Tigers bring 4 Alaskans to hockey series with UAA

Doyle Woody

William Rapuzzi thinks back more than three years ago to when he first returned home to Anchorage to play a college hockey game at Sullivan Arena, and he remembers being equal parts eager and anxious, excited yet also stressed.

He grew up watching UAA and Alaska Aces games on that rink, and now friends and family would be watching him, a Colorado College freshman.

"It was definitely tough to sleep the night before,'' said Rapuzzi, now the Tigers' senior captain. "Personally, I was more nervous than I've ever been. As soon as you get on the ice, though, after a couple shifts, it's fine. I think I scored on one of my first shifts.''

Well, things actually went more than fine for Rapuzzi. He racked up a hat trick in his college debut at Sullivan, bagging three power-play strikes to spark Colorado College's 6-1 win over UAA.

"The puck somehow kept finding me,'' Rapuzzi said.

This weekend, Rapuzzi is among four Alaskans making a homecoming when the Seawolves entertain Colorado College in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series.

For Colorado College sophomore winger Scott Wamsganz of Anchorage and freshmen wingers Hunter Fejes of Anchorage and Jared Hanson on Palmer, the series marks their first college games back home.

People they hold dear will be in the stands. The ninth-place Tigers badly need to take points from the last-place Seawolves if they hope to climb into position to earn home ice in the first round of the league playoffs. Hey, no pressure.

For Hanson, practicing at Sullivan on Thursday afternoon was a treat because it was the first time he has played hockey on the Olympic-sized sheet of ice.

"I realized the only time I've stood on the ice was to have pucks signed by the Aces -- I was probably 10 years old,'' Hanson said. "We were off last week, so this has kind of been on my mind for 14 days. It has me excited, thinking the next time I suit up, it'll be at Sullivan, in front of friends and family, and you don't want to disappoint them.

"Actually, it's another home game for me.''

Wamsganz figures he's watched more than a hundred Seawolves and Aces games in the building. Now, it's his turn to take a spin on the rink instead of a seat in the stands.

"I'd come here whenever I could with my dad,'' Wamsganz recalled after Thursday's practice. "I grew up here. I think that's what a lot of kids in this town do -- watch games, hoping that will be you one day.''

Like his Alaska teammates, Fejes, a true freshman who was a sixth-round draft pick of the Phoenix Coyotes last summer, long thought of this chance.

"It's kind of pretty surreal,'' he said. "You grow up wanting to be in this moment, play in front of friends and family. I think I've probably got 20 or so people who will be here.

"Until the puck drops, I think I'll be anxious. But once it drops, it's a hockey game.''

Rapuzzi, who has delivered eight goals in 11 career games against UAA, is enjoying a career season. He leads the team in goals and is second in points with 13-17--30 totals in 26 games.

"He's provided great leadership in what's been an up-and-down season,'' said Tigers coach Scott Owens. "He's been a warrior, and he's produced.''

Fejes, who of late has played left wing on a line with right wing Rapuzzi and freshman center Cody Bradley, owns 3-4--7 totals in 25 games. Hansen, a winger, is 2-2--4 in 19 games. And Wamsganz, a 6-foot-4, 200-pounder expected to bang bodies, has two assists in 18 games.

The Alaskans on Colorado College continue a long line of Tigers from here -- among them, former NHLer Brian Swanson of Eagle River, current NHLer Joey Crabb of Anchorage, forward Eric Walsky of Anchorage and goaltender Drew O'Connell of Anchorage.

The four on this year's team give the Tigers one of the biggest Alaska presences in college hockey. UAA has six Alaskans on its roster and UAF has four.

"It's pretty cool,'' Fejes said. "I knew Wamsganz before I got (to CC), I knew Hanson and I knew of Rapuzzi. It's like a connection. The older guys show you the ropes, what to do, what not to do.''

Rapuzzi said his advice to his Alaska teammates making their first college appearance at Sullivan is not to get too jacked up.

"There's a fine line, where you can almost over-work and put yourself out of position,'' Rapuzzi said. "It's hard, but you have to treat it like any other game.''

Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.