The rigors of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association have been reinforced for UAA in the last week and the latest reminder was delivered by Minnesota's 5-0 victory Friday night at Sullivan Arena.
After opening the season 3-0-1 in nonconference tournaments, the Seawolves have lost three consecutive league games and been outscored 12-2 in that span.
They've gone from a team off to a hot, encouraging start to a team that could really use a victory, particularly with an idle weekend ahead following tonight's series finale with the No. 8-ranked Gophers.
UAA's loss marked the first time it has been shut out on home ice in two years -- North Dakota racked a 5-0 win here on Oct. 23, 2009 -- and kept it pinned at the bottom of the WCHA standings. North Dakota is likewise 0-3-0 in the league.
The defeat also snapped UAA's run of three straight wins against Minnesota. All of those came in Minneapolis in the second half of last season, and two of them were shutouts backstopped by goaltender Chris Kamal, who made 16 saves Friday. Kamal helped engineer UAA's first-round playoff sweep at Minnesota in March.
But that was last season. The Gophers look like a tougher task this time around.
"League play is a lot different from tournament and nonconference play,'' said UAA coach Dave Shyiak. "It's just tighter all around. People have got to remember, we only have one 10-goal scorer (Matt Bailey) back. It's going to take time to evolve.''
Friday, the Seawolves became the latest victim of Minnesota's potent power play, which dinged UAA for two man-advantage strikes in three opportunities and has now racked at least one power-play goal in all seven of the Gophers' games. Minnesota's power play, which features quick, accurate passing and continual movement, is operating at 38.9-percent efficiency, which is basically a video-game number.
"You can't put those guys on the power play,'' Bailey said.
The game turned, in part, on a power play the Gophers (6-1-0, 3-0-0 WCHA) received midway through the game, when they were leading 1-0 courtesy of Erik Haula's goal late in the first period, and fending off a strong push by the Seawolves.
Minnesota went on the power play after UAA winger Jade Portwood was whistled for a somewhat dubious boarding penalty. The Gophers cashed in on Nick Bjugstad's one-timer from low in the left circle at 11:46 of the second period and put the Seawolves in an even more precarious position when Mark Alt followed with an even-strength goal 63 seconds later for a 3-0 lead.
"I thought we carried the play in the second period and got into our game plan,'' Shyiak said. "That second goal, I thought, deflated us.
"You look down the bench and think, 'Are we ever gonna score?' Give Minnesota credit -- that's a very good team and a very good power play.''
While UAA did its customary strong job of blocking shots -- the Seawolves blocked eight in the first period and another seven in the second -- Minnesota did not yield to impatience. The Gophers just waited for their chances.
"We played an efficient game,'' said Gophers coach Don Lucia, the former UAA assistant coach and former UAF head coach. "We didn't turn pucks over. We didn't jump-start them.''
A UAA turnover got Minnesota going late in the first period. Kyle Rau (two assists) and Zach Budish (two assists) sandwiched UAA center Daniel Naslund in the UAA zone. Rau's poke-check freed the puck for Budish, who fed Haula for a one-timed snap shot from the slot that went off Kamal and in.
Meanwhile, Minnesota senior goalie Kent Patterson held the Seawolves in check. He stopped 22 shots to bag his nation-leading fourth shutout this season, and his first in the WCHA this season.
Minnesota, which leads the nation in goals per game (5.71), got two goals from Haula. He and defenseman Justin Holt each scored third-period goals on blasts from the right point.
Haula leads the nation in points (7-9--16), has scored at least one point in every game and scored two points or more in six of seven games. Also, defenseman Nate Schmidt (two helpers) has points in six of seven games and Rau, a true freshman who is a third-round draft pick of the Florida Panthers, has furnished nine points in the last five games.
Scoring runs in Rau's family. His older brother Chad, who plays in the American Hockey League, scored 73 goals in his four seasons at WCHA member Colorado College.
UAA's difficulties scoring lately have been complicated by its inability to score on the power play. The Seawolves went 0 for 3 with the man advantage Friday -- all three of their chances came in the last 12 minutes -- and were not credited with a power-play shot on goal. In WCHA play this season, the Seawolves are 0 for 11 on the power play.
For tonight's finale, Bailey figures the Seawolves must grind, just the way the Gophers did Friday.
"I don't think we change anything,'' he said. "We come ready to work, and maybe we'll get the bounces we work for.''
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Minnesota 1 2 2 -- 5
UAA 0 0 0 -- 0
First Period -- 1, UM, Haula 6 (Budish, Rau), 18:01. Penalties -- Crowell, UAA (slashing), 9:55.
Second Period -- 2, UM, Bjugstad 6 (Haula, Schmidt), 11:46 (pp); 3, UM, Alt 1 (Boyd), 12:49. Penalties -- Portwood, UAA (boarding), 11:07.
Third Period -- 4, UM, Holl 2 (Budish, Rau), :30; 5, UM, Haula 7 (Schmidt, Bjugstad), 4:41 (pp). Penalties -- Portwood, UAA (cross-checking), 3:46; Holl, UM (holding), 7:57; Hansen, UM (holding), 12:16; Matson, UM (tripping), 15:11; Spencer, UAA (slashing), 19:57; Helgeson, UM, (elbowing) 19:57.
Shots on goal -- UM 9-8-4--21. UAA 6-14-2--22.
Power-play Opportunities -- UM 2 of 3; UAA 0 of 3.
Goalies -- UM, Patterson, 6-1-0 (22 shots-22 saves); UAA, Kamal, 2-2-0 (21-16).
A -- 3,337 (6,251). T--2:09.
Referees -- Craig Welker, Jonathan Morrison. Assistant referees -- Travis Jackson, Carl Saden.Blog: Woody on Hockey
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News