UAA does not face a favorable playoff match-up this weekend at St. Cloud State, though it is a sadly familiar one -- worst versus first, with the Seawolves representing the sorrier side of that equation.
This marks the second straight season, and the fifth time in coach Dave Shyiak's eight seasons, that UAA has lugged the bottom seed into the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs. The Seawolves journey to Minnesota burdened by a seven-game losing streak -- that funk includes two nonconference losses to rival UAF -- and a 4-23-7 slate that also included an eight-game losing streak and a 14-game winless streak.
They have a rapidly disappearing fan base, and a portion that remains is calling for Shyiak's ouster. They have injury and suspension woes. And they have one victory in their last 22 games (1-18-3).
That doesn't exactly make for a uplifting narrative: It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times.
As you might imagine, the history of these worst versus first playoff series does not trigger much in the way of green and gold encouragement.
In the last 20 seasons, only once has the massive underdog toppled the decided favorite -- Michigan Tech shocked league champion Colorado College in three games in 1994 -- and even that monumental upset comes with a considerable caveat. The Huskies had goaltender Jamie Ram, who was a first-team All-American. They also entered that series in Colorado Springs with three wins in their previous eight games, and their five losses in that stretch were all one-goal defeats.
Were UAA to actually win this series at St. Cloud State (21-14-1) -- and you can't get odds on that anywhere on the pucks planet without brandishing a weapon -- it would leapfrog over Michigan Tech's 1994 upset and become the greatest shocker in the WCHA's modern history.
And, really, UAA is the definition of a team that has absolutely nothing to lose. There's not an ounce of pressure on the Seawolves, so they have no reason to squeeze their sticks. The can play with no hesitation -- it isn't as if two more losses is gonna ruin their season.
And the Seawolves actually do have something to hang their faint hopes on -- they split a series with St. Cloud in Anchorage in the first half of the season. They lost the opener 4-3 in overtime, after squandering a three-goal lead built in the opening 10 minutes, and rebounded for a 3-1 win in the series finale. But this weekend's best-of-3 series takes place at the National Hockey and Event Center, which historically has served as UAA's graveyard of dreams.
UAA will once again be without their second-leading scorer, junior wing Jordan Kwas (ankle) and sophomore defenseman Austin Coldwell (knee). Plus, freshman Austin Sevalrud must sit out Friday's series opener to serve the game disqualification penalty he was assessed for kicking last Sunday at Denver.
Speaking of that regular season-ending series against the Pioneers, the Seawolves didn't generate a whirlwind of momentum for the postseason. The Pioneers curb-stomped them, 7-1 and 6-1.
St. Cloud is ranked No. 8 in the nation, but didn't overwhelm coming down the stretch. The Huskies went 4-4-0 in their last eight games. Their fans are a little jumpy about the team's power play, which converted just twice in 27 chances (7.4 percent efficiency) during the last seven games. Yeah, cry a river -- UAA went 3 for 42 on the power play (7.1 percent) during a 14-game stretch through the middle of the season.
Even with St. Cloud's .500 ride to the regular-season finish line, a Seawolves series win would mark an upset for the ages.
But this series smells like a Huskies sweep.
At worst, they win in three, and put the Seawolves out of their misery.
This column is the opinion of Daily News reporter Doyle Woody. Find his blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
WCHA worst vs. first
In the last 20 years, only once has the last-place finisher in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association knocked off the top seed in a first-round, best-of-3 playoff series — Michigan Tech shocked Colorado College in three games in 1994. Otherwise, the top seed has swept 16 times, and three others times won in three games. Last-place UAA opens its first-round series Friday at top-seeded St. Cloud State.
Here are the four instances when a last-place team won at least a game in those first-round match-ups:
YEAR LAST PLACE TEAM FIRST PLACE TEAM SERIES RESULT
2007 UAA Minnesota Minnesota, 2-1
2001 Minnesota-Duluth North Dakota North Dakota, 2-1
1999 Minnesota State-Mankato North Dakota North Dakota, 2-1
1994 Michigan Tech Colorado College Michigan Tech, 2-1
Of the four head coaches who have guided UAA in its Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff history, only current bench boss Dave Shyiak and John Hill steered the Seawolves to victories. Here are the career WCHA playoff records of each coach, in the first round and overall:
COACH SEASONS WCHA FIRST-ROUND WCHA OVERALL
RECORD PLAYOFF RECORD
Dave Shyiak 2006-current 3-12-0 (.200) 3-13-0 (.188)
John Hill 2002-2005 3-7-0 (.300) 4-9-0 (.308)
Dean Talafous 1997-2001 0-10-0 (.000) 0-10-0 (.000)
Brush Christiansen 1993-1996 0-8-0 (.000) 0-8-0 (.000)