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The WCHA conference call happened today

Doyle Woody,Adn Staff

Judging from Wednesday morning's conference call with Western Collegiate Hockey Association coaches, the majority of whom confessed concerns about scoring goals, the new WCHA -- six new clubs on the revamped 10-team circuit -- sounds like it might herald a dead-puck era.

Thus, The Blog is having flashbacks -- and not the happy-happy, joy-joy kind -- to UAA in the Dean Talafous Era.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Seawolves in five seasons under coach Talafous back in the day played three scoreless ties, including two in the 1997-98 season. The Blog witnessed all three, and they were excruciating, none more coma-inducing than a 0-0 tie at St. Cloud State. Virtually nothing of note happened in that game at the National Hockey Center until the last second of overtime, when St. Cloud's centerman shot off the draw on right wing and forced Doug Teskey to make a startling kick save with his right skate at the horn.

Remember, this was before the introduction of shootouts -- correct, The Blog is fossil-old -- so those in attendance never witnessed an actual puck enter an actual net, with the exception of warmups.

Again, not to put too fine a point on it, but Talafous' teams were shut out 23 times in five seasons -- 23 times in 180 games, or 12.8-percent of the time. Yeah, let that stat wash over your soul for a moment and diminish it.

Surely, the upcoming season, UAA's first under new coach Matt Thomas, won't duplicate that dearth of scoring (he typed with fingers and toes crossed). Still, the majority of coaches on Wednesday's conference call could have echoed Bemidji State's Tom Serratore: "We're probably a little offensively challenged.''

It is worth pointing out that of the 10 teams in the WCHA this season, eight finished 36th or worse in goals per game among 59 Division I teams last season. UAA checked in at 58th with a mere 1.86 goals per game -- thank goodness for WCHA newcomer Alabama-Huntsville, which managed just 1.44 per.

Of course, the teams in the new WCHA -- four returners, five from the old Central Collegiate Hockey Association and former independent Huntsville -- no longer in league games have to deal with traditional powers like North Dakota, Minnesota, Denver, Michigan, Miami (Ohio), etc. So, maybe scoring won't be so difficult. Of course, half the teams in the new WCHA finished in the bottom half of Division I last season in goals allowed per game. UAA surrendered 3.69 per to rank 57th of 59 teams -- thank goodness for Huntsville (4.12 per) and Sacred Heart (a cardiac-triggering 5.06 per). But they won't be facing as many high-powered, blue-chip offenses.

Then again, who knows what to make of the new league and the order of finish predicted in preseason polls of league media and coaches? Picked first in both polls was Minnesota State-Mankato, an NCAA team last season in coach Mike Hastings' first campaign, when the Mavericks were buoyed by then-freshman goaltender Stephon Williams of Fairbanks (offseason hip surgery, ready to go, Hastings said). UAA got tabbed ninth in both polls -- repeat: Thank goodness for Huntsville. UAF finished third in the media poll, fifth among coaches.

Speaking of UAF, it was good to hear coach Dallas Ferguson on the phone, even if the connection did start breaking up badly late in his comments. That wasn't nearly as painful as a tire ad listeners endured in the middle of things. Or the sudden introduction of "Who Let The Dogs Out,'' as reigning league Coach of the Year Hastings was trying to get started with his comments.

"I have no idea what's going on, but it's obviously not good,'' quoth Hastings.

For Thomas' part, he joking that returning WCHA coaches might know his team better than he does. He said sophomore Michael Matyas, who did not play a second last season, will get a shot at earning the No. 1 job, which for the past three seasons has been split by current seniors Chris Kamal and Rob Gunderson.

This is as good a place as any to stick Ferguson's quote about masked men: "If you don't have goaltending at this level and in this league, you're not going to have success.''

Thomas pumped the tires of sophomore center Blake Tatchell, who last season delivered 9-16--25 totals in 36 games, calling him a "special player.''

"There's talent there, there's hockey sense, there's drive and focus,'' Thomas said.

Thomas also said that in his short time guiding the green and gold he is also coming to understand the importance of the rivalry with UAF.

"Every time I wear something blue to the office, I get a bad look,'' he said.

Something tells The Blog this is not the proper time -- like there ever would be one -- to let Seawolves fans know his favorite color.

 


By DOYLE WOODY, adn.com
Anchorage