Armed with two particularly feel-good wins and a tournament title from its season-opening weekend on home ice, the UAA hockey team now confronts the next challenge: Winning somewhere other than Sullivan Arena.
The Brice Alaska Goal Rush that opens today at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks is a neutral site for the Seawolves this weekend because they do not play host UAF. UAA plays Western Michigan on Friday and the University of Denver on Saturday.
The Seawolves last weekend seized their own Kendall Hockey Classic, a nice rink reward in the debut of first-year bench boss Matt Thomas. The championship marked UAA's third straight Kendall crown -- the Seawolves won it last season before that campaign collapsed on the way to a 4-25-7 finish.
In Week 2, Thomas is looking for consistency from his club. He loved the effort in a season-opening 3-1 win over Quinnipiac, but was less impressed with the Seawolves' mettle for much of come-from-behind, 4-2 win over Air Force.
The Seawolves' opponents, both members of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, are coming off wildly different opening weekends.
Western Michigan, ranked No. 18 in a preseason poll, has played two games and has yet to score a goal. The Broncos dropped a home-and-home series with Notre Dame, with Fighting Irish senior goaltender Steve Summerhays dropping 44 saves and two bagels (4-0, 3-0) on Western Michigan.
No. 12-ranked Denver, meanwhile, has not surrendered a goal through two games, thanks to senior goaltender Sam Brittain, who stopped a combined 53 shots in a home-ice sweep -- 1-0 and 4-0 -- of Merrimack. That series marked the Pioneers' first under new coach Jim Montgomery.
Western Michigan does not lack goaltending. Junior Frank Slubowski racked a .930 save percentage in the Notre Dame series and last season he earned all of the club's decisions, going 19-11-8 with a 2.00 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.
UAF, which last week at the Kendall beat Air Force, 6-1, and lost 4-1 to Quinnipiac, is the defending Goal Rush champion.
Familiar foes, old foes await UAA in Fairbanks
Denver is a familiar opponent to UAA because both played in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, which Denver departed after last season. The Pioneers lead the all-time series 48-15-7, and in the final regular-season series last season beat the visiting Seawolves 7-1 and 6-1.
Nearly 25 years have passed since UAA played Western Michigan. On Dec. 18, 1988, the Seawolves beat the Broncos, 5-4 in double overtime, on Steve Bogoyevac's wraparound goal at Sullivan Arena in what was then called the Nissan/Jeep Classic. That was one of Bogoyevac's school-record 10 game-winning goals.
UAA split a two-game series at Western Michigan in Kalamazoo earlier that season. Bill Wilkinson, the Broncos coach at the time, mused that major Division I hockey programs whiffed by passing on UAA's Dean Larson, then a small, dazzling freshman center for UAA's Division I independent team.
Wilkinson proved correct. All Larson did in 122 career games from 1988-1992 was deliver 63-137--200 totals. He remains UAA's all-time leading scorer and also owns school records for most career assists, as well as most points in a season (66 in 1989-90) and assists in a season (48 in 1989-90).
• UAA junior defenseman Derek Docken played a season for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the U.S. Hockey League under the guidance of Jim Montgomery, Denver's coach.
• Western Michigan sophomore winger Sam Mellor began his college career at UAA in 2011-12 -- he put up 4-5--9 totals in 33 games -- before returning to the British Columbia Hockey League and transferring to Western Michigan.
UAA sophomore winger Hayden Trupp (lower-body injury) remains out of the lineup and won't play this weekend.
This is the sixth Brice Alaska Goal Rush; all five previous tournaments have been won by UAF or UAA. UAF won titles in 2009, 2010 and 2012. UAA won titles in 2008 and 2011.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Brice Alaska Goal Rush
Western Michigan (0-2-0)
Friday, 5:07 p.m., Carlson Center, Fairbanks
Radio: Live AM-650 KENI
TV: Live, GCI cable Channel 1
By DOYLE WOODY