Nearly five weeks have passed since UAA last played a hockey game, but the Seawolves in the interim have nonetheless endured a loss and enjoyed a boost.
The loss is leading goal scorer Mickey Spencer -- the junior winger has left the team.
The boost comes from the return of five skaters who did not play in the final game of the first half, a 4-3 loss at Colorado College on Dec. 10, because of injury.
Expected back for Friday night's second-half opener at Michigan Tech are center Matt Bailey and winger Jade Portwood, both of whom were out with knee injuries; defenseman Brad Gorham and Derek Docken, who both missed the Seawolves' last game with concussions; and center Alex Gellert, who missed the last eight games of the first half with a shoulder injury.
Spencer led the Seawolves with seven goals in 17 games, and his 10 points tied him with sophomore center Jordan Kwas (3-7--10 in 13 games) for the team lead. UAA coach Dave Shyiak confirmed Spencer left the team. He's the second Seawolves skater to depart during this season -- defenseman Wes McLeod left the team late in the first semester.
Spencer got the season off to a rocketing start in UAA's Kendall Classic. He scored one power-play goal and assisted on another in a season-opening 4-4 tie with Clarkson and racked a hat trick and assist, all in the third period and overtime, of a come-from-behind 4-3 win against St. Cloud State. That six-point weekend, which included the OT winner, earned him the tournament's Most Outstanding Player honor and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's Offensive Player of the Week honor.
Late in the first half of the season, Spencer was benched for one game after being accessed a major spearing penalty and game misconduct at Minnesota State-Mankato. He put up 13-10--23 totals in 62 career games at UAA.
"I've heard he may still attend school, or maybe give the pros a try,'' Shyiak said.
Even without Spencer, the Seawolves open the second half with much more depth than at any point in the first half. Unofficially, 12 different UAA skaters missed a combined total of 53 games to injury in the first half of the season. If college hockey had an injured-reserve list, the Seawolves likely would have ranked among the nation's leaders.
"This is the first time all season we haven't had anybody on the IR,'' Shyiak said.
The Seawolves (6-10-2, 3-10-1 WCHA) open the second half with back-to-back, WCHA road series at Michigan Tech and Wisconsin. UAA will spend the break between series in Marquette, Mich., practicing at Northern Michigan University, where Shyiak won a national title as a player and began his college coaching career.
UAA sits 11th in the 12-team WCHA, seven points out of sixth place, the final spot that earns home ice for the first round of the league playoffs. Last season, the Seawolves surged in the second half, came close to earning home ice, swept their first-round series at Minnesota and advanced to the WCHA Final Five for just the second time in school history.
"We haven't talked about last season, actually,'' Shyiak said. "We're focused on getting better every day, every week, and peaking at the right time. It's all about development.''
Renewed depth enhances UAA's chances, but doesn't guarantee it anything.
"You still have to go out and perform,'' Shyiak said. "But what I've seen so far, it's great to see those guys back. We are going to have a little rust on our game, but it's nice to have bodies back.''
After this two-week road trip, the Seawolves play eight of their final 10 regular-season WCHA games on home ice at Sullivan Arena.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.Blog: Woody on Hockey
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News