With the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings squeezed tighter than a size 9 foot into a size 6 skate and playoff positioning at stake during the stretch run of the regular season, UAA coach Matt Thomas doesn't want his team fretting about the big picture.
He wants the Seawolves, who come off a bye week to play at Lake Superior State (Mich.) this weekend, to deal with what is directly in front of them instead of all that looms ahead in the next month.
"I don't think you talk about the standings and everything else,'' Thomas said. "You just talk about winning Friday night. You narrow your focus. You concentrate on each shift, the little things, and not worry about every game down the stretch.
"Just worry about the game you're playing.''
The Seawolves this week made their longest journey of the season, four time zones away to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., for their pivotal series of the season. UAA sits fourth in the 10-team league, but two points separate it from eighth place, and five points separate it from ninth-place Lake Superior State, which has played two fewer games than UAA.
The top four regular-season finishers earn home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs. The top eight teams make the postseason, and the ninth- and 10th-place finishers are reduced to spectators.
UAA tried to put itself in prime position for weekend success by flying out of Anchorage on Tuesday night -- the Seawolves most often depart Wednesday nights. After landing in Detroit on Wednesday, the Seawolves bussed to Saginaw, Mich., held practice there, and Thursday bussed the rest of the way north to Sault Ste. Marie.
Like UAA, Lake Superior State, which split a series in Anchorage in December, is coming off an idle weekend, so any rink rust from the teams should be a wash.
The Seawolves enter the series with all players available, and that means winger Scott Allen, who led the team in goals before he suffered an upper-body injury at Wisconsin on Jan. 4, will be back in the fold full-time. Allen returned to the lineup Jan. 25 in a 4-2 home win over Northern Michigan, but skated just three shifts, all on the power play. That was by design -- Allen wasn't fully healed, and Thomas didn't want to risk Allen getting re-injured -- and the winger scored a power-play goal.
Thomas said Allen this week will play a regular shift on left wing with center Matt Bailey and right wing Brett Cameron. Allen's return allows Thomas to put out a second line of Blake Tatchell centering Jordan Kwas and Brad Duwe, and a third line of Zack Rassell centering Andrew Pettitt and Dylan Hubbs.
"What it does for us,'' Thomas said of Allen's return, "is add another threat, another big body, and a line -- Bailey, Cameron and Scotty Allen -- that's been very good. If everyone gets a boost from having him back, that's important too.''
Thomas said senior Chris Kamal, who has started nine consecutive games, the longest stretch for any UAA goalie this season, will get the nod again Friday. Kamal in those nine starts has gone 6-2-1 with a 1.66 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog
13-10-3, 9-8-3 WCHA
Lake Superior State (Mich.)
12-13-1, 8-10-0 WCHA
Friday, 3:37 p.m. AST; Saturday, 3:07 p.m.
Radio: Live, Friday, AM-550 KTZN; Saturday, AM-650 KENI
By DOYLE WOODY