17 saves). UAA, Gunderson, 7-5-2 (26 shots-24 saves).
A — 2,881 (6,251). T — 2:27.
Referees — Chris Perrault, Dan Kovarik. Assistant referees — Travis Jackson, Carl Saden.